How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

As I said in part 1 of this 2-part article on How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  If you haven’t yet, please go back and read part 1 of this article to learn how to prepare your body:

 

How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

Now that your body is ready to roll and start your throwing program, I want to shift gears and talk about how to use your throwing program to prepare to throw.  I think it is really import to “prepare to throw, not throw to prepare.”

What I mean by that is that you need to make sure you are properly warmed up, even within your throwing program, before you can start your throwing “work.”  You shouldn’t just jump on the mound, or throw at full intensity, or quickly progress to long tossing.  That is throwing to prepare, and as I stated in part 1 of this article, I don’t want aggressive throwing to be the first things your body feels.

To prepare to throw, you need to prepare your body (again, in part 1) and then prepare your throwing program.  There is a BIG difference between your “warm-up” throwing and your “work” throwing.

Would you ever just throw your max weight on the bar and start squatting or deadlifting without doing warm up sets?  Never, right?  In strength and conditioning we usually incorporate a gradual increase in load with the weight of an exercise before getting to the weight we want to use to train.  You have warm-up sets and then work sets.  As an example, if you are supposed to perform 5 sets of 5 reps of deadlifts at 285 lbs, if you first set is 185, second set 205, and third set 225, those don’t count as your 5×5 work sets.

The same goes with throwing.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 4 – Ease Into Throwing

I’ve played catch with 100’s of professional baseball pitchers.  I honestly only remember one that would start throwing 90 MPH at my knees by the third or forth throw (and he’s been injured his entire career).  Big leaguers get it and gradually get loose.  You’d actually be surprised at how easy they actually play catch initially as they warm up.

On the flip side, one of the more common tweaks I make to my younger athletes is to ease into throwing.  Not a week goes by without someone gunning a ball at my ankles on the 3rd throw (I love you GD…).

This is extremely stressful on the body.  Remember throwing itself is stressful.  You have to gradually apply that stress to get the tissue used to the force.

Not all throwing has to be designed to gain arm strength or velocity.  Some throwing should be more similar to just riding a bike with your arm to get blood flow and gradually apply stress to the elasticity of the tissue.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 5 – Let The Distance Dictate the Intensity

The next step to prepare to throw builds on step 4.  Now that you’ve played light catch to get loose, it’s time to start walking back and increasing the distance.

Distance in your long toss program is a variable we use to adjust your intensity.  Realistically there isn’t much difference between throwing with full intensity at 150 feet or 200 feet.  Full intensity is pretty much full intensity.

Again, resist the urge to start throwing on a line at new distances.  Rather, I tell my athletes to “let the distance dictate the intensity,” meaning throw the ball with a bit of an arc to firmly hit your partner in the chest on the descent.

If the ball would sail past your partner another 100 feet if they missed your throw, you are throwing too hard for the stretch out phase of throwing.

baseball long toss arc

 

There will be time to throw on a line, that is next step…

 

Prepare to Throw Step 6 – Get Your Work In

OK, you’ve made it!  You prepared your body.  You’re mobile.  You activated your muscles.  You did a dynamic warm up.  You eased into throwing and long toss.  Congrats!  Now you can “throw.”

Just to reiterate, there is a difference between “warm-up” throwing and “work” throwing.  Step 6 is now incorporating your “work” throwing, whatever that may be for you that day.

It could be long toss, weighted balls, bullpen work, even throwing in a game.  That is your “work” throwing and you are now ready for it.

 

By going through the proper steps to prepare to throw you’ll find that you actually get better work in and throw better, plus you’ll be much more resilient to injuries.  These are some of the key steps I outline to all of my athletes and what we follow in the big leagues.

 

Want to Learn More?

This month’s Inner Circle webinar will be on How to Prepare Before a Throwing Program.  I’m going to dive into these topics in even more depth, including showing more of the specific drills I perform, for those that want to learn even more.  The live webinar will on Tuesday 2/24/15 at 8:00 PM EST but I will also record and upload soon after.  Inner Circle members can sign up for the webinar in the Inner Circle Dashboard

 

I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 1: Prepare Your Body

Working with so many injured pitchers over my career, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.  I’m not sure if this is always the true cause of the players’ injuries, however, I hear it often enough that it has to have some significance.

throwing long toss programThis seems to make sense, though.  Throwing is very dynamic and aggressive on the body.  In fact, it is the fastest known motion that the human body performs!  If it could, your shoulder would rotate a full 360 degrees around up to 27 times in 1 second!  That is unbelievable.

I often say injury is just a simple physics equation.  Force = mass x acceleration.  The faster your body moves and the harder you throw, the more forceful it is on your body.

Because of this, you can see how just grabbing a baseball and starting to throw can be stressful on the body.  Throwing is so dynamic and forceful that you want to do your best to put yourself in a position to succeed before you start throwing.  This will help foster a long and healthy career.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  In this two part article I will discuss both.

 

How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 1 – Prepare Your Body

It’s funny how common sense tells us to prepare our body for common athletic activities, like running and jumping, yet people often neglect throwing.  The first three steps to prepare before your throwing program involve getting your body ready.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 1 – Get Loose

The first step in preparing your body to throw is to get loose and work on your mobility.  We’ve studied 1000’s of baseball pitchers and have found a few things when it comes to throwing a baseball:

  1. Throwing a baseball causes your muscles to tighten and you loose mobility of your shoulder and elbow
  2. Not addressing this becomes cumulative and you eventually get a little tighter and tighter over the course of a season
  3. Working to maintain your motion is effective and can prevent lose of motion

One of the phrases I use a lot with my athletes is “I want you to be you BEFORE you pick up a ball.”  What that means is, if you just threw 100 pitches yesterday in a game, I know you are tight.  If you ignore it and pick up and ball and try to throw, you are setting yourself up for trauma.  Throwing will loosen you up (before you tighten up again), but it’s a much more aggressive way to get your mobility back.

Rather, perform some self-myofascial release by using a foam roller, massage stick, and baseball ball.  Here are the ones I use the most on Amazon and because the foam roller is hollow, you can put your other tools inside and all fit nicely in your gear bag:

  • Foam roller – One of the best and hollow to put your other tools in it in your gear bag.
  • Massage stick – The best one on the market, the other more popular ones don’t compare.
  • Trigger point ball – You can use a baseball, but I also like the reaction balls.  The nubs help you get in there and hold it in position on the wall.

How to prepare before your throwing programYou should focus on the entire body with particular emphasis on your lat, back of the shoulder, rotator cuff, pec, biceps, and forearm.  You should avoid the front of your shoulder.  There really aren’t a lot of muscles there and your just smashing your rotator cuff and biceps tendons.

Hit each spot for 30-60 seconds and hold on any really tender spots for 10 seconds.

Notice how I intentionally didn’t say to “stretch” your arm or perform a “sleeper stretch” (here is why you shouldn’t perform the sleeper stretch).  Most baseball pitchers are too loose to stretch effectively and they end up torquing themselves too much and making things worse.  There is a difference between muscles and joints, it’s possible to have tight muscles and loose joints.

There is one shoulder stretch that is effective on the muscles and not too aggressive on the joint, the cross body stretch I call the Genie Stretch.  This can be enhanced even more by using a trigger point ball in the posterior shoulder muscles.  You can and should stretch your forearm, you can’t really hurt yourself here.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 2 – Warm-Up Your Muscles

Now that you have worked on restoring mobility back to your baseline BEFORE you throw, it is time to get your muscles ready to throw.  In the strength and conditioning world, we refer to this as “activating” the muscles.

You want to hit all the muscles and movement patterns that are need to accelerate and decelerate your arm.  These essentially include the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.  By turning on these muscles, the body will be better prepared for the upcoming activities and throwing.

Shoulder activation throwing programThe simplest way to do this is with resistance tubing.  We use a combination of tools at Champion, but tubing is quick, easy, and portable.

You do need to be careful of your volume of exercises.  These warm-ups are designed to prepare the muscle, not fatigue them, and are not a substitute for strengthening the muscles.  That is a completely different program to be performed at a different time.  We use tubing to simply activate the muscles with low volume sets and reps of 2×10

I use Theraband tubing with handles.  They are the best and far superior to the cheap bands you can buy at the local stores, which have odd resistance and can lose resistance over time.  They are even ~$15 on Amazon.  You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.

I like the tubing with handles and want you to have to grip the tubing, rather that velcro strap them around your wrist.  Grip the tubing helps warm up your grip and forearm muscles and also has a reflexive stimulus to your rotator cuff to engage.

Here is a link to Amazon.com to purchase the Theraband Exercise Tubing I use in the video at the end of this article.  I recommend the green band for Little League age, the blue band for middle school and early high school age, and the black band for the older or experienced pitcher:

 

Prepare to Throw Step 3 – Getting Moving

The third step to prepare to throw now involves dynamic movements.  You can see that we are building on a logical progression here: restore mobility, activate the muscles, and perform dynamic mobility exercises for movement prep.

Throwing is a very dynamic activity, obviously, that needs elasticity of the muscles.  Stretching and mobility work alone will not turn on the elastic components of your muscles.  Similar to my comments above on stretching, I don’t want a baseball being the first elastic stimulus your body faces.  I want to slowly work up to that so it is less traumatic and aggressive of a jump in stress on the tissue.

We want to dynamically move the joints and have the muscles produce quick contractions,.  This helps prepare the muscle for  by improving mobility and activation.

At Champion, our athletes have a whole portion of their program dedicated to these three steps and assuring that the entire body is prepared to throw, however, I demonstrate a simple arm version of this in the video below.  Perform this and you’ll be head and shoulders above most other athletes.

For pitchers, we use movement prep exercises that mobilize and activate the muscles groups needed to throw, like the chest, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff.  It doesn’t take a lot of repetitions to prepare the body.

 

My Warmup Program Before Throwing

Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day.  This is our bare minimum program that we teach our athletes that are new to the concepts of preparing their body before throwing.  As you can see, you don’t need dozens of exercises or many sets and reps, even just performing this quick warm-up will put you in a more advantageous position to throw than most other athletes.

It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice.  Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.

I’ve adjusted the order of how I prepare the body a little bit since the filming of this video, so it is a little out of order per the above information, but serves as a great example of a quick and easy 3-minute warm up to be performed after your self-myofascial release and before throwing.

 

In part 2, which will available next week, I will discuss the next three steps involved in preparing to throw and how I actually start off my throwing programs.

 

Want to Learn More?

This month’s Inner Circle webinar will be on How to Prepare Before a Throwing Program.  I’m going to dive into these topics in even more depth, including showing more of the specific drills I perform, for those that want to learn even more.  The live webinar will on Tuesday 2/24/15 at 8:00 PM EST but I will also record and upload soon after.  Inner Circle members can sign up for the webinar in the Inner Circle Dashboard

 

I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

When Should You Fit Agility Training into a Program?

Today’s guest post is from Lee Taft and Pat Beith, from Athletes Acceleration.  Lee and Pat are the gurus on speed and agility training, so an article from these guys is truly an honor to include on my website.  Speed and agility training are often one of the missing components to strength and performance programs that I never really understood, consider they are such an import part of complete athletic development.  That being said, the rehab world is REALLY missing the boat in this area.  Speed and agility are two qualities that are significantly impacted after injury, yet so often ignored in advanced rehab programs.  Lee and Pat have a new product out this week called Complete Speed Training, which I have watched and really enjoyed.  More below.

 

When Should You Fit Agility Training into a Program?

I certainly get asked many questions about my techniques and how I teach agility, but one of the biggest questions I get asked is when do I put agility in my program. I get this from the fitness professional but more so from the sport coach. It is the sport coach that wants to know how to find time to fit agility into an already packed practice plan. In this article I want to share several ways I implement agility into any program, and why it is a must to find time.

Most sport coaches are so excited to practice the newest offense or defense or implement new drills they discovered. But many of them bypass one of the most important elements of making a good team- improving team speed, agility, and quickness. The question that always comes back to me is when do I fit it in my practice. The problem comes from coaches that feel you must put quantity ahead of quality. Those who know me realize I am all about quality. I want great movers. I can condition them easy enough, but to make them great at moving- it takes time and attention to detail.

I will give you some times slots that agility training can fit neatly into a practice and make a big impact. But before I do, let me explain the mind set that goes into scheduling agility during a sport practice. If my goal is to improve the movement ability of the athletes I need to focus on the skill or technique of the movement pattern. For example; if I am a volleyball coach and I want my players to move quicker to tipped balls I must teach them how to react quickly out of the defensive ready position. My focus then will be on a few things;

  1. I want the athletes to have appropriate body positions so they can move efficiently.
  2. I want 100% effort or intensity of speed when reacting and moving to the ball.
  3. I want complete control of the movement so a counter move can be made if needed.

Now, let’s focus on scheduling agility into a practice. One of the best times to implement agility is right after the warm up routine. The athletes are fresh and you can make a big impact on their nervous system. A great way to implement the agility is to pick a skill that you want to teach and be really focused on that skill for the 2-5 minutes you allow for training it. Once again, go back to the 3 points I made in the last paragraph. I want the athletes learning to move better each and every repetition. I don’t want them to just do work. A great example of an agility workout I use often is teaching the crossover technique. I would set it up like this:

  1. Have 2-4 athletes performing at the same time (if it was a large team like soccer or football I would have more than one station with assistants watching as well. You might have to deal with more than 2-4 athletes if you don’t have any coaching assistants).
  2. The exercise should be clearly explained and demonstrated if needed.
  3. It is important to give them a setting in which the skill would be used in a sport. This helps clarify the purpose of the skill.
  4. Give them the distance of travel that should be covered and the duration of the exercise.
  5. Start the exercise from a great starting stance/athletic stance.
  6. If you see a dysfunctional crossover technique, address that athlete by name immediately and give one quick coaching cue to correct the movement.
  7. If you see a consistent theme of poor movements by most of the athletes, re-demonstrate and continue on with the exercise.
  8. Complete 4-6 reps making sure each rep is quality or at least quality instruction is being given to correct poor patterns.
  9. Build a foundation of movement that greater skills can be built upon.

This way of coaching the skills make the athlete concentrate 100% of their energy on one skill or combination of skills. If you teach too many different skills and you run the athletes through without emphasizing the technique and intensity of effort, the meaning of the skills is lost. Do exercises to get a point across and to teach something!

Let’s keep moving along with times to inject agility into a practice. Another great time to coach agility is just before or after a drink break. The way that I like to mention it to the athletes is like this; .Ok guys/gals, before we take our drink break I want you to put all your focus into an extremely important skill we are about to learn- then we will take a good breather and get hydrated.. By phrasing it this way, I have put a sense of importance on the skill and the athletes better be focused and prepared to give 2-5 more minutes of attention to the skill.

There is no doubt that the best time to make a big improvement and impact on the learning of a skill is when the athlete is in a non-fatigued state. But athletes need to learn how to move efficiently during fatigued times of a game, like in the final minutes. So the last time I would like to mention as to when a coach could implement agility is at the end of the practice. I strongly recommend not teaching a new skill at this time due to the lack of focus generally associated with the end of practice.

If the athletes are comfortable with the agility skill to be used I do feel there is some importance to having them perform it at the end. But as mentioned already don’t throw a new skill at them and expect great learning to occur when they are fatigued. Let me give some important points to implement this method of agility training:

  1. Because the athletes are tired and don’t have as much mental focus left you must give them something to focus on. For example; if you are coaching them on a hip turn and crossover to defend a basketball player making an offensive move to the basket you must talk to them about a defense scheme. In other words you are trying to coach the skill, but by giving the athletes a scenario that will occur in the game they will have a built in focus point due to the game-like setting.
  2. Be sure to stop the exercise if the execution gets sloppy. Always remember the brain is programming the patterns. If they are sloppy that is how they will be programmed in the brain. Demand great execution.
  3. It is important to ask the athletes what they did wrong if the execution was poor. This way you are holding them accountable for their improvement. This is especially important when doing the skill work under fatigue. You force them to be aware of everything they do.

So there are a few ways you can implement agility training into a sports practice setting. Now let me talk about when agility training should be in the athletic development setting.

Just as mentioned above, the agility can be included in a non-fatigued state or in a fatigued state. Both are important but must have protocol. When first introducing the skill it should obviously be done in the early part of the training session. Once learned and performed well it can be done in a fatigued state to induce a concentration element.

Here are a few rules I follow when coaching agility in an athletic development setting:

  1. I will only coach 2-3 agility drills per session. I want the athletes to learn something and not be inundated with too much stimulus. When they only concentrate on a couple things they can absorb them and put a meaning to them. I believe it is important to always give them a situation the skill would be used in a sport. This helps them to relate to it much easier.
  2. I keep my time frames in the 5-12 second range and demand intensity of effort or speed. I want effort for a couple reasons:
    a. This is how I get a read on their true ability with the skill
    b. They learn the skill at full speed. Doing a skill half speed makes it a different skill in many ways.
  3. I want the athletes to understand self-correction on the fly. This means if the athletes screw the skill up on one rep he or she can quickly make the needed correction during the set. This is why I ask them questions about the skills- I want accountability.
  4. The total time of agility training is usually around 15 to 20 minutes. This includes coaching time and feedback. I don’t believe in making an agility session in conditioning. When it is time for conditioning I will work on low risk exercises that cause an anaerobic threshold response.

So there you have it. This is by no means the only way to do this but it is the only way I do it. And it has worked for many years. The number one message to take from this article is to teach skills. Don’t waste the athletes. time with doing aimless drills without a message. You will do a great job!

 

Complete speed trainingComplete Speed Training

If you want to learn even more about speed and agility training from the guru’s themselves, Pat and Lee have just released their new Complete Speed Training program and it’s a goldmine of great info.  The program is $100 this week only, so be sure to click the link below and take advantage of the launch sale by Friday!

 

About the Authors

Click the links to learn more about Lee TaftPat Beith, and Athletes Acceleration.

 

 

 

Are We Missing the Boat on Core Training?

A lot of attention has been placed on core training over the last several years, both in the rehab and fitness industry.  I recently watched my friend Nick Tumminello’s latest product Core Training: Facts, Fallacies, and Top Techniques and it made me think (more on Nick’s product, which is on sale this week, below).

We’ve made exceptional progress in our understanding of the core and have shifted away from isolated ab training to integrated core training.  My DVD with Eric Cressey on Functional Stability Training for the Core discussed this at length and showed a nice system to effectively train every aspect of the core.

However, the more I read on the internet the more I wonder if we are still missing the boat a little bit.  I’ll chalk this up as a another pendulum swing, but while we have progressed away from isolated abdominal exercises like sit ups, I wonder if we have swung too far to an extreme and started to focus only on isometric anti-movement exercises for the core.

 

Anti-Movement Core Exercises

Realistically the core helps stabilize the body and allow a transfer of energy.

Anti-movement exercises, such as planks for anti-extension, should be the foundation of the basic levels of core training.

Plank - core training

Once your baseline ability to maintain an isometric posture with the core is obtained, the next progression is to control limb movement with a stable core.  This involves combining upper body and lower body movements while maintain a stable core.  An example of this would be an anti-extension drill with TRX Rip Trainer.

However, the core does need to “move” during normal function.  It rotates, bends, flexes, extends, and all of these at once!  Should we train this?

 

Don’t Forget the Trunk is Designed to Move

I would say we should.  I think the difference here is to train these movements within a stable range of motion.  We should be training the body to work within it’s normal mobility, but to stabilize at end range of motion.

We get into problems with core movements, like rotation, when we depend on our static stabilizers, like the joints and ligaments, to control end range instead of our muscular dynamic stabilizers.

Perhaps the goals should be to train to control the core at end range of motion.

 

End Range Core Stability

These types of drills would include chops, lifts, push-pull movements on a cable or Keiser system, and medicine ball drills.  You are probably doing these already, right?

They all involve a transfer of energy from the limbs through the core.  The core needs to move during these exercises, but you are working in the mid ranges of motion and controlling end range.  These should also progress to include functional movements patterns like swings, throws, and kicks.

In the video above, I combine the act of throwing and decelerating in the half kneel position.  This takes the lower half out of it and requires the core to stabilize.

I guess the point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to move the core.  That is not beneficial to teach our patients, clients, and athletes.  Rather, train the core to move and stabilize at end range of motion to take stress off the structures of the spine.

 

Core Training: Facts, Fallacies, and Top Techniques

If you want to learn more about training the core, Nick’s program Core Training: Facts, Fallacies, and Top Techniques is on sale this week.  I watched Nick’s presentation last week and enjoyed it.  Nick does a great job discussing some of these concepts.  Click below for details:

 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Influences Hip Range of Motion and Impingement

One of the most common postural adaptations that I see on a day to day basis is anterior pelvic tilt.  In fact, it’s getting more rare to find someone that isn’t in a large amount of anterior pelvic tilt.

I blame it on our seated culture.  The human body is excellent at adapting, and the seated posture produces an anterior pelvic tilt.

 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Influences Hip Range of Motion and Impingement

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Hip Range of Motion ImpingementA recent research study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the effect of changes in pelvic tilt on range of motion and impingement of the hip.

The authors looked at CT scans of the hips of  50 subjects with femoroacetabular impingement and simulated range of motion using 3D-generated models.

A 10 degree increase in anterior pelvic tilt, which I would say is something we see clinically, resulted in a significant loss of 6-9 degrees of hip internal rotation and increase in FAI.  This increase in anterior pelvic also resulted in a loss of 10 degrees of hip flexion.  Subsequently, an increase in posterior pelvic tilt resulted in greater hip internal rotation, less impingement, and more hip flexion.

 

Clinical Implications

The results of the study have several implications

  • Assessment of hip ROM should take pelvic position into consideration.
  • FAI symptoms may be reduced by decreasing anterior pelvic tilt.
  • People with limited hip internal rotation or hip flexion may have too much anterior pelvic tilt.  Focus on alignment before starting to torque the joint.  This is a fundamental principle I talk about in Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.
  • People with poor squat mechanics, especially in the deeper positions, may have an underlying pelvic position issue.  People with excessibve anterior pelvic tilt that are squatting deep maybe impinging and beating up their hips.

 

I talk a lot about reverse posturing, my terminology for focusing on reversing the posture that you assume for the majority of your day.  But there is a big difference between reducing static anterior pelvic tilt posture and dynamic anterior pelvic tilt control.  You have to emphasize both with dynamic control being arguably more important.

Keep these findings in mind next time you see someone with a large amount of anterior pelvic tilt.

If you are interested in learning more about how I work with anterior pelvic tilt, I recently outlining my integrated system of manual therapy and corrective exercise in my Inner Circle webinar on Strategies to Reduce Anterior Pelvic Tilt.

 

 

A New Exercise for Strength and Stability of the Shoulder

The PronatorThere is not doubt that we need a strong and stable shoulder to maximize performance.  I recently started playing with a new device called The Pronator.  It’s a device designed to strengthen the forearm musculature.  Honestly, this little thing is a fantastic device for grip and forearm strength, but I also started using it with my shoulder exercises and think this may be a game changer!

Take a look at the video below.

YouTube Preview Image

I see this very similar to performing bottom-up kettlebell exercises.  By having an offset weight, you need to work the shoulder in 3D to stabilize and move at the same time.  Pretty cool.  It essentially allows you to:

  • Develop stability in one plane of motion and strength in another
  • Train the cuff to fire and stabilize while moving the scapula

The product is brand new and very affordable at only $55.   I don’t often tell my audience that they need to buy a product, but I really think everyone should have this one.  I like it that much!

 

Is Perfect Squat Form a Myth?

Over the years I have helped 1000’s of people squat better.  As a physical therapist, my career has evolved over the years from working with injured people to working with healthy people looking to optimize their body and maximize their performance.  In fact, I’m starting to refer to it more as “performance therapy” than “physical therapy.”

Lately, I’ve seen more and more people come to me to learn how to improve their squat.  Often times it’s one of two reasons why they can’t quite get find perfect squat form:

  • Something hurts when I squat
  • I can’t squat with perfect form

After going through a full body assessment, I always assess their squat form.  I don’t mean a rigid deep squat test, such as the one within the FMS of SFMA assessments, but an actual loaded squat.  I don’t say a word, I just observe.  Well, I actually record a video of it, but the point is I don’t want to cue the squat at all so I can see how the set up and how they perform their squat without my coaching.

What I often find is that many people are trying to squat with perfect form, or least what they believe is “perfect form.”  Perhaps they just picked up a copy of Starting Strength, or just attended their level 1 weekend certification, or just went through a foundations course at their box.  The quest for “perfect squat form” probably isn’t that simple.

I’m starting to wonder if there really is a such thing as perfect squat form.

 

Is Perfect Squat Form a Myth?

Don’t get me wrong, you have to start somewhere.  I personally recommend people read Mike Robertson’s article on How to Squat and the book Starting Strength is worth every penny.  My point isn’t that you should throw away any attempt to squat with perfect form, there are good ways and bad ways to squat, you have to start somewhere.

But I almost feel like we are over-coaching and using the same coaching cues during the squat with everyone.  Yes, there are many faults the can occur during squatting that should be avoided.  Bret Contreras has a nice article about solving 7 squat dilemmas.    But there is a big difference between correcting faults and overcorrecting people without faults.

Here is a good example, imagine you are squatting with your knees caving in towards each other, or tracking medially into a valgus knee position.  This would be a great time to cue someone to force their knees out.  However, it is possible to force your knees out too far and I’m not sure I want to cue someone that is squatting with decent form to aggressively force their knees out.  It’s a good thought to prevent knee cave in, but don’t go too far in the opposite direction.

But more importantly, I’m not sure there is a textbook way to squat, simply because we are all built different and have different daily habits.  There is a textbook perfect squat form for YOUR body, but it may be different for the person next to you.

This is why proper coaching and an individualized program built for you is the best way to succeed at perfecting your squat form.  There are several limitations that we all have that may be limiting our ability to achieve a perfect squat form.

 

Anatomical Limitations

The first thing we need to understand is that everyone’s anatomy is unique.  Bret Contreras does a nice job discussing our how our anatomical differences impact our squat mechanics and Ryan DeBall has a great article as well.  In fact, our pelvis and femurs are completely and vastly unique.

Look at these photos of several different pelvis and femur bones by Paul Grilley:

Femur neck variations

Femur Torsion Variations

Acetabular pelvic bone variations

Looking at these photos, it is striking how different we all really are on the inside.  The angles of how the femur bone forms as well as how it sits in the socket can be dramatically different between people.

This is what I find to be the biggest factor impacting why people can’t perform a squat with perfect form.  How can you say there is one way to squat when you look at these photos?  The spectrum of variation is so wide.

Unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix for anatomical limitations.  Rather, a detailed biomechanical assessment can be used to determine what may be the best squat mechanics based on your anatomy.  Sometimes this means that you will need to limit depth.  People never want to hear this, but sometimes you just simple run out of anatomy and can’t physically flex your hips enough to achieve deep squat form, at least without significant low back compensation.

 

Mobility Limitations

Luckily, not everyone has significant underlying anatomical variations.  Some just have mobility restrictions of their joint capsules and muscle tissue.  This is common in the person that assumes a frequent postural position over several years, such as sitting.  Most adults will have postural and mobility limitations that can be improved and subsequently improve their squat performance.

So, keep this in mind if you are a coach at a gym with adult fitness clients that are looking to start squatting.  Chances are they won’t be immediately able to perform a squat well until you clean up some of their movement patterns.  Rushing this process is how newbie adult fitness clients tend to hurt themselves while squatting.  They don’t have the mobility to squat with proper mechanics, and without this mobility, you are just going to compensate and put extra stress somewhere else, like this guy, who probably doesn’t have the mobility to be squatting:

YouTube Preview Image

 

A detailed assessment process can accurately determine if you have an anatomical or simple mobility limitation.

I also want to briefly comment on squatting like a baby.  I know many people have commented that if babies can squat perfectly, why can’t adults?  Dean Somerset wrote about this recently, but this concept is really ridiculous.  There are many factors that make babies able to squat well, including their head to body size ratio, femur height, acetabular position, but most importantly the simple fact that their bones aren’t fused!  Adults will never have the mobility of a baby, this has nothing to do with motor control.

 

Motor Control Limitations

perfect squat formAnother possible area of limitation that can be negatively impacting your squat performance is poor motor control.  I again tend to see this in adults that have been sitting for the majority of the day the last 10-30 years.  When you sit all day, you don’t need abdominal control, lumbopelvic control, or posterior chain activity.  The chair simply does all of this for you.  You essentially learn how to turn all of these off!

This can be seen in someone that has poor movement patterns, however during my clinical assessment have no real mobility restrictions of their joints or muscles.

Sadly, however, I also see this often in my younger athletes.  I’m amazed at how poor our high school students move.  I blame it on sitting and staring at the TV, Xbox, or iPhone all day, but kids can’t even touch their toes anymore!

We have close to 100 high school athletes training with us at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance, and a large portion of them are performing corrective exercises and goblet squats until their motor control improves!

 

Your Perfect Squat Form

It’s always going to be in your best interest to work on your mobility and motor control limitations to improve your squat form.  However, realize that we all have different anatomical factors that may also be limiting your squat form.  This is why getting a proper assessment and individualized program is important if you are serious about enhancing your squat performance and reducing your chance for beating yourself up.

A custom program of mobility drills, corrective exercises, and individualized squat mechanics can really help you.   Sometimes you have to work within your own unique anatomical limitations.  Perhaps you just need to toe out a little more or widen your stance by an inch.  That may mean that you don’t perform the textbook perfect squat mechanics, but that may be OK, it’s your perfect squat form.

 

5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on the 5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging is now available.

5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging

5 Tips for Treating Scapular WingingLast month’s Inner Circle webinar was on 5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging.

In this presentation, I discuss how I treat some of the difficult patients with scapular winging.  I’ll overview 5 tips I use to facilitate better scapular movement and reduce winging.  These are great tips that really work when you have a significant amount of winging.

To access the webinar, please be sure you are logged in and are a member f the Inner Circle program.  If you are currently logged in, you will see the webinars below.  If not, please log in below and then scroll down to the “webinar archives” section.  If you are not a member, learn how to access this and ALL my other webinars for only $5.

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