athleticicsm

Why your athletes need to do more than just squat and deadlift

As someone who works in a gym setting day in day out, it is pretty easy to accept that I enjoy strength training (like, a lot). Strength training is, in my opinion, the most effective means of increasing physical performance and building a high resilience to injuries.

And I know many coaches would agree.

As a result, due to this affinity for strength training, most of us gravitate towards trying to improve the big 3 (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift).

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Which is fine. The gym is our domain. It is where we work, where we train, and where most of us learn and hone our craft.

There is no reason not to good at demonstrating strength in our domain.

The issue is when this style of training seeps into the programs of our clients.

This does not matter whether they are high level athletes or 80 year old retirees. Unless they are powerlifters, they do not need to become incredibly strong in these particular movements.

While these movements are important (with particular emphasis on the squat and deadlift, and their role as fundamental movement patterns), and should make up a large portion of your clients training, they are not the be-all-end-all.

Most of your clientele are not competitive powerlifters, they have individual needs that need to be addressed, and as such should receive individualized programming to meet those individual requirements.

For those from athletic populations, having a high level of relative strength is important, but once that has been achieved do they actually need to get stronger? The difference between a 2 x body weight deadlift and 2.5 x body weight deadlift on performance will be minimal. Once they have appreciable levels of strength, it is time to focus on improving other qualities, such as power.

Not to mention that athletes need to be resilient to injuries, have single leg stability and single leg strength, have the ability to run fast, jump high, and change direction rapidly (just to name a few) – and if you think that this can be accomplished by only squatting and deadlifting then you are very, very wrong.

Yes those movements can contribute to improving those physical qualities, but they are a very small piece of the puzzle.

This holds very true for those from the general population as well.

While the squat and deadlift are important movement patterns that need to be learned and trained, it is our job to get our clients moving and feeling (and often looking) better. This does not mean they need to deadlift 3 x bodyweight.

Sure, strength is important – it builds tissue resilience and will stave off age related declines in function – but building strength in different movements such as single leg squats, rows, and single arm pressing variations is important as it builds well rounded and resilient individuals who can handle anything that life throws at them.

Furthermore, these same clients are most likely training not only for health, but to improve body composition as well. And while squats and deadlifts have the potential to increase muscle mass, again they are only a small component of a much bigger picture.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love squats and deadlifts. They are important movements that need to be trained and learned, but they are not the only thing that needs to be trained and learned.

People have individual needs that need to be addressed, and it is extremely naïve to think that all of these needs can be met by merely squatting and deadlifting.

Program to the requirements your clients, not to your own personal preferences.

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Training frequency: The forgotten factor for building muscle and strength

When writing a training program people normally think about two key factors.

Volume and Intensity.

While there is no question that these two factors are integral to promoting the growth of muscle tissue and neuromuscular strength development, there is one other factor that needs A LOT more consideration than it is getting.

Training frequency.

Training frequency refers to how often we train a specific movement or muscle group.

While body building splits (where we train each individual muscle group one time per week) are extremely popular, they may not actually be our best option for increasing muscle mass or strength.

It is commonly accepted that muscle tissue takes 48-72 hours to recover from a solid training session. As such, we actually have opportunity to train a muscle group more than one time per week without running the risk of overtraining (which honestly occurs VERY rarely in the weekend warrior…).

Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

 

Training frequency and muscle mass

Increasing training frequency is a great option to provide muscle tissue with additional weekly stimulus.

By increasing training frequency, we can effectively increase the amount of work a muscle or muscle group gets each week. We know that increasing weekly volume is a great wat to stimulate muscle growth.

Additionally, by increasing training frequency, we also increase the amount of mechanical tension our muscle tissue receives over any given training week. This increase in mechanical tension considered another key factor in triggering muscle growth.

 

Training Frequency and Strength

While increasing training frequency can have considerable influence on increasing muscle size, it is the way in which it can influence strength development that is arguably most important.

Demonstrating maximal strength requires the integration of both the nervous and muscular systems. The role that the nervous system plays in recruiting motor units and muscle fibres to produce force is extremely important in this demonstration of strength.

This becomes even more important during large compound movements (such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press…) where a large amount of neuromuscular coordination is required.

By increasing training frequency, we can increase our ability to recruit muscle fibres during these complex movements. This allows us to become more efficient (and subsequently stronger) at these specific lifts.

In fact, within most training circles, the completion of these complex movements is considered a skill. Put simple, the more we perform these skills, the better we become at performing them. These improvements come through an increase in neuromuscular coordination and increased in muscle fibre recruitment.

Furthermore, these increases in neural development are likely to have a greater carryover to our endeavours of athletic performance.

Increases in motor unit and muscle fibre recruitment will make use more efficient and more powerful during athletic movements such as sprinting, jumping, and bounding.

 

Practical Considerations

So we know that increasing our training frequency can have significant improvements in our ability to develop strength and build muscle tissue, but how do we implement it into our weekly training program?

The easiest way is to split up your training week into upper body and lower body days, in which each day has a slightly different emphasis.

For example, we might have a squat dominant lower body day and a hip dominant lower body day where both squats and deadlifts are performed on each day, but the core lift changes slightly.

The same can be said of the upper body days, where we might have a push dominant day and a pull dominant day, where although we perform both pushing and pulling on each day, the primary focus differs slightly.

For example:

Monday – Hip Dominant Lower Body Day

Deadlift 5x5
Front Squat 4x8
RDL 4x8
Walking Lunges 3x10
Single led RDL 3x10

Tuesday – Push Dominant Upper Body Day

Bench Press 5x5
High Bench row 4x8
Overhead Press 4x8
Chin Ups 4x8
Incline DB Press 3x10
Batwing rows 3x10
DB Fly’s 3x10
Single Arm DB Row 3x10

Thursday – Knee Dominant Lower Body Day

Back Squat 5x5
Sumo Deadlift 4x8
Front Squat 4x8
Bulgarian Split Squat 3x10
Reverse Lunges 3x10

Friday – Pull Dominant Upper Body Day

Bent over BB row 5x5
Overhead Press4x8
Weighted pull ups 4x8
Bench Press4x8
Seated Row 3x10
Seated Shoulder Press 3x10
Single arm cable row 3x10
Decline DB Press 3x10

So while this program is not perfect (certainly no individualisation...) it does provide a good example of how we can integrate an increase in training frequency into our training program.

As a bonus, the increased use of compound exercises associated with an increase in training frequency can stimulate greater muscle growth and strength development due to further increasing the amount of load (and subsequently mechanical tension) we lift for any given week.

 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about training frequency!

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Offset loading – what is it and why you should care about it?

In what feels like a never ending quest to find the best ways to build muscle, increase strength, and improve athleticism, we are frequently looking for new training techniques to help us reach our goals as quickly and as effectively as possible.

While I am strong believer that the basics will get you MOST of the way there, there are definitely occasions when different methods of training can have a very positive effect on our results.

One of the methods that I have been having frequent success with (both personally, and with my clients) is offset loading.

Hunter Bennett Performance adelaide personal training

 

Offset Loading

Offset loading is a training technique that is extremely simple to implement, but can have huge benefits.

Pretty simply, it refers to loading one side of the body to a greater degree than the other.

So as a very simple example, we could do farmer carries with a heavier load in one hand than the other (which is then repeated on the other side – can’t have those imbalances...).

This exact same loading method can be applied to squat and split squat variations, both bilateral and unilateral deadlift variations, and upper body pushing and pulling variations (think single arm dumbbell presses and single arm dumbbell rows).

This can be done by completely unloading one side while adding significant load to the other side, or using a slightly lighter load on one side and then a slightly heavier load on the other side.

 

Benefits of offset loading

While its method of application of simple, offset loading can have a number of benefits dependent on your training goal.

The initial benefit that we get from offset loading is due to the demand it places on the body to maintain stability. By loading more on one side we create flexion and rotation forces at the trunk and the hip that would not be there with regular loading parameters.

Therefore, the muscles of the trunk and hip must work overtime to maintain a neutral lumbo-pelvic position.

This makes offset loading a great tool to use when we are limited for time and want exercises that provide big bang-for-your-buck, as we can improve core stability while also loading the upper or lower body.

Not only will this increased demand for stability build core and hip stability strength, it also provides a great opportunity to work on any imbalances we may have in regards trunk and hip strength.

Additionally, offset loading is a fantastic way to introduce more total volume into your training as we have to do twice as much work than we would with normal loading methods.

This increase in total volume can directly increase our total time under tension AND the metabolic demand placed on the muscle tissue – both of which can contribute to increased muscle hypertrophy significantly.

And while using offset loading is not the best way to build strength on its own (because the total load used is reduced), correcting imbalances can indirectly lead to greater improvements in strength over time.

 

Offset Loading Programming Considerations

So now we know the benefits of offset loading, it is HOW we implement it into our training that makes all the difference.

Firstly, irrespective of whether our goal is hypertrophy or performance based, exercises using offset loading should be used strictly as assistance exercises, and should not replace our core strength lifts. This is because their capacity to build strength is somewhat limited, as they will not provide the mechanical stress necessary to increase maximal force production.

BUT, due to the various other benefits that offset loading can have, they should be used as either the first or second assistance exercise in our training program.

Example Lower Body Workout

Back Squat 4x6
Romanian Deadlift 3x8
Offset loaded Bulgarian Split Squat 3x8 /side
Walking Lunges 3x10/side

Example Upper Body Workout

Bench Press 5x5
High Bench Row 4x8
Single arm Landmine Press 3x8 / side
Single arm Renegade Row 3x8 /side

Incorporating offset loading into our training can be a great way to increase core and hip stability, correct any imbalances we may have, and promote muscular hypertrophy.

Additionally, using offset training can promote further strength development by improving stability and eliminating those imbalances!

 

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Low Bar vs High Bar Squat – What’s all the Fuss About?

Within the health and fitness industry there are a few truths that are (in my humble opinion) undeniable.

1)      To promote fat loss, you need to maintain a weekly energy deficit.
2)      To improve performance, you need to train for strength and power.
3)      Strong and active glutes are integral to the health of the spine.

Outside of that, the details become debatable.

And boy, do we like to debate them.

From what diet is the best, to what exercise is promotes optimal Tibialis anterior development (I kid, I kid..... kind of..), we love to discuss the minute.

One of those discussions that come up regularly is low bar vs high bar squatting. People will argue for hours about the differences between the two, often aligning themselves to one entirely.

Which is funny, because in the end the differences is a couple of inches.

Seriously.

hunter bennett performance

 

Two inches (if you’re lucky) higher or lower, and that’s the differences.

Well, there is a little bit more to it that, but honestly, not a whole lot more.

 

Bar Placement

As mentioned already, the difference ultimately comes down to the position of the bar on your back. With high bar squats, the bar sits on top of the traps, while with low bar squats, the bar sits just above the spine of scapula and slightly above the rear delts.

While this change is relatively minimal, it does result in some variances in technique further down the chain.

You see ideally, with a squat, the bar should sit over the middle of the foot for the duration of the lift. This is where those variations in technique come into play.

hunter bennett performance

 

Torso angle and Joint loading

To maintain the bar over the mid-foot, the angle of the torso changes slightly. With a high bar squat, a more upright torso is required to keep optimal bar position, whereas with a low bar squat greater trunk lean is required.

Maintaining a more upright torso places slightly more torque at the knee joint than what would typically occur during a low bar squat where there an increased trunk lean is observed (It is important to note that this is not a bad thing, it is just what happens biomechanically). As a result, the hips are loaded less, and we see a subsequent reduction in shear force through the lumbar spine.

Using a low bar squat position forces us to sit back and load through the hips, which subsequently causes an increase in the shear force on the spine (again, not necessarily a negative).

If we look at this from a muscular perspective, a high bar squat is going to place increased demand on the quads. A low bar squat is going to place an increased demand on the glutes and spinal erectors.

This isn’t to say that during a high bar squat there is no demand on the glutes and erectors (and vice versa in regards to a low bar squat and the quads), just that the demand is slightly reduced in comparison to the alternative.

It is also important to note that as a direct result of bar position, the extensors of the thoracic spine are going to be under less demand during a low bar squat in comparison to a high bar squat (this is in my opinion, why some people can squat more low bar than they can high bar).

 

Practical Implications

So what does this actually mean?

In reality, not a whole lot.

I often find that people who may not have had a whole lot of experience in the gym pick up the high bar back squat better as it more closely replicates goblet squats and front squats (which I typically use as a regression). As a result, we often start with those.

From there though, what I recommend becomes goal dependant.

If an individual’s goal is purely hypertrophy based, I will opt for whatever variation is more comfortable. This is because the muscular load is quite similar between the two lifts, and from a hypertrophy perspective, glutes and quads are going to get a heap of work either way.

From an athletic performance perspective, I would typically recommend a high bar back squat as the joint angles more closely replicate movements that require vertical power (AKA Jumping), and there is less load on the erectors (which are typically already copping a heap of load from exercises targeting posterior chain strength).

For someone trying to build a big ass squat, I would recommend low bar. As the thoracic extensors are taken out of the equation, we effectively eliminate what is often the weakest link in the chain. As a result, the hips and quads should be able to handle maximal load, increasing the amount of weight we can move.

 

But seriously, in the end, the difference is a couple of inches. High bar squats are still going to build strength, low bar squats are still going to improve performance.

The differences are minute.

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Exercise Selection and Risk vs Reward

I have a number of staples in my training programs.

You can guarantee that most of my clients (myself included) will perform some sort of squat, hinge, single leg squat, push, and pull.

Pretty simple really.

But this does not mean that every client deadlifts from the floor.
It doesn’t mean that every client bench presses.
It doesn’t mean that every client back squats.

While these exercises may seem important, they’re not (competitive powerlifters are the exception here). It is really the stimulus that these exercise provide that is the important thing.

Which brings us to the title of this blog post.

Hunter Bennett performance personal training adelaide

Risk vs Reward

With training, we are trying to provide a specific stimulus to reach a specific goal. As such, each exercise should provide a way to reach this goal.

The way to get to this goal is going to be different for each person.

This is why we need to weigh up the benefits and risks of our exercise selection, dependent on the individual, and their individual goal.

For example, if we have someone who wants to build lower body strength, but back squats with abhorrent (AKA makes my eyes bleed) technique, then should we use back squats to build lower body strength?

In short, probably not.

Because the risk of injury (squatting under load with nasty form) far outweighs the benefits.

We can gain lower body strength through the use of squat regressions (such as the goblet squat) and single leg loading (split squats etc.).

Sure, we can try to progress to a full back squat gradually.
But that isn’t essential.

But building lower body strength is.


This train of thought can be applied to a number of different scenarios.

For example, if we have someone who wants to build upper body strength and mass, but doesn’t have the mobility required to overhead press.

Then maybe we shouldn’t have them overhead press.

Instead, we can use neutral variations such as landmine presses, while focusing on improving shoulder mobility. This allows us to reach their goal safety, while also building the mobility required for overhead pressing.

 

Similar in athletic populations.

If you have an older athlete who needs to develop power but has no experience Olympic lifting, should we Olympic lift?

Again, probably not.

Not necessarily because they are dangerous, but because the learning curve is so steep they may not actually see a whole lot of benefit from them. Instead we can use jumps and throws to develop power, as they require less technical proficiency.

This may be different for a youth athlete, where building technique is important. In this scenario, teaching the Olympic lifts will be well worth the time, as it will prepare them for the training rigors expected at a higher level of competition.

 

This doesn’t mean that you stop using specific exercises all together. It just means that you weigh up the risks of performing a specific exercise with a specific individual.

And if the risks outweigh the benefits of using that particular exercise, then opt for a variation that provides the same stimulus, with less risk.

Simple.

 

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Why the Front Squat is King

As an exercise, the front squat is heavily overshadowed by the barbell back squat.

It is considered a ‘regression’ in certain circles, where it is used as a mere stepping stone allowing you to move towards a full back squat.

Ultimately, the front squat does not get the love that it truly deserves.

That’s why I am here to tell you that it should be a staple in your training if your goal is to improve strength and overall athleticism!

hunter bennett performance adelaide personal training

 

The front squat smashes the anterior core

Most wouldn’t think it, but one of the key benefits of front squatting is the load it places the muscles of the trunk.

Due to the bar position being slightly in front of the torso, it effectively tries to pull the spine into flexion. This creates a HUGE demand on the muscles of the anterior trunk to maintain a nice upright spinal position, making it a fantastic way to build core strength and stability.

This actually leads quite nicely into our next point…

 

It’s hard to cheat a front squat

During a heavy set of back squats, it is pretty common to fatigue through the erectors of the lumbar and thoracic spine.

This results in ‘caving’ of the trunk, causing a movement that kind of looks like a squat / good-morning hybrid that places a large amount of shear force on the spine.

This cannot happen during a front squat due to the bar position. If we lose our upright position during the front squat by caving forward, we will lose the bar.

This actually makes it a safer variation, while limiting poor movement patterns and poor compensations.

 

The front squat demands mobility

To perform a deep front squat, you need good mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine.

By front squatting often (and addressing any serious mobility requirements) we can improve mobility and movement quality, while also improving our strength throughout a large range of movement.

This can go a very long way in improving our ability to improve strength in the gym, reduce our risk of injury during athletic movement, and improve our overall athleticism.

 

Front squat strength directly carries over to athletic movements

Simply looking at the front squat we can see its similarities with a number of athletic movements.

The upright trunk position during the front squat is very similar to that we see during jumping, bounding and sprinting. So it makes sense that getting stronger in the front squat can directly improve our capacity at performing these athletic movements.

Additionally, due to its ability to build strength in hip and knee extension, it can also improve our ability to accelerate, change direction rapidly, and perform jumping and bounding movements.

 

The front squats improves squat and deadlift strength

The upright torso position of the front squat places a serious demand on the quads. This helps improve knee extension strength, which directly improves our capacity to perform other movements.

Obviously, this carries over directly to the back squat. Having strong quads is only going to improve your ability to squat more weight. Also, considering that the front squat can significantly improve strength of the spinal erectors, it will improve our ability to remain upright in the back squat. This improves our capacity to perform the movement, making it more efficient (AKA stronger) and safer.

Secondly, improve quad strength will significantly improve your deadlift strength off the floor. The first portion of the deadlift (floor to knee) is VERY quad dominant, and as a result front squats can seriously improve deadlift strength.

So, there you have it.

To summarise: Front Squats = Gainz

I would recommend using front squats as the core movement on one lower body day per week for lower reps (4 sets of6 reps, or 5 sets of 4 reps, etc.), and then as an assistance exercise on your other lower body days for slightly higher reps (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps).

If you want to get in contact with me with any training enquiries, fill out the form below and i will get back to you ASAP

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Training vs Exercising. There is a Difference.

There are many different ways to describe the attempts and efforts we make to improve our body composition or physical capacity, but ‘Exercising’ and ‘Training’ are hands down the two most common terms I personally hear on a daily basis.

And so what, right?

People can call it whatever they want, if it refers to the same thing?

well, maybe not?

What if i said that Training and Exercising are actually inherently different from one another?

Because In my personal opinion there is a significant difference, and by changing your mindset and the terminology you use from’ exercise’ to ‘training’, you can begin to make massive jumps forward in achieving your personal goal.

Hunter Bennett Performance, Adelaide Personal Training, Lose Fat Build Muscle

 

Exercising

Firstly, exercising.

Exercise is physical activity for the sake of physical activity. 

It is exercise performed for TODAY, and for today only.

Exercise is often done for the sake of raising the heart rate and getting a bit of a sweat on.

People who ‘exercise’ typically perform the same sort of routine over and over because it does meet their immediate needs - to perform physical activity today.

And honestly, there is nothing wrong with this.

It is great way to meet the recommended weekly requirements for physical activity, ultimately providing us with the minimum required stimulus to stay healthy and manage weight gain.

This is fine. It keeps our cardiovascular system working efficiently, and significantly reduces our risk of developing a number of diseases and disorders.

But what if you have a specific goal you want to achieve?

I don’t care whether it is strength related, performance related, or body composition related.

Merely ‘exercising’ will not cut it.

Training

Enter training.

Training is different.

If you have a specific goal in mind, then training is essential to effectively achieve that goal.

If you want to run a marathon, become a better athlete, or compete in a physique contest, performing a group exercise class 4 days per week is not going to cut it.

You need to follow a clear track that will lead YOU to YOUR specific destination. 

Training involves reaching small, specific goals that lead directly to the achievement of your overall goal.

Each individual exercise you undertake is a small, specific step leading to the end of your journey.

Each set and every individual repetition is well thought out, and implemented with this final goal in mind.

You do these things not because you can do them, but because to reach your goal, you need to do them.

With that in mind, training is performed efficiently.

If you don’t have a valid reason for doing a specific exercise (AKA it doesn’t help you reach your overall goal), then you shouldn’t be doing it.

If you’re a sprinter, you don’t need to be jogging 10km on your rest days.

If you’re a powerlifter you don’t need to be doing 4 sets of Bicep curls at the end your session.

If you’re a marathon runner you don’t need to be bench pressing double body weight.

This doesn’t mean you throw out entire rep ranges, or stop doing certain exercises forever, it just means you need to focus on what is specific to your current goal and make that your priority.

Training has a focus on your individual needs.

This may mean addressing weak points, or correcting individual imbalances or dysfunctions.

It means addressing the areas where you are deficient, while also improving those which you are already good at.

Using a running as a specific example, your goal might be to run a marathon. You have good aerobic capacity, but are weak and have poor movement quality.

Increasing strength becomes a priority, as does improving your efficiency and quality of movement.

This occurs through specific exercise and training recommendations. Not through doing ‘whatever you have always done’ in the weight room.

Training results in measurable improvement.

This means that you actually PROGRESS through training. Whether it is getting stronger, getting faster, or getting leaner, when you are training (and training EFFECTIVELY) you will see improvements in yourself.

 

Now, exercising is fine. Some people enjoy working hard and getting a sweat on for the sake of it. And again, there is nothing wrong with that.

BUT

If you have a specific goal you want to reach, and find yourself doing the same thing over and over, you are exercising when you should be training.

And it is now time to make that change.

 

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Preventing Hamstring Muscle Strains, How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Preventing Hamstring Strains.  How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Hamstring strains are absolutely dreaded by track and field athletes alike. They are not only painful, but also have a lengthy recovery timeline, and a HUGE risk of injury re-occurrence.

Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common injuries we see in both athletes and weekend warriors alike.

And it is understandable to some degree. The hamstrings are one of the key prime movers of the lower limb, and as a result are under significant stress during a number (if not ALL) of athletic movements. Due to this they are arguably at greater risk of injury than many other muscle groups.

BUT. 

This is no excuse.

I can guarantee 90% of you are not doing enough to reduce your risk of developing a hamstring injury.

And there is A LOT we can do to prevent hamstring injury.

Anatomy of the Hamstring Muscle Group

prevent hamstring strains

The hamstrings actually consist of three separate muscles. Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris.

Without going into too much detail, both the Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus originate on the medial aspect of the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosity for the anatomy nerds out there), and attach on the medial aspect of the tibia.

The biceps femoris is actually divided into two parts, the short head and the long head, both of which originate at different points. The long head of biceps femoris originates on the lateral portion of the pelvis, while the short head originates at the top of the femur. Both muscles come together and attach to lateral portion of the tibia and the fibula.

 

The Function of the hamstring Muscle Group

The hamstrings are often considered a knee flexor. It allows us to flex the knee joint. While this is anatomically correct, it isn’t actually how they act during movement.

When we are running and sprinting the shank of the lower limb goes through a swing phase. This is when the knee extends in front of the body prior to taking the next step. During this movement the hamstrings are actually contracting eccentrically to slow the movement of the shank prior to touching the ground. This is integral to running function, as by keeping this movement under control we reduce the load that goes through the knee while simultaneously preparing ourselves to take the next step.

Preventing hamstring injuries hunter bennett performance

Additionally, the hamstrings also act to extend the hip joint. This means they play a role helping the glutes produce powerful hip extension, which we see during rapid acceleration, jumping, bounding and changing direction.

The hamstrings can also act to stabilise the knee and pelvis during movement. Most notably when the foot makes contact with the ground during a typically running gait cycle.

So we can see that there is a fair bit going on here. Most of which is NOT just knee flexion.

 

So how do hamstring strains occur?

The most likely occurrence of hamstring strain comes during that swing phase of gait (we mentioned it earlier) while we are sprinting. During this movement the hamstring is lengthening under A LOT of load. 

A hamstring strain in this scenario is the combined result of fatigue accumulation and the over-lengthening of the hamstrings.

As the hamstrings get fatigued their capacity to manage load is reduced. This means that they lose their ability to control the forward movement of the shank during swing phase. As a result, during swing phase, the shank moves too quickly and too far in front of the body, causing the ‘over-stretching’ of the muscles, and a subsequent strain or tear in the muscle tissue.

It is important to note that while this type of injury is most common, hamstring strains can occur through other movements. A similar type of injury can occur through kicking motions, and during rapid deceleration and change of direction, again where the hamstrings are lengthening under significant load.

 

What makes us more likely to develop a hamstring injury, and what can we do to fix it?

So we have an understanding of what the hamstring muscles consist of, and how we can get hamstring injuries. But what about the things that predispose us to hamstring injuries, and what can we do to correct them.

In my experience, there are four key variables that we can work on to significantly reduce the risk of developing a hamstring injury.

 

Unilateral strength differences

This one makes sense if we think about it. If we exhibit significant strength differences in one limb compared to the other, there are going to be repercussions.

Firstly, in regards to hamstring strength specifically, the muscle of the weaker limb is going to fatigue much faster than that of the stronger limb. This fatigue is going to make ‘over-stretching’ much more likely, which can lead to injury.

Additionally, if one limb fatigues quickly, our movement mechanics are going to change significantly as a result. Poor and inefficient movement can lead to compensation patterns, excessive fatigue, and then injury. Interestingly, when we talk about fatigue and altered movement, it is not limited to just unilateral hamstring weakness. Unilateral weakness in the quadriceps and the glutes can also lead to altered movement of the pelvis, which significantly increases our risk for injury.

So how can we fix it?

This one is pretty simple to fix.

Do single leg work. And LOTS of it.

My first point of call would be single leg hip dominant exercises, such as single leg deadlift variations. These exercises not only provide an opportunity to build eccentric and concentric hamstring strength unilaterally, they also place a demand on the glutes (glute med in particular) to provide stability to the pelvis and hip. As a result, we get stronger hamstrings and increased hip stability. Both of which improve our ability to move at the hip, reducing our risk of injury.

 

Secondly, I would also include single leg squat variations, such as split squats and Bulgarian split squats. These exercises allow us to build unilateral strength of the quads and the glutes, while still improving our stability around the hip.

 

Poor pelvic positioning

Considering that the hamstrings attach directly to the pelvis, it makes sense that the position of the pelvis can influence the hamstrings.

If we are stuck in a permanent state of anterior pelvic tilt (APT), our hamstrings are always going to be in a lengthened position. This not only creates a sensation of tightness throughout the hamstring muscles, but also puts us in a position where ‘over-stretching’ happens much easier.

Anterior pelvic tilt occurs when we have weak glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, and tight quads and hip flexors. The weak muscles allow the pelvis to be pulled into a position of anterior tilt by the tight muscles.

Hamstring injury prevention, hunter bennett performance

Now fortunately, again this is something we can improve through smart training.

Firstly, we need to improve the strength of our hamstrings and glutes through hip extension exercises, and improve the strength of our abdominals through trunk stability exercises.

I would start looking towards deadlift variations as a way to directly increase hamstring and glute strength. The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic variation that somewhat isolated the movement at the hips, making the hip extensors really drive the movement. Additionally, improving glute and hamstring strength is going to improve their overall work capacity. This makes them less susceptible to fatigue, reducing injury risk even further!

To increase the strength of the abdominals, I would recommend the use of plank variations. In particular, the RKC plank, which is a variation where we stabilise the spine while in a position of posterior pelvic tilt. This allows us to work both the glutes and the abdominals to stabilise the spine and the pelvis, promoting pelvic movement away from APT. With this variation the key is to squeeze the glutes as hard as humanly possible. This moves the pelvis in to a posteriorly tilted position, which absolutely hammers the abdominals.

 

Secondly, trying o release the hip flexors and quadriceps could also go a long way to improving pelvic position. A standard hip flexor stretch is a great way to reduce the tension of the hip flexors, while foam rolling is an ideal way to reduce tension of the quadriceps. Both of these will help improve pelvic positioning, reducing injury risk.

 

Inhibited or down-regulated glutes

As mentioned initially, the hamstrings also act as a hip extensor during explosive movements. In an ideal world the hamstrings act as synergists to the glutes, which really drive the movement at the hips. But, unfortunately, we do not live in ideal world.

In modern society we spend a huge amount of time sitting down. When we sit, the glutes are in a lengthened position, and by spending too much time in this position they become tight, weak, and inhibited. As a result, 90% of the people I see have seriously inhibited glutes, and use their glutes properly!

 If our glutes don’t work, the hamstrings then become the primary driver for explosive hip extension movements. This leads to excessive fatigue of the hamstrings, which then leads to injury.

This can be improved by performing low level glute activation exercises during your warmup as a way to activate and prepare the glutes for movement. Once they have been sufficiently activated, they are likely to work more during explosive movements, reducing the total work done by the hamstrings.

To found out more about glute activation exercises, check out this article.

 

Poor eccentric hamstring strength

Improving eccentric strength of the hamstrings can play a big role in reducing the risk of developing a hamstring strain.

As mentioned above, majority of hamstring injuries occur during the swing phase of running gait, when the hamstrings are undergoing an eccentric contraction. If we have weak hamstrings that cannot control the shank as it moves forward, we are more likely to ‘over-stretch’, and therefore more likely to get injured.

Again, we can improve eccentric hamstring strength through an increase in eccentric loading. It is worth noting that eccentric loading is extremely taxing on the muscles, and can lead to significant muscle damage, so taking it slow is the best way to approach this type of training.

I would start by introducing eccentric loading to hip dominant exercises. For example Romanian deadlifts with a 3 second lowering portion.

Once I felt comfortable that the individual had good eccentric strength and control I would progress to more taxing exercises such as Nordic curls and glute ham raises. These exercises really allow you to overload the eccentric portion of the lift, building that eccentric strength.

 

Putting it all together

So to summarise, we need to improve any unwanted postural deviations, improve unilateral strength, improve eccentric strength of the hamstrings specifically, and improve glute activation.

A sample lower body program aimed at reducing hamstring injury risk might look something like this:

Self-myofascial release and stretching
- Foam roll TFL, Quads
- Hip flexor stretch 2 x 15 s /side

Glute activation sequence
- Prone hip extension 2 x 12 /side
- Side lying hip abduction 2 x 12 / side
- Glute bridge 2 x 12
- X band walk 2 x 12 / side

Movement preparation
- Single leg deadlift bodyweight 2 x 8 / side
- Bodyweight split squat 2 x 8 / side
- Goblet squat 2 x 10

Strength Work
- Deadlift (2 second eccentric) 5 x 4
- Single leg deadlift 3 x 8 / side
- Bulgarian Split squat 4 x 6 /side
- Romanian Deadlift (3 second eccentric) 4 x 6

Eccentric Loading
- Nordic curl 4 x 6

Core stability
- RKC plank 3 x 10seconds
- Pallof Press 3 x 12 / side

 

If you’re after one on one coaching, need programming, or would like to know more information, feel free to contact me via the form below.

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Sprinting for Fat Loss, Strength and Athleticism. The Ultimate Guide.

Whether you are a high level athlete, a weekend warrior or completely new to the gym, sprinting should be an integral component of your training program.

Not only is sprint speed an extremely important factor for athletic success, the act of sprinting can help promote fat loss, increase our strength, and improve our overall athleticism.

Lean, strong and athletic

Lean, strong and athletic

Sprinting for fat loss

Let’s start with how sprinting can cause fat loss, and help us maintain a high level of leanness.

Firstly, sprinting is taxing.  I mean REALLY taxing. It ultimately requires the integration of every muscle in the entire body working at near maximal capacity to sprint at (or close to) our top speed. This alone is using up a HUGE amount of energy during our sprint session.

Additionally, due to the accumulated fatigue sprinting causes we also get a significant increase our metabolic rate up to 24-48 hours after our sprint session. This rise in energy expenditure is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or, EPOC), and can lead to serious energy use for a significant time after exercise.

These two factors are what allow sprinting to promote fat loss effectively.

A sample sprint workout aimed towards fat loss might look something like this:

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

-          Repeat 2 times

These workouts should be performed on upper body days, or on cardio specific days. They should NOT be performed before lower body workouts because the fatigue associated will limit your performance in the gym. On the same note, they should NOT be performed after your lower body workouts as the fatigue form the gym session will increase injury risk while sprinting.

 

Sprinting can improve our strength performance

Undertake short, non-fatiguing, sprint work after your dynamic warm up is a fantastic way to prime the nervous system before a heavy gym session.

After sprinting, you central nervous system is fired up. This improves your ability to produce force rapidly (rate of force development for you science nerds out there). By sprinting before heavy lifting our nervous system is primed to produce maximal levels of force at a rapid rate, this means that we can lift heavier and more explosively in the gym, which can lead to serious strength gains.

A sample sprint workout aimed at priming the nervous system might look something like this.

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

The idea here is to NOT accumulate fatigue. You should finish the sprints feeling quick and powerful, not tired and shitty.

 

Sprinting for Athletic Performance

Sprinting is a great tool to use to improve athletic performance.

Sprinting requires significant effort from the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to produce force rapidly. These muscles are important for jumping, changing direction rapidly, and accelerating and decelerating, and as such, play an integral role in successful athletic performance. As sprinting can improve the ability of these muscles to produce force quickly, it can have a direct carryover to these other important movements’ as well.

Sprinting also improves our anaerobic capacity. During sprinting we are working at a speed well above lactate threshold, which requires the integration of our ATP-CP and anaerobic (or glycolytic) energy systems. By spending time where these energy systems our under significant stress, we promote physiological adaptations that improve the capacity of these energy systems. This results in an improved anaerobic work capacity, meaning we can work anaerobically for longer, and at a higher intensity!

A sample sprint workout here might look something like this:

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

-          Repeat ONCE more

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

In this scenario, we use short sprints to improve our maximal force production rate of force development, and then finish using longer sprints, which allow us to spend more time above anaerobic threshold.

 

There are some considerations.

Now, before you head out and start sprinting straight away there are a few things that you need to consider.

Firstly, if you haven’t sprinted since your last high school sports carnival 7 years ago,

Take it SLOW.

This means not exceeding 90% of your maximal speed for the first 4 weeks. This may seem excessive, but is important. Sprinting at speeds between 90 and 100% maximum speed is extremely demanding on the body, which increases risk of injury significantly. If you haven’t sprinted for a couple of years, this risk of injury becomes much, MUCH greater.

Don’t worry, HUGE benefits still occur within the 75-90% speed range. In fact, I like to keep the bulk of most people’s sprint work within this range, with occasional jumps up to 95% and 100%. This limits accumulated fatigue and associated injury risk while still maximising the benefits of sprint training.

In the same vein of thought,

Hill sprints before flat ground sprints

If we think about running mechanics for a second, a lot of people tend to get injured as they ‘over stride’. This is when the front leg extends too far in front of the body, which can result in hamstring injury. Running uphill is a great way to avoid this.

Additionally, the ground reaction forces are significantly lower as we sprint up hill, which reduces the amount of stress placed on the knee and ankle joints, reducing the risk of joint injury.

Similarly, try and keep most of your sprint work on grass or turf. Concrete, bitumen and pavement should be avoided as they are very unforgiving and create unnecessary load through the joints.

Focus on your sprint movement quality

This is an important factor to focus on that allows us to reduce soft tissue and overuse injuries. Keep the chest up tall, shoulders back and head in a neutral position. This will ensure that we are not leaning over at the hips, placing unnecessary stress on the hamstrings.

The movement should be fluid. This means nice smooth arm movement and smooth rotation of the thoracic spine. Elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and the arms shouldn’t cross the body’s midline – they should move only forward and backwards along the side of the body.

The knees should be kept high, and the foot should strike directly under the hips, NOT out in front of you.

Warm up effectively!

Lastly, make sure you warm up. And I mean warm up properly!

This means making sure we have prepare ourselves for movement by working on hip and thoracic mobility. We then need to warm up dynamically, promoting muscle activation and blood flow to the extremities. This should be followed by gradual build-ups, where we slowly build up sprint speed to our working speed of that day.

You should feel primed and ready to go before you start your sprint session. If you feel stiff and sore then you are not ready to sprint!

 

If you want to incorporate sprinting into your program but don't know where to start, or are interested in joining my coaching program,  fill out the form below.

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