When coaching many athletes and clients throughout the years, various off-seasons, in-seasons, along with various injuries and movement capacities (that is, whether or not someone understands how to move when given a simple cue) I have come to appreciate that not everyone understands what may be going when it comes to their own bodies. Intellectually, they might understand how to do certain movements, but it is as if their own body is not listening to what their brain is telling them. There is a large disconnect present.
When talking about extension based issues, decreasing symptoms for lumbar spine issues, or even when improving position during strength training modalities, one common theme is the lack of understanding of what the pelvis should be doing.
Now, intellectually individuals may understand what a posterior pelvic tilt looks like, and may even be able to perform it, but actively owning that position is something that is more difficult to perform.
So, in this case, I have devised how to build context from the ground on up with respect to the posterior pelvic tilt.
Breaking it Down
To improve upon the last blog post in this series, Breathing for Performance, one of the first variables that must be achieved is position. Without owning a specific position, trying to elicit certain actions such as inhalation using the pelvic floor and thoracic diaphragm will be difficult to do.
So what are some action items you can perform before any exercises today?
Own the ability to get into and out of anterior pelvic tilt and posterior pelvic tilt (in this case, bilaterally).
Step 1a: If you cannot own these positions, let’s ask the question, “Why?”
Step 1b: Is it soft tissue structures that is limiting your ability to move?
Step 1c: Is it a lack of motoric control that is limiting your ability to move?
Step 1d: Is it bony adaptations (disc herniation, hip pathology, etc.) that is limiting your ability to move?
Step 2: After finding the issues and working on resolving them, aim to own these positions described in the video above.
Think of the obliques as a mesh net of muscles that connects the rib cage to the pelvis.
If you bring the ends of the net closer to each other, they are more relaxed, and not as stretched.
If you bring the ends of the net away from each other, they are on stretch, and will be more difficult to control.
Thus, by improving pelvic position, you can improve upon thoracic ribcage and lumbar spine positioning as well for many different exercises, and daily functioning as well.
One item that I find myself coaching over and over involves the concept of breathing, along with how to approach it for various exercises. Whether or not this biases me as “the breathing guy” at my facility doesn’t matter to me – if I can use and manipulate my breathing to do the task at hand, I’ll do it. Essentially the way you approach how you breathe for a 1RM deadlift will be very different than the way you approach breathing for a 2 mile run.
This necessity for owning your breathing patterns becomes even more readily apparent as you begin to understand the differences that the two different tasks will ask of the body. As far as I know, the mentality of controlling breathing to improve the outcomes of exercises or a physiological output is not new.
While for some individuals it is understood that the way you breathe during a really long set versus improving the tonic/phasic relationship of your muscles will be different, the way you approach the breathing component on each example is very subtle. Done properly, and you can get a lot out of it.
Essentially, it comes down to three different approaches:
Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)
Breathing During Static Exercises
Breathing During Dynamic Exercises
Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)
Sensory awareness of what occurs in your body has several research articles speaking about any individual’s ability to focus internally. With this in mind, the focus for breathing with an inward attentional focus is meant to improve sensory awareness of one’s body in space, along with understanding what muscles may be being “kicked on” in order to maintain a certain postural stance or sway.
Aaron Swanson had a great internal cueing article on what the benefits are for understanding what occurs from an internal point of view, and this is a point that I made during my most recent presentation at the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar – it will be difficult to teach a complex movement (bracing for a depth jump to a broad jump and landing on one leg) if you don’t understand some of the simpler moving parts in your body.
Static exercises have the grouping of planks, side planks, any exercise in which you are static (staying still) and require a constant stream of inhalations and exhalations without any extraneous pressure from the musculature that is statically being challenged.
Example of Static Exercises
Isometric Holds – Bottom of Squat, Push-Up, Lunge, etc.
Isolated Exercises to Improve Motor Control – Rotator Cuff exercises, hip exercises, etc.
So while the joint and thusly the muscular position may be necessary to understand and feel, this position will need to be reinforced further when looking to load or hold for a certain amount of time.
More specifically, for a lot of our athletes, clients, and even my online clients, I may utilize breaths, as in cycles of inhalation and exhalation, to regulate the duration of a specific exercise (instead of an arbitrary time such as 15, 20, or 30 seconds).
Breathing During Dynamic Exercises
In the video, I describe how to troubleshoot your breathing patterns in both supine and during an active movement such as the squat.
With this in mind, the categorizations can be subdivided further:
Breathing via Valsalva Manuevering
Breathing for Locomotive Purposes
Breathing via Valsalva Maneuver
If you have 400 or 500lbs (or more…) on your back for a back squat, there is certainly a need to maintain great amounts of intra-abdominal pressure through tensioning techniques through the musculature, along with reinforcing this tension with a gaseous form of stability – air through the diaphragm and/or pelvic floor (and closing of the epiglottis aka your throat, because that is how we prevent air from escaping).
When describing how to “hold your breathe,” I am not merely describing how to pass out as fast as possible. Hopefully, and with a little more background into the individual who is performing said technique, I am teaching lessons towards improving stability for spinal segments up and down the chain.
Note/Disclaimer: I’ve also had an older population of clientele that will be unable to perform the Valsalva maneuver due to greater increases in blood pressure that does not need to be risked due to heart conditions. Please note that I am not telling you to do the Valsalva maneuver as a way to complete heavier lifts – it is merely a method that *can* be used, it does not *have* to be used.
Breathing For Locomotive Purposes
Locomotion can refer to moving in whatever fashion you want – dancing, sprinting, and/or jumping. This is a combination of the previous approach for breathing, because the way you move for a Forward Walking Lunge may differ than a one mile run.
With this in mind, imagine how holding your breath during the first meters in a sprint will affect the outcome of the whole movement. This is opposed to slightly intra-abdominal pressure as you take a forward step during a DB Walking Lunge.
Different exercises, different goals, and different approaches.
Generally speaking, if it is an exercise in which you have a consistent and regular movement pattern – swimming, running, rowing, or anything generally that lasts longer than 60 seconds, you will need to approach your breathing a little differently.
If you will be performing an exercise that lasts under 60 seconds (or more), but still has load in your hands or on your back, bracing for intra-abdominal pressure while still gaining new air during your movement for spinal stability will be especially useful.
While this topic of breathing is certainly nuanced, I am merely describing one more method of how to improve performance within the context of breathing.
Focusing internally as to what is occurring with the feet, ankles, and arches of the feet is something that is vastly underrated. If you are aiming for stability in your squat, deadlift, and any variation of single leg movements, your ability to control your arch on an subconscious and conscious level is of the utmost importance.
Of the items that I find myself coaching over and over at Cressey Sports Performance and in other facets of training, the feet is one thing that keeps on coming back as an underrated area of coaching. Of this underrated area, developing an arch is something that is still being left out of the coaching manual, despite others writing about this waaaaaay before me (see: Charlie Weingroff’s – Is the Short Foot Always So Short? and Mike Robertson’s – Mastering Tripod Foot) that is simply glossed over.
If the hips and shoulders are in a good position, then everything else is tertiary, right? Right?
Controlling what your feet do is analogous, to me at least, to what your head and neck do. If you just let your head flop around on a body that is theoretically moving properly, and you allow your head to sit sideways for the majority of your day, what will happen to your neck?
Likewise, if you simply walk around without taking care of your feet, what will your calves, knees, hips, and lower back feel like?
One entry point that I’ll use as a way to infiltrate the minds of our athletes and clients at CSP is simply ask them if they are actively using their feet in their deadlift and squats. It is a throwaway question, certainly, but when given the opportunity, it will now allow me 30 seconds of coaching on what is important, and what is not important in coaching up an arch.
But I Have Flat Feet – I Don’t Have An Arch!
This is admittedly one of my pet peeves when it comes to asking athletes and clients if they are actively thinking about their feet. When I hear this statement, I automatically whip my shoes off, show them I also have flat feet, and then proceed to do a backflip via the Windlass mechanism (the mechanism that allows your arch to be created).
Long story short, if you create a sensation at the base of the heel, lateral aspect of the foot along the edge of the pink toe, along with sensation at the ball of the foot of the first toe (first ray/MTP/whatever else name you wanna call it), you are eliciting active control of your arches.
This might be one reason why barefoot running was such in such a hullabaloo in past years, garnering attention towards the idea that natural gait was to occur without the sensation of excessively padded running shoes that have been marketed as of late, among many other reasons.
Well, what can you do when you are aiming to control yourself, and your arches during your lifting program?
What are some exercises that can be affected by how much control you have in your arches?
1. Deadlifts 2. Single Leg Deadlifts 3. Squats 4. Single Leg Squats
5. Forward and Reverse Lunges 6. Lateral Lunges 7. Jumping 8. Landing (Depth drops and jumps) 9. Sprinting 10. Running 11. Shuffling
As you can see the list can go on and on depending on the drills that your gym or exercise program uses.
What Are Some Issues That Can Come About from Lack of Control?
The things that can help improve sensation to an area involve either a coaching cue (such as the video above), a specific sensory integration exercise (such as massage to the posterior tibialis to allow for greater tibial internal rotation to occur, which will allow pronation to occur), or an orthotic of sorts (if absolutely necessary).
If you over-supinate, you could theoretically rely on your hip abductors for stability (and possibly develop something along the lines of IT Band Syndrome, or TFL tightness) (PROBLEM)
If you over-pronate, you could theoretically rely on your hip adductors for stability, and could develop medial knee issues (pain, dysfunction, etc) or even higher up and have groin issues. (PROBLEM)
If you over-supinate, you want something that will pronate your foot to a neutral position. (SOLUTION)
If you over-pronate, you want something that will supinate your foot to a neutral position.(SOLUTION)
If you don’t have any issues, well then you’re perfect. Go lift some heavy weights, dance, and run to your hearts desire.
And finally, I’m of the belief that learning to control your arches will create a better platform with which you can now absorb force… which will elicit a better exercise output… which will elicit better adaptations for your goals!
Transitioning from the Gym to the Field/Court
If you’re focusing on developing an arch, and can’t get it to work for you, seek to find relief in these areas:
This muscle stabilizes the medial arch of the foot, and allows for greater abilities for inversion and plantarflexion to occur. If you are pushing through your medial arch too much, this muscle can be fighting for dear life, and can be overtly tight.
This muscle allows for your toes to extend – something that occurs if you are “faking” ankle dorsiflexion. Don’t mistake your ability for your ankle to dorsiflex (up towards your head) with your toes’ ability to extend (up towards your head).
Further, seek to improve timing and coordination via these areas:
This muscle stabilizes, flexes, and abducts the lateral most ray (fifth toe) during gait.
Granted, these super small muscles are not often focused upon in any gym setting (“Hey, fire your flexor hallicus brevis before you deadlift!”), but as a coach or trainer, you can inform your client or athlete to make sure they feel those spots intently as I shown in the above video.
If you’re going to transition onto the field or court, make sure you understand what your body is doing and do a systems check before going all out. You might find yourself more aware of what your body is doing in a good way when practicing and competing, which will help you create better opportunities down the line.