Every exercise you do in the gym can be considered “core strengthening.” Whether it be deadlifts, dumbbell bench press, etc., all movements can be considered “core stability” or “core strengthening” drills.
Think of it, when you are performing a movement with your upper or lower body, you are attempting to or you are maintaining a neutral spine while moving your arms or legs.
In today’s post, we are going to discuss a bunch of “unorthodox” core strengthening exercises that you wouldn’t think would be considered that at all.
Whether you are doing 1-arm rowing variations on a bench or in standing with a cable machine, the idea is to use you arm to move the weight, but also to maintain a solid core position. By providing a solid core position, this will allow better force transmission to your arm.
The same can be said for a 1-arm Elevated or Non-Elevated Push-Up.
With the 1-arm row variation, either the weighted implement or gravity is attempting to rotate you or extend/flex you through your spine. With the 1-arm push-up, gravity is attempting to extend and rotate you and YOU have to resist that for optimal performance of that movement.
Anytime you are incorporating 1-arm or 1-leg for a movement, it can be considered a core drill as well because when you place the weighted implement on one side of your body, it offsets you and forces you to have to control your body as compared to with 2 weights, 1 on each side of your body.
1-arm Dumbbell Bench
The 1-arm dumbbell bench is another example. As you lower the weight towards you, the dumbbell or kettlebell is attempting to rotate you and your body towards that side. As you press the weight away from you, you have to resist over rotating to the opposite side.
Standing 1-arm KB Bottoms Up Press
This movement can be applied for any type of 1-arm overhead press, whether it be bottoms up or down kettlebell or dumbbell. When you press the weight overhead, you have to resist your body from bending to the opposite side as well as resist bending to the same side when bringing the weight back down.
Since the weighted implement is on one-side of your body, you have to resist side-bending to the side the weight is on as well as resist over side-bending away from the weighted side. Resisting of trunk rotation and trunk flexion/extension as well when you walk.
Similar to the suitcase carry, but more challenging since it is further away from your Center of Gravity (COG). The racked carry works shoulder stability as well as core stability. You will be resisting similar movements as mentioned with the suitcase carry.
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carries
Similar as the previous 2 movements, but will also work shoulder stability, the rotator cuff, and scapulo-thoracic musculature.
With lower body movements, holding a weighted implement on one side of your body will also make any lower body exercise a core exercise as well.
Movements such as:
Single Leg Deadlifts
In this movement, you are resisting lumbo-pelvic rotation during the movement as well as flexion and extension of the spine throughout various points in the movement. If you feel single leg deadlifts in your low back, make sure your hips are square and facing straight ahead.
Far too often, if the hips rotate in one direction or the other, this can place increased strain on the low back.
Offset Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
With this movement, it is mostly strengthening the forward leg with some contribution from the rear leg. With the weight being held in the opposite hand, it is increasing stance leg muscular activity as well as forcing the athlete to have to stabilize the spine due to the weight being offset.
Landmine Single Leg Deadlift
Not as challenging as traditional single leg deadlifts, this movement will still force the athlete to have to maintain a neutral spine and use their core to optimize function for the stance leg.
Even though the weight can be held at the chest or one in each hand, anytime you use one leg in a movement such as this, your core musculature has to stabilize your entire pelvis when going up onto the step as well as when going back down to the ground.
If the weight is too heavy and/or performed incorrectly, the athlete will have a tendency to tilt their body towards or away from the weight when performing.
Not typically thought of as a “core stability/strengthening” exercise, the deadlift forces the athlete to have to maintain a solid core position for reducing the risk for injury as well as optimizing force transmission throughout the entire body. With the weight being held in both hands, the athlete has to resist flexion and extension of the lumbar spine.
Similar to the discussion regarding the deadlifts, the athlete has to maintain a solid neutral spine position and resist flexion and extension at the lumbar spine throughout the movement.
Whether it be skater squats off a box, to the ground, or skater squats with or without weight, the athlete has to resist the pelvis from dropping down to the ground towards the non-stance leg side.
By maintain a level pelvic position throughout the movement, this also can be considered a core exercise as it is forcing the athlete to have to avoid sidebending through the hips/pelvis in the frontal plane.
Even though you may not be doing a specific movement that is labeled “core”, basically every single movement you do in the gym can be considered core strengthening due to the need to maintain good technique at the lumbopelvic complex as well as provide a base for good force transmission for the body.
The deadlift is an awesome movement for developing brute strength. It emphasizes the posterior chain consisting of the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, as well as trains the upper back and abdominals.
Far too often, people think they can deadlift from the floor, but they can’t. Whether it be a mobility, motor control, or just plain sub-par technique issue, not everyone is made to deadlift from the floor.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my guest post, Everyone NEEDS to Deadlift on Tony Gentilcore’s site found here. It made Best Fitness Article of the Week and made the list for one of the Best Fitness Articles of the Year in 2016 for the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC).
With that being said, a quick and easy test to see if you should be deadlifting from the floor is:
Can You Touch Your Toes?
Now, before the hate e-mail and comments start flying about touching your toes is not the same as deadlifting, here me out.
I first heard of this test from the people over at Functional Movement Systems. The Toe Touch test is not a test of hamstring flexibility or the way you should be deadlifting.
It is much more than that.
The test determines whether or not you have the ability to posteriorly weight shift. The posterior weight shift aka the hip hinge, is imperative to be able to perform for deadlifting from the floor.
If you can’t touch your toes, here are some quick and easy drills that can improve your toe touch.
Toe Touch Progression
-Place towel roll between knees.
-Perform slow and controlled.
-Make sure to squeeze towel roll throughout the movement.
-Focus on pushing your hips backwards.
Leg Lowering Progression
Supine Core Activated Active Straight Leg Raise
There are also many other exercises to assist with the toe touch assessment, but these are just a few.
Now, if you performed one of those movements and now you can touch your toes, get after deadlifting from the floor, as long as you can do it with proper technique.
If your toe touch improved, but isn’t ideal OR you still can’t touch your toes, all is not lost!
There are still ways to train the posterior chain without deadlifting from the floor.
Here are a few options:
Trap Bar Deadlifts
Barbell Hip Thrusts
Glute Ham Raise
Cable Pull Thrus
Kettlebell Elevated Deadlift
Barbell Supine Bridges
Just because you can’t touch your toes and/or deadlift from the floor doesn’t mean you can’t train the hip hinge pattern. There are a multitude of movements that you can perform to get a great training effect without placing increased risk on your body. The toe touch assessment is a quick and easy tool to determine your starting point.
The squat is a foundational movement pattern that can be useful for building strength, speed, endurance, and decreasing risk for injury. Many times, athletes will complain of a tightness in the front of their hip at the bottom of the squat.
So, more often than not, they go and stretch their hip flexors to try to alleviate that tightness. Then, they go and squat again, but the tightness is only temporarily relieved or there has been absolutely no change whatsoever.
Then, they keep trying to stretch it, squat through it, or try some other remedy.
For potential reasons near the hip that may be contributing to this “pinch”, check out my guest post at Dr. John Rusin’s website, here.
You can also check to see if you have full hip flexion mobility. To do that, lie on your back and place one foot flat on the ground. Then, bring the other knee up to your chest while keeping your back flat on the ground.
If you cannot bring your thigh to your ribs, you may be limited in your hip flexion mobility. Even if you can and you feel the pinch in your hip, tissues may be irritated.
But, if after reading that post, you are still experiencing the same hip pinch, we need to look elsewhere.
It may not be that hip/lumbopelvic complex is contributing to that pinching sensation.
So then, what could it be?
Well, check the ankle!
A quick and easy test to see if you have adequate ankle mobility for squatting is the Knee to Wall Ankle Mobility Test.
-Start with your 1st toe 4 inches away from the wall.
-Make sure not to overpronate.
-Try to touch your knee to the wall without letting your heel come off the ground.
If you can touch the wall, you have adequate ankle mobility for squatting.
If you can’t, check out my other guest post at Dr. John Rusin’s website found here .
The reason that ankle mobility is so important if a hip pinch is present is that if the ankle can’t dorsiflex adequately throughout its range of motion, another joint in the body has to move more to descend into the squat.
Enter the hip! If there is limited ankle dorsiflexion, the hip may have to flex more in order to get to depth in the squat. The hip may have full mobility when assessed passively, but if the ankle is not moving properly, the hip may have to go into excessive ranges of motion. In turn, causing a pinch in the front of the hip.
So, if you are dealing with a hip pinch with squatting, check out my guest post above, but don’t forget to make sure your limited ankle mobility isn’t beating up your hip joint.
Most people will have some type of shoulder pain. Whether it be a one time shoulder “twinge” that has come and gone or something that we are continuing to try and improve and help feel better, most of us have had something like this.
Shoulder pain can limit many things from day to day activities to activities in the gym such as bench pressing, overhead pressing, squatting, etc.
Even though you may have pain with certain movements at the gym, you are injured, but you are not dead!
Now, I am not telling you to push through shoulder pain or other types of joint pain. But, you need to find ways when you are hurt or injured, to be able to continue to train pain-free so that you can continue to make improvements as a whole. Not only will this improve issues elsewhere, but it will make you feel that you are still able to do something at the gym.
*Disclaimer*: If you are trying these options and still dealing with shoulder pain, seek out a licensed medical practitioner for a full evaluation.
1. Adjust Your Pull/Push Ratio
Anytime an athlete or client is dealing with shoulder pain, we typically like to adjust their push-pull ratio. Ideally, 2:1 Pull/Push ratio is a good place to start. If someone is dealing with shoulder pain, I recommend going to a 3:1 ratio.
Pushing movements are usually emphasized more in the gym setting vs pulling. This can affect the shoulder as well as other joints. By adjusting the pull/push ratio, this can help alleviate some symptoms.
Here is an example:
If you do 3 sets x 6 reps of push-ups (pushing), you would want to do 3 different exercises of some other pulling variation such as:
Horizontal Rows (1 or 2-arm variations)
Vertical Pulling (Pull-ups, 1-arm pull-downs), etc.
By adjusting the pull/push ratio, this can help to decrease pain at the shoulder as well as improve muscular imbalances throughout the upper body.
2. Incorporate Limited Ranges of Motion
A way to train “around” shoulder pain is by shortening the ranges of motion in which you are lifting. Instead of performing a full-range barbell or dumbbell bench press, shorten the range of motion.
Variations can include:
Barbell Floor Press
Dumbbell Floor Press
Most injuries occur at end range or the end position of a joint’s range of motion. By limiting the range of motion of an exercise, you can decrease the strain on the joint, etc. and still get a training effect.
3. Closed Chain vs Open Chain
When we think of pushing movements, we think of bench press, etc. Push-ups, etc. are also considered a pushing movement. The only difference between the two is that one is closed chain (push-up) and the other is open chain (bench press).
I’m sure there is research out there, but anecdotally, I have found that people have improvement in shoulder symptoms when they perform closed chain movements as compared to open chain movements.
One potential reason behind this is the increased recruitment of the upward scapular rotator muscles (serratus anterior, lower trapezius, etc.). Also, in an closed chain exercise, the scapula is allowed to move. Allowing the scapula to move allows for fluid movement and can minimize the chance that the humerus and the scapula run into each other.
Push-ups are often seen as “too easy.” For those who have trouble doing them from the floor, try performing them elevated.
For those who do find them too easy, there are a multitude of ways to load them such as:
Band Resisted Push-Ups
The benefit of Band Resisted and Chains for push-ups is that it provides accommodating resistance. What that means is that the resistance is not constant throughout the motion. As you progress into the hardest portion of the movement, the resistance becomes the least challenging. Then as you progress through easier parts of the movement, the resistance increases.
4. Switch Out the Barbell
Instead of trying to push through shoulder pain and continuing to press with a barbell, try using dumbbells or kettlebells.
Using different implements can change the shoulder position. Dumbbells and kettlebells allow for more degrees of freedom unlike the barbell which locks you into an internally rotated position at the shoulder. With dumbbells and kettlebells, the shoulder is allowed to move and in turn can decrease stress/strain at the shoulder.
Variations can include:
Kettlebell Bottoms Up Incline Press
Dumbbell Bench Press
Or use kettlebells in place of dumbbells during the bench press.
5. Incorporate Slow Eccentrics/Pauses
Another option you can try is incorporating slow eccentrics or pauses into your training. When there is pain in the body, it doesn’t always mean there is structural damage or inflammation. If the Central Nervous System (CNS) perceives that there is a threat to the body, it can create pain to force the body to stop/mitigate that threat.
In the case of the shoulder and bench pressing, if someone can’t control the bench press properly, the body can create pain due to the threat of not being able to control the movement.
With that being said, incorporating slow eccentrics or pauses into training can potentially help.
Slow Eccentric Push-Ups
Slow Eccentric 1-Arm DB Bench
Bench Press with Pause
By incorporating slow eccentrics and/or pauses, it can help train you and your body to control the movement to not only decrease pain aspects of the movement, but also to increase strength as well.
If you are dealing with shoulder pain, you are injured, not dead. There are ways to continue to train when dealing with aches and pains. Try:
-Adjusting your Pull/Push Ratio
-Limiting Ranges of Motion
-Closed Chain Movements
-Using dumbbells or kettlebells
Push-ups are a movement that can be done relatively anywhere. It can be performed with body-weight, resistance, or regressed for beginners. One common complaint with push-ups is wrist pain.
With a push-up, the wrist is put into a extended/hyper-extended position.
This can be a difficult position to tolerate for some people. Whether it be from a previous injury or not utilizing that mobility throughout their daily lives, loaded end-range wrist extension can be uncomfortable and even painful.
Here are 3 tips help improve wrist pain with push-ups!
1. Improve Your Wrist Mobility
If the wrist doesn’t have adequate extension, then when loaded, it can create issues at the wrist and higher up the kinetic chain.
If getting into or attempting to get into end-range wrist extension is bothersome, try performing self-myofascial release (SMR) to the muscles of your forearm.
After performing SMR, check and see if your wrist mobility for the push-up feels better. If not, try some joint mobility drills. Mobility drills such as:
Mobilization with Movement Wrist Extension
-Place one hand on top of the other as shown. Use the web space of your hand and bring it right up against the back of your wrist.
-Maintain the pressure of your hand on your wrist.
-Move your body over your hand moving your wrist into extension.
-Pressure should be felt in the wrist. If there is increased pain, stop.
Sometimes, people will experience improvement with the opposite to compression as shown before. A wrist distraction mobilization can help.
Wrist Distraction with Mobilization
-Stabilize one hand with the other.
-Gently use body to pull arm away from the floor and move into wrist extension.
-A slight stretching sensation should be felt in wrist.
-If it becomes painful, stop.
Wrist extension mobility is often limited in people who weight train due to the constant gripping of dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc. A good mobility drill to do is the Quadruped Wrist Extension Rockback.
-Stretch should be felt in the forearms.
-If a pinch or pain is felt in the wrist and doesn't subside with increased reps, stop.
2. Change Your Hand Position
If you still want to train the push-up and your wrist is still bothering you, try changing the position of your hands. Either doing knuckle push-ups or using dumbbells can place the wrist in a more neutral position to decrease the demands for end-range wrist extension.
3. It’s Not Your Wrist
If you have pain in a joint, the root cause may not be stemming from that specific joint itself. In the case of the wrist, there could be mobility or stability limitations higher up the kinetic chain at the elbow, shoulder, neck, or thoracic spine.
For the brevity of this post, motor control or stability issues at the shoulder specifically, can drive issues at the wrist.
Try performing your push-ups with a resistance band around your wrists. By adding a band around the wrists, it can increase rotator cuff and scapulo-thoracic stability and in turn improve wrist stability.
-The resistance band is attempting to pull your arms together. Actively think of "pulling out against the band."
Also, make sure you have adequate shoulder mobility and thoracic spine mobility prior to performing push-ups. Quick tests for adequate shoulder/thoracic spine mobility and stability are:
-3rd digit to opposite inferior angle of scapula.
-3rd digit to opposite superior angle of scapula.
Even though you aren’t going into end range shoulder or thoracic spine mobility, limitations here can send a signal to your nervous system and can affect elsewhere throughout the kinetic chain.
Try performing self-myofascial release, self-joint mobilizations if needed, changing your hand/wrist position, or using a band around your wrists.
With all that being said, if you are having wrist pain that won’t go away with any of these tips, find a licensed healthcare practitioner to be evaluated.
The Plank, also known as the prone bridge to some, is a basic core strengthening movement. Walk into any gym or fitness facility and you will see someone performing this movement or a variation thereof.
The plank can be a great movement to work on core strengthening. As with any movement, the plank can become too easy for some people. Many times, clients or athletes will just hold the plank longer and longer to try and make the position more challenging. Eventually, at some point, their technique falters and the benefits of the exercise diminishes.
Instead of just holding the plank longer and longer, here are some ways to make the plank harder without having to hold it longer.
Ways to Make Progress Planks
1. Stop Holding Your Breath
When clients or athletes are trying to attain maximal core tension, they will have a tendency to hold their breath. In movements such as deadlifting, squatting, etc., using the breath and maintaining it are vital for maximal core tension to help buttress the spine against shear forces.
But, when performing a movement such as a plank, holding your breath can be working against you by making the movement easier. By holding your breath, you are using intra-abdominal pressure to maintain a neutral spine instead of using the musculature of your core to do the job.
Instead of holding your breath, try breathing when you are performing a plank. This will make the exercise that much more challenging.
-Maintain a neutral spine.
-Take a deep belly breath and breath 360 degrees into your stomach, back, and sides of your body.
-As you breath out, the exercise will become harder. Make sure to maintain your neutral spine position.
Attempt to perform for 3-4 breaths and then take a break. You can perform for multiple reps and sets.
2. Change Your Base of Support
Another way to make a plank more challenging is by altering your base of support. This can be accomplished by taking away a point of contact with your arm and/or leg.
By taking away one of the 4 points of contact in a plank, it will decrease the amount of control over the position and in turn, make it more challenging. It would be similar to taking away one of the legs of a table.
3. Incorporate Movement
When performing a plank, we want the lumbar spine to be in a position where it doesn’t move. This doesn’t mean other aspects of the body or spine can’t move. When performing a plank, try incorporating some type of movement into the exercise to increase the difficulty.
4. Make Your Body Longer
Besides resorting to medieval torture devices to attempt to make your body longer, to create a longer lever arm, and in turn make a plank more challenging, you can try this:
The bodysaw can also be used with a foam roller, TRX suspension trainer, slideboard, etc.
If you are performing planks while working out or training and they are just becoming too easy, try breathing, changing your base of support, incorporating movement, and/or using a bodysaw variation to make them more challenging.
Push-ups are a basic movement that can help to build strength, power, and help to reduce one’s risk for injury. Throughout the fitness and rehab professions, the 1-arm push-up is a true measure of core stability, core strength, as well as upper body strength. For someone to perform a 1-arm push-up is an impressive feat.
For most athletes and clients, the 1-arm push-up is a very challenging maneuver and some may never attain the ability to perform one.
Here are 3 Quick Tips to Get Your First 1-Arm Push-Up!
1. Perform Them Elevated
If you can’t perform a 1-arm push-up on the floor, make the movement easier by elevating the surface on which you put your hands.
For example, you can perform a 1-arm pushup elevated on the crash bars in a squat rack, on a barbell in a squat rack, or on a bench.
This can be a great way to challenge someone who may not be able to perform one on the floor. By training in this fashion, it allows the athlete to perform multiple sets and reps and broaden their training base.
Once you can perform multiple sets and reps at a specific height, lower the level you are at until you are at the floor.
2. Slow Eccentrics
Another option if someone cannot perform a 1-arm push-up from the floor is by performing only the eccentric portion of the 1-arm push-up.
By performing it in this fashion, it allows the athlete to have to focus on maximal total body tension and control of the movement on the way down. By improving eccentric control, this can carry over to concentric control, which is needed to bring oneself back up from the ground.
Make sure to maintain good technique with a neutral spine and allow the scapulae to move on the way down towards the ground.
3. Anti-Extension Rotation Core Work
Working on improving core strength and stability is not a typical area most people think of when trying to improve upper body strength, specifically 1-arm push-up strength. But, a common area with a 2 and 1-arm push-up is that core stability can be a major limiting factor in being able to adequately perform the movement. If you or an athlete or client is having difficulty with improving their 1-arm push-up strength, first assess their core stability.
A great test, developed by Functional Movement Systems, is the Trunk Stability Push-Up.
Some people think that this test is just an assessment of upper body strength. The main point of this assessment is to see if the athlete or client can maintain a neutral spine position when going from the starting position to the ending position.
If someone is arching through their low back or their upper body rises before their hips/lower body, then they may potentially need to improve their core stability.
Implementing movements into an athlete’s training program such as:
TRX Anti-Rotation Press
Split Stance Anti-Rotation/Extension Press
Stability Ball Rollouts
Farmer’s or Suitcase Carries
½ Kneeling Chops
½ Kneeling Lifts
These various movements can help improve an athlete’s core stability/strength in order to create adequate force transmission throughout the entire body during a 1-arm push-up.
If you or your athletes or clients want to do their first 1-arm push-up, try adding these options into their program.
The “Bird Dog” is a movement that is used in the rehab and performance settings as a “corrective exercise”, during a dynamic warm-up, or as a filler exercise in a superset. It is a core stability exercise that focuses on the timing, muscle coordination, and motor control for the upper body, lower body, and trunk.
Many individuals may struggle with this movement due to mobility limitations or stability/motor control deficits. But, there are individuals that can possess good movement literacy and may need to progress the bird dog to a point where it is challenging for THEM, but they can still maintain good movement quality.
Before we go into the progressions, a key point to remember is that this isn’t a type of movement where we are trying to progressively overload it. Like with strength training, progressive overload is key to making improvements. Eventually, the bird dog could be a movement where it can be challenging, but should not be progressed to the point of adding heavy weight and/or heavy resistance such as with strength training.
The main purpose of the bird dog movement is to work on control, timing, and muscle sequencing. The body needs both core strength AND core stability.
For an article about core strength AND stability, check out my guest post on Tony Gentilcore’s site:
You Don’t Need Core Stability or Core Strength
Progressions for the Bird Dog
A simple but effective way to progress a movement is by adding a breath in at the most difficult point in the movement. With the bird dog, add a diaphragmatic breath in when the arm and leg are fully extended.
-Make sure to maintain a neutral spine.
-When you reach hip extended/shoulder flexed, take a deep belly breath while maintaining good technique.
2. Time Under Tension
Now, time under tension is typically reserved for strength training, but with any motor control exercise such as the bird dog, you can hold the movement for a period of time. For instance, with the bird dog, you can hold the end position for a 3-5 sec hold.
-Don’t try to get to the point where your body is shaking due to the difficulty.
-Add a short amount of time in for the holds and alternate each side.
3. Narrow Base
Another way to challenge yourself with the bird dog is by narrowing your base of support. A narrow base of support with any core stability or strength movement will immediately challenge yourself.
You can start with your hands and knees shoulder and hip width apart. If this is too easy, bring your hands 1-inch closer together as well as 1-inch closer together for your knees. If this is too easy and you can maintain good technique, go closer. The closest you will be able to go is hands touching and knees touching. Again, make sure technique is on point with this progression.
With this next potential progression, the resistance can sometimes make the movement more challenging. On the other hand, it can make the movement easier because it is causing the body’s neuromuscular system to reflexively contract due to the implementation of resistance.
Resistance can be added for both arms/legs or just with legs or arms.
-Pick a resistance that will allow you to perform the full movement without compromising technique.
5. Move Outside of Your Base of Support
Like we said with narrowing your base of support, you can also move your arm and leg outside of your base of support. By doing this, it will add another form of difficulty. As we have said before, form is of the utmost importance here.
-Maintain a neutral spine.
-Only go as far with your arm/leg as you can while maintaining proper technique.
6. Decreased Points of Contact
This last progression seems easy to perform, but it is harder than it looks. Another way to make the bird dog movement more challenging is by decreasing your body’s contact with the ground.
With the typical bird dog, there are six points of contact. Your hands, knees, and feet when at rest. During the movement, the points of support decrease to 3 (hand, knee, and foot.)
Another way to challenge this is to take away a point of support. You can remove the foot from this movement.
Or you can remove the knee and go into the starting position of a crawl.
There you have it! The bird dog is a great core stability movement that can challenge an individual with motor control, coordination, and stability. If you have an athlete or client that is not challenged by the bird dog, try implementing one of these progressions.
The Pigeon Stretch is a mobility stretch that is performed throughout Crossfit boxes and gyms. The main goal of this drill is to improve hip mobility. It can be a very effective mobility drill if it is performed correctly and is “felt” in the proper areas.
A typical Pigeon Stretch looks like so:
Photo credit: https://dutchsmilingyogi.com/rajakapotasana-pigeon-pose/
Ideally, the stretch someone should feel when performing this movement is in the back of the hip, towards the glutes.
There are athletes and clients that do not feel it in this area. Sometimes, people will feel nothing at all. Other times, people will feel a “tightness” in the front of the hip or in the hip joint itself. With this particular movement, someone should not feel a “stretch” in the front of the hip since this tissue is on slack.
Typically, the reason why someone may feel the pigeon stretch in the front of their hip is because of their bony anatomy at their hip. Most people have two hip joints. But, between people and between right and left sides, the bony anatomy can vary. One hip joint may be more shallow compared to another. There may be more bony overgrowth one side compared to another.
photo credit: themovementfix.com
If someone is trying to force their hip into the pigeon pose, they may be feeling bony compression of the acetabulum onto their femoral neck. Ideally, someone should not feel the pigeon stretch in the front of their hip. There can also be bony changes that have occurred over time, such as cam and/or pincer lesions that could be altering the joint position and where the person feels the stretch.
Photo credit: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00572
Instead, there are various hip mobility drills that someone can perform to make sure they are feeling it in the correct areas.
Mobility drills such as:
Quadruped Hip ER Mobilization
Seated 90/90 Hip ER/IR
Seated 90/90 Hip ER/IR w/ Kettlebell
If you are not feeling the “Pigeon Stretch” in the back of your hip, in your glute, where you are supposed to feel it, make some modifications to your mobility program to feel it in the correct areas.
The Front Squat is a great movement. It may not be considered a powerlifting movement such as the back squat, but the front squat is a respectable measure of strength for any athlete or general population client. It is also a great movement for those who may have mobility limitations at the shoulder or core stability issues that may limit the depth on a back squat, but clean up during a front squat.
There are a few areas of the body that need to be firing on all cylinders when it comes to the front squat to make sure proper form is present.
These 4 areas are:
As with any squatting movement, the ankle is an integral part of the entire squat pattern. If an ankle lacks mobility on one or both sides, then this can significantly impact the foot, knee, hip, etc. and can place an athlete at risk to compensate or increase their risk for injury.
To determine if an athlete has adequate ankle mobility, use the Knee to Wall Test:
Ideally, 4 inches away from the wall, or 40 degrees is an adequate amount of ankle dorsiflexion needed for the squat.
If there is NOT adequate dorsiflexion present, check out my guest post on Dr. John Rusin’s site,
10 Exercises to Instantly Improve Ankle Mobility
on how to improve ankle mobility. If you have a structural change that limits your dorsiflexion or you wish to front squat while continuing to work on your ankle mobility limitations, wearing Olympic lifting shoes can be a short term fix.
The thoracic spine is another area of the body that needs adequate mobility in order to properly perform a front squat. If someone lacks sufficient thoracic spine extension mobility, it will be challenging for them to maintain an upright posture as the descend into the hole and attempt to return to standing.
A great thoracic spine mobility test is the Quadruped Passive Thoracic Rotation Test:
Ideally, we like to see 50 degrees both directions. If there is less than 50 degrees when tested passively, the mobility drills listed below can help improve thoracic spine mobility.
A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization
Sidelying Rib Roll
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations
There are other various thoracic spine mobility drills, but those are some of my favorite “go-to” drills to improve mobility there.
If you are performing front squats with an Olympic lifting grip:
Photo credit: breakingmuscle.com
then a quick and easy test to determine if you have adequate elbow flexion is if you can touch your thumb to the front of your shoulder with your elbow at shoulder height.
As you notice in this picture, I am able to touch my thumb to the front of my shoulder in the racked position. If there are limitations in elbow flexion due to the tricep, specifically the long head of the tricep, individuals will not be able to touch their thumb to their shoulder with their elbow at shoulder height. Make sure to assess how it is shown in the picture.
If limited, try performing self-myofascial release (SMR) to the tricep with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, etc.
Wrist extension is also important if performing a front squat with an Olympic style grip. Being able to display sufficient wrist extension will allow for the bar to be able to rest in the hand and on the front of the shoulders.
If there is insufficient wrist extension or elbow flexion as mentioned in the previous section, this can cause compensations throughout the kinetic chain and place the athlete or client at an increased risk for injury.
To determine if there is sufficient wrist extension, use your other hand to gently extend your wrist back to see if the hand can reach the front of the shoulder.
If you can comfortably reach your shoulder on both sides as shown in the picture, then you present with adequate wrist extension for front squatting.
If there are limitations in wrist mobility, try performing some of these techniques to help improve wrist mobility:
If you are still having difficulty improving mobility at the elbow or wrist, try switching to a "Crossed Arm" Front Squat as shown in the video earlier in the article.
If you want to front squat with an Olympic style grip, make sure to optimize mobility at your ankle, thoracic spine, wrist, and elbow.
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