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Here are the three main exercises I refer to in the article for developing muscular endurance to prevent back pain.
They focus on the anterior, posterior and lateral parts of your core to create a mesh that creates stability for your back.
Start easy with each one, hold for only a short period of time. It is very easy to make an exercise more challenging, it's not so easy to recover from going too hard too soon.
As always, technique is the most important component, it pays to become aware of how each body part is moving in relation to another. For example, not allowing the lower back to sag for the sake of holding an exercise for a little longer.
Let's dive in.
This is for the lateral core (side of the stomach)
This is for the posterior of your core (the back).
Modified curl up
For the front of the core
Reps and Sets
As mentioned earlier it's always best to start easy and build up rather than jumping in the deep end.
For the Bird Dog and Side Plank you can start with 10 seconds per side. If this feels ok you can repeat this three times (3 sets of 10 seconds)
I find a descending work time is best for developing these. So you may then go to
1 set of 20 seconds, 1 set of 15 seconds and 1 set of 10 seconds.
The aim is to be able to do 1 set of 60 seconds with perfect form, you will then need more advanced exercises.
For the curl up, start with two 6 second holds. Develop this to 8 holds of 6 seconds.
If you'd like to know in greater detail how to build strength, prevent injury and lose fat in easy to implement steps then you can grab a copy of my e-book "The Robust Body" by clicking here.
There are always going to be times when life gets a bit hectic.
Unfortunately, at these times the things that tend to get put on the hold are the ones most important to our health.
Sleep, quality food and exercise are generally the first things to go out of the window, we tend to sacrifice our own well-being.
Sometimes that’s just how things go but it pays to be careful that this doesn’t spiral out of control. The less care we give to ourselves the easier it becomes to make it our default and the harder it can feel to start building momentum again with healthy habits.
So what can you do to avoid the negative spiral?
A good place to start is looking at things a little differently.
Take a step back
The first question is one you probably won’t like.
“Is it true that you don’t have time?”
Hang on, don’t click away in exasperation. Just consider if there are any points in the day when you either aren’t being productive or could be doing something else.
It’s important to be honest with yourself, sometimes we give ourselves a convenient story about lack of time when we’re letting it drain away else where……such as going on a Netflix binge in the evening when it maybe possible to get a morning workout in if bedtime had come earlier.
Still no time? Cool, then we’ll move on.
It doesn’t have to look a certain way
What if you needed less time to train?
Are you locked into the idea that you need a full hour for a workout to be worthwhile?
What if your workout was done in 20 minutes?
It can be really valuable just to walk through the door of the gym and keep that habit going. What you need to do is decide what the big rocks of your workout are.
Get rid of the extra foam rolling and long mobility warm up.
Ditch the arm curls, tricep pulldowns and front raises.
You’re looking at big movements all the way, the bwad bwoys that use plenty of muscles in one go.
Squats, lunges, bench press, rows, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, overhead presses, chin ups…..you get the idea.
Cut right back to the essentials.
How might this look?
Depends on what you’re training for.
You want to get a sweat on then this may work.
Warm up – one mobility exercise and one core exercise x 2
Main session - Goblet squat x 10, DB chest press x 10, single leg hip thrust x 8 per side, 1 arm row x 12 per side – rest 60-90 seconds and repeat.
On your first time through use a light weight to finish warming up and get your technique grooving.
20 minutes and you’ll feel happily done.
Training for strength? This can be more challenging as strength requires a longer rest period to get the required results.
You can strip it back to two exercises per day and reduce the sets performed.
I’ve had success in the past with just 3 working sets of 3 reps.
It’s not ideal, but it’s a damn site better than feeling all your hard work wither away into soft flesh.
Day 1 maybe back squat and floor press.
Day 2 could be elevated deadlifts and close grip bench.
Add some higher rep accessory work if time allows.
Conditioning days can be performed in a short time. Sled pushes, 400m intervals on treadmill, bike sprints, skipping, battle ropes…….all can create a training affect in a short time.
Still not working for you?
You can create your own gym with very little cash outlay…..I mean £20 can cover a bit.
A kettlebell is a wonderfully versatile piece of kit.
You can press it, squat, deadlift, swing, row and carry it in a multitude of ways.
Chuck in a skipping rope and your own body weight and you have your own personal gym.
Kettlebell squat x 10 and press up x 10 for 3 sets and no rest.
60 seconds skipping.
Kettlebell swing x 15 and bent over row x 10 per side no rest
60 seconds skipping.
Push press x 8, reverse lunge x 8 and suitcase carry.
10 minutes of fun and laughter.
Don’t have time to get sweaty?
Stabilising work is essential for all of us.
An assortment of planks, deadbugs, birddogs are available for you to use.
They take little space, no sweat and have a huge pay off in keeping you feeling pain free and strong.
The work can even be split up throughout the day.
It’s well known that maintaining the same posture for extended periods can lead to niggles and pains.
So why not set an alarm for every 75 minutes and perform one set of each exercise or just of one exercise.
No, it’s not going to get you looking like an extreme athlete, but it is going to keep you going through trying times.
It is going to keep you mentally ready to get back to your normal routine when things calm down.
It will likely play a vital role in keep in g your stress levels manageable.
And it is a damn site better than doing nothing, feeling sorry for yourself and wishing that things were different.
“It’s not squats that are hurting your knees, it’s the way yousquat that’s hurting your knees”
Dan John is a legend in the strength training world and I love this quote of his.
The internet is a crazy place and if you try to find info to help your fitness (whether exercise or nutrition related) it wouldn’t be surprising if you got pretty confused.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
The biggest problem (arguably), is seeing things as black or white.
This exercise is good, that one’s bad….crossfit sucks vs crossfit is my life, cardio makes you weak, fat and is the cause of third world debt etc
This why I love this Dan John quote so much.
There’s no such thing as bad exercise just ones that are inappropriately applied.
Over the last week I’ve assessments with a few people who have had knee and/or back pain.
All of them had the back squat in their current programs.
In each case, when I asked them to show me how they squat it turned out that how they were squatting was at least exacerbating their symptoms.
Enter the Bottoms up Kettlebell squat.
Reasons I like this exercise.
Taking the load to the front of the body acts as a counter balance, making it a bit easier to get back into the hips and get the glutes to load.
Glutes that are firing and pulling their weight is essential for keeping the back knees ouchie free.
The bottoms up position of the kettlebell adds a little instability for the body to control, it seems to really help the lifter get the feeling of using their core, whilst adding a little extra for the shoulder stabilisers.
By it self it’s not going to turn you into a raging powerhouse of muscle.
But that’s not the aim.
The aim is to help you get in tune with the movement you’re performing.
To get the right muscles activated and joining the party.
Then when everything feels a bit more natural and automatic you can try adding some load.
Whether that’s with a front barbell squat, a back barbell, double kettlebell or any of the other variety of loaded squats.
You could even just have it as part of your warm up to groove the right pattern
Key points to remember.
Spread the floor with your feet on the set up.
This gets the glutes to fire up.
Sit back into the hips, not down through the knees.
Have a try.
Was this useful or a waste of your valuable time?
Let me know in the comments.
Next month I get to toddle along to the bright lights of Cardiff for a two day seminar all about backs.
Basically, trying to understand why a back may feel ouchie and ideas for getting from ouchie and onto beast performance.
Which means two mornings without being dragged out of bed by an excited kidthere’ll be plenty of content for this site after that.
But before then I figured I’d do a run down as to why your back may have the hump with you and things you can start doing to cheer it up.
All I did was……..
Nearly everyone I’ve ever spoken to with a bad back used these four words.
Cos it’s hardly ever a big event that starts the pain cycle.
It’s moving a T.V, leaning over to the back seat of the car, a small slip….etc.
If this sounds like your experience too then it’s important to realise this.
What you consider as “the thing that caused the pain” was likely just one part in a long line of events. It was the one thing that took your back across the symptom threshold.
Here’s a quick story that may make that a little simpler to understand.
When I was at school my mate Karl owned Street Fighter 2 on his Nintendo. I loved that game, but I wasn’t very good at it.
Karl on the other hand could play it whenever he wanted to, so was pretty decent.
So when we played each other he’d pull out all these fancy moves, upper cuts and hadookens all over the shop.
He’d always try to make a fancy finish when he smashed my player, but it didn’t always work.
Often it would be a little feeble tap from his player as he fumbled his buttons.
That little tap would send my character flying.
Just the tap was enough to empty the life bar….I had no capacity left.
This is what happens to backs.
Hours of moving, lifting and resting in sub optimal positions reduce the capacity of the back, until that last little movement empties the life bar.
Big hadookens on the back could be training with poor form.
As we get older we get less wiggle room for making mistakes with our back. In your 20’s you may have got away with lifting with a rounded back, before spending the evening being a sofa bear…..slouched all over the couch.
But when you get to 35 plus you need to be smart and be aware of how you’re treating your body.
The other factors…
We now know that back pain is caused by excessive movement through the wrong areas of the spine at the wrong time.
But it’s not just poor technique in the gym and lounging around that causes problems.
The body is essentially a problem solver.
You decide you want to get a limb from point A to point B and the body will find the most efficient way of doing that.
Unfortunately, efficient doesn’t mean ideal.
Take running as an example.
The hip is designed to be a very mobile joint, it can move in a multitude of directions.
It’s like the Queen on a chess board.
When you run the hip will flex (as the knee moves forward), it will rotate internally as it strikes the floor, then rotate externally and extend as you drive of the floor and power forwards.
But what if the muscles around the hip were excessively stiff/tight for some reason?
No longer can the hip move around enough but the brain is telling the body it wants to move.
So what happens?
The body “borrows” movement through the lower back.
The lower (lumbar) spine starts to excessively flex and extend to create enough movement for the limb.
The spines capacity starts to reduce.
A similar thing can also happen but caused by the upper spine (thoracic).
Most of the movement that the spine is capable of comes from the thoracic spine (this is the 12 vertebra that the ribcage connects to).
But this area can also become tight….this often due to chest dominant breathing patterns (perhaps caused by stress), hours constantly hunched over a keyboard, being tall and constantly having to look downwards amongst many possible causes.
The principle remains the same though.
Lack of movement through a mobile part of the body causes excessive movement through an area that’s designed to be stable.
Essentially the lumbar spine is a victim of something not going quite right elsewhere in the body.
What does all this mean….?
Firstly, it means it really pays to respect how the body moves.
One of the things that is often missing in programmes is teaching people how to develop quality movement.
When I started to really take coaching seriously and develop my skills, one of the first things I came across was this pyramid in a book by Gray Cook.
Most workout programmes sell us straight into the performance and skill part of the pyramid.
It's all about doing more, lifting more..."c'mon everyone...push hard".
Which is great.
It's fun and feels good.
But if you're hitting squats, deadlifts, kettlebell work etc without the ability to move through the right places and create spinal stability, then you're likely setting yourself up for some expensive Physio time.
Build a good movement foundation before building strength.
Next, you’ll likely need to develop your capacity for work.
This requires a bit of a balancing act.
Not only do you need the right selection of exercises, but the right prescription for how to create a positive adaptation.
Not enough stress placed on the tissues then there’s not enough stimulus to warrant the muscles to adapt.
Too much stress and you’ll tip the tissues over the edge and leave them feeling grumbly and ouchie all over again.
Every bad back is going to need it’s own prescription, but these exercise may be a good shout.
Dr Stuart McGill is regarded as the Mr Myagi of spines (my words not his) and it’s his material I’m going to Cardiff to study.
But he has named these exercises as his Big 3.
Essentially between them they cover the front, side and back of the core.
In theory, if one of these feels much harder than the others then you may have found a weak point that needs balancing.
Start with just 4-6 sets of 10 second holds for each exercise.
If there is pain the stop immediately. Be ridiculously anal about technique.
Even if you feel fine, do not add more sets or work straight away. See how everything feels the next day.
If you’re cool you can start to gradually increase how long you perform each exercise for.
A final point.
Building capacity isn’t just for your workouts.
It’s part of your entire day.
How you move needs to be carefully calculated. Unnecessary daily stress on your back is going to detract from what you’re able to do.
You want to keep your capacity for the things you enjoy.
For example, I have a client who is a BJJ black belt and loves being on the mats. However he has a disc bulge that can bring on sciatic symptoms if not managed well.
He will literally spend 4 hours a day on the mats.
But he has to earn those four hours with how he moves.
He’ll use a step to put his foot on when tying his shoe laces instead of bending down. Getting to the floor is a careful choreography of kneeling and going to all fours first.
Even how he brushes his teeth (not leaning over the sink) has to be considered.
Final, final point.
If you have pain of any sort there’s a huge temptation to go hunting for it.
You know when you can’t feel the usual ouchie, it’s tempting to start bending and wriggling, wondering where it’s gone…..until…..
Ow, there it is.
The painful tissues need a chance to repair.
When you go hunting for it, it’s like picking a scab on a cut.
It never gets the chance to heal.
If it doesn’t hurt, enjoy the peace and let things settle.
If you’d like to know more about how to build a Robust body.
To go from ouchies to building real strength then I have a free e-book that you can download.
It's called The Robust Body
It has the key mistakes I see people over 35 making over and over again, how to assess yourself to choose the right exercises for you and even four months of mobility warm ups.
You can claim yours by clicking this link below
The Robust Body - Training Guide for the over 35's
“You’re better off being tight on both sides than loose on one and tight on the other”.
No this wasn’t some worldly advice passed on from father to son.
Rather it was said by an instructor on a course years ago, and it was something that really hit home for me.
To some people it may seem kind of obvious, but as a young trainer I hadn’t really considered what would be happening to the body if there was a major imbalance in muscle strength and length on either side of the body.
Say if one hip or hamstring was significantly tighter than the other.
How it would pull the spine around or mess up the alignment of the hips.
Various structures that were never meant to meet would start bumping and grinding into each other and not in an RnB kind of way.
But in a Black & Decker, somethings getting wrecked kinda way.
This difference in sides also often shows as a large difference in strength.
It can feel like one leg or arm is stronger than the other side.
In reality this imbalance isn’t necessarily due to a difference in muscle mass, but due to a lack of stability.
The body hates instability.
If it senses that a joint is unstable or misaligned the nervous system will down regulate the drive to those muscles.
Basically the hardware might be there but there’s no electricity being put through to make it work well.
Why this situation happens in the first place can be down to a number of different factors.
But a common factor is that we’re not as balanced looking as we appear.
Yep on the outside, everything is even stevens, equal numbers of arms and legs on each side.
But on the inside, it’s a different story.
We have a liver on one side, vena cava on the other. The diaphragm has different connections on each side and a host of other fun factors.
This is all an elaborate way of me introducing a very simple looking exercise to you.
The Cross Body Kettlebell Pass (not the sexiest of names I know).
Reasons I like it.
A lot of gym based work is sagittal plane….that’s a fancy pants way of saying you just move forwards and back.
This introduces a level of side to stability.
The foot is on the floor so the muscles get to work in a way that has a great carry over to performance, with the butt and stomach muscles really having to work together as team.
The effort is low level. It doesn’t produce soreness or nasties so can be trained very often. I like including it in warm ups or as a filler exercise between sets of more challenging upper body work.
Obviously you don’t have to use a kettlebell, a dumbbell is also great. I just like the centralised mass of a kettlebell a little more than a dumbbell.
But you can do this anywhere….literally.
I’ve done it using a back pack for weight whilst my wife took our daughter to the loo at a museum….(I was bored and determined not to just stare at my phone).
Things to remember.
Keep the whole foot flat on the floor. It may want to wobble around, but keep the heel of the foot and the forefoot planted.
Sit back into the hip. You should feel the glute working on the supporting leg, this is the main stabiliser of the knee.
Fully take the weight across your body. Don’t do little diddy passes in front of the body.
Don’t rush the passes either.
Control them and boss the movement, this is what will really get you working.
Start with a light(ish) weight. 8kg can be challenging for many people.
For reps, 5 passes each direction makes a good starting point. If 10 can be achieved with perfect form then look to up the weight.
Pay attention and see if you can feel a side to difference.
Is one side more wobbly, is it easier to feel the glutes working on one side to the other?
If so, it’s a smart move to always start with the weaker side and match the reps on the stronger side.
So if you can only do 4 good reps on your left, only do 4 reps on your right even if that feels easy.
This will let any differences start to minimise.
Give it a whirl and see what you reckon.
I do rather love a good one row.
Maybe not as much as I love Peanut Butter...(mmmmm).
But we've had our sweaty moments together in the gym.
The likelihood is so have you.
After the all conquering bench press, they're probably the most popular exercise in the gym....ok after bicep curls, squats, press ups......look, they're really popular.
And a lot of the time they're not being performed optimally or even very well.
In most cases there are little adjustments the person could make that would change the exercise completely and massively boost the result they get from it.
We owe to our backs that they get the results they deserve, therefore we're going deep, deep, deep into how to perform the one arm row and all the little nuances and adjustments to get the most from this awesome exercise.
So let’s get stuck in.
What the hell does it do?
It’s a big time back exercise, primarily it’s the lats having all the fun, with some small assistance from the elbow flexors, mainly the biceps.
However, when you set up correctly the core also gets to join the party. There will be a little work for the smaller muscles of the shoulder that play a role in stabilisation.
But why do I need to know this?
A massive part in nailing any exercise, is feeling the effort coming from the area that is meant to be working. Weight training is counter intuitive for the body.
The body likes to find the most efficient and energy saving way of doing just about anything. But you’re aim isn’t to just move the weight from A-B, it’s to fatigue specific muscles to force them to adapt.
So where should I feel it?
Here’s your lat's.
The observant reader will notice that they're bloody massive.
It runs all the way from your shoulder to your hip. This means that as you lift, you should be able to feel the effort coming from your back. Anywhere between the shoulder and hip, when you get it really nailed down you’ll likely feel it the whole way along, as the muscle squeezes and contracts to move the weight.
The set up
This is where your core gets in on the action.
You pop one knee and hand on the bench and have one foot on the floor. The foot on the floor side is also the side you’ll lift the weight from.
There are four key things I look for in a good set up.
Have the knee directly under the hip, something like this.
Rather than underneath the body like this.
Having the knee under the hip may feel a lot more challenging to set up at first, you may even feel your abs light up like crazy.
But you'll develop greater strength and stability....or should I say....GAINZ.
It's all about the gainz bro.
The hips and shoulders should be squared off.
In other words, we want the belt line to stay level and the shoulders to stay level.
Rather like making a box with the torso.
To do this I often find it is simpler to put the supporting leg out to the side of the body and wide from the bench, rather than the more traditional foot behind the body.
Getting into a position a little like this.
Good head position.
Keep the chin tucked, like the image above, rather than staring straight ahead.
Even if there's a mirror right in front of you, resist the urge to check out how magnificent you look in your tussle with the dumbell.
Keep the head neutral.
Staring in front is likely to have a see-saw affect and cause the lower back to drop into excessive extension.
The final point is with the supporting arm.
It can be easy for the shoulder to go into a slump.
Shoulder stability can be increased on this arm by thinking about “reaching” into the bench.
The end result should be a long spine.
If a client struggles with picturing themselves in this position, I’ll tell them to think about getting their bum and head as far away from each other as possible.
This helps to prevent the dreaded rounding up through the upper back.
I call this “dreaded” as in this position the lats are unable to effectively work and you can guarantee that all the work is being taken through the arm.
Let’s get lifting
Now you’re set it’s time to grab the dumbbell.
I’ve heard some very good coaches suggest using a light grip on the dumbbell to help increase the effort from the lats.
Personally, I like to go for a really strong grip on the dumbbell.
A strong grip creates a radiation effect. Not only are the muscles in the forearm fired up, but also the stability muscles of the shoulder such as the rotator cuff and even the core.
Think about the handle of the dumbbell being like playdough and you’re trying to squish it through your fingers.
This next bit will likely take a lot of thinking about and I suggest you use a weight lighter than you usually do to get the hang of it.
Try to initiate the lift by using your lats.
Make the back muscles go tight and squeeze them, rather than the more common way of using the hand to initiate the movement.
Remember it’s a back exercise and the arm is almost just coming along for the ride.
To really get a feel you can try slowing the tempo of the lift down.
Aim for 2-3 seconds lifting, 1 second pause at the top to squeeze the lat, then 3 seconds lowering.
As you lift think about pulling through the elbow rather than the wrist.
At the top of the movement there are a few key points to watch out for.
First, the elbow shouldn’t end up too far past the body.
You can see there isn't enough room to slide a hand between my arm and my torso.
Which is a good thing.
If there is enough room between the elbow and the torso to slide a hand through you can be sure that a bit of a no-no has occurred.
The top of the arm bone will have dove forward in it’s socket (anterior humeral glide if you want a fancy name for it).
This means the lat is no longer engaged as it should be, plus this movement overtime can seriously irritate the front of the shoulder capsule and give you nasty ouchie.
Second, there should be a slight gap between the side of the torso and the elbow, rather than the elbow rubbing the torso.
I’ll cue a client by placing my hand on the side of the torso and telling them to miss it.
It’s just a few degrees of movement difference but it allows the shoulder to move through a happier range of movement.
Third, as you lift the upper back should maintain or move into extension. This can be aided by inhaling as you lift the weight. Inhaling drives extension through the thoracic spine and helps to keep the shoulder a happy camper.
How To Improve Your Technique
Sometimes getting to grips with all the bits of this exercise can be surprisingly challenging, especially if you’re relatively new to weight training.
What can really help is using a cable to practice the technique.
I've used this many times when teaching the movement and nearly every time it has provided an aha moment for someone who has struggled to feel their lats firing with the dumbell or just struggled to maintain a good position on the bench.
Set up in a standing position and focus on feeling the lats. The decreased challenge to the grip seems to help the movement feel more natural.
Another cue that often helps here is thinking about drawing the shoulder blade down and back across the body as you lift. Almost like pulling them into the back pockets of a pair jeans.
Another cool option is a bilateral bench row.
It takes the stress of the core as the bench provides the external support, but there is still the stress on the grip and the need to control the dumbbells.
That's just about everything covered.
All that's left is for you to grab yourself a weight and put this into practise.
So how was it for you?
Was this useful?
Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts.
Right, I’ve started writing this post five times, trying to find a witty little way to segue into the main meat and potatoes of the blog.
And I haven’t found the way.
All I’ve succeeded in doing is irritating myself and drinking too much coffee.
So no pussy footing about.
Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to discuss the deadlift and steps you can take to learn this wonderful exercise without your spine beating you up for making it feel all ouchie.
This isn’t about the technique for the exercise itself, but steps that I have found useful for many people who are new to the exercise, to understand the main concepts of the lift.
If you’re new to the exercise or you’ve left yourself feeling beaten up by it in the past, I highly urge you to ease yourself into it.
Don’t go jumping in, trying to see how much you can lift right now.
Cos here’s the thing about how much you can lift right now….it matters not one iota.
(Note to self: What is an iota and why does it not matter?)
If you develop your technique, treat the lift as a new skill, something to develop with a level of care and precision. In a few months you will be multiple times stronger and athletic than you are now.
The main muscles moving to generate the power to move the bar are in the legs, mainly the hamstrings and butt.
Not the upper body.
DEFINITELY NOT YOUR BACK.
The bar is moved by pushing the floor away with your feet – obviously the floor won’t move, but your intention is to push into the floor.
The intention is not to pull with the upper body.
The upper body muscles stabilise the spine as the bar. Is lifted from the ground.
You can obviously pull with your back if you wish, but be prepared to have a disc herniation and expensive visits to the physio somewhere in your future.
Before approaching a bar to lift off the ground you should appreciate the hip hinge.
This is the ability to disassociate the hips from the spine.
You learn to move through the hips without a compensatory movement from the spine.
Some folks can really struggle with this at first.
It may be a technique issue at first.
If this is the case, the issue then the movement should start to clear up pretty quickly as you run through the early exercises. The body will start to get some context of what you’re trying to do.
There are a few different ways get started.
You can start by adding some movements into your warm up such as this hip rocking matrix.
Even just the first part of the video (just rocking butt towards heels without spine rounding) can be great for the brain and body to start building some context for what you’re trying to achieve.
Cable Pull through
I’m a big fan of using this little number to ingrain the hip hinge movement and get it feeling a little more natural.
Rest assured, this may look like a cable sawing away at an area of the body that should never be sawed at, but it is extremely safe.
We’re up on our feet and developing the hip hinge with some load.
Having the weight behind on the cable stack, rather than hanging in front of us in our hands, reduces the sheer stress on the spine.
This means that if your technique is a little iffy to begin with, the likelihood of hurting yourself is greatly reduced.
Use this exercise to get used to the feeling of the back of the legs feeling “stretched” and “loaded” as you sit back into the movement.
It’s not unusual for people to “feel” their lower back with this initially.
This IS NOT something to just work through….none of these exercises should make it feel like your lower back is working.
The issue is cleared up most of the time by bracing the stomach muscles a little more.
Imagine one of your mates is about to give you a bit of a whack in the stomach. Nothing too hard. The way you just squeezed your stomach….that’s how you brace your stomach.
As a side note.
This exercise is not simply for learning the deadlift. It’s great for performing some high rep hip hinging (15 reps) sets after a deadlift session.
If that all feels ticketty-boo then lets shift on to holding some weight in front of us.
The way the kettlebell has all it’s mass in small ball in front of you, often really helps to groove the hip hinge pattern.
Make sure you keep the bell close to your body throughout the movement.
The further the bell moves from the body, the greater the sheer force put through the spine.
So keep it tight ya’ll.
Otherwise we’re still playing the same game…still looking for the back of the thighs to be loaded.
Make sure you have a slight bend in the knee as you sit back into the movement.
This will enable the hamstrings to load before producing the power for the lift..
Only a slight bend mind – once the knee’s are unlocked the rest of the movement is created by the hip hinge. We don’t want to turn this from a deadlift into a squat by bending the knees too much.
We’re going to take a slight side step now.
Some folks get the hip hinge really easily, for others it’s more challenging.
Please bear in mind.
There is no law that says you have to deadlift.
Not every exercise works for everybody and that is totally cool.
There are other ways to train the hip hinge.
The following exercises often feel better for folks who have struggled with the hip hinge whilst standing.
They are also great stand alone exercises. They are not a regression or a “baby” version – so don’t look your ego get in the way of providing yourself with a good workout.
The Hip Bridge
I really like this exercise.
It hugely recruits the glutes. Plus, as long as you keep the core tight and don’t arch through the lower back at the top of the movement, it is very back friendly.
I’ve used this with many clients you have had long running back issues and never had a problem.
They usually pull a funny face when they first see it demonstrated, but within a couple of sessions they’re usually full of confidence and thrusting like a good ‘un.
Moving swiftly on in our magical mystery tour of hip hinging exercises we come to the....
Yep, very similar to the Hip Bridge.
In fact, in terms of glute recruitment (that’s the butt muscles to you and me) EMG studies have shown that this is superior to the deadlift.
In the video I’m using a specialised Hip thrust machine. It’s a rather swanky bit of kit and absolutely not essential to performing this exercise.
Using a normal training bench is grand.
Just make sure it’s not all slidy before you use it.
You really don’t want to thrust a load of weight up into the air only to find your only support as skidded out from beneath you.
The final step as far as this post is concerned is to use a bar from an elevated position.
Getting all the way to the floor for a deadlift can be challenging from a mobility point of view.
There are so many parts that have to move and stabilise together that lifting from the floor with good form can be a challenge.
It’s also possible that your anatomy maybe working against you.
We all have hips that have been constructed in different ways. Different length bones, that connect at different angles.
It means that some people are fantastic at squatting, they can squat all day long, but a deadlift feels horrendous as the bones start to bump into each other.
The opposite is also true.
Can Deadlift til the cows come home but squatting is a no no.
The only people who HAVE to lift a bar from the floor are powerlifters and Olympic lifters, because that’s their sport.
For the rest of us, if lifting from an elevated bar feels best, then that’s grand.
You may find that the mobility develops and lifting from the floor feels great eventually.
But the following is still a great exercise that you’d benefit from utilising in your training cycle.
Mid shin rack pull
I’ve set up the bar in the frame area of our gym here.
If you have a power rack that is obviously a great way to set up.
At the worst, it usually works fine to simply get some weight plates and pop the bar on top.
Focus on building lots of tension in the upper body before the lift.
As ever, take this as a skill to be learned and honed. Get your technique before really loading the bar up and making it bend like the lifting demi god you are.
And that’s it.
Quick confession – a couple of years ago I was an absolute new year resolutions cynic.
Every January I’d see the gym fill up, new faces everywhere (usually turning a shade of beetroot).
Experience said that most of those of those face wouldn’t still be there at the end of the month. I’d join the regular gym goers in muttering under my breath about all these folks hogging the kit.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen the error of my ways.
I love the energy of new years resolutions now. The feeling of a fresh start.
I’ve made enough cock ups and false starts in areas of my life, that I can appreciate much better the hopes of someone who steps up in January to make something better for themselves.
The fact that so many people drop away from the gym is often down to improper advice given by the fitness industry.
We promise you sweat, high 5’s and mega results all in exchange for a direct debit.
And you want results.
It’s understandable that we feel impatient for the results. I start tutting if my wifi takes longer than 3 seconds to load a page. I don’t marvel at the wealth of information I have at my finger tips….I tutt, cos we want everything now.
And there lies the problem and the reason why many people will drop out of their training routine by the end of January.
There is a belief that we have to end every session covered in sweat, wondering if our heart is about to leap out of our ribcage and walking like Bambi.
Then spend the next few days so sore that we walk like John Wayne.
Let’s bust a myth
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SORE AFTER A WORKOUT
I know it feels kinda nice in a weird way….you know you’ve done something, it’s like you can feel your body getting fitter and stronger.
But soreness can actually limit your results and here’s why.
The real key to improved fitness and performance is CONSISTENCY and VOLUME.
Consistency basically comes down to keeping on keeping on.
For most of us, our long-term goals won’t be achieved in a month. That’s usually what makes them so worthwhile to achieve is that take some time and effort.
Any kind of dramatic weight loss in that time frame is usually done in an unsustainable way, which will often mean that when it comes time to stroll the beach in summer, you’ll be back to square one.
This is not ideal.
Achieving a long-term goal means that there will always be bumps in the road and unforeseen challenges.
We need to be consistent rather than perfect.
A quiet evening out turns into a marathon of shots, empty bottles and karaoke domination? Cool, make sure you had fun, then get back into the swing of things the next day.
Work gets chaotic, the kids need extra help with their homework and you have no idea how to fit in an hour at the gym? Then figure out what you do have time for…maybe a workout at home is the most viable option….just keep being consistent.
Volume – this is essentially how much training you do each week and is a key variable in developing performance and getting results.
When it comes to weight training it is how many reps you perform each week.
In running it is how many miles you run each week.
For someone wanting to develop their muscle mass, the total amount of reps performed per body part each week is one of the most important variables.
For a distance runner, the number of miles ran each week is key to how fast they can expect to go in competition.
So how does this affect our New Year resolutions.
We want all the results now.
So we push hard in our first few workouts.
If we go to the gym with a pal there’ll likely be some rivalry and competition.
In the short term this can often lead to a lot of soreness.
When we’re really sore the idea of training is a lot less enticing.
Over a period of a few weeks this can also result in not getting enough recovery. This leads to feeling like you’ve been hit by a speeding steam roller (if such a thing can exist), alongside other less than fun symptoms such as low libido and feeling like a miserable bastard.
It’s pretty clear to see that this can have an affect on our consistency as well as getting adequate weekly volume.
So what’s the solution
I’ve become a big fan of sub maximal training.
Especially for folks over 30 and/or with busy life commitments such as building a career and looking after a family.
Essentially it means not training to failure in the majority of your workouts.
Training is a stimulus for the body.
We do some exercise that is outside the scope of the body to do comfortably, it then adapts to be able to cope with the given stimulus.
The stimulus does not need to be maximal in order to adapt.
Imagine you did 10 reps of squat, for 3 sets as hard as you can manage. To keep the maths simple for me we’ll imagine the weight was 100kg.
So you’ve performed 30 reps and lifted a total of 3,000kg.
But tomorrow you’re unbelievably sore and just sitting on the toilet feels a herculean effort. You sure won’t be training your legs again this week, not with any appreciable stress at any rate.
What if you did those 3 sets at 75% of your effort (75kg).
You’ve performed 30 reps and lifted a total of 2,250kg.
But you feel ok the day after and a few days later you can repeat this workout.
Now for the week you have performed 6 sets, 60 reps and lifted 5,500kg. That’s 2,500kg more lifted for the whole week.
Extrapolate that over the period of a year, who do you think will end the year stronger and happier?
In the case of running.
Imagine you go out to run feeling fresh and excited. You do 5 miles and are bushed.
Or, you do 2 miles, but repeat this workout another two times that week for a total of six miles.
You have greater consistency and greater weekly mileage.
This is not about being easy or soft on yourself. Rather it’s about setting yourself up to be able to consistently build and develop yourself over the year.
So come next January you ca focus on other targets in resolutions rather than trying to get fit….again.
None of this is to say that we should never have an all out session, it’s simply that those types of sessions should be planned to allow for adequate recovery and for a time when you are in good condition and can perform well.
Going all out in the weeks following a month long sugar and/or alcohol marathon isn’t the best of moves.
If you’re new to training or returning after a long break, it would be a better use of your time to spend January developing your exercise techniques and building a base level of endurance before fully unleashing yourself on your workouts.
Last Friday I had my arse handed to me on a plate.
I joined in the gym's boxing class, hoping for a fun way to end the week and get a sweat on.
The session usually ends with body sparring, which is just a bit of moving around and throwing shots to the opponent’s body. It’s pretty knackering without any real worries of injury.
Just a giggle.
Until I partnered one chap who suggested we throw in some light head shots.
I had a gum shield in and couldn’t really see how I could say no.
My gloves were up and ready. I watched him like a hawk, ready to spring with my lightning reflexes and cat like guile.
In the meantime he hit me in the face.
How could this be? My gloves were surely protecting me tightly.
Even so he punched me in the face again.
Apparently the position I imagined myself to be in, wasn’t the position I was actually in.
My gloves were low and I basically had a target painted on my face and large neon arrow that said “hit here”.
Luckily I wear glasses that disguise my black eye a little…..but not enough to prevent some long term clients getting to have a laugh at my expense come Monday morning.
Sometimes a bit of physical feedback goes a long way in making us realise that maybe we weren’t doing things as well as we’d previously thought.
This can be very true when it comes to exercise.
You can be doing an exercise for years (literally) and be missing a slight nuance that transforms the entire exercise.
One adjustment can immediately switch an exercise from a run of the mill, thinking about what you’ll have for dinner type of affair, to one that makes your eyes twitch and your head appear as if steam were about to burst through the ears.
And it’s not until you actually feel the change in the exercise that you realise there was anything wrong with your old technique.
As Exhibit A, I present for you the Single Leg Deadlift.
It’s a fantastic exercise for developing hip and ankle stability, hamstrings, glutes and a strong link between hip and opposite shoulder.
When performed well.
It’s a surprisingly technical exercise. The movement looks really simple, but there is so much stability required that many people start following a compensation pattern without even realising it.
There are a few common errors that crop up again and again.
Let’s check out the rear view.
Here you can see a lack of lumbopelvic stability - or in other words the lower back and hips not stabilising very well.
The pelvis tilts towards the side of the working leg, so that the shoulder and hips are running in opposite direction to each other.
The body weight also shifts over the supporting foot rather than staying beneath the hip.
This is all part of the body yelling that it doesn’t feel stable and trying to finds ways to solve this problem.
When it comes to the side view I’ve got to put my hands up and admit that the video probably doesn’t give the clearest demonstration, but the problems are usually again all down to a lack of stability and control.
The body can pivot over the supporting leg, almost like it’s balanced on a fulcrum, rather than getting the feeling of getting “back” into the hip. Finding a position in which the glutes actually feel like they are being loaded.
The upper back will start to round forwards. The movement will often start with the upper body bending forwards, rather than the upper and lower body working in sync with each other.
So what do you do?
Sometimes, the person may just not be ready for this exercise yet and need a general increase in strength and core control.
But often, it’s a case of helping the body to get into the position you’re aiming for. To give the brain and body some context as to what the hell it is you’re trying to achieve.
Enter the Bench Supported Slider Single Leg Deadlift or as I like to think of it, the BSSSLDL.
(Hmmm, perhaps the name needs working on).
How much better does that look?
Where did I pinch it from?
Tony Gentilcore, a strength coach who’s blog I’ve been a big fan of for many years now.
What does it do?
Well it mostly seems to make people pull funny faces and get a little twitch by their eye as their glutes fire and fatigue in a way that may have never done before.
(For once I’m not exaggerating).
It also helps to guide the body into the perfect SLDL position. The brain and body start to get some all important context for the exercise and begin to learn how to own the position.
Using a val slider to extend the leg allows the hips to stay level, if they start rotating the foot will move of the bench.
Hold a light weight or medicine ball (I’ve been using a 2.5kg plate) to reach forward as the hip extends really helps to get the feeling of sitting back into the hip and getting the glutes to fire.
Things often start to click into place as you get to feel where the stress is meant to be and what it’s like to have your body move through that plane of motion.
Keep this in your workouts for a few weeks, then see (and feel) what the difference is when you return to traditional SLDL.
If you don’t have a slider then a towel will do, or even popping your shoes off and letting your socks help you to glide.
Just make sure you give the bench a good wipe after as your fellow gym goers may not fancy lying down in your toe jam.
Before my daughter was born I was chatting with one of my best pals (who was already a father) about what the whole parenthood thing was like.
The phrase he used was “it’s rewarding”.
That’s a phrase that on the surface sounds really nice, but when you look at it a bit deeper basically sounds like someone saying “it’s really challenging”.
This blog isn’t going to be an ode to parenthood, although for the sake of clarity (and in case my daughter stumbles across this in 10 years time) like every parent (I imagine), it has been challenging and I wouldn’t swap a second of it….perhaps….
But the challenge of keeping little people happy and alive often creates situations that lead to a bit of excess weight gain.
The type of weight gain that leaves you scratching your head, poking your tummy and wondering just how the hell that happened.
Was it there yesterday?
Cos this stuff happens under the radar, the kind of things that wouldn’t make it onto a food diary, or that the brain has a really good cover story for to completely justify it to your logical, rational self.
Let’s take a closer look and see if you recognise any of these in your day to day life.
I had a mate who, on a night out/party, would move from table to table, drinking the last bits of any unattended/finished drinks.
Not the classiest of habits but he was usually pretty merry by this point anyway.
This little manoeuvre was known as mine sweeping.
Now, I’m not suggesting parent people do exactly this - mainly because they don’t get to go out out so often and they know the only thing worse than a hangover, is hangover with little people jumping on you wanting things, all day.
No, the mine sweeping you might do is with plates of food.
The little person doesn’t eat all their grub.
Are you going to let it go to waste? I know I’m not.
I’ve even sat there with the pink Peppa pig spoon rather than get some fresh cutlery (why make more washing up?).
Is that going to be recorded in My Fitness Pal, or even remembered at the end of the day?
Hell to the no.
I remember the perfectly sized portion that was on MY plate.
It’s very possible these little minesweeping missions can add a substantial calorific amount over the course of a week.
What to do - stay aware for a week of anytime that you do this, or get the urge to do it. Take a photo of each little mini portion you add on and review it at the end of the week to see if it is a big deal.
Who Are Those Snacks Really For?
It’s fun to make life fun for children.
What simpler way is there of doing it than treats.
Having a kid is a great excuse to have things in the house that just don’t go hand in hand with trying to lose weight.
Both my wife and I really enjoy healthy eating. Added to that our daughter is allergic to dairy and nuts (she’s treated by an allergy hospital and we have to carry an epipen) so most kids treats are out of bounds for her anyway.
But we still have a little treat tin, with mini packs of biscuits. Biscuits which she can’t yet open herself.
So every time I open a packet there is usually a dad tax imposed, as in I pinch a couple for myself.
The one that used to get me was her cereal.
Man I love cereal. I love really big bowls of cereal.
There was a time when I’d be up when everyone else was in bed and find myself pouring a nice big bowl for myself. This would be most evenings.
Just a bit of fun, who’s gonna notice the difference?
I’m not saying in isolation this is the end of the world.
But I know personally that if I’m letting myself of the hook with this one then I’m probably doing the same in other areas of my life.
As the saying goes, how you do one thing is how you do everything.
What about sunny days….isn’t it nice to let them have an ice cream? Well, you can’t let them have on their own.
Or what about going shopping?
Do you decide to buy them treats and subconsciously choose which ones based on what your favourites are?
Ah I Really Deserve/Really Bloody Need A Drink
It’s been a hell of a day.
The tiny dictator child has had one of their more “challenging” days...but now they’re asleep.
The house is yours, the sofa is yours and what you really need is a lovely glass of wine (or a beer).
If this happens every now and then….then all I suggest is you sit back and enjoy every moment of that drink. But if it’s more like most nights than that’s definitely something worth paying attention to.
It’s very easy for drink and food to be used as an emotional crutch.
Something to cover over the cracks when you’re feeling less than stellar.
I’m not a psychologist or mind set coach but I know from personal experience that when food or drink choices become very at odds with my health goals then that’s a symptom of something bugging my thinky box and I need to pay attention and figure out what that is.
I Don’t Have Time/I’m Too Bloody Knackered
Ok I feel like I may be on thin ice with this one as it would be very simple to come across a little holier than thou or preachy and that definitely isn’t the aim.
What I really wanted to do in this blog post was simply highlight some issues that you may not have even noticed yourself.
Usually when we start to spot things ourselves we can start finding our own solutions, but this one isn’t exactly subtle.
If you’re knackered you’re likely very aware that your knackered and don’t need someone on the interwebz to make you suddenly realise it.
If you feel like life is constantly on fast forward and non stop it may seem very counterintuitive to try and fit something else in. Especially when that something else is energy demanding.
But exercise, when performed at the right level will actually provide feelings of having greater levels of energy and reducing stress levels.
If you feel really crushed it could be a good option to choose activities that focus more on calming the nervous system, using the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” nervous system.
In this scenario yoga could be a good option.
My wife loved going swimming or maybe just taking a stroll somewhere scenic.
Every fibre of your being may feel like it is telling you to sit down and put your feet up, but it’s often amazing to discover how much more you feel you can handle after some exercise.
As for the time factor I want you to ask yourself an important question.
Is it actually true that you have zero time to exercise?
Don’t just jump straight to saying yes.
Think about it and challenge any assumptions you may have.
Maybe you don’t have time to get to the gym, but could you take 10 minutes even at home to do something?
Could you involve the kids in exercise, making it an activity for them as well as you? Get bikes out and ride together, play football together, have races, let them jump up and down during your exercise video? Give them some paints to keep them quiet for 10 minutes?
If there was a million pound prize offered to you to exercise today we both know that you would find time….how would you do it to win a million?
I once read about a CEO who was super busy and couldn’t fit the gym into his day but really wanted to improve his health.
He set an alarm to go off every hour.
Then each hour he took one minute and moved continuously.
Press ups, squats etc.
Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was more than he had been doing and as time passed he found ways to develop it.
All I’m saying is that exercise doesn’t have to look like an hour at the gym with 30 minutes of changing and travel added on. The goal is simply to find the next step that fits your current lifestyle.
Putting everyone else first - feeling guilty
This is a tricky one.
On the surface you’re trying to be a good person. Family life is always going to be a bit of give and take.
But living your life from a feeling of constant sacrifice is a not a good place to be in.
You’ve probably come across the expression that you have to “fix your own face mask first”. Like on the plane safety talks, they always tell you to fix your own mask, as without it you can’t be much help to the people around you.
What happens when you don’t give yourself due consideration?
Negative emotions may start bubbling up. Emotions that get covered up with food or alcohol.
Or you start to take less responsibility for how you feel. After all, it’s now everyone elses fault that you’re not where you want to be.
I’m not saying this is always the case, but it’s worth considering.
Perhaps you feel that none of these apply to you.
Or maybe something sounds familiar.
But really pay attention to your habits and patterns over the next week. So much of what we do on a day to day basis is done out of habit that we barely register our actions.
If you are a parent and weight loss is being a bit of struggle