Rehabilitation

Is Stretching Really Dead?

With the rapid rise of foam rolling and a host of other effective (and often brutal) modalities of self-myofascial release, stretching has experienced a huge decline in popularity.

This has also coincided with some studies appearing within the scientific community demonstrating that prolonged periods of static stretching can lead to significant reductions in power production and force output (AKA it makes you weaker).

But, does that mean that stretching has no place in our training programs?

hunter bennett performance adelaide based personal training

 

Stretching and power output.

The first point I do want to address with this blog post is the impact that static stretching has on power output. After the initial research undertaken on this topic, stretching was demonised as useless, pointless, and harmful.

As such, while it is often considered common knowledge that static stretching leads to reductions in performance, this isn’t actually the whole story.

While longer duration static stretching (greater than 60 seconds in duration) can lead to reductions in power output immediately after stretching, this effect is not seen for stretches performed for 45 seconds or less.

And seriously, who actually stretches an individual muscle for more than 60 seconds at a time?

So this suggests that short bouts of static stretching will have NO negative effects on performance, which means that you can stretch without the fear that your workout will suffer.

 

Should we stretch?

So if stretching doesn’t affect our physical performance, does that mean we should stretch?

Like almost all of my answers to any training related question…… it depends.

We know that stretching does indeed increase flexibility – that is fact. But whether we need to stretch is a different story entirely.

In my opinion, stretching certainly has its uses – when used correctly.

With the excessive (and often detrimental) amount of sedentary activity we perform each and every day, some muscle tissues will become short and stiff. It is these shortened tissues that, in my personal experience, respond well to stretching.

By stretching these specific muscles, we can return length to muscles are in a shortened state, while also improving joint range of motion, and movement quality as a whole. This can often lead to improved performance, and a decreased risk of injury.

AKA it is good.

But, there is a bit of a kicker.

It is extremely rare that those muscle groups that feel tight, are actually tight.

I have written about this extensively HERE, but often, those muscles that feel tight are actually in lengthened state, due to; A) An antagonistic muscle group being in a short and stiff state; B) excessive weakness of that lengthened muscle group; or C) a combination of the two.

A simple example of this would be the guy who is always stretching his hamstrings because they feel tight, despite them never getting better. This is probably because those hamstrings are in a lengthened position and already under stretch (hence why they feel tight). The issue is most likely tight antagonistic muscle groups (rectus femoris and the hip flexors) and weak hamstrings.

Not tight hamstrings.

 

hunter bennett performance stretching

 

So how do we know what to stretch?

This is pretty simple.

Assess and then reassess.

Check movement, and If movement is poor check range of motion at specific joints. If ROM is limited, then a specific muscle is likely tight. Stretch that muscle (or muscle group), then reassess. If A) range of motion has increased, or B) movement has improved, then you have probably found the tight muscle.

An example of the process might look something like this.

We assess a squat, and get early pelvic tucking. We then perform the Thomas test to assess hip flexor length and find that they have tight hip flexors. We then stretch the hip flexors and ideally, Thomas test improves AND the squat improves.

Now this is an extremely simplistic (and idealistic) scenario. In the real world there is a chance that the squat performance will not improve despite and improvement on the Thomas test – this would suggest either a stability issue, or a motor control issue.

But, I am getting a little off topic here.

With all that in mind, I am trying to demonstrate the potential benefits of stretching, and why it should not me discarded completely.

More so, stretching can become an extremely useful tool to improve both movement and range of motion when used correctly, and should not be ignored because of some of the early research showing its influence on performance.

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Why changes in both volume and intensity should dictate recovery

I was recently reading through some programming information provided by a textbook that I purchased during my undergrad degree, and was slightly surprised at some of the information in there.

There was a pretty large chapter on the nitty gritty of exercise programming, with specific mention to both sets, reps, and recovery. Within this chapter there was a fairly lengthy explanation on rep ranges and intensity, which ultimately outlined the following:

                High Intensity = 1-5 RM
                Moderate Intensity = 6-12 RM
                Low Intensity = 12+ RM

It was further explained that heavy training periods should utilise high and moderate intensity training loads, while deloads (AKA recovery periods) should utilise low intensity lifting.

While this appears to make sense on a couple of levels, there is a fairly large flaw to their thinking.

Anything that requires maximum repetitions (RM) is not submaximal and therefore should not be considered low or moderate intensity. This holds true whether you are hitting a 3RM, 12RM, or a 20RM.

You see, while a 3RM while will elicit more mechanical stress (due to the heavier load) than a 12RM, that does not make it any less maximal. In fact, I would argue that a 12RM is likely to have a longer recovery period than a 3RM because it would elicit a significantly greater amount of metabolic damage (even despite lower mechanical stress).

So if your training program looks something like this, I have a bit of bad news:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 8RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 4RM
Week 4 (Deload….): Low Intensity 12RM
Repeat:

At no point are you actually allowing your body time to rest and recover. And in all serious, at no point are you working at anything less than a high intensity.

This is because every week you are still training to failure, irrespective of the rep range used.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

 

So what can we do instead?

A good deload should allow the body opportunity to recovery without running the risk of losing strength. This means that training is recommended, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t stress the physiological systems of the body.

Arguably the best way to do this is by manipulating volume and intensity of a given training week.

By dropping volume significantly and intensity slightly one week out of every 4-6, we can provide ourselves with an opportunity to recover from our accumulated training fatigue in way that won’t affect our progress.

So an example of that may look something like this:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 4 sets of 6 at 80% 1RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 6 sets of 4 at 90% 1RM
Week 4: Deload using 3 sets of 4 at 70% 1RM
Repeat:

By letting volume and intensity dictate our deloads rather than maximal rep ranges, we can give ourselves a genuine opportunity to recover, while still receiving a small training stimulus.

This will ensure that we are fresh and ready to go for our next block of training, while also reducing our risk of overtraining significantly.

 

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Do we need to deload?

When discussing training and the potential of overtraining, there appears to be two very individual and opposite camps within the fitness industry.

The first camp appear certain that any individual, no matter their training status, is at risk of overtraining. As such, they recommend you deload every couple of weeks, and go further to suggest that you should train a single muscle group any more frequently than once every 6.75 days (or something like that).

On the other hand, we have the ‘overtraining is a myth’ camp. These guys train balls to the wall every single session, often with a high training frequency. These are the guys who will frequently run training programs such as smolov (or some other form of brutality) to elicit a training response.

So which group is right?

 

Recovery, Adaptation and Overtraining

All in all, the training process is a relatively simple one.

When we train, we place the body under external mechanical, neurological, and metabolic stress. This external stress causes a short term response (AKA a sweet pump, some hormonal changes, followed by DOMS) and long term adaptations (AKA bigger and stronger muscle tissue).

These small stressors put the body in a state of overreaching, where ultimately we push our body past its current training limits. The body then adapts to this state of overreaching.

It is these longer term adaptions that describe the training response.

The kicker?

That these adaptations only occur if there is adequate time for recovery.

If there is a lack of recovery, and continued training stress, we fail to adapt. It is this failure to adapt (in conjunction with further training load) that turns overreaching into overtraining.

Ultimately, during this stage, we continually break down and further fatigue already damaged and fatigued tissue. This can lead to a host of issues, as explained in the diagram below.

But is overtraining really worth worrying about?

Well, like anything, it depends.

 

The Risk of Overtraining

Now, I will tell you that overtraining exists.

Of that, there is no doubt.

This is a fact.

BUT.

Overtraining may not be as common as what some people make it out to be.

In a population of elite athletes, there is a considerable risk of Overtraining. These individuals train at a high intensity each day, participate in competition regularly, and often have to deal with additional life stress as well.

For these people, balancing training and recovery is like walking a tightrope. If they move one way too far, they may not get a training result, and performance will suffer. BUT, if they move too far the other way, they may train too much without adequate recovery, which can lead to overtraining (and again performance will suffer).

But for most of us, this isn’t as applicable.

We may train often, but rarely is it enough to result in a state of overtraining. Even if our life stress is high, reaching this state is still highly unlikely.

This is because we spend very little time actually training, and a lot of our time at work recovering.

 

So do we need to deload?

In short, yes.

While I have just suggested that most of us have very little reason to worry about overtraining syndrome, there are a number of reasons that we should still incorporate deloads into our training schedule.

Firstly, training creates significant stress on both muscle tissue, and the passive support structures of our joints (ligaments and tendons). Physiologically, tissue remodelling occurs at a much faster rate in muscle tissue than it does in these passive support structures.

As a result, if we do not undertake the occasional deload, we run the risk of causing negative degenerative tissue changes in our tendons and ligaments. This may lead to overuse injuries and joint issues.

As such, by undertaking a deload every now and then we provide opportunity for these passive structures to recover, reducing our likelihood of developing an tendon or ligament related injury.

Furthermore, a light week can often provide some time to refresh mentally, getting us excited for upcoming blocks of training. Consequently, deloads can play an importnat role in keeping us not only healthy, but motivated too.

 

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Improve Thoracic Mobility to Reduce Injuries and Increase Athleticism

‘Thoracic mobility’ (OR T-spine mobility, depending on who you talk to) is one of the buzzwords in the health and fitness industry at the moment.

And for good reason.

Poor thoracic spinal mobility can lead to a number of dysfunctions, including low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. 

Poor thoracic mobility can also limit our movement quality and athletic performance.

The thoracic spine describes the 12 vertebrae of the upper back and abdomen that sit between the cervical spine of the neck and the lumbar spine of the lower back.

Each thoracic vertebrae has articulations between its neighbouring vertebrae (above and below), and to the attaching ribs.

Now, if we were to look at each segment of the spine, they each play an important individual role in movement.

The lumbar spine is a stable segment that provides a strong supportive base for the muscles of the trunk.

The lumbar spine does not have much mobility, as it is designed to bear and withstand load rather than create movement.

By acting as a stable support structure, it can aid movement and force production at the hips.

The cervical spine is similar.

While it allows much more movement than the lumbar spine (we need to be able to look around) it is still considered a stable joint, as it provides essential stability to the fragile neural structures of the neck.

But the thoracic spine is somewhat different.

It is actually considered a mobile joint, and is the spinal section that has the largest range of movement.

This is important as it allows us to rotate, flex, and extend. 

All of which are extremely important during running, sprinting, changing direction, jumping, and during throwing movements.

BUT.

In the wonderful age of technology that we currently live in, we spend a lot of time sitting (and not a lot of time moving).

This results in REALLY stiff and immobile thoracic spinal segments, which as you can probably guess, is not good (this thoracic stiffness is often typified of excessive kyphosis and forward head posture).

If a segment of the body is lacking essential mobility, we tend to find it at another segment.

This is a compensation pattern that allows us to complete the movements required, despite lacking the mobility to do so.

While these compensation patterns are helpful in the short term (they allow us to move), they can lead to chronic dysfunction further down the track.

In the case of the thoracic spine, if it is lacking mobility we are going to find mobility at the lumber spine.

Now, as we mentioned earlier, the lumber spine is not actually made to move much at all.

Rather it is meant to act as a stable base from which both the thoracic spine can rotate, and the hips can move freely to produce force. 

If it is forced to become more mobile, this is going to lead directly to dysfunction, and may also have negative effects further down the kinetic chain.

Firstly, we lose stability at the lumbar spine.

This is an issue in itself, because if the lumbar spinal segments move more than they are supposed to, we can irritate both neural structures of the lumbar spine, and the passive support structures around the spinal segments.

This can lead to low back pain and low back irritation.

Secondly, by losing stability at the trunk, the lower limbs no longer have a stable base to produce force.

To try and get the point across with analogy (who doesn’t like a good analogy?), picture a slingshot.

If you hold the base of the slingshot firmly, you can load and shoot much further. If the base of the slingshot is held lightly, it is going to be loose and weak, and your ability to shoot with it is going to be limited.

Now, the base of the slingshot represents the trunk, while the top portion represents the hips (or upper limbs… works for both really).

When the trunk is stable, we can produce great amounts of force at the hip.

If the trunk is too mobile, that force production is limited.

Additionally, it is quite common to see the muscles surrounding the hips try to produce the stability lost at the spine.

This results in shorty and stiff muscles surrounding the hip joint, which can lead to limited movement of the hips, potentially leading to a soft tissue injury, or an injury of the surrounding joints.

And, just to make things worse, having poor thoracic mobility can also increase our risk of developing shoulder injuries.

Many movements above the chin require a significant amount of thoracic extension to be completed safely and effectively.

If we think about overhead movements such as overhead presses, push presses, overhead squats, snatches, etc, etc, etc (the list goes on and on), they all have something in common.

They require the ability to get our arms over our head into full shoulder flexion.

Now, thoracic extension is a big part of this.

If we have a mobile thoracic spine that can extend easily and with good range of movement, it actually requires less shoulder flexion to get our arms over our heads.

This ensures we rely on the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle for stability.

BUT,

If we have poor thoracic spinal mobility (stuck in thoracic flexion), we have to use more shoulder flexion to achieve the same overhead position.

This can place unnecessary load on the passive support structures of the shoulder joint, increasing our risk of developing injuries.

So to summarise, if we have poor thoracic spine mobility we are at an increased risk of lower back, shoulder and hip injury, AND our force production is limited.

AKA it’s not good.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it.

We can use specific thoracic mobility exercise to increase our range of movement at the thoracic spine, making it more mobile.

 

Improving mobility of the thoracic spine

Thoracic spine mobilization on the foam roller

The trick here is to slowly extend the thoracic over the foam roller as you exhale.

The movement should be controlled and gentle.

Try and spend a 4-5 of deep, slow breaths on a single vertebra before moving onto the next one.

By supporting the head you limit cervical extension.

 

Thoracic spine extensions on a bench

This is an awesome drill that allows us to improve thoracic spinal extension while also stretching the lat’s.

The idea here is to slowly sink into extension while exhaling.

You should spend a little bit of time and the end of the movement, slowly increasing range of movement in the bottom position.

 

Side lying thoracic rotation

The idea here is to slowly rotate and extend through the thoracic spine while keeping a tight hold on a foam roller between the legs.

This ensures that the lumber spine remains stable and locked into a neutral position, allowing the thoracic spine to move freely.

You can also spend a bit of time hanging out at the end of the rotation, ideally taking some deep breaths.

This allows you to increase that end range of movement.

 

Quadruped thoracic rotation

Another great way to increase movement at the thoracic spine.

Again, keep the lumbar spine stiff and still in extension.

All the movement should come from the thoracic spinal segments.

The movement should be slow and controlled, while trying to get a little more range each rotation.

 

So now all we need to do is put it all together.

These exercises should be included as part of our warmup on both upper body and lower body days as it can improve our stability at the lumber spine while improving our capacity to produce force at both the hips and shoulders.

A sample warmup on an upper body day might look something like this:

Foam roll:
Pecs, Lats, Thoracic Spine

Mobility:
Thoracic spine extension on the foam roller x 15
Thoracic spine extension on bench x 15
Side lying thoracic rotation x 15/side
Quadruped thoracic rotation x 15/side

 Individualized upper body activation/ dynamic movement preparation

Individualized upper body session

 

I hope this post provided a thorough explanation as to why having adequate mobility of the thoracic spine is important for both injury prevention and performance, while also providing some simple and effective exercise to improve thoracic mobility.

If yo want to have a chat, or organise a time to train, contact me today!

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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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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.

Single leg secrets. Why unilateral training may be the missing piece of your training puzzle.

I love squats and deadlifts. Like really love squats and deadlifts. You can bet that if I’m writing a program, there’s a pretty good chance it will feature a number of squat and deadlift variations.

And why shouldn’t it? They are important motor patterns, they build strength and size, can improve posture, all whilst having a direct carry over to athletic performance.

But with that in mind, I feel like we can sometimes fall into a bit of trap, and focus too much on these exercises alone. If we take a step back and a look at an individual’s goals, the inclusion of single leg exercises can often go a long way in helping achieve our desired results.

Here are a few of the main reasons why I like to include single leg work into my programs.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Single leg training, stability, athletic performance, single leg stability, unilateral training, hypertrophy, strength.


Single Leg Stability

When training one leg at a time using single leg squat or deadlift variations, there is a significantly greater stability component than when training bilaterally.

This means that the muscles around the hip (think Glute max and glute med in particular) and trunk have to work that much harder to maintain proper pelvic alignment and femur position (avoid valgus collapse of the knee).

This increased stability has the potential to carry over to everyday movements such walking up and down stairs, or stepping down from something high, as well as improving our athletic performance during sprinting, rapid changes of direction, or single leg bounding movements.

Because if we really think about, most sport specific movements (with the exception of powerlifting and olympic lifting) are performed on one leg, and developing an adequate amount of stability on one leg is only going to improve our ability to perform these movements.

Increased workout density

When doing single leg work, we effectively have to do twice the number of reps. I realise that each leg is only doing the prescribed number of reps, but in regards to the rest of the body, its working hard to maintain stability, hold heavy weights and maintain postural position for twice as long as it would during a bilateral exercise.

This means that there is going to be an increase in total work done per session, which has the potential to improve strength and hypertrophy, and also promote fat loss.

On top of that, assuming your using dumbbells as your main form of external loading, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see increased grip strength along with an increase in mass through the forearms and upper back as well.

So to summarize. More Gainzzzz.

Reduced Neural Fatigue

Large bilateral exercises use greater total load, and as such are heavily taxing on the nervous system. By reducing the amount of bilateral exercises we do, and substituting them for single leg exercises (not forever! – just occasionally, like during a deload, or a period where you’re getting considerable fatigue from life’s many stressors), we reduce total load used and therefore neural fatigue.

This is a way that we can still see improvements in lower body strength and hypertrophy, without completely running ourselves into the ground. Do something like this may be beneficial for a  4-6 week period, as a way to refresh whilst still seeing improvements in strength and size, which are likely to carryover to bilateral exercises when we start performing them more regularly again.

Awesome. So now what?

Start doing some single leg work!

I would try to include both knee dominant (think split squats, lunges and pistols) and hip dominant (single leg deadlift variations) single leg variations into your training programs 1-2 times per week to start with and just watch the awesome happen.


If you want to incorporate single leg training into your program but aren't sure where to start, see if you qualify for my coaching program here.

Are you hamstrings actually tight? Or is it a symptom of a greater problem?

One of the most common complaints that I hear is ‘I have tight hamstrings’.

And the most common cure I see?

People stretching their hamstrings.

But even with all this chronic stretching, people often still feel as if their strings are tight? Which leads us to the question, are your hamstrings actually tight?

And the answer, like with so many things health and fitness related, isn’t a particularly good one.

Probably, maybe, sort of ..... But that’s not actually the issue.

Muscle tightness vs Misalignment

If someone constantly complains of tight hamstrings you should have a look at their pelvic alignment. I would put my money on them having some excessive anterior pelvic tilt (APT).

APT describes the forward ‘tilt’ of the pelvis when looked at from the side. Whilst slight APT is actually the norm in majority of the population, it is often worsened by excessive time spent in the seated position, and can have an impact on the hamstrings. Excessive APT results in someone kind of looking like Donald duck, with the pelvis tilted very far forward.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Tight hamstrings, anterior pelvic tilt, APT, posture, rehab, lordosis

 

If you have a look at a pelvis with significant anterior tilt, you can begin to see why the hamstrings may feel tight. As they attach to the pelvis, when it is anteriorly tilted, they are placed in a lengthened position, hence the feeling of tightness. Now as they are already lengthened, is stretching them (trying to make them longer) going to improve the problem?

No. In fact, it may even do the opposite, potentially worsening the already apparent APT. 

So rather than tight, we should think long. Long and weak, as they do not have the strength to maintain normal pelvic positioning.

Whilst weak hamstrings are a potential contributor, we also need to look at the other muscles that act on the pelvis.

On the front of the body we have quite a few muscles that act on the pelvis, with the hip flexors and knee extensors the two most likely to be pulling the pelvis into anterior tilt. Now these muscles here are most likely tight in the way people think of tight muscles. As in they are short and stiff. What I mean by short and stiff, is that they are in a shortened position due to sedentary activity, and stiff as they rarely get used in a lengthened position, causing them to become tight and immobile.

It is these muscles that are going to require stretching and myofascial release to restore length and mobility, and hopefully help return the pelvis to a more neutral position.

With this it comes back to proper assessment and ensuring that we treat problems and not symptoms. In this case we can see that tight feeling hamstrings are the symptom, and by stretching them, they may feel better acutely but we are not actually treating the problem that is causing the sensation of tightness, being the pelvic position. Always look into a symptom in depth to try and establish its cause, rather than trying to treat it as a problem.

 

If you feel like you this article applies to you, and are unsure of how to deal with it I can help you here!

What the research tells us about Foam Rolling

Most people have a bit of a love hate relationship with their foam roller. They seem to make you feel and move better, but tend to also cause a fair bit of discomfort. In the following little post i hope to take a brief look at foam rolling, and what the recent research tells about it

Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release therapy (self-massage) that has been suggested to break up adhesions between layers of fascia (the connective tissue sheath that surrounds our muscle tissue). It has also been thought to reduce the neural tone of hyperactive neural receptors within the muscle tissue, and also rehydrate muscle tissue at the cellular level through the equal redistribution of fluid. And what does that mean exactly?

Pretty much all of that is thought to lead to an acute, and over time, chronic return in Range of Motion (ROM). This ROM has often been reduced by the muscle stiffness caused by heavy exercise and repeat sedentary activity in altered postural positions (AKA sitting).

Now I need to mention that this is merely a brief overview of the POTENTIAL mechanisms that have been suggested in regards to what foam rolling MAY actually do,  and this is by no means a definite description on how foam rolling works.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Foam Rolling, Foam roller, Self myofascial release, athletic performance, rehab, strength, fat loss

 

For starters, does foam rolling actually work? What the science says.

Research on foam rolling is fairly minimal, as an intervention protocol it is difficult to regulate. How could you ensure each individual undertaking the foam rolling is actually rolling the exact same spot as everyone else, applying the same amount of pressure as everyone else, and applying that pressure for exactly the same amount of time as everyone else? Exactly, you couldn't.  Despite that a couple of studies have been published looking at the effects of foam rolling on flexibility.

Foam rolling has shown to improve flexibility acutely in a number of papers (Macdonald, 2013; Button, 2014; Halperin, 2014; Jay, 2014: Grieve, 2015), in a variety of situations, suggesting that foam rolling does have the capacity to improve passive range of motion in the short term. Interestingly, one of these studies (Jay, 2014) showed increased range of motion only lasted ~10 minutes, which means you might have to use the new found ROM or you will lose it pretty quickly.

It has also shown to improve measures of ROM chronically (Ebrahim, 2013; Mohr, 2013), with as little as two weeks of consistent foam rolling required to improve chronic flexibility.

As for the practical implications of this, we could foam roll tight, restricted tissue and expect to see immediate improvements in ROM, and if which we continue to perform consistently over time, chronic improvements in ROM.

Building on this, if we incorporate foam rolling into our warmup, and then begin to move in a way that uses this ‘new found’ ROM, we create a need to maintain these seen improvements. This is  more likely to create long term changes in ROM.

An example of this would be stiff adductors limiting squat depth. By rolling our adductors we would see an increase in ROM and therefore an increase in squat depth. By proceeding to train, using this new found depth, we would begin to build stability and strength at the ‘new’ end ROM, creating a demand to maintain it. By now improving our capacity to squat deeply whilst maintaining stability through training, we become more comfortable in this position, and are able to achieve it more comfortably over time, resulting in a reduction of chronic stiffness. If we continue to foam roll consistently during this period, we are likely to further contribute to improving ROM and reduce tissue stiffness, making more permanent changes.

Anecdotally, whilst the improvements in ROM are apparent and beneficial, it is the way that people tend to feel immediately after foam rolling stiff and adhesed tissue that I think has significant benefit. Releasing restricted tissue feels good, and performing movement unrestricted feels really good. This sense of improved and unrestricted movement starts the session on a positive, and makes movement in general more enjoyable. Don’t discount the way someone feels when performing exercise, if they feel like they are moving well and enjoy it, it can go a long way to improving adherence and performance in the gym.

 

 

 

 

References.

Ebrahim, A. W., & Elghany, A. W. A. (2013). The effect of foam roller exercise and Nanoparticle in speeding of healing of sport injuries. Journal of American Science, 6, 9.

Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 92.

Jay, K., Sundstrup, E., Søndergaard, S. D., Behm, D., Brandt, M., Særvoll, C. A., & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Specific and cross over effects of massage for muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 82-91.

MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(1), 131-142.

Mohr, A.R., Long, B.C., & Goad, C.L. (2014) Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation

Grieve, R., Gooodwin, F., Alfaki, M., Bourton, A. J., Jeffries, C., & Scott, H. (2014). The immediate effect of bilateral self myofascial release on the plantar surface of the feet on hamstring and lumbar spine flexibility: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

Button, D. C., Bradbury-Squired, D., Noftall, J., Sullivan, K., Behm, D. G., & Power, K. (2014). Roller-Massager Application to the Quadriceps and Knee-Joint Range of Motion and Neuromuscular Efficiency During a Lunge. Journal of athletic training.