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Category Archive Injury Prevention

Pistol Squat Progression

There are few things that I do that make me feel as athletic as executing pistol squats. A pistol squat is a one legged squat. When I give that description to people I tend to laugh at their initial facial expression. Yes, I know it sounds crazy difficult and it can be. However, there are ways to make it easier and steps you can take to progress it. I’ve had a lot of success at helping people progress their pistol squats using this progression.

Use a Box

Standing on a box allows you clearance for your opposite leg. In an ordinary pistol squat from the ground a major challenge is keeping your opposite leg straight and high enough so that it doesn’t touch the ground. In fact, the first few times you try a pistol squat from the ground you may get a charlie horse in your opposite leg from holding it up. However, standing on a box is usually unassisted meaning you won’t have anything to hold onto while attempting the actual squat. This is the very reason I prefer the next progression over standing on a box. However, try it and see how you like it.

Assisted

Assisted pistol squats are the most effective way I’ve found to progressing this exercise. Like I said above, I prefer this method over the standing on a box method but try both and see which one works for you. I have my athletes and clients execute assisted pistol squats by holding onto something that will allow them to progressively alter the degree onto which they are being assisted. This means that I have them hold onto something that will allow them to move their hands while lowering themselves into the squat. The posts of a power rack work beautifully for this but if you don’t have access to that then just find something that allows you to grip and walk your hands down while lowering yourself.

Start by holding on as tight as needed to feel secure. As you begin the squat be sure to walk your hands down the object you’re holding onto. This will ensure that you are using your hands and arms to assist you at the very minimum amount needed. Be sure that the actual squat is slow and controlled. It will be natural to want to drop down fast and uncontrolled because that will allow gravity to do all the work instead of your actual leg. As you become more confident and comfortable in your abilities you can lighten your grip on the object little by little until you no longer need to hold onto something.

Tip
  • Be sure that your foot remains flat and you don’t rise up on your toes. Common mistake.


Can’t play video? Click here: Assisted Pistol Squats

Unassisted

You’ve built up enough leg strength and confidence and are now ready for the unassisted pistol squat. The squat itself is self-explanatory but let me give you a few tips to help you out. When first beginning the unassisted version have your arms straight out in front of you. This will help with counterbalance. Also, be sure to continue executing the squat slowly and controlled instead of just dropping into the bottom position. Once you become comfortable with the unassisted version you can make it more difficult by bringing your arms in taking away some of your counterbalance.


Can’t play video? Click here: Unassisted Pistol Squats

Weighted

Once you become comfortable with the unassisted version and are ready for a new challenge you can begin holding weight while executing reps. holding onto anything will work and try different things to challenge yourself. Examples are kettlebells, dumbbells, plates, sandbags, medicine balls, etc.

Tip
  • Holding light weight might actually be easier than unassisted because the light weight helps counterbalance your body weight.


Can’t play video? Click here: Weighted Pistol Squats

Squatting to a Bench/Box

I put this variation in last because I don’t use it and I personally haven’t seen anyone get better at pistol squats by using it. However, I know its common and a lot of trainers use this variation so I wanted to discuss it at least at minimum. The reason I don’t like this variation is because it takes away the hardest part of the movement, the lower portion of the squat. I believe most trainers use this as a way to progress pistol squats. In that way I don’t agree with its use at all. On the other hand, if someone is using this variation with an older client or someone with achy knees I might see its usefulness but then again I would probably just scratch the whole idea of pistol squats if that was the case. Bottom line, I don’t like it and haven’t found it useful.


Can’t play video? Click here: Box Pistol Squats

Importance of Ankle Mobility

Hands down the biggest reason most people cannot execute an unassisted pistol squat is because of a lack of ankle mobility. Yes, or course you need adequate leg strength but most people have that. What most people don’t have is adequate ankle mobility. The number one reason people lack ankle mobility is the shoes they wear. I’m not even talking strictly about women and their high heels hoes, that should be a given, I’m talking about women and men with their boots and dress shoes, athletes with their basketball shoes, the list goes on and on. When you wear shoes that have a heel rise or an absurd amount of cushion you reduce the amount of work your ankles and feet need to do. This tightens your achilles, calves, and other muscles of your lower leg and tight muscles lead into bad mobility. Solution? Try foam rolling the calves before practicing the pistol squats and loosen up your ankles. However, the best solution is to buy new flat shoes. Can’t afford new shoes? Try practicing the pistol squats either barefoot or in socks. I guarantee this makes it easier.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email. Thanks!

2 Exercises to Improve Shoulder Stability

I’m not sure there is a single body part that is more frustrating than the shoulder. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body with 120 degrees of flexion available. This mobility is useful for achieving great athletic feats but can be a detriment when the shoulder is put in a compromising position. I recommend performing the following two exercises multiple times a week to accomplish two goals, maintain and/or improve mobility in the shoulder joint and strengthen the shoulder girdle as a whole. (Side note, the turkish get-up is a staple of my program for these vary reasons but it deserves its own article coming soon.)

Arm Bar

The arm bar is an exercise that I recommend as an extended warm-up or as part of a movement prep at the beginning of a workout. But it can fit in perfectly anywhere in the workout as the coach sees fit. The arm bar accomplishes a couple of things. Depending on the athlete, it can be a useful stretch anywhere from the delts, to the lats, to the biceps, and so on. I know I personally feel it instantly in my biceps and rear delt which is not surprising as those are two trouble areas for me in terms of tightness. The second thing it is great for is causing the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder joint to fire. When done correctly as shown in the video below, the shoulder joint is the only thing stabilizing the arm to hold the kettlebell overhead.  

  1. Start lying flat on your back. Legs straight. Kettlebell resting on chest with both hands grasping handle.
  2. Press the kettlebell with both hands, taking the hand of the arm not doing the exercise (the off arm) off when the arms are fully extended. Bend the knee of the same side leg until the foot is flat on floor near glutes.
  3. The off arm starts out flat on floor extending away from torso. The off leg starts out flat and straight on floor in line with rest of body.
  4. Push off the bent leg rotating that hip towards the floor on the opposite side. Try your best to get the hip to touch and remain in contact with the floor.
  5. It’s at first okay for your same side leg to now be slightly bent flat on the floor. But when comfortable straighten it and slide it across the floor until it is parallel with your other leg (the off leg.)
  6. When you feel that your arm and kettlebell are stable slowly slide your off arm across the floor until it is overhead. Your body should now be in a straight line from off hand down to both of your feet.
  7. I usually have my athletes hold this position from anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds before switching arms.

Tips:

  • Be careful and progress the weight slowly especially when first learning the exercise.
  • When comfortable you want to make sure that the weight is challenging enough to reap the full benefits of the exercise.
  • When your off arm and leg are extended away from your body they are giving you extra stability but when you straighten both your leg and arm out so that your body is in a straight line that extra stability disappears and the exercise becomes significantly more difficult,
  • If you are coaching young athletes they my at first be nervous about feeling their shoulder stabilizing, you can usually visually see the shoulder pulsating, make sure to ensure them that this is the goal of the exercise and as long as their arm is in the locked out position they are doing it correctly.

Video Here:  Arm Bar

Bottoms-Up Press

One of my favorite kettlebell exercises is the kettlebell press overhead. It is a great unilateral exercise that allows the shoulder to move naturally and freely. A variation of the kettlebell press that I love to implement to work shoulder stability is the bottoms-up press. The bottoms-up press takes the kettlebell and turns it upside down. In this position the actual ball is on top of the handle, making balancing the bell the main objective as you press it overhead. Naturally, the weight is significantly lighter compared to the conventional kettlebell press but this exercise can be very tiring and even more frustrating.

  1. Hold the kettlebell upside down in one hand.
  2. When you have it balanced proceed to press it overhead being sure to press until your arm is in the lock out position.
  3. Return the bell to the starting position.

Tips:

  • The first thing this will test is your grip strength as simply holding the bell in the upside down position is challenging.
  • This is a great exercise for learning how to create tension throughout the entire body as you will have to be tense throughout to successfully press a challenging weight overhead.
  • It helps to make a tight fist with your opposite hand. This is something called irradiation where the tension travels to other parts of your body.
  • I usually don’t prescribe over 5 reps per set because in my opinion anything higher defeats the purpose of what this exercise should be intended for. If someone can complete more than 5 reps with a certain weight the weight is not challenging enough and the athlete does not need to create a significant amount of tension.
  • With this exercise being dependent on small muscles playing a big role increasing the weight can be a challenge even if someone can complete multiple reps at a certain weight.
  • To counter act this, if an athlete is repping out a certain wright but cannot consistently complete reps at the next weight I have them practice just holding the bell in the upside down positon for a certain amount of time (usually 20-30 seconds) and that seems to help them progress.

Video Here:  Bottoms Up Press

Prioritize It

In my opinion implementing correctives that target the shoulder girdle should be a major priority for strength and conditioning coaches. I also want to mention that I believe everyone can benefit from strengthening their shoulder girdle as a whole as it will help them progress in whatever their goals may be. These two exercises in this article should also be used by anyone with nagging shoulder injuries. Give these exercises a shot and do them consistently for a period of time and I bet that you see an improvement in a number of different aspects of your training.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support this site by subscribing with your email.

Consistency

By now, I hope that I have written enough of these articles to convey my passion for this field. I can discuss different training philosophies for days, go over cues for teaching techniques with anyone, and I’m a nerd when it comes to programming. I absolutely love the tangible part of training,. Equally interesting to me are the intangibles of training. The things that aren’t always evident from across the gym. I think that my love for the intangible aspects of training can be traced back to my athletic career where I believed from an early age that I could gain a competitive advantage by mastering the intangibles.

This has carried over to my own training experiences, where I firmly believe that what has helped me the most are taking the intangible parts of training seriously. When talking about intangibles there are different aspects that all fall under one larger idea; mindset. I believe that mindset is the single biggest factor that sets people apart that are after the same goal. Regardless if that mindset is deemed positive or negative there are different traits that arise from it. A few of those traits are consistency, or lack thereof, resiliency, intensity, and accountability to name a few. I plan on writing articles on these different traits but I will start with one that I believe has helped me the most; consistency.

I find it interesting that people ask me all the time what I eat, or what program I am doing. I get asked, “how much do you bench?” almost weekly. But no one has ever asked me what is the one greatest thing that I attribute to my success in training. If they did, my answer would be a boring one, consistency. I’m sure people would expect me to go into detail about a complex training program and talking about an extreme diet that I am currently trying. I doubt that anyone would expect my answer to be a single word.

I don’t believe I was genetically gifted or predestined to be good at training. I was a decent athlete growing up, by no means anything to brag about, and am more athletic now than at any point in my life thanks to training. What sets me apart from people struggling to see improvement in the gym is consistency. I do what I am supposed to do more often than most people. Yes, I read and I experiment and I talk to my mentors. Yes, some programs and techniques work better than others and it is important to learn them. But you can gain all the knowledge you want and if you don’t apply it consistently you will never reach your full potential. This is why consistency is a trait of mindset. You must possess a certain mindset to realize the importance of consistency. When I wake up in the morning I know I am training that day. I don’t even think about what if this or that happens. I’ll get those outside factors taken care of without letting it affect my training. I think the reason consistency comes so easy to me is because of my, Why.

Yes, let’s not forget the first question I asked of you all. I know my Why, it may change from time to time, but I always have a clear understanding of why I am doing what I am doing. By knowing my Why I have a reason for consistently going to the gym, for consistently eating the way I do. Without having a Why, a purpose, failing to be consistent is an easy thing to do. Where I see most people fail in the gym is when adversity hits them. I guess this can be life in general. It is easy to be consistent when everything is going great. I see it all the time. People are consistent when their schedule works out and no outside stress is affecting their training. They have no nagging injuries that make certain exercises impossible to do. Everything is running smoothly so of course they look forward to going to the gym and to eating right. However, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as an injury pops up, or a new responsibility takes away some of their free time, things begin to unravel. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. It can be as simple as they aren’t seeing results as fast as they first did and they become frustrated. It’s difficult to be consistent when it’s not as fun, when you aren’t seeing the results. But that is exactly the time you must keep consistent because it always comes back around and you will start seeing improvement again, your injuries will heal, and your schedule will lighten or you will simply get better at time management. Knowing your Why will help you possess a mindset that will allow you to push through these adversities. It will be that driving force that keeps you consistent.

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Its a Kettlebell, Not CrossFit

It’s a Kettlebell

One of the most underutilized tools in training is the kettlebell. I love using kettlebells in my own training, and it and the barbell are my favorite tools to use with my clients. Over the last decade or so kettlebells have become synonymous with CrossFit. Few things get under my skin as bad as when I show someone a kettlebell and their response is, “oh, CrossFit.” The kettlebell has been around since the 1700s and CrossFit has been around since the year 2000.

Many people see the kettlebell as something CrossFit uses and nothing else. People do not realize the benefits the kettlebell offers to people no matter their reason for training. I use kettlebells when training athletes, people rehabbing injuries, and the general population just looking to get healthier. I hope that this article will shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and why people with all types of goals should consider adding kettlebell training to their regimen.

Strength

Kettlebells are great way to build strength. With kettlebells, you can become stronger in the squat, pressing, and hinging movements in a variety of ways. This variation allows you to test movements in a way that is hard to do with other tools, including barbells. By testing these movements in different ways, you can find weak points that could be holding you back from making strength gains. For example, you can perform the squat by holding a kettlebell in a goblet position (as pictured below), a single rack position, and a double rack position. Each of these offer different benefits that help improve your squat overall. The same can be said for presses by pressing kettlebells overhead in a strict, push press, or bottoms up position as pictured below.

Lastly, two great exercises for the hip hinge using kettlebells are the deadlift and the swing. Using a kettlebell for the deadlift can be a strength exercise for novice lifters or for rehabbing injuries and is also a great way to teach the hip hinge in a safe manner. The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that offers a lot of different benefits such as flexibility, power, and conditioning. You will read more about the swing in the following paragraphs. What is important to remember is that you can do these movements with very heavy kettlebells. This will obviously make you stronger directly but it will also carry over to heavier barbell lifts. Training with kettlebells enables you to use heavy weight unilaterally, meaning one arm at a time, and this will help with any strength imbalances that may be holding you back.

 

Pictured above is the Goblet Squat (Left) and the Bottoms up Position (Right)

Conditioning

I hate conditioning. It’s no secret to those close to me that I don’t do a lot, if any, conditioning in the traditional sense. You probably won’t see me out jogging around town anytime soon. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I know conditioning is a necessary evil. I try my best to avoid it as much as possible, at least traditional conditioning anyhow. So, I find different ways to implement conditioning into my training. Kettlebells are one of my favorite ways to do this. The previously mentioned kettlebell swings will get you huffing and puffing like few exercises can. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and do twenty-five of them in a row. Then after you catch your breath come back and tell me that didn’t get your heart rate up.

Carries are also a great conditioning tool. I could have put carries in the strength section also. This exercises is exactly how it sounds. You carry heavy weight for either distance or time. This will challenge you in more way than one. Heavy carries will build grip strength, build a bigger upper back, and keep your shoulders healthy, but you may be surprised how out of breath you are when you finally set the weight down. I’d much rather go for a walk carrying kettlebells then go for a run around my neighborhood. In fact, to this day the most humbling feat I’ve ever attempted was carrying two heavy kettlebells through town and back. It took roughly an hour to complete and I was surprised and embarrassed about how exhausted and out of breath I was. Now, before you go telling everyone you know that I said all you have to do is swing and carry a kettlebell and you will be able to run a marathon, conditioning in this section referrers to general conditioning. If you want to be able to run a 5k, you still must go out and run.

Flexibility

The flexibility you can gain from training with kettlebells is probably my favorite reason for using them. The way the kettlebell fits around your hand and rests against your arm in what is called the rack position (as pictured below) allows for freedom of movement that you can’t get with a dumbbell. The kettlebell becomes an extension of your arm, it becomes a part of your body, allowing for natural movement to occur. This freedom of movement that a kettlebell allows is why it is a great tool for improving flexibility. You can move naturally and improve flexibility while performing “strength” movements. For example, by holding the kettlebell in the rack position and pressing it overhead, your shoulder can move freely and naturally as the weight travels overhead. At the top of the movement you can focus on placing your extended arm over your head utilizing its full range of motion instead of the arm being too far forward and sacrificing the end range of movement which is commonly seen. The previously mentioned goblet squat is also a great example as it is an easier and safer way to teach the squat than with the bar. It allows you to practice achieving great depth in the squat, gaining flexibility in your hips. Also, there are many corrective type exercises that are great for rehabbing or preventing injuries. There will be an article coming soon on how to use kettlebells for injury prevention.

Pictured above is the Rack Position

Not CrossFit

The strength, conditioning, and flexibility benefits of kettlebells are priceless. All three are a great reason to include kettlebells into your programs. This article didn’t even go into detail about the corrective exercise benefits or the teaching benefits of kettlebells. Rehab or injury prevention for any type of person could have also been a section in this article and will be an article in the future. I touched a little on the teaching benefits of kettlebells when discussing the deadlift and squat and it really is a great tool for teaching the basic movements in a safe manner. I hope that this article shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and maybe next time you see one you won’t automatically think CrossFit! Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can continue to reach more people.