Deep Back Arm Line

In last week’s post we started digging into the functional arm chains by looking at the deep front line. This week we’re going to build on that by looking at it’s partner in the crime- the deep back line. An easy way to visualize the difference between the two is to lift your arm out to the side as show in the picture below. You want to make sure your hand is point down to the floor and that your elbow is pointing backwards. In this position, the deep front line is on the front and the deep back line is on the back.

The Deep Back Line

deepbackline

In terms of function, this muscle chain works in two ways. When the arm is moving freely out away from your body, it works to position the scapula and rotate the humerus while also working with the front line to determine how much elbow flexion/extension is needed.  In weight bearing (push up/plank) position, it provides stability from side to side. In total there are 8 individual muscles in this chain. Here’s a video to walk you through each and what they do. You will also find ways to stretch each one of them.

Remember! Don’t push through pain with the stretches. Just go until you feel a pull. If you’re bringing a lot of tightness in terms of posture, expect to feel these in a few different places! 🙂 20 to 30 second hold of each.

Arm Muscle Chains – Part One

In total, there are four distinct chains of muscles in the arm. What I mean by “chains” is that the muscles in each chain are linked together fascially. While standard anatomy lessons can lead you to think of the body as standalone muscles with specific origins, insertions and movements, the truth is that every muscle and organ in our body is wrapped in a fibrous web known as fascia. This web connecting our muscles is what allows us to function and move the way we do. Take lifting the arm overhead for example. It would be easy to think only in terms of the muscles we know: deltoids, biceps, triceps, pecs. The truth is that before you even move that arm you muscles along the trunk positioning and stabilizing the shoulder blade. Then as you lift the arm, your elbow and forearm are working to position the hand in the direction that you want. It’s a total arm effort!

With that concept in mind, we’re going to start going through the arm chains. Like I said above, there are four separate functional chains. Two of these chains are along the front of the body and two are along the back. In this post, we’re going to be talking about one of the front chains. More specifically, we’re going to start with the deeper layer of muscles.

The Deep Front Line

deepfront1

In terms of function, this muscle chain works in two ways. When the arm is moving freely out away from your body, it works to orient the hand. Meaning it determines how straight the elbow is and how much the forearm is rotated. In weight bearing (push up/plank) position, it provides stability from side to side. In total there are 10 individual muscles in this chain. Here’s a video to walk you through each and what they do. You will also find ways to stretch each one of them.

Remember! Don’t push through pain with the stretches. Just go until you feel a pull. If you’re bringing a lot of tightness in terms of posture, expect to feel these in a few different places! 🙂 20 to 30 second hold of each.

Trunk Mobility

STstabilzers

In our last post, we dove into the stabilizing muscles of the scapulothoracic joint (aka the joint that holds the shoulder blade against the ribcage). These four muscles (pictured above) play a huge role in setting up the scapula to be in position regardless of whether the arm is pushing, pulling, lifting, etc. However, just like every other muscle in the body, these muscles are only one part of the chain. In this post we’re going to be moving downstream a bit to talk about the muscles that influence the spine and it’s stability.

The legs are built for stability and our shoulders are built for mobility.

I know what you’re thinking… isn’t this series about the shoulders!? It is! 🙂 Hear me out though. True trunk mobility/stability is what sets you up for good posture and healthy shoulders. Remember, the shoulder is the least stable joint in the body. That means it requires muscular support and control to set up the thoracic spine, rib cage and shoulder blade so that everything is in position before you even move that arm. Ever think about the impact of a change to your lumbar spine on all of that? My guess is no…

Here’s a visual:

deepfrontline

Think of everything in this picture as an anchor that can pull your lumbar spine and pelvis out of position. This area is smack in the middle of your upper and lower body. Problems here will not only impact what’s going on upstream in your shoulders, arms and neck, but it will also impact how your hips and legs function as well. Remember all of those “S” curves in the spine? They are there to balance your upper body on your lower body and to help hold you upright. When you start changing those curves, bad things happen.

Starting to see why this is important? Even if you aren’t stuck behind a desk or in the car for hours each day, you know you’re already bringing tired legs to the table as an endurance athlete. Keeping this middle section healthy and mobile is the key to success for us. That’s why I wanted to take a minute to go over some strategies for loosening up those hips and backs, before moving onto the rib cage and arm itself.

In the video you’ll find the following stretches:

  • Hip flexor (progression is 1/2 kneeling/lunge, 1/2 kneeling with side bend, standing lunge with foot twisted out, standing lunge with foot twisted in, standing lunge with foot up on chair/couch/etc).
  • Adductors (progression is side lunge, side lunge with elbow to push knee out). Be sure to get both sides.
  • From this side lunge position you can also switch to a front lunge to better target the front of the hip.
  • External rotators (start with something slightly taller than knee height and build in height; ** remember to stand up straight and don’t let your hips drop. press knee down!)
  • Just like all of our stretches: hold for 20 seconds and repeat for reps versus longer holds. Frequency will always give you faster results, not pushing into pain. 🙂

Scapulothoracic Joint: Muscles

In last week’s post we talked about what/where the Scapulothoracic (scapulocostal) Joint is and more specifically how it moves. The big take away should have been that the ST joint is where the shoulder blade slides over the rib cage. It has this function so that we can position the shoulder blade and stabilize it so that the arm has a strong foundation to move from. In this post we’re going to be digging into the muscles responsible for these movements.

Before we do that, however, let’s talk about the basic set up. By now you’ve heard me say “it’s all connected” a billion times so it should come as no surprise that I’m going to say it again here. When it comes to the shoulder blade, there are layers of muscles pulling it in every direction. In this post, we’re going to focus on the big four that help stabilize the scapula and provide the postural stability we need for the arm to function. In this regard, the arms are no different than the legs. The muscles are connected fascially and function in chains. If part of the chain is pulled out of position or restricted in it’s mobility/strength, it will impact the rest of the chain.

STstabilzers (1)

 

For the scapula stabilizers, an easy way to visualize them is as a big “x”. These muscles work in two pairs and provide scapular movement in opposite directions. Imbalances in these pairs will result in one muscle getting pulled out of position, impacting both muscles in the pair and their ability to function. The first pair is made up of the rhomboids and serratus anterior (green arrows). The second pair is made up of the pec minor and lower trap (purple arrows).

Muscle pair one:

#1 Rhomboids

rhombo2

  • The rhomboids lie between the spine and the shoulder blade. They originate along the spinous processes of vertebrae C7-T5 and attach to the medial border of the scapula (from the spine to the inferior angle).
  • Technically there are two rhomboids on each side (the minor and major). Together these muscles work to retract (adduct/pull the shoulder blade in towards the spine, elevate and rotate the scapula down).
  • The video below will go over how to find/palpate this muscle, as well as, how to stretch it.

#2 Serratus Anterior

serratus

  • The serratus anterior is 100% an overlooked muscle. Think armpit muscle! It starts on the underside of the shoulder blade and then wraps around the rib cage in a fan like shape attaching to the first nine ribs.
  • It is responsible for protracting the shoulder blade. It also helps with upward rotation, as well as, elevation and depression (the upper muscle fibers pull the scapula up and the lower muscle fibers pull it down).
  • Another fun fact about the serratus is that restrictions in this muscle can make it difficult to retract the shoulder blade and open up the chest for a deep breath. Ever had a “side stitch” while running? This is the culprit behind it.
  • The video below will go over how to find/palpate this muscle, as well as, how to stretch it.

Muscle pair two:

#1: Lower Trapezius

lower-trap

 

  • The lower portion of the large trapezius muscle is part of the second stabilizing pair of muscles for the ST joint. You can see in the picture above just how big the Trapezius muscle is as a whole. The lower portion is what we’re focusing on here. These fibers attach from the spine of the scapula to the spinous processes of T4-T12.
  • The lower trap helps position the shoulder blade by pulling it down (depression), rotating it upwards, and pulling it in towards the spine (retraction/adduction).
  • The video below will go over how to find/palpate this muscle, as well as, how to stretch it.

#2 Pectoralis Minor

pecminor

 

  • Remember all of the times your parents yelled at you to stop slouching? 🙂 The Pec Minor is one of the muscles you are stiffening up by doing so. While the larger Pec Major gets more press, this little muscle underneath it can cause A LOT of problems when it gets stuck in a short position.
  • The pec minor attaches to that little bony knob on the front of the scapula (the coracoid process), as well as, ribs 3-5. It’s responsible for pulling the scapula forward (abducting/protracting), rotating it down and depressing it. It also helps pull the ribs up to assist with breathing.
  • The video below will go over how to find/palpate this muscle, as well as, how to stretch it.

Video: How to find and stretch these muscles

Click here to return to part one: Intro to the ST joint

Click here to continue to part three (coming soon)

Build Leg Strength for Downhill Running

So many of the runners I work with initially identify one of the areas they want to improve as being running downhill, both from a technique stand-point and from the perspective of building strength in their legs to meet the demands of a hilly run course.
You may well be able to relate: running downhill can be really tough on particularly the knees and the quadricep muscles. Poor technique makes this worse – the most common mistake being slamming your heels into the ground ahead of you, with an extended knee to decelerate your momentum moving down the hill.
 The exercise described in the video above has two major benefits when it comes to running downhill. It helps to teach you the runner to land with a softly flexing knee, and helps to build eccentric strength in the quadricep muscles that control knee flexion.
 Give it a go. Let me know how you get on…
Best of luck with your running!

Scapulothoracic Joint: Part One

ST_joint

To kick off our shoulder series we’re going to be talking about the scapulothoracic joint (ST joint). Some of you may also know this joint as the scapulocostal joint. Either way, we are talking about where the shoulder blade (purple in the picture above) connects and moves over the underlying ribcage (red). The reason I want to start off our shoulder series here is that this piece of the puzzle is often overlooked by athletes. While it’s easy to focus on the shoulder joint as the source of your injury, the first part of the evaluation should always be to look at the shoulder blade and how it moves.

The reason for looking at the ST joint is simple: it’s sole purpose is to help position the shoulder blade so that the head of the humerus remains in full contact for maximum stability and efficiency. Let’s look at the picture below to show you what I mean:

glenoid

 

The groove in the scapula where the humerus attaches is called the glenoid fossa. It’s the purple part of the picture above (where the humerus has been removed). This groove is curved so that it is a ball and socket joint. The “ball” of the humerus (aka the humeral head) is then able to move in that groove, giving you all of the different movements you see at the shoulder.

The ST joint functions to position the glenoid for optimal contact between the humeral head and the scapula. It does this through muscles that are able to pull the shoulder blade in different directions. These directions include:

  • up (elevation)
  • down (depression)
  • in towards the spine (adduction/retraction)
  • out away from the spine (abduction/protraction)
  • upward rotation (meaning the most lateral tip rotates up)
  • downward rotation (meaning the most lateral tip rotates down)

Now these movements may not seem that important by themselves, but they are hugely important when you think about the impact they have on the shoulder joint itself (glenohumeral joint). If your shoulder blade gets stuck and becomes unable to move, the arm will be forced to pick up the slack. The real problem with this is that the glenoid we’ve been talking about will be out of position and the bigger stabilizing muslces will be unable to maintain full contact with the humeral head. This is the start of impingement syndromes! If that continues, the humeral head can start pinching and fraying rotator cuff tendons and the bursa. It can also cause increased bone to bone contact which is always good for creating bone spurs and can even tear the cartilage/labrum.

Bottom line: healthy, mobile joints have SPACE. Tight, unstable joints do not. So if you’re someone who’s been diagnosed with spurs or has a rotator cuff tear or just has pain anytime you work with your arms overhead, you should be working to restore that space!

Just like we did with the foot, we’re going to be working our way through the different layers of muscles. This means we’ll talk about how to evaluate these areas and what to do for them self treatment wise.

Continue to part two (coming soon)

New Series Preview: The Shoulder

Let’s face it. As endurance athletes, our injuries are rarely traumatic. They gradually and slowly build over time. Sure they may “sneak up” on us when they do strike, but the bad mechanics and mobility restrictions that led to them have been long time training partners by then. The shoulder is another perfect example of this.

Just like the foot and ankle, the shoulder is a complex region that functions through the coordinated movements of multiple joints and layers of overlapping and intersecting muscles. That means LOTS of potential areas for problems to start and even more potential for us to develop horrible compensation habits to work around those problems.

First, let’s talk about the shoulder girdle itself (below). There are three bones (four technically if you count the ribcage).

  • Clavicle/collarbone. This is in blue.
  • Scapula/shoulder blade. This is in green.
  • Humerus/upper arm bone. This is in red.
  • Ribcage. I’m going to include this here as it is part of one of the four joints we’re going to discuss.

shoulder_bone

 

(before I forget, skeleton provided by Visible Body’s amazing skeleton app. Color and drawing over it is all me. 🙂 )

Now that we know the bones involved, let’s talk about the joints they create. Moving the arm and shoulder requires the coordinated and balanced effort of four separate joints. This means that each of those joints is rotating, gliding, and getting into position so that you can move your arm in an efficient and powerful way. When those joints get pulled out of position or mobility/strength restrictions prevent them from doing their job, injuries aren’t far behind. This is where you see things like impingement, bursitis, tendonitis, and gradual tears of the rotator cuff and joint cartilage. Like we’ve said all along, a healthy and happy joint is one that is stable and mobile.

shoulder_joint

In the picture above you will see the four joints that make up the “should girdle”:

  • Glenohumeral joint (GH)
    • Let’s start with the one that everyone already knows. This is where the humerus (red) attaches to the scapula (green). It can move in six directions: flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, external rotation and internal rotation.
  • Scapulothoracic joint (ST)
    • While the GH joint gets top billing, this joint is equally important. There is no bone to bone attachment here though. This joint is a functional one as it is stabilized/held together by muscle instead of ligaments and a joint capsule. That means that the scapula (green) is held against the ribcage by muscles attaching to both. An easier way to look at it is this- the scapulothoracic joint is what positions the bony socket that the humerus fits into (aka the glenoid fossa). It can move in six different directions including: elevation, depression, abduction (protraction), adduction (retraction), upward rotation and downward rotation.
  • AC (acromioclavicular) joint (AC)
    • The name of this joint may sound familiar so here’s a hint if you can’t quite place it- this is the joint that gets damaged when someone “separates their shoulder”. While the humerus attaches to the scapula in the GH joint, the scapula also attaches to the clavicle (collar bone) at the AC joint. This joint is primarily responsible for positioning the scapula and the glenoid fossa so that the humerus can stay in contact as the arm moves. It does this by gliding forward and back, as well as, up and down.
  • SC (sternoclavicular) joint (SC)
    • Lastly we have the SC joint. This is the only true bony attachment to the skeleton at the sternum. Being a small joint, it should make sense why the shoulder is known as the least stable joint in the body. Like the AC joint, the SC joint is responsible for getting things into position for the large GH joint to function properly. To do so it can move in three directions: elevation/depression, protraction/retraction, and rotation.

In this upcoming series we’re going to start digging into each of those joints and all of the muscles responsible for moving them. We’re also going to talk about treatment to decrease impingement (when joint spaces are lost and tendons, bones, etc get pinched and inflamed). Lastly, we’re going to talk about how imbalances here can set you up for neck, elbow and hand problems.

Sound good? This series kicks off next week. Hope you’ll join us.

The Glute Complex: Who Does What & When

You’ve heard it all before. As runners we need to work on developing stronger, more effective glutes.
I certainly think we (the Sports Medicine communtiy) are all in agreement that runners need their gluteal muscles to be functioning properly, not least for the benefit of our knees and lower back. In fact the consequences of gluteal dysfunction can be wide-reaching across the body.
While ‘do your butt exercises’ is a consistent message being delivered to runners, I’m often surprised how infrequently we discuss the differences between the different muscles that comprise the glute complex.
In the video below, I take a few minutes to explain the differences between Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus; their individual anatomy, functions and role in running gait.

Tight Calves – Wrap Up

Now that we’ve spent the past three weeks talking about chronically tight calves and how to beat them, I wanted to finish up the series by taking a step back and drawing you a formal road map with all of the pieces. Your big take away from the preceding posts should be that recovering from anything “chronic” is a process. There is no magical overnight cure or gear change. The reason for this is that you are not only dealing with an injured area that has gotten stuck, but you are also dealing with all of the compensation patterns you’ve developed to work around it.

The good news is that all of that can be reversed. It just requires expanding your self treatment areas and focusing on the different parts of the problem versus where the symptoms are. The best way to start that process? A thorough self evaluation to identify and assess the potential problem areas.

Self Evaluation

Click here for the post.

**Click here to download the PDF check list that goes with it**

I can’t emphasize enough how important this step is. Knowing where you are starting at from a mobility perspective is half the battle and the only true way to measure your progress. It’s that mobility that is the key at the end of the day. Without it, all of the strength work in the world won’t matter.

In the post you’ll see that we’re focusing on the entire leg chain. More specifically, we’re breaking up that focus into the following areas:

  • foot (toes/forefoot, arch/midfoot, rearfoot/heel)
  • ankle
  • knee
  • hip

The thing to remember is that a “tight calf” includes two layers of calf muscles. The deep layer includes your posterior tibialis and toe flexors, all of which wrap around behind the inside of your ankle and under your arch. The superficial layer includes the better known gastrocnemius and soleus. At a minimum, a “tight calf” is affecting three areas: 1) the knee due to the gastroc crossing the joint where it attaches to the femur, 2) the ankle, and 3) the rear and mid foot due to the long tendons wrapping under the medial arch.

The importance of those three areas is that they are your shock absorption. The minute your foot makes contact, it works to adapt to the surface you are on and starts the process of transmitting that impact up the leg. If that process is interrupted, it makes it very difficult for your foot and ankle to make the switch from shock absorption to propulsion. In other words, that difficulty rushes things, whether that’s your stride, a pedal stroke, etc. Instead of being able to stabilize and recruit the bigger muscle groups upstream, you get stuck with less time. The only thing your body can do is compensate to keep you from falling over your own two feet.

One of the common ways that it does this is by using rotation. This is why we look at the toes and the hip. Your mobility in these areas is a good indicator of how much you’re compensating. The biggest problem with compensation is that the muscles it uses are not designed for that kind of workload. It’s why they burn out and stiffen up. In most cases, these can be the most stubborn muscles to loosen up, especially if they’ve been stuck like that for a period of time.

Treatment- Level One

calf_2

Click here for the post.

From the self evaluation, we moved onto level one in our treatment posts. The levels are set up based on how far away from the calves we are working. That means level one focuses on the ankle and knee and everything that moves those two joints.

Treatment- Level Two

calf_3

 

Click here for the post.

Level Two expands the treatment areas from the first level to include the hip and foot. Depending on your self evaluation, you may find that these areas are actually tighter/more restricted than the areas in level one. Remember what we said about compensation! It can be tough to restore motion to areas that are overworked and locked up as a result. The back of the hip in particular can be stubborn! There are big rewards for getting your hip rotation back. First, it makes it much easier to loosen up the hip flexors. Second, it also makes a night and day difference in terms of unlocking your hamstrings. Remember, the hamstrings and gastroc criss-cross behind the knee. Loosen one and you will be default improve the other.

The same can be said for the foot. We know that muscles strictly within the foot are the intrinsics. We also know that there are long tendons that come down into the foot as well. Both groups of muscles will impact each other.

Treatment- Level Three

calf_4

Click here for the post.

The last level of our treatment shifted gears from mobility work to strength work. Like I said above, it’s important to work both parts. More often than not I hear athletes talking about strength work instead of the mobility component. If it can’t move, the strength work will likely reinforce those compensation patterns you’ve been developing. Loosen things up and then focus on technique and relearning the right movement patterns. That’s the key to truly restoring mobility, strength and muscle balance to your legs.

Another thing that this post talks about is the importance of posture and it’s impact on how you propel yourself forward. Chronically tight anything will change how you carry your body and where your center of mass is. It doesn’t take big changes to fix this, but it does take some focused effort.

 The next steps!

As you restore mobility and balance, you can shift the work above into more of a maintenance mode. That means you can start targeting key workouts for “recovery workouts”. The great thing about going through the work above is that it will give you valuable insight into where your legs are tight. It will also give you insight into what a good day feels like and what a bad day feels like in terms of overall stiffness/tightness.

Sample recovery workout (using the same techniques from the above levels/links):

  • Start with the foam roller. 1 minute per group for the following: bottom of foot, shin, toe flexors (inside shin behind ankle), calf, hamstring, adductor, back of hip, front of hip and quad, low back. Total time- 10 minutes per leg.
  • That foam roller is your self evaluation. You should be taking note of what’s more sore than normal (which you should now know!).
  • Follow up the roller with stretching. 20 seconds each for the following: shin, calf (with knee straight + bent and with rotation variations; yup that’s a total of four!), hamstring, adductor, hip flexor, quad, and back of hip.
  • Reassess? Did the tightness improve with stretches or not?
  • If yes, you have the option of using the tennis ball mobilizations to try and release any of those sore spots you found while rolling.
  • If no, time to use the joint mobilizations. Focus on the hip and ankle first. Then you can expand to include the big toe and knee.
  • Follow up additional techniques with a second round of stretches.
  • Ice anything that’s sore for 10 minutes and call it a day.

When should you be using “recovery workouts”?

  • Target your hardest workouts and your longest workouts.
  • Try to sneak in a recovery workout between these workouts and your next workout. If you schedule multiple hard workouts in a row, then wait till your rest day for the full routine.
  • On the other days, stretching is a must. This can be done throughout the day using the one stretch per hour. Just cycle through your list and the work is done before you even get home from work. If you have the time, follow it up with a rolling session. If not, maintain your stretches and roll on days where things are stiff or just to check in with your legs and see how they’re feeling.

Closing thoughts

The last thing I want to mention before finishing this series up is the importance of form and technique to your longevity as an athlete. As endurance athletes we literally take millions of steps and pedal strokes. For some us, unfortunately that means millions of repetitive actions that are reinforcing bad technique. Remember, for each person bringing a life time of experience to the table, there are three of us coming to endurance sports with a team sport background or none at all.

Continued injuries and problems year in and year out are a warning. At the very least they are worth having the following discussion with yourself:

  • Do I have the mobility to perform my sport?
  • Do I have the strength to use that mobility? If I had a dollar for every high mileage runner I’ve worked with who couldn’t perform a full squat, deadlift, situp etc, I’d be retired! Simply because you put in mileage doesn’t mean you have an ounce of functional strength. Strength and endurance are two very different things.
  • Are mobility/strength limitations preventing me from using good technique?
  • Are my gear choices or setup getting in the way? You may want a minimalist shoe or a super aggressive bike position, but you’re body may be waving the white flag to tell you it isn’t ready for it.
  • Is it a lack of knowledge about what good form/technique is? Most of us didn’t have coaches analyzing and tweaking our form as we grew up when we came to endurance sports. Most of us hopped off the couch or are coming back to sports after a break. Maybe we’re changing sports all together?

The great news is that it’s easier than ever to find what good technique is. Get on you tube or google. Look up running technique or cycling posture and technique. There are countless coaches out there who talk about this stuff all day long. Have a friend video tape you and then compare. In other words, don’t just stop with the mobility/strength work. Continue building on that new foundation by learning how to apply it properly.

Tight Calves- Treatment Level Three

Now that we’ve had time to work on level two, it’s time to shift gears from mobility to strength and function. In other words, this is where we start focusing on using that mobility in the most efficient way possible. This means working on postural control and learning how to properly use your muscles in a coordinated way. While every magazine and blog post out there would have you believe that there’s a magical carryover fairy, it’s not as simple as building strength and waiting for it to trickle down. It’s building the motor patterns and coordination to actually use that strength.

calf_4 (1)

Posture

Let’s talk posture first! One of the things that having a chronically tight posterior chain does is push you’re center of mass back. Now every step you take has to overcome that resistance just to get you back to neutral. That means you have to work before you can even move forward. It may not be a big deal walking down to the mail box, but how about this weeks long run? How many steps does that have? The same goes for you pedal stroke on the bike. Tight calves and ankles will directly impact how you sit on your saddle. Here’s a little visual of what I mean.

(**Note: if you’re someone who’s been battling injuries/restrictions for a long time, the reality is that your form and body awareness have changed. Don’t skip through this stuff! )


Strength Routines:

The first thing that I want to emphasize before going into the three different routines is that you should be looking at these as technique first, strength second. As athletes, we are always skipping ahead to the hard stuff. The problem with that approach is that it tends to reinforce all of the bad habits we’ve developed during our years of training and racing. That being said, the focus of these should be to learn the technique first. Worry about the reps and difficulty level later!

I’m arranging these routines into levels one, two and three. This gives you two options. 1) you can work on the first two levels while working on mobility or 2)  or you can save it until the mobility work is in maintenance mode before beginning (meaning the big sessions are based around your training versus every day).

In terms of times per week?

  • The exercises in level one and two can be every other day if they feel okay and aren’t leaving you sore/muscle fatigued. If they are, back it off to 2-3x/week. They can be completely independent of your training.
  • Spend at least 2 weeks on levels one and two. Get a feel for this stuff and really focus on that technique. If you jump ahead to three without doing so, you’ll just be reinforcing bad habits.
  • You can alternate level one and two or just focus on one at a time. If you do this, you can do one workout per day and allow recovery from each as you’ll be alternating.
  • When you get to level three, start conservatively in terms of frequency. These have the biggest chance of leaving you sore and impacting your training/racing. Save these for easy days or rest days and avoid doing them on on hard or long training days.
  • In other words when you get to level three, shoot for three workouts per week (one core, one feet/balance, and one leg strength. When that gets easy, shoot for 2 x leg strength, 1 x core, and 1 x balance. You can also alternate each week and spend one week working on legs and core and one week working on legs and balance.
  • If you’re in a heavy training cycle or have a lot a intensity in your training week? 1x/week is plenty for leg strength. We want this to complement your training/racing, not kill your legs.

Level one

The first batch of exercises are our base. You may find some of these easier and others harder. The key here is technique, technique, technique. The exercises below are all about masteringthe pelvic tilt and engaging the lower abs so that no matter what your legs are doing, your core is working the way that it should be. With chronic tightness in the legs and hips, the core and hips start to work together instead of as two independent areas. We want to restore that independence and balance our strength back out.

**When done right, the abs will be shaking half way through the reps. Doesn’t matter if you have a six pack or not. These get everyone. If they don’t, stop, start over and really focus on that tilt before adding in the rest of the movement. Put your hands under your back to really make sure the small of your back is pressing down into the floor.

The video has five exercises: 1) pelvic tilt, 2) tilt with straight crunch, 3) tilt with oblique crunch, 4) dying bug and 5) bridge. In terms of reps. Let’s start with 2 x 10 reps with a 5 second hold each. The video shows several ways to advance the difficulty, but I would work up to 3 x 10 reps, 10 seconds hold before moving onto those.

pelv_prog

In addition to working the front part of our core/trunk, we’re also going to be working on the backside in this level. Healthy muscles are able to not only shorten (known as concentric contraction), but they are also able to lengthen/slow down the opposing muscle group (known as an eccentric contraction). To have a healthy core, we want both our abs and back to be able to function in both ways to better control our pelvis and free up our arms and legs to work independently.

The video has layers of exercises. The first move to master is engaging the low back while moving both the arms and legs. This is a superman exercise. The next two exercises challenge this position by working on the arms and legs. From here, we change gears to talk more about total body posterior chain strength. Here’s what it looks like in terms of reps/sets:

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Level Two

While level one takes care of the core/postural component, level two focuses on the complete opposite end of the chain. Our goal here it to create a stable platform to push off regardless of surface type. That means we’re working on relearning motor patterns and improving our balance.

The video has four levels of exercises. Moving from one level to the next means being able to do all of the criteria in the last column. Again. This is all about technique, technique, technique. Don’t sweat what level on you’re on. Work on getting that arch up and having full balance along the ball of your foot. Here’s what it looks like in terms of reps/sets:

level_2

(note: sorry for the lack of demo on the wobble disc. After the day’s interval run, my legs were cook and all I could picture was toppling off my coffee table. 🙂

Level three

In this last level of exercises, we’re going to be working on the whole leg and balancing out those muscle groups. This does NOT mean you can forget the previous levels. They’re even more important as you move onto leg specific strength. This is your chance to break out of bad habits! And yes… you have developed them if you’ve been dealing with injuries, chronically stiff/tight/sore anything. That’s what compensation is and why it takes unlearning to break the cycle.

The video has four exercises. Here’s what it looks like in terms of reps/numbers. As you’ll see in the chart, there are also recommendations for ways to progress these as you get stronger.

leg_strength

That’s it for this week! In next weeks post we will wrap up this little series on beating tight calves and talk about how to maintain your new strength and mobility. Again, the goal of this is to complement your training and racing, not detract from it. That being said, go easy with this stuff. A little leg fatigue is fine, but being sore for three days is not. If muscles are getting sore/fatigued during one of the routines, call it a day there and try for more next time.

Click here to continue to part 4 (coming soon!)

Click here to go back to part two

Click here to go back to part one

Click here to go back to the self evaluation