Things to Familiarize With Yourself Before Continuing:
1. Shoulder Kinematics
2. Familiarity with “The Claw”
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).
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?
- Do they not understand how to do the movement?
- Did you not give enough instruction/coaching?
- Are they too weak (from a physiological competency POV) to perform the movement?
- Are they too strong in another pattern to perform the one you asked?
- 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!
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.
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.
Keep it funky.