Implement an Fluctuating Overload System: STOP #ProgressiveOverload Training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I could, I would stop the hashtag #MakeProgressiveOverloadGreatAgain. Literal application of progressive overload has never been great, ever. Fact is literal application of progressive overload does not, will not and has not worked. Progressive overload is a linear “training concept” (A → B → C → D and so on = linear process); that when applied to a nonlinear dynamic system (human body), fails to produce anything other than diminished results and injury.

Progressive overload states that strength and all other components of fitness increase if the training becomes gradually more demanding via loading.

Let’s play progressive overload out in regards to a 20 year old male who’s bench press is 225 pounds. Each week he will increase the load by 2.5 pounds. In his first year he would gain 130 pounds to his press, bringing it up to 355 pounds. At this rate by the time he is 25 he will be pressing 875 pounds and by 30 he will be at a world record of 1,525 pounds! It’s clear to accomplished lifters who understand training principles that this will not happen; even though there are severely unaccomplished Instagram “trainers” who would actually debate this issue.

“The major limitation with the gradual overload principle is obvious, namely, that a stagnation point is reached, despite further increase in loading. The performance growth curve flattens out and a limit to further growth is reached (accommodation). This phenomenon is what prevents the same person from constantly breaking world records.” – Mel Siff

Verkhoshansky and Siff state in Supertraining that It is inappropriate to apply this principle literally, since research has revealed that optimal progress is made if the increased loading phases are alternated periodically with decreased loading phases.”

Fluctuating Overload System

In a fluctuating overload system, continual increased loading does NOT occur for a prolonged period of time. Simply, there is not a continual increase in loading WITHOUT any decrease. Thus, the direction of loading is positive in the long term, but alternating between positive and negative during the short to intermediate. The rate of loading to apply an optimal training stimulus is dependent on the particular individual.

People in the fitness industry like progressive overload because it is simple and linear; however, the body is complex and nonlinear. It is easy to consume information that is simple and linear; thus, social media is filled with this easily digestible inaccurate information. Fast food is on every street corner and is equally convenient; however, it does not mean it is healthy.

The training system, much like the individual/athlete cannot be rigid; but must be adaptable in order to induce optimal results.

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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, FRA, ART, CAFS

The SAID Principle

“In matters of style, swim like a fish, in matters of principles stand like a rock.” Thomas Jefferson

The human body is an adaptable complex biological system which adheres to biological principles. To attain optimal results (adaptations) in regards to the process of training/treatment, one must adhere to and apply these basic principles. One of the most fundamental principles is the SAID Principle; Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. It means that when the human body is placed under stress, it will start to (up to the point of biological limit) make adaptations which will enable the body to get better at withstanding that SPECIFIC form of stress in the future. Essentially this Principle means that the human body is always trying to get better at EXACTLY what you do.

The SAID Principle is a law that fundamentally defines the process of training, treatment, and essentially life. The concept that the human body functions as a complex biological system which has the ability to adapt to stressors by building extra capacity and strength which are specific to that stressor, as the body predicts that it will be exposed that stressor again in the future. Extra strength and capacity is developed as the body prepares for what has YET to happen, assuming a worse stressor is possible. In training terms, if you lift 100lbs (your maximum), a certain amount of additional strength and capacity will be added as your body predicts the next time you may have to lift 110lbs.

In effect the law says that stressors act as critical information for the complex biological system. Furthermore, it states that the human body can benefit from stressors (make adaptations; build strength, capacity, etc.), up to its biological limit and the adaptations are SPECIFIC to the stressors.

Understanding that the body specifically adapts to stressors is CRITICAL to the success of any training or treatment protocol. It is empowering to the trainer, coach, therapist, etc. The training/treatment process can be defined as: applying specific physical stress via training/treatment stimulus, recovering from that stress, and thereby adapting to that stress by developing extra strength, capacity, function, etc. Thus, optimal adaptations reflect careful planning, coordination and implementation of training/treatment.

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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, FRA, ART, CAFS

Managing Expectations: Soft Tissue Injuries in Weight Training

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.”
– Seneca

Injury prevention for weight training has become a mainstream topic. “Injury prevention” makes one assume that injuries are preventable. Having been involved in weight training as an athlete and therapist, I can tell you that injury prevention is a fallacy. Injuries are a part of weight training as much as barbells, deadlifts, etc.

Weight training (squats, deadlifts, etc.) is a non contact “sport”. Theoretically injuries in non contact sports should be preventable. But as Yogi Berra said: “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are not.” Thus, if you are under the assumption that you can prevent an injury from occurring; you are setting yourself up for failure due to unrealistic assumptions and expectations.

A pragmatic expectation is that injuries occur in weight training. If you do not manage your expectations and are surprised when an injury occurs, you are going to be miserable and the injuries will be that much harder to overcome.

All the greatest lifters, whether it be in bodybuilding, powerlifting, etc., all have encountered numerous injuries (see: Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Ed Coan, Louie Simmons, etc.). The injuries and overcoming them is what made these men some of the greatest of all time.

The bottom line is in weight training there is a lot of variables that we can control; however, there are just as many if not more external factors that we do not control. This means, by no fault of our own, it will not always go our way.

Great lifters understand the reality of external factors. Their mindset is to control what they can control and that is themselves. This mindset mentally prepares them for the adversity that comes with injury. Anticipate success but be prepared for both success and failure.

I have come to the conclusion that injury prevention is a fallacy. External factors make it impossible. Thus, we should immediately abandon the phrase injury prevention and replace it with injury mitigation.

With expectations now aligned with reality, we can look to what we can control, mitigating injury.

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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS

Part II Bulletproofing Your Spine: Reverse Hyper & Optimal External Loading

“You do not want to train maximal…You do not want to train minimal…You want to train OPTIMAL.” – Louie Simmons/Mel Siff PhD MsC

An optimal external training load will induce positive adaptations of increased fitness that will function to protect against injury. If the external training load is below optimal (minimal), positive adaptations of increased STRENGTH will NOT occur due to under training. If the external training load is above optimal (maximal), it can result in decreased physical fitness and at worse induce injury due to over training.

Part I detailed how strength acquisition of the spine requires a progressive increase in external training load. The aim of Part II is to enable you to understand what an optimal external training load is for you in regards to the reverse hyper. Strength acquisition requires an understanding of how to optimally apply/manage external loads.

“The ideal training stimulus ‘sweet spot’ is the one that maximizes net performance potential by having an appropriate training load while limiting the negative consequences of training (ie, injury, illness, fatigue and overtraining).” – Tim Gabbett PhD

Tim Gabbett’s approach to optimizing external training load to improve performance and avoid injury is the ratio of “acute: chronic load ration”. This ratio describes the acute training load (most recent week’s training load) to the chronic training load (preceding four-week rolling average of acute training load). He recommends referencing the change or increase of training load relative to the preceding four-week average, NOT just the preceding week alone.

For example, if the average amount of weight lifted on the reverse hyper over the previous four weeks was 8,000lbs per week and the current week was going to be 9,000lbs — dividing the chronic work load 8,000 by the current week (acute) of 9,000lbs the ratio is: 1.13. According to the work of Gabbett (pictured below), the ideal ratio, “sweet spot” is 0.8 – 1.3.

Gabbett’s work enables us a way to numerically define minimal training, maximal training, and optimal training in regards to external loading:

  • > Minimal is below 0.8
  • > Maximal is above 1.5
  • > Optimal is 0.8 – 1.3

Review:

  • > Optimal loading will induce positive adaptations of increased fitness that will function to protect against injury.
  • > Maximal loading increases risk of injury and/or decreased physical fitness/performance.
  • > Minimal loading results in under training.
    ***Under-trained individuals are also at a high risk for injury and/or decreased physical fitness/performance.

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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS

Reference: 
Gabbett TJ. The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 12 January 2016. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788

Part I Bulletproofing Your Spine Series: Reverse Hyper

“Clearly, for athletes to develop physical capacities required to provide a protective effect against injury, they must be prepared to TRAIN HARD.” – Tim Gabbett PhD

The reverse hyper developed by Westside Barbell owner Louie Simmons has been used by the strongest gym in the world for decades, generations of lifters and athletes, WITHOUT causing spinal injury. Critics of the reverse hyper claim it’s unhealthy and dangerous for the spine. The only thing dangerous and unhealthy about the reverse hyper is NOT regularly performing it.

For one to develop physical capacity, they must be optimally exposed to the hard physical stressors of training. Training loads, specifically external training load, will be the main stressor of focus in regards to the reverse hyper. External training load (i.e. physical work) is critical in understanding the work completed and capabilities/capacities of the individual. Simply, defined as the amount of weight lifted in regards to weight training.

It’s vital to understand training with NO progressive increase in external training load will NOT develop increased strength. All the high repetitions non loading back exercises (bird dog crunches, cat camel, etc.) do NOT develop strength. Strength development of the spine or any biological tissue requires a progressive increase in external loading.

“…the use of very mild back exercises will do VERY LITTLE to increase the functional strength of the large and powerful muscles of the back. To strengthen the back, one must CHALLENGE the back muscle adequately and gradually INCREASE the TRAINING LOAD which work the back through its FULL FUNCTIONAL RANGE, otherwise THE BACK WILL REMAIN AS WEAK AS IT WAS and recurrence of back problems is inevitable.” – Mel Siff PhD, MSc

High repetitions training with NO progressive increase in external loading will develop muscular endurance, some hypertrophy, but NOT strength. Strengthening the spine requires exposing the tissues to progressive external loading training stressors in an optimal setting. There is NO better exercise that allows an individual to progressively overload using external load to strengthen the spine than the reverse hyper

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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS

Maximal Effort Method to Optimize Lifting Mechanics

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

The most effective training method to optimize lifting mechanics for compound movements (deadlift, squat, press, etc.) is Maximal Effort (ME) Method. There is an inaccurate thought process that lifting maximal weights is unsafe. This thought process is normally that of the physical therapist who weighs 100lbs and spends his time posting videos on Instagram practicing movements or the out of shape strength coach who is unable to deadlift his own body weight. In theory one can argue (incorrectly) that ME method is “unsafe”; however, the fact of the matter is in practice ME method is the best method to optimize the efficiency for compound movements.

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” – Yogi Berra

The most efficient way to optimize lifting mechanics is to SUBTRACT the ways in which the lift can be accomplished. Since lifting light weights is easy, the body can formulate almost an infinite number of movement solutions that will accomplish the task. For example, if you squat down and pick up a 10lb kettlebell there are literally thousands of different movement solutions, with endless combination of options that would accomplish the task. You could be on one leg, or you could be on your tiptoes, etc. If you performed this light lift repeatedly, you would use your joints in combinations that you may possibly never use again.

Simply, lifting light weights enables the body to formulate more movement solutions, which increases the complexity; thus, decreasing the odds of improving mechanics or using optimal mechanics. Experienced lifters who train compound movements with heavy weights understand this concept; that is why their heavier sets “feel” and generally look better. Their non working warm up sets will not be as mechanically efficient as their heavier working sets, as they can get away with not being 100% on point. Once the weight gets heavier, the body narrows down movement solutions; thus, optimizing lifting mechanics.

The body is an adaptable biological complex system, which in this scenario gains knowledge by subtraction, NOT addition. By examining ME method through a systems perspective, we can see the load acts as a resistance to the musculoskeletal component part of the system. As the load increases, resistance increases which decreases the amount of movement solutions that will accomplish the lift. Thus, as the load increases it acts to assist the central nervous system component part of the biological complex system by narrowing the range of options (movement solutions).

Training compound lifts using ME method narrows the movement solutions down to very fundamental and powerful mechanics. For instance the mechanics of picking up a 10lb kettlebell is going to look very different from the mechanics of deadlifting 315lbs of weight with 200lbs of band tension. Therefore, if the aim of training is enhance lifting mechanics (which it should be), Maximum Effort Method must be applied.

The method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordinations; the muscles and central nervous system (CNS) apart only to the load placed on them. This should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments.” – Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Science and Practice of of Strength Training

In both Science and Practice, the ME method is superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. Simply put, muscles are composed of muscle fibers which are under the control of motor neurons. This relationship when viewed from a systems perspective is referred to as the neuromuscular system. Lifting maximal weights enhances the performance of the neuromuscular system by removing movement solutions for which the system can formulate, thus optimizing lifting mechanics and enhancing long-term potentiation**.

I was exposed to the method of maximal effort by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. I am beyond grateful for all I have learned from Lou, Tom Barry and all the individuals at Westside Barbell.

If you found this post to be informative, please share and subscribe to my blog to receive posts directly to your inbox. Thanks for reading and please check out my online services.

John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS

**In neuroscience, long-term potentiation (LTP) is a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity. There are patterns of synaptic activity that produce a long-lasting increase in signal transmission between two neurons. > “Cells that fire together, wire together.”

Your body is NOT a bank account

The human body is an adaptable complex system comprised of biological tissues. Biological tissues are stress responsive tissues which have the capacity to self organize and self repair. For example, when a stressor is inputted into the system, the tissues will self organize and self repair to better handle that specific stressor. The process of increasing capacity as a result of specific stressors is a biological principle known as the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands).

During the self repair process, the body will overcompensate (up to the individual’s biological limit); thus, increasing the capacity of those tissues to better withstand that stressor in the future. The body overcompensates in the repair process as it believes that that same stressor will occur in the future; however, the stressor will be worse; thus, capacity is increased.

Acute training/manual therapy stressors aid in enabling the body to increase capacity to better handle stressors in the future. If stressor inputs are removed from biological systems, the body will decrease capacity and become fragile and weak.

“Your body is a process. It starts when you’re born, ends when you die. Everything in between requires work.” – Dr. Andreo Spina

Optimal stressor inputs function as information to the complex system to overcompensate and develop increased capacity so that the organism is a better match for the demands being placed upon them. Thus, the absence of stressor inputs in biological systems is harmful.

A bank account does not have the capacity to self repair. Thus, when a withdraw is made (stressor) the account is harmed from the event.

Sadly, individuals in the training/rehabilitation, manual therapy fields do not grasp basic biological principles or complex systems. Because of this ignorance, trainers/therapists remove vital stressors from individuals, which hurts the system as a whole making the individual fragile and perpetuates the injury process.

Thanks to Dr. Michael Chivers who exposed me to complex systems and Donella Meadows book: Thinking in Systems.

If you found this post to be informative, please share and subscribe to my blog to receive posts directly to your inbox. Thanks for reading and please check out my online services.

John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS

The Science of the Physical Environment: Understanding why optimal mobility is critical to optimal function

To understand why optimal mobility is so critical for us, we need to know exactly what mobility is. Mobility is defined as: the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.

We know we should have optimal mobility, but do we really understand why we have to have mobility to have optimal function? A major factor is because humans don’t exist in isolation; we interact with the world around us. For us to truly understand why mobility is so important we need to have a grasp on the science of the physical environment in which our bodies exist and function in. Understanding our physical environment will only empower us, enabling us to recognize the importance of how optimal mobility enables us to have the ability to optimally function.

We interact with multiple forces in the physical environment that our bodies function in. Understanding Newton’s Third Law is crucial. To simplify, I break the Law into 3 parts. Part one of the Law states: forces always come in pairs: equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs. For instance, we know that with everything we do our bodies have to deal with the force of gravity. Gravity is the force that attracts our bodies towards the center of the earth. Often, we forget about its opposite action-reaction force; ground reaction force (GRF). To understand human biomechanics it is essential we first understand the interaction of forces in the physical environment that human biomechanics occurs in.

Hi-Res Fig 3 Foot and Ground Reaction Force with LabelsEveryone knows gravity, and if you are clumsy like me, have probably experienced it firsthand by falling a time or two. We blame gravity for the fall, but gravity is not acting alone. We experience gravity during the fall but when we make contact with the ground our body experiences the interaction of gravity with GRF. It’s this interaction in time with gravity and GRF that we physically feel the pain from falling. If we drop a glass, gravity alone does not break it. Gravity’s interaction with GRF with the glass cup and the ground is what shatters it. Other factors obviously go into the equation like mass, velocity, direction, etc., but the main focus here is to understand action-reaction forces.

Lucky for us when we fall, we are not as fragile as the glass. A simple, somewhat comparable object to humans would be a basketball. When the basketball makes contact with the ground we know that gravity and GRF interact with ball and the ground. In physics this is defined as the moment when a pair of forces (gravity and GRF) are acting on two interacting objects (the basketball and the ground). This is where we need to understand part two of Newton’s Third Law which states that: the size of the forces on the first object (ball) equals the size of the force on the second object (ground).

We have seen this Law simply stated as: for every action, there is annewton3-1024x599 equal and opposite reaction. When the glass interacted with gravity and GFR at the ground and shattered, it was due to the fact that the glass did not have the ability to transform the energy of the interaction, so therefore it simply breaks. When the ball interacted with gravity and GRF at the ground it bounces back in the opposite direction (that is if it is properly inflated) due to its ability to transform the energy from the interaction of the forces at the ground. We can experience this equal opposite reaction force when we start to bounce a ball with more force into the ground; it comes back with the same increased force.

The reaction of the ball bouncing back into our hand enables us to understand the third part of Newton’s Third Law which states: the direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. The ball left our hand into the direction of the ground. Following its interactions with action-reaction forces at the ground, the ball’s ability to transform the energy from that interaction enables it to bounce back and travel in the exact opposite direction of the ground, returning back into our hand.

Newtons_cradle_animation_book_2To better understand the physical environment, we need to understand one more Law of physics which is: The Law of Conservation of Energy. The Law states that: energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form into another to transferred from one object to another. For example, when the glass made contact with the ground, the energy from the interaction of forces shattered it and no energy was lost. When the ball made contact with the ground, the energy from the interaction of forces was transferred from the ground into the ball, enabling it to bounce back into our hand. Another we have seen on desks is Newton’s cradle pictured to the right, where the energy is continuously transferred.

In the physical environment in which we exist, these two Laws work in conjunction to enable efficient human function. Lenny Parracino, Fellow of Applied Functional Science at the Gray Institute, articulated it by stating that:

“We need energy to move. Energy allows work to occur. Work is the function of forces. Forces change the way we move. If we want to stop and change direction, we need to exert a force. But we cannot exert a force unless we have energy.”

Just like the example of the basketball, in gait when our foot comes in contact with the ground, we are able to transform the energy of that action-reaction interaction of forces to propel us into walking. However, if we lack optimal mobility in the foot/ankle complex, the transformation of energy will be inefficient. Lenny Parracino calls the inefficient transfer of energy through our bodies “energy leaks”. Optimal human function in the physical environment can then be defined as efficient energy transformations during biomechanics where no energy is “leaked”.

Optimal human function in regards to the interaction with the physical environment is for the body to mc-efficiency-equationpossess the ability for the energy of action-reaction interaction forces to enter into the system and efficiently travel through the body. If we have optimal mobility in each joint, as the energy travels through those joints, motion in 3 dimensional space will occur. Joints are not isolated but integrated. An action or lack of action in one joint creates a reaction or lack of a reaction in the other joint(s) which articulate to it in the kinetic chain. In other words, each joint plays a role to each other and to the body as a whole.

If we lack mobility in a joint, there will be stillness. As motion and energy enter into the immobile joint, injury and trauma to the joint and surrounding tissue is likely to occur. If the force entering the immobile joint exceeds the individual’s adaptive potential, injury is very likely. This lack of the energy to be able to efficiently travel through the body is an example of an “energy leak.” When the joints in our body lack the ability to transform energy efficiently, our joints function more like the glass than the ball in the previous examples. In the athletic setting, these inefficiencies greatly reduce one’s athletic potential.

By understanding the physical environment that human biomechanics occur in, we can understand why we need to possess optimal mobility to have optimal function. The objective in human function is to strive for efficiency instead of just being effective. Therefore, we need to identify any inefficiencies and address them to not only prevent injury but to optimize performance.

Just like gravity works as a pair with GRF, mobility works in unison with stability. That is why I stated optimal mobility is needed for efficient human function. Just as too little mobility is not good for the system, too much mobility is also harmful. What is needed is the optimal amount of both mobility and stability. The structures need to be mobile enough to move while at the same time being stable enough to return. We do not want to create mobility in a structure unless at the same time we are creating stability. It would be illogical to create motion and flexibility if we cannot control it. Mobility without stability is the definition of injury. You would be able to move in one direction but due to the lack of control, would not have the ability to stabilize and transform to move in a different direction.

Unknown– During a conversation over two years ago, Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell gave me a Basic Physics book (pictured left) that would forever change my perspective and understanding on both treatment and training. I am forever grateful.

– I want to credit the Gray Institute for furthering my eduction and understanding of human function.

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– John Quint NMT ART CAFS

Maximize Your Trap Training with One Movement

This is my favorite type of row. The objective is to efficiently train the upper, middle and lower fibers of the trapezius in one movement. The middle and lower fibers are stimulated and stressed when performing the row and the upper fibers when performing the shrug. By incorporating this movement you are essentially killing 3 birds with one stone.

Most of us have stronger upper fibers and shrug more than we row. For that reason, I generally shrug last and row first. However, there are times when I start off by performing shrugs, then rows, then finish with shrugging again. Making it essentially a tri-set or giant set.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 4.33.54 PM

Note:

The trapezius (pictured right) inserts onto the scapula, so make sure you are fully retracting and protracting your scapula on every repetition for both the shrug and the row.

To fully maximize the contraction of the upper fibers, tilt your head (laterally flex) towards the shrugging shoulder.

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– John Quint NMT ART CAFS

Strategy: A Mobility Exercise for Every Athlete who Lifts

Strategy: a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall goal. Strategies are developed from fundamental truths. My strategy is to empower you with strategies that help improve your quality of life.

Normally I never talk in absolutes or generalities when prescribing mobility or stability exercises to individuals, as no one person is the same as another person. It is my belief that to get the most out of any form of exercise, it needs to be tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. With that being said, I am going to contradict what I normally do and say that, in general, I believe this mobility/stability exercise should be done by any athlete who lifts (specifically powerlifters, bodybuilders, crossfitters, and anyone who regularly does some form of bench press.)

Explanation given below in the video.

The reason why I feel comfortable recommending this exercise is because I am not basing it off of the individual. I am basing it upon the science of the physical environment that one of the most common lifting movements, the bench press, puts us in. The science of the physical environment in conjunction with the SAID principle is what justifies my recommendation. Ralph Waldo Emerson said in regards to basing ideas off of principles: “As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but the principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” I believe this method/strategy, which is based off of science and principles, will greatly help lifters.

To refresh our memories, the SAID principle “asserts that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands. In other words, given stressors on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, there will be a Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID).” This is one of the most basic principles in science. The issue is we generally assume that all adaptations from exercise are “good”, but that is false.

There is a risk and reward for everything that we do. Everything in life seems to come in some sort of paired dynamic relationship just like mobility and stability. As lifters, we understand and have experienced the favorable adaptations from pressing movements like the bench press with increased strength, hypertrophy, etc. However, there are less favorable adaptations that we need to analyze as well so that we can address them.

In any type of press, one of the main objectives is to keep everything as stable and tight as possible. In order to lift maximal weights, the musculoskeletal system has to be stable. Louie Simmons was a former crane operator, once told me that you can’t do much with a crane that is on a barge; meaning even though the crane has the capacity to do the work, the lack of stability significantly inhibits its performance. Powerlifters understand this concept very well and have even developed gear like bench press shirts which significantly increase the stability in the musculoskeletal system. The increased stability leads to increased strength.

Through my years of experience treating a countless number of individuals who regularly bench press, myself included, I have found that one of the least favorable adaptations to the movement is loss of mobility in the scapulothoracic joints. This is not the the only unfavorable adaptation; however, it is one of the most common ones for the demographic of people who regularly bench press.

Image by Tom Myers, Anatomy Trains

Image by Tom Myers, Anatomy Trains

A joint is an articulation where bones meet and create a space allowing us to dissipate force. The joint we are going to emphasize in this mobility/stability exercise is the scapulothoracic joint (pictured right), which is the space between the scapula and the thoracic cavity. The physical environment that the joint is placed in is not optimal for mobility as we know that we have to create as much stability as possible to maximize our performance. We place the scapula on the bench to increase stability in the scapulothoracic joint. When the scapula is placed on the bench, the weight of our body in conjunction with gravity and the weight of the bar significantly compresses the joint space in the sagittal plane. Add into the equation the force of gravity, which is the weight of our torso, plus the weight of the load on the bar. Newton’s Third Law, which states that: for every force there is an equal opposing force, makes us remember that we have an equal opposing force of ground reaction force interacting between us on the bench.

Due to the combination of the SAID principle and the physical environment that our bodies are in during a bench press, what will occur over time is we will start to increase stability in the scapulothoracic joint, primarily in the sagittal plane, but due to the lack of any mobility during the movement it will negatively alter the optimal dynamic relationship of mobility/stability in the joint. This would be considered an optimal adaption if all we did was bench press, but we know that isn’t the case. In optimal human function, the scapula is supposed to translate and glide in 3 dimensional space with the thoracic cavity. However, the scapulothoracic joint does not get the stressor of mobility during pressing, but gets the opposite, so SAID dictates that mobility will decrease as there is no mobility stressor or stimulus.

The body is a whole and needs to be treated as such, but we can emphasize certain segments.Obviously if we are regularly bench pressing, it would be a good idea to add in a mobility stimulus to complement the stability stimulus from the press. The following mobility/stability exercise in the video below demonstrates how to effectively add functional mobility and stability into the scapulothoracic joint.

I set the exercise up in the gym setting using a band and a squat rack. What you do is:

  • put your hand in the band and and then wrap the band around your wrist and grab the rest of it with your hand so that you have a secure grip
  • take a couple steps back to increase the tension in the band so that you feel a stretch between your scapulae and in your lattisimus dorsi
  • have a wider than shoulder width stance and squat down – this should greatly increase the stretch you feel
    relax your arm and let the band take and traction your scapula
  • with you arm staying totally relaxed, rotate your opposite side hip into the same side the band is on (so if right arm in band tension, then you will rotate your left hip to your right side)
  • perform repetitions just as you would any other exercise

The goal of this exercise is to create traction and long axial distraction with the band in the entire upper extremity emphasizing the scapulothoracic joint, while simultaneously using your hips to drive in transverse and frontal motion into the joint and surrounding soft tissue structures. The band tension will take the scapula one way while the rotation at your hips will create a rotation in your spine and thoracic cavity in the opposite direction that the scapula is being tractioned in. The motion of the scapula going one way with traction and long axial distraction, while at the same time driving your hips in the opposite direction, will create real bone movement of the scapula over the thoracic cavity.  

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John Quint NMT ART CAFS