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Increasing Athleticism: Part 2

 

The second of a multi part series that Barrett Stover and I are tackling together.

 

When looking deeper into the reasons why it is important to train in all three planes of motion, you have to consider fasciae. Simply put for our purposes, fasciae is the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and links the kinetic chain together. A good visual that is used to describe fasciae is the skin around link sausage.

There are numerous fascial meridians which connect specific areas of the body to each other. This is basically the body’s system of “highways and interstates” that connect everything efficiently. Because of how these fascial meridians are connected, there are certain movement patterns that assist other movement patterns (kinetic chains). Tom Myers proposes to look at the body not as 650 muscles, but one muscle with 650 fascial pockets. This is why integration is so key when looking at movement and training athletes.

Example of one of the Fascial Lines from the book Anatomy Trains

Superficial Back Line illustrates how the fasciae connects the body. Photo Source: Anatomy Trains

Fasciae has an elasticity property that is similar to a rubber band – the more you stretch it, the more energy it stores up. Therefore when fasciae is loaded, it assists the muscle with the task at hand. Because of the stretch resulting from a functional, full chain movement, an athlete will now maximize his/her power, strength, and explosiveness.

Manipulating Exercises and Exercise Selection for Integration

All training exercises should be executed in all three planes of motion and should be integrated together when possible. Isolation lifts have their place, and are effective in adding strength. However, this should not be the primary focus of an entire program. Rather, the isolation lifts should be supplemented in as remedial exercises as specific weaknesses are identified in the individual. It is very beneficial, especially to an athlete who is inexperienced in the weight room, to include more full body movements in their program.

One general rule of thumb to use here is general to specific and/or isolated to integrated throughout the workout so the athlete works on his weaknesses separately then learns how to put it all together.

An example of exercise selection that demonstrates this idea is a landmine push press instead of bench press.

With this exercise, the athlete is standing as opposed to laying on their back. This will allow for the athlete to generate power from the ground and up the kinetic chain, through the chest and into the arm. By utilizing the different variations, you can focus on different parts of the chain. The bilateral stance (feet side-by-side) is more strenuous on the chest/shoulder but also is a good anti-rotation exercise for the core. Adding a squat would obviously provide more of a full body explosive exercise. Staggering the feet takes away the anti-rotation challenge, but can allow you to add a small twist to work on explosiveness through rotation (think shot put throw). Med ball throws would also fall into this same category.

Another great example of an integrated exercise is Spidermans. Spidermans require great ranges of mobility and total body strength/stabilization. This is a great example of an exercise where stability, strength, and mobility work together through all three planes of motion. (Video below)

In the Strength for Athleticism video below, Chuck Wolf pointed out that when a person has a lack of stability in an area, the body splints down on that spot to stabilize it resulting in a lack of mobility of the compensated area. If we are able to strengthen and stabilize the compensated area, the body will open back up and regain its proper range of motion (5:30-7:40 in video).

For Part 3, we will begin to examine program design and how to apply the ideas we have discussed.

Increasing Athleticism: Part 1

 

My good friend Barrett Stover and I decided to team up to address an issue that is basically the underlying principle of training any athlete. Barrett and I were college baseball teammates. Barrett has his Masters in Sports Performance and specializes in baseball research. Through our own experience as athletes, working with people that are way smarter than us, and training athletes ourselves, we have found that taking a slightly different approach when trying to increase athleticism can make a big difference. Through a multiple part series, we will attempt to scratch the surface of this topic.

Basic Background

Let’s start out with a few definitions so everyone is on the same page and not confused by the terminology.

We will define athleticism as an individual who has maximal control over their body’s movements while moving in a way that is also biomechanically efficient.

3 planes of motion refers to the 3 basic movement directions we as humans move through during every day activities. Usually, exercises are broken down into the plane in which the movement takes place. For example, a forward lunge would be a sagittal plane movement and a lateral lunge would be a frontal plane movement. Strength is usually taught in an isolated state, in 1 plane, with concentric contractions occurring without an eccentric load prior.

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For traditional strength, we are referring to absolute strength, or how much raw weight someone could lift. Functional strength is being able to maintain stability AND mobility through a full range of motion (ROM) in a movement pattern relative to your sport or activity.

Integration: Integration is using the entire, or as much of the kinetic chain, as possible. The opposite of integration is isolation, which is considered to be a single plane exercise with limited body parts and/or muscle groups.

Quality of motion: Quality of motion is how biomechanically efficient a movement is. In other words, how smoothly or fluidly the motion is performed.

Getting Started

You hear people say they want to be bigger, stronger, and faster all the time. Therefore, many go to the gym and train themselves using primarily traditional lifts such as bench press, squats, and power cleans. As much as these lifts will increase an athlete’s overall strength and power, it doesn’t matter how powerful an athlete is unless they are moving in a way that is biomechanically efficient. Often you see younger athletes in the gym attempting to bench press and they are struggling to keep the bar from waving all over the place, not to mention complete the rep. This is far from the most efficient way for an athlete to increase his strength and speed, and it is probably not that applicable to their sport. Muscles are stabilizers first, and movers second.  If you can’t stabilize your body, then your body can not move as quickly or powerfully as it is capable of moving. Compare this to running on the beach as opposed to running on a track. We are significantly slower on a beach than on a track because sand is an unstable surface and the track is stable.

Not exactly a model athlete

Not exactly a model athlete

When this is the case, the fix is not trying to squat a small house. Instead, it is much more beneficial to increase your overall athleticism. Fixing insufficiencies such as running mechanics, poor movement patterns, body stabilization and immobilities, can go a long way towards improving performance and getting more out of the ability you currently possess. Look at the quality of the movements instead of quantity of weight on the bar. Instead of getting in the gym and attempting to squat a house, try increasing your overall athleticism. Find the positions, directions, or movements you cannot control, or complete fluidly, and improve those by repetition.

This is where all athletes should start. If the quality of the motion is maximized, performance will increase. What body segments are weakest? What movements feel restricted or slow?

It is best to take a step back and work on remedial and corrective exercises to eliminate any compensations or limitations.

As always, please leave your feedback in the comment section. We would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For Part 2, we will look at example exercises and why they increase athleticism.

Check out Barrett at his website; www.barrettstover.com.