One Weird Trick – Installment 12 – Avoiding “The Claw” in the Side Plank

Things to Familiarize With Yourself Before Continuing:

1. Shoulder Kinematics

Shoulder Motion

2. Familiarity with “The Claw”

How can you save yourself from the throes of “The Claw?”
Humor and jokes aside, one item I’ve noticed over and over in both athletic and general population individuals is a lack of lateral stability, which can present itself proximally, and show up distally or further away from the problem area. Two lines that demonstrate these concepts fairly well are the lateral and spiral lines  from Anatomy Trains.

Lateral and Spiral Lines

Pictured above, you can identify that the obliques are connected to the pelvis and shoulder girdle in a linear fashion (in the lateral line) and a contralateral or diagonal fashion (in the spiral line).

Abdominal Obliquables

These internal and external obliques connect much of the axial skeleton (read: proximal structures) that if these muscles are downregulated and not utilized in an efficient manner, you’d be left to only utilize your synergistic muscle groups that also stabilize, flex, and rotate when asked to move in these respective manners – such as the latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and quadratus lumborum.

You can still extrapolate quite a bit of practical information from someone’s inability to perform a single leg movement if you have your anatomy down pat, without leaning on commercial models that “tell you what to do.” This is one thing that I hope that gets across to many trainers and coaches out there.

These single leg movements can be lunging in place, holding one leg in the air, or performing a movement that allows you to balance and push off of one leg.


What does the inability to maintain a unilateral stance tell you?

  1. Do they not understand how to do the movement?
  2. Did you not give enough instruction/coaching?
  3. Are they too weak (from a physiological competency POV) to perform the movement?
  4. Are they too strong in another pattern to perform the one you asked?
  5. Are there other structural things that are in the way for the brain to get from Point A (Brain) to Point D (actin-myosin cross bridges found in the muscles to perform the respective movement)?

I find that with good coaching, a lot of these questions get answered. However, for a minimum effective dosage of coaching, this might require “dosing” an exercise over a certain amount of time, in order to come out with a positive set of adaptations – towards improving lateral stability, in this case.

Sometimes identifying small details can lead to larger, big picture items.


The Side Plank as an Entry Point

It is frightening how much I refer to the side plank when identifying lateral stability issues. It seems to be the entry point that I most identify with when thinking of lateral stability and unilateral instability.

Interestingly, when I’m thinking of unilateral instability I can identify some structures on a proximal level (read: axial skeleton) that are, for a lack of better term, “out of wack.” When it comes to structures that step outside towards the appendicular skeleton, what items may be “out of wack” when it comes to function?

If arm positioning is troublesome…

  • Is stabilizing in horizontal abduction an issue?
  • Maintaining elbow flexion may recruit the biceps as an anterior shoulder
  • Lack of ability to pronate and supinate through the forearm may identify structural issues that can lead towards a different avenue towards a solution (soft tissue work in the forearm such as the pronator teres, for example).

The main point I want to get across here is…

Lack of lateral stability -> lack of frontal plane control -> Inability to control horizontal abduction in upper extremity -> Pronation and supination about the forearm are compromised -> “The Claw” rears its ugly head in the side plank!

Side Plank - One Weird Trick

What do you do if “the Claw” shows up in your side plank?


  • Provide better cushioning if necessary for the forearm.
  • Provide better positioning/coaching for the upper arm (humerus) to stabilize within the glenoid socket.
  • Provide soft tissue work to restore pronation and supination values if possible.
  • Identify any bony structures in the hands that may need improvements in movement as well.

For what it is worth, I find these items to be constant coaching fixes not only in advanced clients and athletes, but also in clients that have had degenerative adaptations in their shoulders and elbows.

Adaptation Continuum

Adaptations can both be bad and good. In this case, I’m simply utilizing the side plank (and many other exercises) as one more avenue for identifying these adaptations, and seeing what other adaptations may be necessary.

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations – Installment 9

Motion at the shoulder joint has now been known to improve through several mechanisms:

  1. Improving soft tissue quality, so signaling can be improved to the motor units that are attached to the muscle fibers involved with these movers.
  2. Reorienting joint position of the glenohumeral joint by improving joint centration.
  3. Improving rib cage position/spinal position in order to improve the brain’s strategy for where “up” actually is with respect to upward movement of the arm.

In this exercise combination, I aim to improve the motoric control of the rib cage, while simultaneously asking the brain to move the shoulder upward through reflexive and reactive exercises.

A Left Jab, Right Hook Combination

After watching Creed about five times in the past 4 weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity that a simple combination can provide from a foundational level. The most intensive combos can be utilized in order to achieve an outcome – or you can just jab a few times, and give a good hook at the right time and get the same or better effect.

In my opinion, the following combination will be able to improve shoulder motion by doing the following:

  1. Improve rib cage position
  2. Improve recruitment of upward rotators of the scapula
  3. Inhibiting lumbar erectors as stabilizers
  4. Making the shoulder stabilizers fire reactively

So, if you are dancing, looking to improve handstand coordination, or simply aim to improve overhead motion during training, these simple drills can help you immensely.

A front plank has many benefits – it is a great first progression for anterior core involvement, can serve a purpose for a teaching tool for several different exercises, along with providing an adequate muscular endurance challenge for the individual that is lacking the endurance for an upright posture.

However, let’s take some of these other facts into account.

ProtractionWhen you perform a front plank correctly, you will have your shoulder blades slightly protracted and abducted, or fitting on the side of your rib cage. When this occurs, you have several intrinsic muscles within the shoulder girdle firing to stabilize.

Secondarily, you also recruit obliques if you are in a good position from a lower ribcage and pelvic position, so recruiting our athletes to “bring their belt buckle up to their nose” can improve abdominal positioning quickly.

Abdominal ObliquablesBy recruiting internal and external obliques, you can inhibit some of the extension based muscle groups that are often stabilizing in place of these obliques.

And lastly, you can also improve position of the neck by telling individuals to make sure your face is NOT near the ground, but maintain eyes and nose towards the ground – which will help recruit a neutral spinal alignment. This will help turn off some of the cervical neck extensors that many people exhibit during a forward head posture.

Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up…

Finally, you can improve motion of the shoulder by performing a Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB Press.

Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB PressIf the kettlebell is bottoms up, the weight will want to tip from side to side, and by reflexively or reactively asking your hand to grip TIGHT, you will also improve recruitment of the rotator cuff of the shoulders. I also try to not start in a retracted scapular position, or even a too protracted and abducted position. In fact, I find that improving thoracic position in the moment while holding the kettlebell will improve shoulder position into a more “packed” position.

As you bring the weight up, think of hiding your ears with your arms. This will make sure you keep a centrated position of your shoulder joint, and making sure you don’t fall forward with your hands or backwards with the weight.

In conclusion, you can combine these two exercises together in this fashion:

A1. Front Plank Arm March – 2 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 seconds (or 6 to 8 inhales / exhales)

A2. Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB Press – 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 6 per side

If you’re finding yourself having some shoulder issues from a motor control point of view, give this a shot.

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations: Installment 5 – Baseball Edition

One of the perks of my current position is to work with a handful of professional baseball players during their off-season.

It’s an awesome mix of laid back chat about what kind of music is best played over the speakers during the first few ping pong matches in the morning, and chirping at each other about their respective seasons. You literally can’t find anything like it anywhere else.

Thanks, Oliver. We miss you too. #cspfamily #cspMA

A photo posted by Cressey Sports Performance (@cresseysportsperformance) on

Much like that combination, there are a few ways to combine a few seemingly random exercises into an amazing concoction of, how do I say it? “Boom.”


One combination that I’ve been using to mucho success in the past few months can be found in the warm-up and cool down aspect of the lifting session. It involves a positional breathing drill aimed at resetting the nervous system, and followed up by a static hold of the glenohumeral (or shoulder) joint to ensure range of motion is kept in line.

1. Deep Squat Belly Breathing – 2×5 Exhales (2 sets x 5 Exhales)
2. Supine ER & IR Hold – 3x5sec hold/side

Note: The order here is important.


Performing a Deep Squat Belly Breathing will reduce extensor tone, which means the latissimus dorsi will hopefully be attenuated as a stabilizing muscle group. The posterior pelvic tilt that is also encouraged will also be included to really emphasize the abdominal musculature and to hit home the idea of ribcage position and diaphragmatic contribution to improving all around movement quality of the individual.

Please Raise Your Right Hand…

Meow* for the individual aspect, brought to you by the supine external rotation and internal rotation hold. I’m of the belief that you should give the individual what they need, making sure to not be subjective with your exercise selection. If this person happens to be a right handed baseball pitcher, doesn’t have any injuries that will limit them from moving appropriately, or just happens to be an individual that needs shoulder internal rotation – this exercise may be the correct one for you.

Meow, this isn’t like the sleeper stretch. The way this combination works is this: the ribcage will be better facilitated to help reinforce anterior core stability, and now the adjacent joint of the scapula AND glenohumeral joint have a more adequate range of motion to move about.


Let’s take advantage of our reduced extensor tone, and improve the range of motion that the glenohumeral joint can meow implement – in both internal rotation and external rotation.

Meow, the real sports specific item to discuss is the lack of glenohumeral internal rotation that is often seen in the throwing hand. If you are a pitcher, constantly looking to stretch “to feel loose” – perform these two exercises INSTEAD in order to improve control, stability, and range of motion.

More importantly, if you’re in season and looking for specific help, perform this drill AFTER you’re done pitching.

Why afterwards and not before?

If you’re pitching, you NEED more layback (which requires more external rotation on the throwing arm/dominant hand).


Doing these drills afterwards will help to reduce the amount of glenohumeral external rotation that you are exhibiting – the opposite of what you need if you’re going to be pitching.

However, you want to have the ability to move into and out of specific positions in order to relax your body after a physically taxing task. Reduce the amount of neurological tone that your body is exhibiting, and reap the benefits of multiple and varied movement qualities in order to excel at your sport!

As always,

Keep it funky.