You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “This makes absolutely no sense.” How can someone post an exercise of the week and it actually is the removal of a well-known exercise, the abdominal crunch? With all the research that is out there, it unanimously shows in the long-term, abdominal crunches are detrimental to the spine and disks. Stuart McGill has more than enough scientific evidence to show the damage crunches have on the back, but still it is probably the top core exercise in gyms across the country. Even with this evidence we have machines like the resisted abdominal crunch and torso twist at many gyms as well. I know the facility I work at is a victim of this even know the facts are there. I was recently reading on Mike Boyle’s forum and there was a post and several great comments about crunches, and substitute exercises. The point isn’t to not work your abdominals, but to realize we can engage the abdominals and rest of the core with other less dangerous and more beneficial exercises. The point is to stop doing lumbar flexion/extension movements, which can significantly increase your risk of injury. Here is a great video I got from that same forum on strengthcoach.com that shows many exercises that are explained from Stuart McGill’s book, Low Back Disorders. If you are a fitness professional it will be a challenge to promote this ‘no-crunch’ mentality, but after educating clients and other professionals on the facts, the message will get out there. Check out the video below:
The lateral lunge with anterior reach has been an exercise slightly different from the regular lateral lunge which allows great success in execution. I am a fan of lateral lunges but often have problems with older personal training clients either not being able to shift their weight onto the heel, or leaning forward excessively. Instead of fighting these things I realized that if they maintained good posture while leaning the trunk forward they would in turn be able to push back on their heels even easier. By reaching anteriorly with the arms, it allows you to use them as a counterbalance and better push the butt back. A light weight can also be used to aid in this exercise but shoulder fatigue usually sets in after a few sets once weight increases. This exercise challenges the quadricep, gluts, hamstring, and adductors, while stressing maintenance of a stable core and steady balance.
To perform the lateral lunge with anterior reach take a big step laterally to widen your stance. Make sure as you step, the feet are staying close to parallel and the foot you step with doesn’t rotate outward. Once you step and come in contact with the ground, stretch both arms out in front of the body while leaning the trunk forward. Make sure you do NOT round over at the spine. Keep the shoulder blades pulled back and the back straight. At this point, shift the weight of your body onto the heel of your shoe you stepped with. Straighten out the knee on the stationary leg and push the butt back to lower the hips down. Lower down to a comfortable/challenging depth and then stand up tall followed by stepping the feet back together. Just like with all other squatting exercises, we want to make the knee never comes over the toe and proper upper body posture is maintained throughout.
The exercise I chose for this week is the kettlebell suitcase carry. I have found this exercise to be a great lateral core stability exercise which is comparable to side planks. It is simple to execute and only requires a few cues: maintain good posture (shoulders back and down), keep the core engaged (belly button in), and make sure the shoulders stay level (don’t let the KB pull you down to the side). With many of my older clients, side planks have been difficult to execute properly and are often dreaded. The suitcase carry has been a great addition since it is easier to complete and more enjoyable, but still works the same musculature. Stuart McGill recommends side plank variations for engaging the transverse abdominis since they best activate this muscle due to its fiber orientation.
To complete the kettlebell suitcase carry, select a kettlebell heavy enough to cause some degree of lateral tilt from the spine while standing tall. Before walking, make sure the body is in proper position from head to toe. Standing tall with the shoulder blades pulled back and down, pull the belly button in to keep the core engage, and keep the kettlebell hanging by your side (don’t swing it like the normal walking motion). Now walk at a comfortable speed while maintaining perfect posture. Notice the strain on the opposite lateral core muscles as your body is preventing the kettlebell from pulling your shoulder down towards the ground. It is important to think of your body as a glass of water. Stand tall with the shoulders level at all times and do not spill!
The suitcase carry works the muscles located on the outside of the core including: obliques, transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum, and all the smaller spinal stabilizers that keep you upright. I have had good success using this exercises as a warm-up/core activation exercise. Once you find a weight that is heavy enough to stress the core, you will find heart rate will quickly rise.
I was working with a personal training client recovering from low back issues yesterday and I instructed her on the quadraped hip extension exercise. This is definitely a favorite of mine which is usually done incorrectly. I instructed the exercise and talked about it’s importance and she revealed that she knew the exercise was good, but did not “feel it” like she would with other exercises making her skeptical. I think that is often a problem as we always want to feel what’s working or have some kind of burning sensation to know it’s effective. In situations like this it is critical to educate the client on why you chose the exercise, what muscles does it work, and what to expect.
To properly execute the quadraped hip extenstion, start in the quadraped position (on all fours- knees under hips, and hands under shoulders). Use a mirror for visual feedback so you can view the entire length of the body from head to toe. Find a neutral spine position and draw in the belly button to lock in this position. Once you have achieved this starting point, extend the hip back as far as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. This is where this exercise goes wrong!! The goal isn’t to get the leg as high as possible but just far enough before you lose a straight spine. Also, make sure you are staying centered and don’t lean over the support leg.
The muscles being working during the quadraped hip extension are the spinal extensors including the longissimus, iliocostalis, spinales, and multifidii. Stuart McGill discusses this exercise in detail in his book Low Back Disorders and reveals it causes significantly less lumbar spine compressive forces (<2500N) compared to prone lumbar extension exercises (>6000N), concluding it is safer, especially during low back rehabilitation. Below you will find a video to demonstrate this exercise. Note the use of a broomstick to give feedback on positioning of the spine.
The straight leg deadlift is a very popular and often improperly executed exercise. You will see a majority of males completing these exercise with a need to load so much weight on the bar that form goes out the window. If you are not familiar with the straight leg deadlift, it is a hamstring, gluteus maximus, and spinal extensor strengthening exercise that is also referred to as the hip hinge. I love this exercise since I believe it works the gluts and hamstrings the way they are supposed to function as opposed to the popular selectorized prone or seated hamstring curl machines. In the past I always trained hamstring strengthening through knee flexion exercises, but after further research and reading it now seems more beneficial to train them through hip extension movements like deadlifts, hip bridge variations, etc.
During the exercise it is important to make sure you maintain a neutral spine position and keep the shoulder blades pulled back. To properly execute the straight leg deadlift, allow a slight bend in the knees (only about 15 degrees) and push the hips back slightly while hinging forward. It is essential to keep the spine straight and shoulder blades pulled back throughout the exercise. Lower down the bar or kettlebell close to the shins. Allow the weight to drop to a position where you feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings. Raise back up to the starting position by squeezing the gluts tight and pulling the hips forward. Maintaining proper upper body posture does get difficult once we start adding more weight to this exercise, so make sure form is perfect before loading up. Below you will find a video on proper execution of the straight leg deadlift. This is a great beginner/intermediate exercise that helps pave the way towards the single leg version which challenges the same musculature with lower resistance but adds a balance component.
| Article written on March 2nd, 2013 at 4:30pm | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
When I was first introduced to the cook hip lift I was immediately impressed by its effectiveness. This exercise was invented by PT and Strength Coach Gray Cook, hence the name cook hip lift.
Although it is a more challenging exercise, I do believe it should be placed before any other bridging exercises, such as the double leg hip bridge, hip lift, single leg hip lift, etc. When doing the cook hip lift, start with knees bent and feet on the floor. Next, pull one knee to chest. If you have a tennis ball place it between the thigh and just under the rib cage so you can determine if you’re holding the hip into enough flexion.
Now, using the single leg that is in contact with the ground, complete the normal hip lift motion by squeezing the gluteus maximus (butt muscle) and lifting the hips off the ground. You will notice immediately that the amount of motion available is significantly less than other bridging exercises. By pulling one knee to chest, we are placing the pelvis into a posterior tilt and therefore keeping the lumbar spine neutral. This is a great benefit compared to the regular hip bridge (see picture below) where we easily lift the hips between the knees and shoulders, but don’t realize that a significant amount of motion is actually coming, not from hip extension, but from lumbar extension.
Try out this exercise by holding the highest position for 3 seconds and completing 1-3 sets of 8 reps. Each week add 2 repetitions until you reach 12, and then start back at 8 repetitions using a 5 second hold.
If you are looking for improved hip extension and gluteal activation, the cook hip lift is where it’s at. If you notice cramping in the hamstrings, it does not mean stop the exercise. But, it’s important to realize that your glutes aren’t firing correctly and you may need to add additional glute activation exercises to your program. Not only do we improve hip extension with this exercise, but target the hip stabilizers (abductors, adductors) to keep the single leg hip supported during the hold. Check out the video below to see exactly how the cook hip lift is done.
Garrett McLaughlin is an athletic trainer, personal trainer, and certified active release techniques provider. He is passionate about creating safe, and effective fitness and rehabilitation programs for the general population and athletes. ‘Like‘ Garrett’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date on related health, fitness, and nutrition information.