Movement

Warm up for Improved Performance


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The squat is regarded by most athletes as the most important lift. For Powerlifters it is their main competition lift, for weightlifters it is something you are doing nearly everyday, for CrossFitters it is not only a lift used to gain and gauge maximal strength, but it is a movement that is involved in a myriad of other movements or conditioning circuits

Every great athlete begins with a great set of hips. The squat challenges the mobility, stability, coordination, and strength of those hips so it is naturally the most important movement you can do with your athletes, no matter what their sport.  Everyone who is training is squatting. If you aren’t, then you probably aren’t reading this anyway. With all these people out their squatting, there are certain to be a few differing opinions on the lift and even more certain, a ton of people out there jacking it up real bad.

I know people are screwing it up, because I constantly read things on the Juggernaut  Facebook Q&A such as this this:

“I have a hard time not letting my upper back round while squatting….. What are some assistance exercises I can do?”

“My lower back always gets sore when I am squatting……. What are some assistance exercises I can do?”

“My knees cave in during my squat”

“I just have weak abs, what are some assistance exercises I can do”

“I just can’t squat to depth”

“My hamstrings are tight, what stretches should I do”

“I am quad dominant and slide forward in my squat. What kind of assistance exercises can I do for my hamstrings?”

This short list covers the majority of squat questions that anyone ever asks. Ever.  I am inclined to believe that many of those problems come from one singular source, that, if not addressed, will continue to manifest itself no matter how many stretches or assistance exercises you ever do.

If you squat all the time and your “measuring stick” is the squat, how is it that your upper back would be underdeveloped for squatting? This is operating under the assumption that you are doing it right in the first place. A perfectly aligned body with a perfect squat should develop all the muscle it needs in itself. The people who say, “all you need to do is squat” might just be onto something. The only issue is that there is seldom anyone who has perfect “joint centration” or “joint congruency” as Kelly Starrett calls it.  Presumably, the further you are from this congruency, the more assistance exercises you will feel that you need.  As a side note, every muscle, joint, ligament, and bone in your body has somewhere that it belongs. There is an optimal way to perform every single task that you perform throughout the day. Long stretched out muscles cause pain, weakness, excessive soreness and, in contrast, short tight muscles are limiting your range of motion, making it difficult to strengthen those “weak” areas.

Back to the squat.

Most of the problems that I see with the squat stem from never getting your hips into a neutral starting position. In other words, not being able to maintain a neutral hip position throughout the squat.  Ever heard this “arch, arch, arch, arch”? I know I did. Our high school coaches wanted our asses and noses in the air for some odd reason. But they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

Check out this short video so you can catch the just of what I am talking about here. Waylon is kinda a bad example for the test at the end, he was already bracing a little on the first one cause he didn’t know what I was doing. Trying to make me look like a fool.

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Waylon is an extreme case. He really can’t even handle any extension of his lumbar spine at all. Most people seem to be pretty tolerant to extension.  It doesn’t cause them any pain, so they don’t diagnose it as a problem.
Here is how this all plays out:
A.) You go to suck in a big breathe of air in and this causes you to pull your chest up with your SCM, chest and shoulders
B.) This causes your neck to go into extension, in order to fit more air in, you allow your lumbar go into extension (Those two can actually go the other way as well. For people being cued “arch” they may put themselves into extension, then be forced to us other muscles to breathe)
C.) using your shoulders to breathe is already pulling them forward and stretching out the muscles of the upper back, putting them at a mechanical disadvantage
D.) the lumbar extension has put your hips into the anterior tilt, this has added length to the hamstrings, as well as the abs
E.) Just so we are on the same page, haven’t started the squat yet and we have already placed our upper back, abs, and hamstrings at a disadvantage by stretching them out
F.) You descend into your squat, this next part is choose your own adventure
a- You struggle to get depth and are forced to “good morning” out of the squat because before you ever started squatting you had already stretched your hamstrings out
b- on the way up your upper back rounds badly forcing you to arch out of it because you had to compensate for the extension of your lumbar with your thoracic spine
c- your knees cave in because you have created such a tilt in your hips you lack sufficient adductor length and your glutes are out of position. (Every says “you glutes aren’t firing” … maybe they are just a little out of position)
d- your butt tucks because you are not able to maintain the arch in your back and you complete your squats, but you are left with a sore back every time
e- You squat, but in order to get to depth you have to slide forward due to your “quad dominance” or “weak hamstrings”. Which you can probably get away with for a while but, when you knees start hurting, that is probably why.

If you are having problems with your squat, first assess your starting position. Assess yourself in your natural posture. Determine if you are just starting in a bad position and have technique issues that need to be addressed, or if you are unable to return from that bad position and have mobility, rather than technique, issues.
In the last free article that I did for Jtsstrength.com I talked about how mobility is the combination of flexibility and stability and about how mobility issues rarely occur in the body in isolation.
Weakness is a stability problem; therefore it is a mobility problem.  More often than not, what I see from peoples squat is that most of the things that they tell me are just “weak” on them are just out of position. They may be weak from being out of position for so long, but I have seen people who tell me their hamstrings are weak for years. If something is weak it should get better when you make it stronger. If something is tight then it should get better when you stretch it. If it is not getting better then there are more problems that need to be addressed. There are a myriad of reasons you could be starting with an exaggerated anterior tilt in your hips.  There could be weakness in the psoas, tight quads, a tight SCM, maybe even a tight pec minor…and surely some weakness in the upper back.
It is nearly impossible to give any type of specific advice regarding stretching and mobility over the Internet due to the wide range and limitless combinations of problems you can encounter. The one piece of “can’t go wrong” mobility work is none other than breathing.
But, just for shits and gigs, here are some pretty fair assumptions
Your tight quads can be causing or impeding your weak upper back.
In that sense, if you have one of these problems you probably have each of these problems to some degree and attacking all of them at the same time is probably a good idea.
The problem is that you can’t just force yourself into the “correct” position. You need to learn to get there correctly. If you go try to squat and all the sudden try to start pulling your hips up in the front you are more than likely going compensate to achieve the position and are going to screw something up.
The goal with this short warmup is to create some space with some myofascial work and some breathing. Then to use some simple movements so that you can focus on what it feels like to produce the movement correctly. It’s worthless if you don’t do it perfectly. After that it is important that you strive to achieve the correct position with all of your movements, inside and outside of the gym.
Myofascial stuff, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, pvc, barbells, whatever you’re into
Breathing Drill with Feet on Wall
Breathing Drill Apical expansion
Hard exhale Glute Bridge/Single Leg 1×4 each hold at top for 2
Wall Press Abs 2x20taps
Quad stretch on wall 1x2min each
Supine Psoas March 1×8 (4 each) Hard exhale into position every rep
Goblet squat facing wall (Neutral Hip!) x10
Chest supported Y’s 1×8 (apical expansion!!! Keep chin tucked) hold at top for 2
Leg swings (focus on breathing and bracing, let you leg move on its own) x10 each
Then move on to the rest of your dynamic and session specific warmup
Waylon is an extreme case. He really can’t even handle any extension of his lumbar spine at all. Most people seem to be pretty tolerant to extension.  It doesn’t cause them any pain, so they don’t diagnose it as a problem.

Here is how this all plays out:

A.) You go to suck in a big breathe of air in and this causes you to pull your chest up with your SCM, chest and shoulders

B.) This causes your neck to go into extension, in order to fit more air in, you allow your lumbar go into extension (Those two can actually go the other way as well. For people being cued “arch” they may put themselves into extension, then be forced to us other muscles to breathe)

C.) using your shoulders to breathe is already pulling them forward and stretching out the muscles of the upper back, putting them at a mechanical disadvantage

D.) the lumbar extension has put your hips into the anterior tilt, this has added length to the hamstrings, as well as the abs

E.) Just so we are on the same page, haven’t started the squat yet and we have already placed our upper back, abs, and hamstrings at a disadvantage by stretching them out

F.) You descend into your squat, this next part is choose your own adventure

a- You struggle to get depth and are forced to “good morning” out of the squat because before you ever started squatting you had already stretched your hamstrings out

b- on the way up your upper back rounds badly forcing you to arch out of it because you had to compensate for the extension of your lumbar with your thoracic spine

c- your knees cave in because you have created such a tilt in your hips you lack sufficient adductor length and your glutes are out of position. (Every says “you glutes aren’t firing” … maybe they are just a little out of position)

d- your butt tucks because you are not able to maintain the arch in your back and you complete your squats, but you are left with a sore back every time

e- You squat, but in order to get to depth you have to slide forward due to your “quad dominance” or “weak hamstrings”. Which you can probably get away with for a while but, when you knees start hurting, that is probably why.

 

If you are having problems with your squat, first assess your starting position. Assess yourself in your natural posture. Determine if you are just starting in a bad position and have technique issues that need to be addressed, or if you are unable to return from that bad position and have mobility, rather than technique, issues.

In the last free article that I did for Jtsstrength.com I talked about how mobility is the combination of flexibility and stability and about how mobility issues rarely occur in the body in isolation.

Weakness is a stability problem; therefore it is a mobility problem.  More often than not, what I see from peoples squat is that most of the things that they tell me are just “weak” on them are just out of position. They may be weak from being out of position for so long, but I have seen people who tell me their hamstrings are weak for years. If something is weak it should get better when you make it stronger. If something is tight then it should get better when you stretch it. If it is not getting better then there are more problems that need to be addressed. There are a myriad of reasons you could be starting with an exaggerated anterior tilt in your hips.  There could be weakness in the psoas, tight quads, a tight SCM, maybe even a tight pec minor…and surely some weakness in the upper back.

It is nearly impossible to give any type of specific advice regarding stretching and mobility over the Internet due to the wide range and limitless combinations of problems you can encounter. The one piece of “can’t go wrong” mobility work is none other than breathing.

But, just for shits and gigs, here are some pretty fair assumptions

Your tight quads can be causing or impeding your weak upper back.

In that sense, if you have one of these problems you probably have each of these problems to some degree and attacking all of them at the same time is probably a good idea.

The problem is that you can’t just force yourself into the “correct” position. You need to learn to get there correctly. If you go try to squat and all the sudden try to start pulling your hips up in the front you are more than likely going compensate to achieve the position and are going to screw something up.

The goal with this short warmup is to create some space with some myofascial work and some breathing. Then to use some simple movements so that you can focus on what it feels like to produce the movement correctly. It’s worthless if you don’t do it perfectly. After that it is important that you strive to achieve the correct position with all of your movements, inside and outside of the gym.

Myofascial stuff, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, pvc, barbells, whatever you’re into

Breathing Drill with Feet on Wall

Breathing Drill Apical expansion

Hard exhale Glute Bridge/Single Leg 1×4 each hold at top for 2

Wall Press Abs 2x20taps

Quad stretch on wall 1x2min each

Supine Psoas March 1×8 (4 each) Hard exhale into position every rep

Goblet squat facing wall (Neutral Hip!) x10

Chest supported Y’s 1×8 (apical expansion!!! Keep chin tucked) hold at top for 2

Leg swings (focus on breathing and bracing, let you leg move on its own) x10 each

Then move on to the rest of your dynamic and session specific warmup

[/ismember]

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Ryan Brown is the head physical preparation coach and owner of Derby City CrossFit / DarkSide Strength in Louisville,Ky. Ryan’s focus is on correcting and perfecting movement/motor patterns to get the most out of his athletes. He has competed in CrossFit, Powerlifting, strongman, and currently Olympic lifting. His clients include; elite level power lifters, national level Olympic lifters, pro MMA fighters, college football players, HS athletes, CrossFitters, old broke people, and pretty much anyone else who wants to do something better.
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