stability

Too much assessment - The real role of personal trainers and exercise professionals.

I like to think that the health and fitness industry has grown in leaps and bounds – resulting in (most) personal trainers having a thorough education in amatory, physiology, and the underlying principles of both exercise prescription and resistance training.

This, for the most part, is an extremely positive thing.

It has greatly increased the service quality of the industry in its entirety, effectively weaseling out those trainers who are in it for nothing more than just a ‘quick buck’ (which is ridiculous: anyone with half a brain realizes a quick buck in the fitness industry doesn’t exist).

This has come with an increased value being placed on assessments, and subsequently, the evaluation of an individual as just that – an individual – becoming the norm. This has led to a premium being placed on individualized exercise prescription, corrective exercise interventions, and of course, specific training programs.

But there is also a downside associated.

A number of personal trainers have veered too far to the dark side, spending way too much time assessing the function of individual muscles, while spending too much time focusing on corrective exercises - when they should in fact be training.

Do we really need to assess every little thing...

Do we really need to assess every little thing...

It is our role as exercise professionals to assess an individual’s capacity for movement as means to improve movement while also ensuring they are training both safely and effectively so they can meet their training goal.

If you find yourself spending 50% of a session on a foam roller or on a massage table, then you probably aren’t doing anywhere near enough training.

Yes assessment is important.

It allows us to establish a baseline for each individual, providing valuable information on areas of weakness and dysfunction. But more than that, it gives us an idea of where we can start training. It tells us what squat regression we should use, what hip hinge movements we should start with, and what single leg exercises will provide us the most benefit.

It is not our role to find out every tight piece of tissue – it is our role to get people moving better – building strength, stability, and function in the process.

 

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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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Do the Inverted Row to build strength and integrity

Majority of my training is based around compound, multi-joint exercises.

Those that provide the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

Within these, I find the inclusion of body weight exercises (such as pull ups and push ups) extremely beneficial for promoting good quality movement and enhanced trunk stability.

One bodyweight exercise that I don’t believe gets the recognition it deserves is the Inverted Row. 

The inverted row is the bodyweight equivalent of a bent over barbell row, but arguably less complex, as its easier to maintain a solid neutral spine. 

Pretty simply, you lie flat on your back and reach up to a bar (or a TRX), and pull your chest towards the bar. 

Hunter Bennett Performance, lose fat, build muscle, increase strength

 

Why the Inverted Row? 

There a few great reasons for incorporating the Inverted row into your training program; 

They require minimal equipment – no dumbbells, weights or benches are required. They can be done outside or inside any gym, and they are really easy to set up. 

They can be progressed and regressed really easily – you can either increase the height of the bar or TRX, or bend your legs to regress the exercise, or add load to progress the exercise. 

The also improve trunk stability – During the inverted row you are required to maintain a neutral spine while, as such it directly works the muscles of the trunk. Maintaining a neutral spine also requires strong glute contraction to keep a neutral pelvic position. 

They crush the upper back – As the rowing movement is fairly horizontal, the muscles of the upper back (think romboids, traps rear delts) really drive the movement. These muscles play an important role in maintaining good postural alignment (and are often missed in a lot of other exercises). 

They aren’t particularly technical – they are safe to perform, and as such can be performed to failure safely. As such, inverted rows are Ideal to incorporate into your program when training for hypertrophy 

 

Key Points 

Keep the spine neutral. Really squeeze abs and glutes to hold a tight, neutral spinal position. 

Keep the chest up tall and really drive the middle of your chest towards the bar (or TRX). 

Keep the elbows relatively close to the body. The grip is likely to be closer than that of a bench press. 

 

Programming Considerations 

These should be done on your upper body days, either before any pressing to warm up and activate the muscles around the rotator cuff / shoulder girdle. This will promote greater stability to the shoulder joint during pressing. Or at the end as a way to really fry the muscle of your upper back (for those back gainzzz). 

I typically like to aim for 2 sets of 8 (not to failure) if done at the start of a workout, or 3-4 sets of 10-12 when done at the end of a workout.

 

If you would like to contact me, fill out the form below and i will get back to you ASAP!

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The Most Effective Way To Split Squat - Maximise Your Results!

Split squats. You might be doing them wrong.

It’s fair to say I have a bit of a love hate relationship with split squats and their variations. I love them because they are a fantastic way to develop single leg stability, strength and power (which can even carry over into squat and deadlift strength!). They place significant load on the lower limb, making the great for hypertrophy, and as they are a single leg exercise, they can eliminate and correct unilateral strength and stability differences. As a result, split squats can have direct influence on improving athletic performance, and as they also place a massive metabolic demand on the entire body, as such they are a fantastic exercises to use for fat loss.

The reason I hate them?

They are sheer brutality.

Seriously.

Try and punch out a couple of sets of 12 per side and feel good about life afterwards. It’s impossible (trust me).

Despite their brutality, I honestly think I would have put at least one split squat variation in 90% of the programs I have written. This is because not only are they great for athletic populations, they also have direct carryover activities of daily living (walking upstairs, standing up from a sitting on the floor etc.)

And recently, I have been seeing more and more people performing them in the gym. This in itself is fantastic – as I said, they are an awesome exercise that can be implemented effectively to meet almost any goal. The only issue with this, is that I have seen many (MANY) people performing them wrong.

Now, what do I mean by doing them wrong?

Well when people typically coach a split squat one of the most common cues that I hear is ‘chest up’. This cue is said with the intent to keep a nice neutral spine, saving load through the lower back, which is all well and good. The issue though is the resulting movement often looks a little bit like this (thanks google images).

Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Now while this doesn’t look horrible by any means, there is a couple of things that draws my eyes. While he is maintaining a nice upright posture (chest up, right?), it is actually causing two issues. Firstly, it is causing him to hyper-extend his lumbar spine, resulting increased extension forces on the spine. This is also most likely impacting his ability use his anterior abdominals to stabilise the spine (similar to anterior pelvic tilt position). Secondly, this hip and trunk position results in a huge amount of load placed on the anterior part of the hip capsule, causing unnecessary strain on the passive support structures (ligaments, cartilage) of the anterior hip.

To eliminate these issues I teach split squat variations with a slight forward lean of the torso coming from the hips, similar to that seen in the image of strength coach Jordan Syatt below (again, thanks google)

Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Now I realise that this is a different variation to the first image, but the same principals apply, and the differences are pretty apparent. There is no hyper-extension of the spine, ensuring a neutral spinal position, and as a massive bonus, by increasing hip flexion slightly, the glutes are put in a more advantageous position meaning they will work harder during the movement!

The focus should be on ‘sliding’ the hips back as you descend into the squat, whilst keeping the distance between the top of your pelvis and the bottom of your sternum constant throughout the duration of the movement. This ensures that you load through the hips correctly, and also makes sure you maintain a nice neutral spine throughout the duration of the exercise.

 Have a go at this next workout and notice the difference!

 

If you want any more info, fill out the contact form below!

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Fire up those Glutes! Glute Activation for Health and Performance.

I’m sure at one time or another you have all heard the term ‘Glute Activation’ thrown around. But really, what does that mean, and how does it apply training and athletic performance?

Just a brief background on two of those Gluteal muscles:

Gluteus Maximus, is a prime mover during hip extension (think jumping, sprinting, bounding), and plays an important role in providing stability to the lumbo-pelvic region.

Gluteus Medius, anatomically acts as an abductor of the femur but in a more functional manner provides stability to the hip and knee during single leg stance, and can play a role in lateral movement, whilst also stabilising the lumbo-pelvic region.

GLUTES!

GLUTES!

 

So what does this jargon mean?

It means that strong glutes have the potential to improve sport performance by making us faster, jump higher, and change direction quicker.

Just steering away from the sport performance side of things a little, it also means that they can provide stability to the hip, reducing load through the lumbar spine, which has the potential to improve or reduce the risk of developing lower back pain.

Now this is all well and good, but we have a bit of an issue.

Glute Amnesia (You can thank the great Mike Boyle for the term).

What is glute amnesia? Well it’s a term coined to describe the inhibited and atrophied glutes that 90% (approximate estimation...) of the population exhibit. Their Gluteal muscles have literally forgotten how to work! This is most likely a result of the increases in sedentary behaviour (sitting) that our modern lifestyle promotes. Sitting leaves the glutes in a lengthened, stretched out position. Spending a lot of time in this position results in them receiving a reduced neural stimulus, which leads to neural inhibition (they 'forget' how to work!)

And as an additional side effect of our sedentary behavior, is that not only have they forgotten how to work - they don't get the opportunity to work, which leads to both weakness and muscular atrophy!

This can lead to reduced athletic performance, greater risk of soft tissue injury through the development of compensation patterns, and low back pain.

So what can we do about it? We need to learn to activate and use those glutes!

How do we fire up the Glutes?

The introduction of glute activation exercises is a good start. A simple circuit of the following 3 exercise in your warm ups can go a long way to improving glute activation. This means they will be working more effectively during your workout, improving their strength development and potential for muscular hypertrophy.

Prone hip extension

Now the key here is to really focus on ‘feeling’ glute max produce the movement, while limiting the load on the hamstrings. If you feel the hamstrings working more than the glutes, give it a go with the knee bent to 90 degrees which will take the hamstring out of the equation.

 

Glute Bridge

Similar again, we really want the glutes to drive this movement, with no real feeling in the hamstrings. This can be done by squeezing your butt as hard as you can – imagine your cracking a walnut!

To make sure the hamstrings are staying quiet, you can physically touch the muscle belly of the hamstring during the movement. If it feels soft it means glutes are the main drivers of the movement.

 

X-band Walk

 

This is a great way to fire up gluteus medius. A key is to make sure is that you are feeling it in the glutes. If you feel fatigue in front of the hip, its most likely TFL driving the movement. This can be changed by stepping laterally and backwards slightly, to get a bit more hip extension involved in the movement. You want to feel the burn just posterior of the hip joint.

 

So a potential Glute Activation Circuit may look something like this

Exercise 1A: Prone Hip Extension x12/side
Exercise 1B: Glute Bridge x12
Exercise 1C: X-Band Walk x12/side

Repeat 3 times.

Hope this has provided a bit of info on the importance of the glutes, and a good way to warm them up!

If you are unsure where to start, contact me below!

 

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What is functional training? Answer: The most overused term in the fitness industry

We've all heard it before.

“I’m into more ‘functional’ training”

Often said by that guy wearing those weird Vibram finger shoes while doing band assisted single leg squats on a stack of 4 foam pads.

hunter bennett performance. Functional training, stability ball, balance, strength, resistance training, athlete

 

But what does the term 'functional' actually mean? Heck, does it even really exist?

In my opinion, there isn’t really a specific type of training that is ‘functional’, but rather an exercise becomes functional if it improves the ability of a particular function. Now obviously this could mean anything, but it’s true.

It’s all in the context.

Now some people will suggest that squatting on a bosu ball is functional. My most common response is ‘why?’

Funnily enough, the answer I often get goes something like this – “uhhhhh ummmm…. Glutes…….. ummm balance….. stability”. In other words – “I don’t know”.

Now if the goal is rehabilitation of an ankle injury, then squatting on a bosu ball may be considered perfectly functional, as it has a direct impact on the outcome goal, which is returning stability to the ankle joint.

In similar light, the bench press normally gets torn to shreds by ‘function fitness gurus’ for being useless, as it is not ‘functional’.

But what if my goal is to get a stronger bench press?

Suddenly it becomes pretty functional, right?

Similar to the leg press. I would argue that majority of people in the fitness industry would say it’s not functional. But what if you’re a rower? A sport that requires you to be in the seated position, pressing through both legs simultaneously, requiring minimal lower body stability component? Suddenly it’s functional.

If a body builder wants an additional assistance exercise to promote hypertrophy of the quads? Leg press probably has a function. But as a sprinter, or a field athlete, it becomes less functional as it becomes less specific to their performance goals.

So what I’m actually getting at is that we should always consider our exercise selection carefully. Any exercise could be considered ‘functional’ if it provides an appropriate way to achieve a particular goal.

We shouldn’t do exercises just because they look cool or exciting, but because they will directly impact the goal that we want to achieve.

If you want to improve your performance but are not sure where to start, click here to apply for personal training or online coaching.

The Stability Ball Conundrum - Are They Actually Benefiting Us At All?

The definition of stupidity

The definition of stupidity

At some point over the last few years, unstable surface training received a significant increase in popularity.  Suddenly you cant walk two steps into a gym without stumbling into an inflatable exercise ball, BOSU ball, or weird squishy disc.

They are often considered a ‘functional exercise’ tool, whatever that means. But what a lot of people may not realise is that they started out as a rehabilitation based training tool, mainly to rehab various degrees of ankle sprains (which has shown to work, I might add).

Their gradual movement into the commercial gym setting was likely a result of the success they saw in this rehabilitation setting, and are now spouted as a sure fire way to increase balance and stability.

Now, I’m not denying that they may have the capacity to improve upper body stability (scapular stability in particular), and trunk stability in appropriate situations, but in my personal opinion that is where their benefits as a training tool for the general population stop. 

There are a couple of reasons i say this.

They have zero (and I mean ZERO) specificity to the real world.

Specificity implies that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must actually perform that exercise or skill. In the same light, if you practice a skill, you will get better at that skill.

So if you practice training on an unstable surface you will get better at training on an unstable surface.

The issue with this?

We don’t live on an unstable surface. We spend 99.9% of our time on stable ground, whether talking a sporting situation or just in day-to-day life.

The improvements in strength we see if training on an unstable surface don’t actually carry over to stable surface movements. Therefore we do not see the associated improvements in speed and power that come with improved strength.

In fact, they won’t even improve our ability to maintain stability on the ground, as the neural coordination required for even the same movement on the alternate (stable and unstable) surfaces differ too much!

In fact, stable surface training has shown to produce superior improvements in athletic performance measures in comparison to unstable surface training (1).

This is likely the same for day to day activities such as walking up stairs and standing from sitting.

We cannot train to our full capacity when on an unstable surface.

So the main reason we lift weights is to increase our strength and power, and develop muscle mass, right?

Well when we train on an unstable surface, our force production capacity is limited, as we spend so much neuromuscular effort to maintain stability. If we cannot produce maximal force, we are limiting our ability to both increase strength and power, and also build muscle, as the muscle is not placed under enough stress to elicit an adaptation response (2).

 

So to summarise

Unstable surfaces limit our ability to increase athletic performance and improve our capacity to undertake activities of daily living.

They also inhibit our ability to recruit muscle and produce force, therefore limiting strength and hypertrophy gainzzzzz.

But how do we improve stability?

 

Single leg work my friends, which is a topic for a future post.

 

 

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References

1.     Willardson, Jeffrey M. "The Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises Performed on Unstable Equipment." Strength & Conditioning Journal 26.5 (2004): 70-74.

2.     Anderson, Kenneth G., and David G. Behm. "Maintenance of EMG activity and loss of force output with instability." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.3 (2004): 637-640.