The first step to a strong fitness foundation is to address strength imbalances and range-of-motion issues. This is true for beginners to advanced athletes alike.
It seems everyone wants to find the perfect, new, secret, fancy, ultra, trick training tip that will instantly make them better, fitter, faster and stronger. Fitness and outdoor-sport magazines are full of “secret fitness” tips or get “ultra strong” beta. But, the real trick is that none of the uber-cool tips work unless you launch from a solid fitness foundation built of balanced strength and good range of motion.
Strength imbalances and limited range of motion comprise the top three issues I see in my athletes, both elite and recreational. Specifically, I see the following issues over and over:
- Limited shoulder ROM in conjunction with scapular-area weakness causing poor posture,
- Core weakness especially in the posterior chain (from the neck to the glutes),
- Underutilized or weak glutes in general.
Right from the start, I want to challenge everyone to take a step back.
Let go of any sport specific training that you think you should be doing. Instead, address your fitness by making sure you have a foundation of balanced strength and good range of motion. Afterall, the stronger and more well-built your foundation, the greater your ability for performance.
We all “know” we need to build a solid fitness foundation in order to take on progressively more difficult and sport specific workouts. This is logical, but are you patient and trusting enough to do it?
Begin by doing the following movements daily: shoulder openers, cuban press and wall squats. Try these exercises as a warm-up before you run, bike, climb or strength train. A great way to get you off your bum, is to use these movements to break up your workday.
The shoulder openers movement addresses shoulder flexibility and range of motion.
Grab a piece of pvc, a broom stick or a yoga strap.
Start with good standing posture: stand upright and lift your toes off the ground so your weight rocks back onto your heels. Activate your quads, glutes and abdominals.
Grab the PVC/broomstick/strap and hold it in your hands with a wide grip. Then, straighten your arms to chest height. As you activate your arms to keep them straight, retract your shoulder blades and keep them pinching together. Keep this shoulder activation throughout the entire ROM. Raise your arms from chest-height to overhead. If you have adequate ROM, continue moving your arms all the way behind your head and down until the pvc/broom/strap rests on your butt. Then, raise your arms back up, past your back, overhead and return them to the front of your body. Do this without losing the squeeze between your shoulder blades and without bending your arms.
Modify your grip-width based on your shoulder flexibility (or lack of it!): take a wider grip if you are less flexible and a narrower grip if you are more flexible.
Do 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions.
Doing the Cuban Press movement will strengthen your rotator cuffs and correct your posture with scapular-area strengthening and overhead ROM.
Like for shoulder openers, stand upright and lift your toes off the ground so your weight rocks back onto your heels. Activate your quads, glutes and abdominals. Hold light dumbbells in your hands with your arms at your sides. Retract or squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then, raise your elbows up toward the ceiling. Stop just as your elbows almost reach shoulder height. At this point, your arms should be at a 90° bend and your hands are still pointing toward the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades again as a reminder. Then, hinge your hands up until your knuckles point at the ceiling. Give one last squeeze of your shoulder blades. Then, press your hands toward the ceiling until your arms are straight and your hands are directly over your shoulders. Again, always try to maintain the squeeze between your shoulder blades for the entire ROM. This is often very hard to do. Reverse the movement to start position.
Do 2-3 sets of 5 repetitions.
Most people say they can do a squat. However, the truth is they can’t.
We all live a largely seated existence. And, as we age, sitting at our desks, in our cars and on chairs and couches, we slouch and rapidly lose strength in our posterior chain.
A proper squat is defined by nose, knees and toes in a line in a vertical plane while maintaining correct spinal alignment.
How to do a Wall Squat:
Face the wall with your toes touching or nearly touching the wall. Your feet should be hip or shoulder width apart. Keep your chin level (do not look up the wall). Your arms will be out to your sides. Begin to squat by leading back with your sit bones. Keep a nice forward curve in your lumbar spine (i.e. do not round your back). See if you can squat until your quads are parallel. Have a friend watch for depth. Or, you can place a medicine ball behind you as a depth target. Touching the medicine ball with your rear makes sure you get down low enough. While the wall acts as the gatekeeper to keep your nose, knees and toes aligned. For most people this is a difficult motion. But don’t worry, it gets easier. Being able to do a good squat ensures that you can maintain correct posture and alignment when executing all standing, lifting, lunging and jumping movements. Being able to perform a proper squat is important during a workout, not to mention daily life!
Do 3-5 sets of 5 repetitions.
In the next post, How to Get Stronger without Getting Bigger, I’ll add a few more foundational fitness movements and begin a discussion of the positive effects of strength conditioning. You’ll also learn how to further activate classically weak muscles.