Category Archives: Stretching

Learning about Movement – 2012 – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series of posts reflecting on some highlights in learning about movement that I experienced in this last year. In part 1, I addressed my experience with Applied Functional Science / Chain Reaction™ Biomechanics and presented an application of this approach using hip internal rotation. In this post, I will discuss how my strength and conditioning beliefs have changed in 2012.

I still believe in heavy sagital plane lifting. Power/explosive lifts, deadlifts, squats, various forms of pressing have important places with strength and conditioning in a number of sports. Gary Gray provides good reasoning to support the idea that athletic development does not gain a great deal from these lifts unless they are a competitive weight lifter. However, standardized tests improved by these lifts have been shown to be related to athletic success in research1,2 and professional experience does show these lifts cross over into training. It is possible these improvements may  be related to changes in coaching over the career of an athlete but it doesn’t change the fact that intense overloads over time result is associated with athletes becoming stronger, more powerful, and faster. The carry over effects might not be driven purely by hypertrophy and increased neuromuscular drive, it could be endocrine related (increasing load is associated with increases in GH, testosterone, etc) and it could even be largely related by the mental discipline it takes to safely and properly lift increasingly difficult loads. The argument that he and others make is that there are other ways to accomplish this carry over and provide more specific tissue and neurological adaptation to sport. That may be the case, but it has not had the sheer volume and history of success as heavy sagital plane loading. There are certainly some sports I could see the value in dumping this type of loading today, but I think we might lose something, or cause a new problem, if we drop it all together.

So what about the multiplanar, multi-joint, functional training, corrective exercise realm? This is where I started my journey into movement through attending a seminar at Perform Better in 2003. At that time and many years looking forward, I just wanted to collect exercises and categorize them for individual purposes. I rode the anti-heavy lifting bandwagon for a good 4 years before I realized there was a value in it and put it back in my own system. I juggled the balance between the use of bigger lifts and the use of mobility/stability/sport specific power/strength development. I also began to realize how stability and mobility training was being scarred by the functional training movement. People see individuals squatting on stability balls and doing bicep curls on BOSUs under the claim of being “functional” when in fact, quite the opposite, they’re producing movements which simply do not exist in typical function unless they have some sort of odd circus specialty as a career.

Squat on ball

In fact, for many the idea of stability training automatically seems to perceived as being on an unstable surface, which could not be further from the truth. Worse yet, when they are not on some sort of unstable surface they are frequently isolated and cued to be worked under artificial constraints of stability. Everyone is given at least 5 cues to tighten one muscle, loosen another, fire this muscle, not that one. These cues have a place when someone is painful or are early in a rehabilitation protocol, but they do not belong in an athlete’s prehab or conditioning program in the long term except if they have another exacerbation of symptoms. They do not allow the athlete the freedom of motion to develop control in multiple planes of motion. Stability is a joint by joint function specific task. Stability is not simply the ability to hollow, brace, or maintain perfect hip hinge technique (go ahead and tell any strong man competitor fully flexed over atlas stone that his spine is unstable while lifting).

Atlas_Stone

Nor is stability hip abduction and external rotation strength and endurance which keeps this hip, knee, and ankle in a perfect sagital position. Stability is also nearly impossible to tease away from mobility. When mobility with load and force are only practiced in one plane of motion (IE: sagital plane heavy squatting, dead lifts, etc.), mobility will not improve in other planes of motion unless loaded in those planes of motion. Which brings me to our next topic, mobility needs training, not just stretching (dynamic or static):

I believe we can incorporate loaded and body weight exercises into general strategies for improving mobility which I think is more beneficial than a stretching regimen alone. We now know that long term static stretching flexibility improvements are primarily related to stretch tolerance, not tissue change. We are beginning to see that long-term resistance training with full ROM have similar flexibility improvements. 3,4 My belief is that incorporating more full body multiplanar movements with appropriate loading will therefore make more lasting changes in mobility in ways which are more functionally applicable than stretching because they reinforce active patterns of movement. Furthermore, performing these mobility exercises in weight bearing may theoretically promote joint stability at these newly acquire ranges of motion.

Finally, addressing the concern of timing of implementing all of these exercises into anyone’s program. Overall, I see some effectively implementing multi-planar/multi-joint mobility and stability into supplement work for their heavy sagital plane work. Some incorporate into into their metabolic days. To some extent, I will acknowledge it is possible that the advent of diverse multi-planar dynamic stretching prior to every session is already adequate to address my concerns. However, I still wonder if these are enough to make long standing changes in freeing up movement patterns, in particular in the transverse planes. Simply peppering a couple of mobility exercises from time to time may not be enough.

I began this year developing a program meant to complement existing training programs rather than replacing anything. It started first as a way to implement many of the old school strong man training and unconventional training techniques popular these days: focusing on grip strength and lifting and moving diverse objects into a dedicated session, as a way to expand motor patterns for force generation and just to mix up training. Some of this was just for entertainment and variety. Ultimately, after my exposure to the AFS approach and some of the group training at Shoreline Sport & Spine, this progressed to include a variety of multiplanar activities to promote mobility and stability. I now call these the “Mix” sessions, with the idea being utilize full body movements, lift and move diverse objects which require multiple forms of grip and body positioning, and integrate multiplanar/3D mobility and stability to complement an existing training plan.

The idea behind having these as separate sessions rather than integrated into existing sessions was that although I wanted some mild/brief fatigue from a metabolic style warm-up and a finisher at the end, I wanted to not have neuromuscular fatigue be so great prior to, or during, the session as to prevent the body from learning new movement it might not be familiar with.

I put together a video of some the exercises used in group sessions over the last year as this thought process evolved. This video is not the best representation of everything involved in a mix session or the balance of single plane vs. multi-plane diversity. I still have a large number of sagital plane based exercises, but it still demonstrates how the movement is changed by using objects other than barbells and how freedom of motion is promoted throughout. Of additional note, these sessions were designed for group sessions, the exercises recorded below were primarily for non-competitive athletes, these are different than a competitive athlete and the sessions can be customized be more “general sport specific”, but they are inherently limited in the ability to address an individual’s functional needs.

And if I’m completely honestly, it is just fun to have an entire dedicated session to experiment with movements that are different than what are traditionally used. Sometimes a little change is all that we need to move forward.

1.) Hansen, Keir T., et al. “Do Force–Time and Power–Time Measures in a Loaded Jump Squat Differentiate between Speed Performance and Playing Level in Elite and Elite Junior Rugby Union Players?.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.9 (2011): 2382-2391.

2.) Gonzalez, Adam M., et al. “Performance Changes in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women Basketball Players During a Competitive Season: Starters Vs. Nonstarters.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.12 (2012): 3197-3203.

3.) O’Sullivan, Kieran, Sean McAuliffe, and Neasa DeBurca. “The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 46.12 (2012): 838-845.

4.) Morton, Sam K., et al. “Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.12 (2011): 3391.

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Learning about Movement – 2012 – Part 1

This is part 1 of a series of posts reflecting on some highlights in learning about movement that I experienced in this last year. I hope to be able to do this on an annual basis as a record of self-reflection and hopefully provide some value to others out there on the same journey.

Applied Functional Science / Chain Reaction™ Biomechanics

SKBK_WuShu_Aerial_R

I have previously discussed my interest in going more in depth into multiplanar movement with my posts on 3D stretching as well as regional interdependence. I have used the FMS and SFMA off and on for a few years and felt they were both efficient and useful for their respective purposes, and I love that the research community is actively exploring the validity and reliability of these tests. I will still utilize components of these tests from time to time. However, I have personally found I need to change to a more customized approach to evaluation. In the past, I have found that in the middle of testing, I would break out of the protocols established trying to “tease” out something that did not fit cleanly into any of the tests. Part of this is just my nature, I have a difficult time adhering to standardized procedures and the way I do things just kind of evolves and varies depending by how I perceive something is presented to me. As these breakout sessions grew in complexity, I knew that for me personally I needed to explore some other philosophies which probably have figured out things I have yet to even think to ask about. Gary Gray’s Applied Functional Science (AFS) was the first approach that peaked my interest after that point. Gary Gray arguably pioneered much of the functional training movement, with Gray Cook stating publicly he has been strongly influenced by Gary Gray’s thought process. However, getting to the point of wanting pursue learning about the AFS approach has been a 4 year journey. When I first watched videos of Gary demonstrating and discussing his thought process, I completely disregarded it because my bias at the time of what I was seeing was an awful amount of poor quality movement with no regard for what is currently considered stability, in particular with movement of the spine. But over time, I could not deny that this freedom of motion looked more useful than I had first thought. I finally bit my lip and jumped in, eventually realizing I need to at least give it a try. It was probably one of the best decisions I could have made and now has significantly influenced how I view movement and exercise prescription.

I was given the opportunity to be exposed to the AFS approach through a nine week clinical rotation at Shoreline Sport & Spine in Spring Lake, MI. There are currently 6 Fellows of Applied Functional Science™(FAFS) at this location. A FAFS has completed a 40 week fellowship through Gary Gray’s Applied Functional Science (AFS) approach. The clinicians at Shoreline have integrated AFS with a wide variety of manual therapies and other interventions which was a fantastic eclectic experience that allowed me to explore a number of ways to integrate this philosophy.

Before presenting on this topic, I must first acknowledge that these are my personal reflections on the experience, and if they are in error, they should not reflect upon the excellent clinicians at Shoreline Sport & Spine. I am certain more than one FAFS will perceive I might have missed the boat on key points, and to that, I respond that I plan to formally take a Chain Reaction™ course in the future to see what else I might have missed. Furthermore, I am commenting on but a drop in the ocean of what the AFS system entails. The “Functional Nomenclature” alone requires a 44 page manual to address simply the language and fundamental principles. That being said, here are some key things I learned from this experience:

“Drivers facilitate chain reactions throughout the body”

This was the earliest, most applicable, concept I learned from my exposure to the AFS/Chain Reaction model. It may seem like a simple statement but it is incredibly profound when broken down even a small amount. Rather than simply thinking about one joint moving on another and leaving it at that, the Chain Reaction model demands that every joint be examined from a proximal on distal and distal on proximal perspective, what are the joints above and below doing, and what planes of motion (sagital, frontal, transverse) all of the joints are moving in during any musculoskeletal action. Central to this is the concept that during movement, a driver leads the movement and the joints above and below follow that same movement, but at different speeds as they progressively move in the direction dictated by the driver. This delay in speed/timing of a bone following another bone is the Chain Reaction explanation for much of what we understand about arthrokinematics. When bones move on top of each other in multiple planes of motion in the various representations of roll, glide, spin, etc.,  they are doing so according to the congruencies afforded to them to allow them to follow the next bone and joint as led by the driver.

In most of our manual therapy courses, we examine relative motion of one joint on another and addresses joint movement in various planes of motion based on arthrokinematics. Traditionally, looking at joints this way was left to the manual therapy realm and not the exercise prescription realm. Oddvar Holten likely made the earliest attempt to merge the manual therapy perspective with exercise prescription with his Medical Exercise Therapy (MET – Not to be confused with muscle energy technique) which focused on utilizing various apparatuses to isolate spinal segmental levels and extremities and then focusing on patient induced movement into one or more planes of motion specific to the desired outcome determined in the manual therapy diagnosis. The Chain Reaction approach more broadly addresses this by including concepts more similar to regional interdependence and primarily using the patient’s own body and extremities to control the levels of segmental or joint emphasis through prepositioning such as: Holding on to a stable or unstable support, modifying the weight bearing surface (wedges, angles, instability), conscious prepositioning, etc. It then utilizes another joint or point of the body above or below (could be FAR above or below) to facilitate movement at the joint in the plane, or planes, desired. This approach is both a diagnosis and a treatment, which is the focus of the AFS approach. It integrates extremely well with existing manual therapy interventions, or in Gary’s opinion, independent of traditional manual therapy models, resulting in him developing his own manual therapy system specific to the AFS called Functional Soft Tissue.

Getting back to the idea of a “driver”. A driver is anything which “drives” motor behavior. This could be any part of the upper extremity, lower extremity, trunk, neck, head, eyes, sense organs, and/or even fears and beliefs. The driver itself has numerous variables which can be applied to it: Is it open or closed chain based? What action is performed? What is the direction of movement? What is the speed? What are the force demands? Etc. etc.. This is just a small list amongst many other variables, not even addressing fears and beliefs.  The entire process can get very complex, very quickly, when broken down in the nomenclature which requires looking at every movement from the perspective of:

  • What environment is it occurring in (given available, or specified with certain controls on stability)?
  • What is the beginning position (upright, seated, kneeling, prone, supine, sidelying)?
  • What exactly is the driver (hand, knee, foot, pelvis, trunk, shoulder, etc)?
  • What is the triangulation (direction/target)?
  • What is the action (squat, lunge, reach, pull, etc)?
  • What is the ending position?

I am not qualified to go into that sort of detail, so instead I will provide a broad overview with a contemporary example. Many of us are already applying general versions of this thought process, but do not realize how far we can take it. I will use the example of a kettlebell swing.

 Kettlebell Swing

If you give a new client a kettlebell and only cue them to swing the kettlebell, they will instinctively “drive” the motion using the arms and shoulders, not their hips as you may have originally intended. They do this because you just gave them a cue which facilitates a motor pattern to accomplish the goal in the simplest way the brain understands, which is to swing their arms to swing the kettlebell, rather than to accomplish the exercise prescription goal you had intended, which was likely hip extension. If you change the cue to “Drive the hips forward”, you changed the driver of the motion to the hips, rather than the arms. Now in order to produce the force to swing the kettlebell, the individual will use a hip extension strategy. You just changed the entirety of the neuromuscular patterns utilized, even though you had the exact same exercise setup. Change the driver and the motor behavior changes.  Now, if you expand this to joint by joint, things get really interesting.

Take for example working mobility and stability of hip internal rotation. There are a handful of non-weight bearing activities which involve the femur actively or passively internally rotating on the pelvis.

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We may begin with a manual therapy intervention to address mobility, then provide a mobility exercise, then a stretch, then we prescribe an exercise for stability, then we address another joint which may be associated, and we give it a mobility exercise, and a stretch, and a stabilization exercise, on and on we go. We may end up providing a large amount of exercises, all of which take time, with very specific cues and details to remember. Now with AFS, if we apply the concept of a driver along with any number of subtle changes, or “tweaks” as Gary likes to call them (the process is called “tweakology”), we can tailor a custom exercise specific to our patient needs across multiple joints with reduced need for extensive cuing and details. This can be done with fewer exercises overall because we can integrate mobility, stability, and movement across multiple joints, in multiple planes of motion, into simple exercises which require less time for the patient perform. Progression and regression are simple to teach because you are using movement patterns the client/patient already knows, you simply tweak one or two components to make changes towards the movement you want to improve.

As I am already far over my target word count for this post, I will finish with a video in which I discuss some basic strategies to emphasize hip internal rotation in weight bearing and function:


Dynamic Principles Basic Flows

Movement “flows” are a popular trend in the personal/fitness/strength and conditioning realm these days. “Flows” are a sequence of movements or exercises put end to end and performed in a continuous fashion.  These movements are performed continuously for the desired amount of time or repetitions.  To some extent, they have existed for 1,000 of years in martial arts in patterns of movements called “forms” which paired together martial arts techniques in both short and extremely long sequences (I have learned forms over 10 minutes in length in various styles over the years, and some forms of Tai Chi can be even longer). These grew and evolved to include many acrobatic techniques as well. The value of any these forms are debatable, but for those who enjoy them, they are worthwhile. Similarly, for those who are looking for something different, the current trend of movement flows are worthwhile. After all, movement in life is varied and diverse, not confined to singular patterns. Not to mention that flows can be quickly fatiguing through a variety of changing movements rather than the need to do a high volume of the same exercise.

Over the last few months, I have been toying with the idea of incorporating movement patterns and exercises that I think are generally beneficial to overall movement into standardized flow. As it stands, I have developed two sequences which I have been putting through trials with a variety of victims (read: clients and friends) with positive response. Therefore, I have decided to throw these out to the public for others to try. These flows are great for a warm-up or a stand alone exercise and can be blended together for a physically, and sometimes cognitively, challenging exercise.

Dynamic Principles Basic Flow #1 emphasizes mobility and stability for the hips and shoulders, trunk control, and multiplanar movement driven by both the upper and lower extremities.

Dynamic Principles Basic Flow #2 emphasizes dynamically lengthening the frontal and lateral anatomy lines, multiplanar spinal mobility, and multi-angle hip extension

As always, thoughts and opinions are welcome!


Interval Based Dynamic Warm-ups

The discussion about the value of a dynamic warm-up in movement preparation is fairly focused on dynamic stretching these days. If you need a brief primer on pre-exercise dynamic stretching, please visit this old write-up of mine here. Now debates occasionally arise regarding what the “optimal” dynamic warm-up or movement preparation approach is. Tons of articles, books, and even training programs encompass very specific “functional” activities as a part of the warm-up. While I personally think that some degree of specificity is needed for each individual sport, there may be times we get a little excessive in this vein. A recent article from  Sander et al. sparked my interest on this topic. In their study, they took a group of elite youth soccer players (making some limitation of the practicality to 13-18 years olds), split them into two, one with a very generic warm-up (although they did include various running drills which are functionally specific to sprinting) and a second which did the generic warm-up plus additional “functional exercises”.  They found that for linear sprints and change of direction sprints, no significant difference was noted between the two groups. In other words, besides just “getting warmed up”, some of the classic “functional dynamic warm-ups” did not add any additional benefit to the performance of a sprint task. This leaves a great deal of room for argument regarding how this would apply to the broad scope of movements of sports beyond sprinting, but it still shows you don’t have to spend 15-20 minutes doing a complex dynamic warm-up to be able to a physically demanding task such as sprinting.

This was interesting to me because I have been playing around with the use of an intervals for movement preparation in recent months as method of making shorter warm-ups, and the feedback I have received so far has been positive.  Intervals have been extremely popular in recent years for “metabolic training” and fat loss programs based on various interpretations (some grossly inaccurate) of the original Tabata protocol and other historical interval/circuit training research. However, another possible use for intervals are as a generic/semi-specific warm-up.

When performing an interval for a warm-up, the intensity is perceived as high, but the rest intervals, exercise selection, and exercise order prevents early overwork and burn out. Time is saved from the exclusion of a general warm-up, and the movement specific components can be incorporate as a part of the interval model (although more will be necessary if full sport participation is planned).

Currently, I use 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for 10-20 rounds  (5-10 mins of actual work) depending on the demands for the session. In these 10-20 rounds I select a matching number of alternating light, moderate, and higher intensity full body exercises which generally involve the primary movers and stabilizers for most sports. Typically, I use a number general low risk contemporary exercises which can be easily graded for intensity, such as heavy ropes, kettlebell deadlifts, hand walk ups on unstable surfaces, farmers walks, etc. If limited equipment is available (on field, etc.) most of the intervals are body weight.

Although I can’t state there are unique physiological benefits from an interval model, theoretically it shares the same benefits of increasing heart rate, blood flow, increased neuromuscular recruitment, provide the ROM demands of the activity, and most importantly, being interesting and challenging enough to get the central nervous system fired up and therefore “wake” the athlete up for training. If I’m honest, it’s not really much different than most dynamic warm-ups except earlier increases in intensity and using a timer rather than reps and sets. But that’s what makes it different from a psychological perspective. Just having the warm-up “be different” is valuable to me, because after nearly 10 years of sets and reps of rather low intensity progressive dynamic warm-ups, sometimes you just want something different, and often times, so do your athletes.

Below is a video of a sample interval warm-up for a small group training session. Since the goal of the warm-up was to prepare for some backyard strength training, no sport specific components were a part of the training session. This session was shorter than what I typically use, consisting of 7 rounds for 3 minutes and 30 seconds of actual work. But it was still more than adequate to warm-up everyone to be able to do what they needed to do in the proceeding training session, showing how the interval model can save quite a bit of time in compressed training sessions.

Sample Interval Breakdown

**Note: With groups, it is more difficult to grade intensity of exercises since an individual starts at any station, so every exercise has to be selected as if it can be tolerated as the athlete’s first exercise if they were “cold”.

  • Weighted stair/box stepping – Hip extension patterning, unilateral & quick heart rate elevation
  • Kettlebell deadlift – Hip extension patterning, requires less spine/hip flexion than tradition DL & much lower load, and some core activation.
  • Floor mover reaches – Scapular/RC activation, some core, and mobility.
  • Floor mover mountain climbers – Quick heart rate elevation, and mobility.
  • Heavy rope battling ropes – Heart rate elevation, scapular/RC activation, and some core activation.
  • Sandbag hand walk-ups – Core activation and scapular/RC activation.
  • Isometric grip strength – This was partially a rest station, but was also to prepare for the gripping components of the training session for the day.

P.S. Yes, I love to keep it classy by shooting these videos in my trashed basement gym. The record has been a small group of 10 victims squeezed in here.


Hip Extension Dysfunction: Self Evaluation & Treatment

A few months ago I talked about the Gluteus Maximus Activation Enigma and the conflicting information obtained on the glute max in the clinic versus what has been demonstrated in literature. It has been difficult for me to address this because I too was guilty of really perpetuating the idea of “gluteal inhibition” and that your “glutes are shut off”, when the evidence for these theories does not exist unless you have a true nerve lesion. It may seem like semantics to the some, but the reality is that our patients and clients take these words very seriously. In fact, I would say a good chunk of them catastrophize the fact that their “glutes aren’t working” and likely worsen the associated symptoms involved in the hip extension dysfunction. I think for athletes in particular to be told that something isn’t working in their body is detrimental to performance for individuals with certain psyches, a point which Vern Gambetta really drives home with his opinion on corrective exercise. At the same time, even if the glutes truly are not “Turned off” or “Firing in the wrong order”, clinically, they are clearly not working very efficiently either, especially if they are significantly asymmetrical. Therefore to find middle ground, I like to look for solutions which help the client/patient remain independent while still participating in their sport even if some form of dysfunction exists by using self evaluation and treatment. I previously mentioned my suspicion that muscle fatigue, rather than muscle inhibition or activation order, may play a part in why our glute emphasized treatments result in reduction of symptoms. A recent article from Hong-You Ge, et al.1 demonstrated that latent trigger points have measurable effects on muscle fatigue made me want to revisit fatigue in the evaluation and treatment of general hip extension dysfunction.  However, I’m going to broaden this idea even further (I’m once again breaking my own rules regarding excessive extrapolation of a research study by doing so) by first looking at addressing the antagonists to hip extension, the hip flexors, prior to attempting to address trigger points/restriction in the gluteals.

I want to preface this write-up to make it clear that I have no evidence for the process that I am about to describe and I am certain there are at least 10 other ways to independently evaluate hip extension. I think both Stuart McGill and Bret Contreras have touched on the use of  different types of bridges in determining hip extension dysfunction in the past, but I couldn’t find the articles offhand, so here is my take on it.

I use a 15-20 rep range of single leg bridges for the patient/client to subjectively identify whether they feel a perceived difference between sides relative to fatigue, ease, and whether it feels disproportionately loaded on the hamstrings, possibly even painful if that is their primary complaint. Then, based on which side is perceived as more challenging, we slightly butcher the classic Janda lower cross syndrome2 and just associate hip flexor involvement with gluteal function rather than look at his original cross of abs to glutes.We’ll generalize it even more and call the hip flexors over active antagonists with possible active or latent trigger points in them decreasing performance of the agonist hip extensors just to integrate the Hong-You Ge et al. 1 discussion a little more.

So for the patient to independently treat this, we start with them attempting to inhibit the hip flexors through a 30 second static stretch for and then retest the bridges. They don’t have to go all the way to 20 reps but they should just be able to go 2-3 more reps more and perceive the exercise as easier. If it does improve, have them do a full minute of static stretching of that hip flexor followed by 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps of single leg bridges to reinforce the more efficient hip extension pattern.  If it doesn’t improve, or they feel only a little better, try a self-TFL release next. Use 1-2 minutes of self release on a tennis ball followed by the same 3-4 sets of single leg bridges discussed earlier.  If they still don’t feel an improvement, go for the glutes directly with a self release. If it works, follow the same pattern of reinforcement from earlier. If there is no change, there is a slim possibility they simply need to train that side more aggressively in hip extension. If this is the case, then we want to have them work on quality reps of single leg bridging on a daily basis for the same pattern of reinforcement as described above. If within one week of working this pattern they still find a single set is fatiguing, the problem does not lie specifically in the hip musculature and it is going to require a bigger picture perspective and likely more involved manual therapy (starting with a pelvic/lumbar eval).

A couple of notes: First off, verify that the fatigue is not just related to the position of their foot and whether they are driving from the heel versus the toes because this can significantly impact loading of the hamstrings between sides.  Second, I recognize not every one of our clients and patients can even do a single leg bridge, let alone 20 of them, but this test and these self-treatment options is not for those individuals anyway. Third, by the 3rd set of bridges, if they’re not used to doing these bridges, they’re going to be fatigued anyway, just do a couple reps for them to subjectively evaluate any chance in the performance of hip extension.

Finally, I admit I am probably still going to use the terms gluteal inhibition from time to time, but I swear I’ll do my best to not give patients or clients the anecdote that their glutes are “shut off” again.

***Update 6/24/12: A great example of when self treatment for hip extension dysfunction fails and more involved manual therapy is needed  from Bill Hartman is found here on his blog.

1. Ge H, Arendt-Nielsen L, Madeleine P. Accelerated muscle fatigability of latent myofascial trigger points in humans. Pain Medicine. 2012:no-no. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2012.01416.x.

2. Janda V. Muscle strength in relation to muscle length, pain, and muscle imbalance. International Perspectives in Physical. 1993:83-97.


Review of the Rotater

The Rotator (Demonstrating Internal Rotation)The Rotator (Demonstrating External Rotation)

Chris Melton from Joint Mechanix sent me a free trial of the Rotater back in March. When I first received it, there were a few minutes of blank staring at it trying to figure out which way to hold the Rotater to get it to do what I wanted at the moment. When I finally watched the DVD that was enclosed, I had to smirk when Eric Beard also became confused on which way to hold it in the outtakes. Needless to say, like with anything I review, I took my time to play with it for a while before I make too many comments on it. In addition, because I have a bit of excess ROM in both internal and external rotation, I really did not use the rotator much myself. Instead, I had a few individuals with restrictions try it out and merged their thoughts with what I observed while they were using it. So here is the review:

As is usually the case with anything I touch, I tried to turn the Rotater into something other than it was designed to do. I wanted a lot of stretching and strengthening variations, but that is not the point of the Rotater. The Rotater is what it is. Which is not to say that is bad in any way, it is the best at what it is designed for, which is for self controlled stretching into focused internal and external rotation. This is a good thing, because as has been mentioned before, the greatest part of the Rotater really is the ability of the patient to control the stretch themselves. I have never been a fan of assisted stretching, but IR and ER stretching is difficult to do independently, typically requiring assistance. However, this can be risky, as I have seen partner assisted shoulder stretching sessions resulting in strains and even tears. The Rotater design solves that problem by putting the control back into the hands of the individual themselves, making it great for post-op shoulder surgery, pitchers/throwers, and any individual lacking IR and/or ER. The design also allows IR/ER to be stretched in nearly all ranges of shoulder flexion and abduction which can help with designing functional ROM progressions within post-op restrictions. The Velcro band can also be used as a gentle resistance point for self-administering PNF stretches or even oscillating stretches at the end range if the need arises.

I want to clearly state, that when it comes to addressing limitations of ROM, I still believe the first goal should still be address joint mobility of the effected joint and those around it to see if the ROM limitation clears up without more focused stretching. If it does not, there is still an important place for additional stretching, and in the case of lacking IR/ER in the shoulder, the Rotater really shines in this area!

So what were my concerns and dislikes? At first, I was concerned about the durability of the Rotater, but the reality is it survived a couple of incidences of being stepped on, thrown and dropped, and aggressively being flexed. I thought the amount of flex that occurred with stretching and the strong arm would eventually give and snap it in half, but it has held well and Chris stated the flex was actually there by design for durability. Regardless, they warrant the Rotator all the way around, so if anything were to break they would replace it.

One specific dislike I had was mostly to do with my own personal preferences. I just do not do very much focused IR/ER strengthening with most of the people I work with. So for me I was not entirely sold on the strong arm attachment. It worked as it was intended, but it was time consuming to switch between IR/ER. If an individual needed a very specific range to be worked with tremendous control and only in one direction, it could work well. However, I tend to do more stabilization, eccentric control,  and multi-joint/multi-planar exercises for the shoulder. Although you could use it for controlled stabilization and eccentric control, I prefer getting the entire shoulder involved using another method.

Overall, the beauty of the Rotater is in its simplicity, it does its intended job very well. I commend the team over at Joint Mechanix for putting the Rotator together without an orthopedic rehab background!

The Rotater


3D/Tri-planar Stretching

I first heard about 3D/Tri-planar stretching from the Michael Boyle Functional Strength Coach 3.0 video series around 2009. Similarly, Gary Gray completely encompasses the 3D movement paradigm in his functional training programs.  I am not entirely sure the full history behind 3D stretching,  but I will take tremendous liberty to assume it likely started with Thomas Meyer’s Anatomy Trains. This brilliantly written and illustrated work has provided us one of the most detailed reviews and perspectives of the myofascial connections of the body and their respective lines of pull in static positions and with movement. Taking it back even further, we will see that the work of Herman Kabat with the diagonal patterns of PNF also brought tremendous insight into the spiral-like function of muscular and fascial movement in the human body. In retrospect, many of us could clearly have seen in dissections and even in textbooks evidence of muscle and fascia functioning in three dimensions, but we still needed some smart thinkers to remind us that perhaps we should look at treating the movement restriction in more than one plane of motion from time-to-time.

There are numerous ways to perform 3D stretches throughout the body. Popularized systems including Yoga and Pilates have long since incorporated them and intuitively most of us can figure out a number of ways to stretch muscles in multiple planes on our own. The question is, is it better to address a movement restriction globally (3D stretch), or locally (single plane)? It is vital to note that the value of each of these stretches depends on the individual and their specific movement limitations. To be honest, I still find single plane stretches to be the most effective use of time in most cases, in particular when it comes to addressing specific restrictions. In fact, I generally limit the use of 3D stretches to the upper extremity and the hamstrings because I can often times address both a local restriction and global restrictions very effectively in these areas with a single stretch. For the purpose of this post and for this video I am only going to speak of 3D stretching through the hamstrings.

3D/Tri-planar Stretching – Hamstring Emphasized

The attachment of the biceps femoris to the sacrotuberous ligament and the fascial attachments of the erector spinae provides a fairly common restricted line of pull for most individuals. It is very easy to feel the tension throughout this chain/train and it is easy to self-manage. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I can emphasize a local restriction by passively holding the hamstrings in a lengthened position in a sagital plane and gradually incorporate lengthening of the rest of the fascial chain as needed. From the perspective of Anatomy Trains, with the hamstrings (specifically the biceps femoris) fascial attachment to the sacrum we can take advantage of the Superficial Back Line, the Spiral Line, and the Back Functional Line to lengthen numerous fascial restrictions. From a PNF philosophy, we are lengthening through D1 and D2 hip extension  and increasing ROM into D1 & D2 hip flexion.

That’s enough writing, here is a video of me demonstrating and discussing some options for 3D/Tri-planar hamstring stretching.


Long-Term Static Stretching

I previously wrote a post on the topic of acute stretching, injury, and performance and recently published a study in the same vein in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. At that time, I made only a brief reference to long-term stretching. A recent article regarding a long-term static stretching intervention resulting in strength increases in the contralateral muscle from Nelson et al. 12 inspired me want to write a little more about long-term stretching.

What do we know about the effects of long-term stretching? At this time, we know we can use it to improve static range of motion (ROM)8,9, muscle strength, endurance, and power 7,8. There is also some evidence that long-term (again not acute!) stretching has a role in decreasing musculotendinous injury2.  The mechanism involved in producing improvements in ROM from long term stretching is unknown at this time. Classically, the belief was that we are primarily “lengthening the muscle”. However, ROM improvements related to long-term static stretching appear to be largely related to increased stretch tolerance and not an actual changes in tissue extensibility 3,5,9, which would indicate some sort a neurological influence. The exact mechanism for the strength, endurance, power, and injury prevention benefits are also unknown, but a couple of thoughts seem to permeate. The first being that hypertrophy of skeletal muscle tissue and/or connective tissue may play a role, but this has only been demonstrated in animal studies 14.  Which brings us to a neural influence. We typically think about the neural influences of stretching on the acute effects of performance, but between previous evidence3,5,9 and now Nelson et al. 12, I am hedging a bet towards long term neural adaptation being a key component in the positive outcomes of long-term stretching.

Briefly, Nelson et al. examined  the cross training effect of a 10-week static stretching in an untrained population (important note) on calf strength which demonstrated a 29% increase (higher than contralateral resistance training studies!) in strength of the contralateral calf, as well as a statistically significant 1% increase in ROM for the contralateral calf12.  This change in ROM may seem minimally relevant, but the fact that there was a detectable change in ROM of the contralateral limb may provide additional support for a neurological influence in this change. This is because if hypertrophy had occurred, increased tendon stiffness would likely be noted 15, which probably would have prevented a detectable change in calf ROM. Further yet, previous examinations on unilateral resistance training and its effect on the contralateral limb demonstrated strength increases in the absence of hypertrophy11 and appear to be related to neurological changes4, and there is little reason to believe the effects of stretching would be different than resistance training.

So what is the practical application of this discussion? Mechanism wise, whether hypertrophy or neural based, it doesn’t matter, both are synergistic benefits of long term training. The fact that there are physiological changes with concurrent performance improvements indicate a value in us maintaining or adding a long-term stretching regimen.

More specifically, most athletes can benefit from increasing static ROM. I state this with some caution as there definite risks with excessive flexibility, in particular at the spine. Greater flexibility of the lumbar spine is associated with disc degeneration6,17, and excess flexion and rotation are associated with disc herniation1,10.

Regarding improvements in muscle strength, power, and endurance, these benefits have only been demonstrated in the untrained population7,8,12, so it is difficult to apply to the higher level athlete because neural changes primarily are a part of early training with the influences of hypertrophy primarily playing a role in later gains. As stated by Nelson et al., there may also be a benefit in managing strength loss in an immobilized limb12.

Ultimately, the most practical application for chronic long-term stretching may lie in prevention of musculotendinous injury , although only one study has provided evidence for this proposal2. It appears that this injury reduction is the result of a training response over time, not an isolated occurrence, not in relation to pre-exercise stretching, but a long-term adaptation. As has been repeated to death at this point, no evidence for pre-exercise stretching reducing injury risk currently exists2,13,16,18, but a long-term relationship does exist, and justification for static stretching over time as a method to reduce injury risk is very plausable. There is some suggestion and guidance to the exclusive emphasis on dynamic stretching with no thought towards a post-exercise or separate static stretching sessions, and this may come at the detriment of some benefits we still do not understand. Needless to say, beyond the time commitment, unlike pre-exercise static stretching, there really is no evidence to demonstrate a negative impact of post-exercise static stretching or independent static stretching sessions.

So now it is your turn. What are your thoughts regarding keeping or adding a long-term stretching intervention? Is it worth the time it takes to keep or add it in your program?

1. Adams MA, Hutton WC. Prolapsed intervertebral disc. A hyperflexion injury 1981 volvo award in basic science. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1982;7(3):184-191.

2. Amako M, Oda T, Masuoka K, Yokoi H, Campisi P. Effect of static stretching on prevention of injuries for military recruits. Military Medicine. 2003;168(6):442-446.

3. Ben M, Harvey LA. Regular stretch does not increase muscle extensibility: A randomized controlled trial. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(1):136-144. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00926.x.

4. Fimland MS, Helgerud J, Solstad GM, Iversen VM, Leivseth G, Hoff J. Neural adaptations underlying cross-education after unilateral strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009;107(6):723-730. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-1190-7.

5. Folpp H, Deall S, Harvey LA, Gwinn T. Can apparent increases in muscle extensibility with regular stretch be explained by changes in tolerance to stretch? Aust J Physiother. 2006;52(1):45-50.

6. Fujiwara A, Lim TH, An HS, et al. The effect of disc degeneration and facet joint osteoarthritis on the segmental flexibility of the lumbar spine. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2000;25(23):3036-3044.

7. Kokkonen J, Nelson AG, Tarawhiti T, Buckingham P, Winchester JB. Early-phase resistance training strength gains in novice lifters are enhanced by doing static stretching. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):502-506. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c06ca0.

8. Kokkonen J, Nelson AG, Eldredge C, Winchester JB. Chronic static stretching improves exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(10):1825-1831. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e3181238a2b.

9. Magnusson SP. Passive properties of human skeletal muscle during stretch maneuvers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 1998;8(2):65-77.

10. Marshall LW, McGill SM. The role of axial torque in disc herniation. Clinical Biomechanics. 2010;25:6-9.

11. Munn J, Herbert RD, Gandevia SC. Contralateral effects of unilateral resistance training: A meta-analysis. J Appl Physiol. 2004;96(5):1861-1866. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00541.2003.

12. Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Winchester JB, et al. A 10-week stretching program increases strength in the contralateral muscle. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(3):832-836. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182281b41.

13. Pope RP, Herbert RD, Kirwan JD, Graham. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2000;32(2):271-277.

14. Sasai N, Agata N, Inoue-Miyazu M, et al. Involvement of PI3K/Akt/TOR pathway in stretch-induced hypertrophy of myotubes. Muscle Nerve. 2010;41(1):100-106. doi: 10.1002/mus.21473.

15. Seynnes OR, Erskine RM, Maganaris CN, et al. Training-induced changes in structural and mechanical properties of the patellar tendon are related to muscle hypertrophy but not to strength gains. J Appl Physiol. 2009;107(2):523-530. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00213.2009.

16. Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of muscle injury: A critical review of clinical basic science literature. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 1999;9(4):221-227.

17. Tanaka N, An HS, Lim TH, Fujiwara A, Jeon CH, Haughton VM. The relationship between disc degeneration and flexibility of the lumbar spine. Spine J. 2001;1(1):47-56.

18. Thacker SB, Gilchrst J, Stroup D, Kimsey D. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: A systematic review of literature. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2004;36(3):371-378.