Knee Friendly Single Leg Training

It’s no secret that single leg work is second to none when it comes to training athletes, gym enthusiasts, and anyone who walks one leg at a time.  While your traditional walking lunges, and split squat variations (static, bulgarian, etc) do suffice to supplement the need for single leg training, what about those individuals who are limited by pain in the knees.  I can’t give you an exact percentage but I would not be lying if I said I believed at least 75% of the population of lifters have had some sort of knee pain at least once while exercising.  Now I’m not referring to chronic knee pain from an injury or something of that sort.

I have never had a major knee injury (knock on wood) and I have recently had some anterior knee pain during my squats and single leg exercises.  I have figured out the solution to my problem though and am back to a (mostly) pain free range of motion (still correcting the issue).  Now for the average everyday gym enthusiast who cant really afford to spend a few sessions with me and see what the real issues are, but would still like to do single leg work….This is For You!

When I write my programming for my clients I tend to lean more towards applying single leg work right from the get go.  Humans were naturally designed to be on one leg when performing actions and athletic sport is a good show of this.  There are only 2 instances that I can think of in sport when an athlete is performing the same action on both legs at the same time:  Rowing, and a jump shot in basketball (or a jump to block a shot in basketball/volleyball).  If anyone can think of any other please let me know!

So according to this shouldn’t we essentially train exclusively on one leg?

The answer is maybe, renowned Strength Coach Mike Boyle is slowly leaning toward this idea more and more every day, and it is an interesting concept.  

I’m not sure how I would feel about that.  I am a huge advocate of bilateral work as I promote Squatting and Deadlifting.  That doesn’t mean that I only do Bilateral work.  I am a huge believer in Single Leg work, the research speaks for itself, I just don’t think I would ever completely eliminate Bilateral work from my programming.

So back to knee friendly single leg training.  The lunge/split squat can put a lot of stress on the knees for a number of reasons, the main one being doing the movement improperly (which I see pretty much every day of my life).  Another example I see often is individuals using too much weight for the exercise (which then leads to them breaking form and doing the exercise improperly).  For these reasons I tend to stay away from most of the lunge variations when I write programs for my clients.  It’s easier that way and I don’t have to worry about potential injuries.  

If I had to choose one single leg exercise that can trump the rest as far as simplicity, complexity, being able to progress and regress the exercise with little to no effort, be extremely knee friendly, and make it one of the most difficult exercises you will ever accomplish, I would simply choose The Step Up.

Ah yes the Step Up, an exercise simply put of finding an object taller than the surface you are standing on, and step up onto it.  If only it were that simple, I wouldn’t have a job.  Yes that is the jist of what the exercise is, there are many different components to the exercise that can increase the difficulty, and at the exact same time be extremely safe on the knees.

Every single one of my clients has done step ups at one point or another during our training sessions.  I believe it to be one of the best single leg variations that you can do.

 

There are a few simple and easy tips to make it a knee friendly exercise.  First lets talk about the set up.

The thing you are going to step up on (usually a box or a bench) should have an approximate equal height to your tibial tuberosity (the bump just below your knee cap).  This ensures that your beginning position for your forward leg is at about a 90 degree bend.  The next step is to make sure that during the movement your forward knee does not bend inward (a thing we call valgus collapse) take a quick look here for what I am talking about: (mind you this is a little exaggerated but the point is still the same)

 

As you can see the knee is collapsing inward during the movement, this puts a metric shit ton* of stress on the knee and can really cause bad things to happen to you.  So it’s extremely important to put a little bit of extra weight on the outside of your foot during the movement.  

The Next step in the Step Up (pun intended) is the driving force that gets you from the floor to the top of the box/bench/friends back that you are stepping on.  This force should come from the heel of the driving leg.  Driving from your heel allows you to engage the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes etc) which makes it easier to get up, plus it works more muscle which will get you better results.  

The last concept that I want you to think about during the movement is your core.  During the movement you want to prevent as much “momentum” as you can as the momentum you can gain during the start of the movement will make the exercise easier for you, but not in a good way.  

Here is what I am talking about:

 

As you can see my body is nice and loosey goosey when I step up so I am making the exercise easy, but again not what we are looking for.

A great way to help with this is to squeeze your core as tight as you can.  Think about how you would brace as if someone was about to punch you right in the stomach.

Give it a try right now.  Brace your stomach as tight as you can and get ready to take a punch from Rocky (The real Rocky, not the lame broadway version).  Got it?  Good, now go apply it to your step up.

How did that work for you?  If it was a little difficult to maintain control, great you’re on the right track.  If it was easy, even better add some weight and get it done!

For those individuals who struggled a little to maintain stability and rigidity during the movement I have one additional step for you to help out.  

To get some additional core stability lets focus on your bodys center of gravity.  If we offset your center of gravity ever so slightly it will automatically turn on your core muscles to help keep your body rigid.  So to accomplish this you simply grab a 5 pound dumbell and hold it at shoulder height straight in front of you while performing the step up.  Thats it, that little change in your center of gravity will not only turn the core on but because the weight is in front of you it will automatically shift your weight back into your heels slightly, making it easier for you to step up.

Take a look here and then give it a try:

 

So what is all of this for?  To activate the core better and take pressure off of the knees.  I believe that with these progressions you can accomplish just that and have the best knee friendly training ever!

Now that you have that down lets add some difficulty to it:

Yeah you can take the simple route and just hold a pair of dumbells and make it harder that way, but wheres the fun in that (assuming you already have the strength to do this well).

One of my newest favorite progressions is to use the Vipr (basically a large PVC shaped rubber tube).  Start with the viper straight out in front of you (similar to the dumbell used in the early progression).  Then as you step up onto the box keep your arms straight and get the Vipr sraight overhead.  This will really challenge your core and your shoulder.  The only thing to consider here is that you have adequate shoulder mobility before you perform the exercise.

Definitely give it a try if you have access to the vipr and let me know how much you Love/Hate it.

 

If you have any questions about single leg training please dont hesitate to ask, and stay tuned for the New TangrediStrength.com Coming SOON!

The Hip Hinge: How to Deadlift like a Boss! (Part 1)

It’s no secret to anyone who follows me how much I love deadlifts.  There was once upon a time that I could’t do them (surprised, I know!).  There are a bunch of factors to consider before even attempting the deadlift simply to prevent injuries and make sure your body is physically capable of performing it.

The Deadlift should be your strongest lift in the gym, but only if you can perform it properly.

My good friend George invited me to do a guest post (or celebrity post as I call it) on his website www.Fitletes.com Where I outline the main component of the deadlift:  The Hip Hinge.

Check it out and stay tuned for Part 2!

The Hip Hinge: How to Deadlift like a Boss! (Part 1)

2014: Year of the New

Long time no see to everyone!

I have been a busy man for the last infinante number of months since my last post.

A quick recap:

1) I moved to a new town in a new house with a few friends (probably will be moving again in July)

2) Had a good 4 month span when I was working 3 jobs to pay the bills (part of the reason for the blog hiatus)

3) Started a new full time job at The Gym of Armonk (yes it’s called The Gym)

4) Just celebrated 6 months with my girlfriend Katie =)

5) Getting closer and closer to starting my full fledged website TangrediStrengh.com

Quickly jumping all the way down to number 5 on that list…

I am offically launching myself as a brand with Tangredi Strength where I plan to have big ideas set up in the near future.  I hope to have products down the road as in programs and hopefully an ebook.  My biggest contribution in the works is Distance Coaching.

How would you like to have me as your one on one Coach/Trainer, but cannot afford to pay upwards of 100 dollars an hour for my time.  With distance coaching it takes all of the great things about having a one on one trainer and makes it convient for you in all aspects. 

It all starts with an online assessment (probably through skype) where we will talk about your goals and health history etc.  From there we will go though a small movement assessmet to look at essentially how your body moves.  I will then design your program based on your goals.  You will get acess to a private email (only used for clients) as well as access to my online video database of all of the exercises.  The email address is used for any and all questions you may have that will be answered in priority to any other emails I may recieve.

You get all of this for a fraction of what you would pay for a top of the line one on one trainer.

Details will follow soon along with the all new TangrediStrength.com

I will still continue to post on the blog, but the blog will be integrated into the new website so this site will be elimated in the coming months.

So to summarize I am still alive and here doing what I love, and I hope it make 2014 my biggest year as a strengh coach!

Is Your Programming Where it Should Be? Part 3

In my first 2 posts about programming (Part 1) and (Part 2), I discussed not only some of the details about why programming your exercises is so important and not just doing them “on the fly”, but as to why the order of exercises are just as important as the exercises themselves.

Now I would like to talk about some of the actual exercises themselves and how you pick and choose which parts to do on which days.

For starters most people when they exercise will break up their days usually as follows:

  1. Chest and Triceps (99.9% of the time is Monday)
  2. Back and Biceps
  3. Shoulders and Legs
  4. Biceps and Triceps
  5. Talking on their cell phone while taking up a bench

This may not be a bad thing.  But if you pay attention these are the kinds of people who will do the exact same workouts day in and day out, week after week, year after year and they will look exactly the same on day one as they do years from now.  Basically they are just going through the motions and not really gaining anything.

Instead of training specific muscle groups, try to imagine training Movement Patterns.  (ding, lightbulb).  Not only did we just go from being specific to a little more general, we will now train multiple muscle groups at the same time, therefore instantly becoming more efficient with our workouts and delivering faster and better results.

So What are the these Movement Patterns and how do I train them?

84kb cropped version

Before you end up at the Crossroads and don’t know which way to turn, think about the exercises you currently do during your workouts, and describe what you are doing.

I will start with the Bench Press.  What exercises are similar to the bench?  Okay you have your dumbell bench, pushups, incline bench…you get the idea.  Now what exactly are you doing?  You are Pushing away from your body Horizontally relative to your position.  So for all intensive purposes lets call this “category” Horizontal Press exercises.

Next up is Bent-Over Row.  Okay so your similar exercises are your Seated Row, your T-Bar Row, Barbell Row, etc.  Think about it again.  Now you are Pulling towards your body Horizontally relative to your body.  This category is the Horizontal Pull exercises.

So all of your exercises can in one way or another fall into one of these “categories” of exercises.  If you base your programs around these categories it makes for a simpler program, which can lead to a simpler workout, but still delivering better results.

The Main exercise Categories are as follows:

Upper Body:

  • Horizontal Press – (Bench, Push-Ups)
  • Horizontal Pull – (Bent Over Rows, Seated Rows)
  • Vertical Press – (Military Press, KB Overhead Press)
  • Vertical Pull – (Pull Ups, Lat Pull Downs)

Lower Body:

  • Quad Dominant – (Squats)
  • Hip Dominant – (Deadlifts)
  • Posterior Chain (Straight Leg) – (RDL’s, Back Extensions)
  • Posterior Chain (Bent Leg) – (Bridges, GHR)

This is just the basics for general exercises.  The category of Single Leg exercises has a few “sub” categories within itself that I will go over more later, but you get the general idea.

By Putting your exercises into these “Categories” Instead of picking and choosing which exercises to do based on what Muscles they work, it takes a lot of the confusion out of exercise selection.

I hope this has given you all a little insight on some better programming choices.  If you have any questions do not hesitate to ask.

Exercises I love Doing and You Should be Doing Too! – Barbell Rollouts

I made a post earlier this year about the phenomenal exercise the Stability Ball Rollout.  

I am here today to give you a variation of said exercise.  One that will challenge your body both physically and mentally.

The Barbell Rollout incorporates the same movement pattern as the Stability Ball Rollout, but adds a huge degree of difficulty because of the fact that you are now rolling with an external load.

As with the Stability Ball Rollouts it is important to remember to maintain full hip extension throughout the entire movement.  If you start to flex your hips on the return part of the exercise it completely disengages the core and will not give you any benefit at all.

What the Barbell Rollout offers that the Stability Ball Rollout does not is more anterior core activation to maintain neutral spine.  Because you need to “pull” the weight of the bar back towards you on the way up you are activating more muscles in your upper body that causes you to hate life.  

I have 135lbs on the bar in the video and that made it pretty difficult.  I would start with that weight, or if you have bumper plates in the 10 or 25lb range to use those to start (opposed to regular 10 or 25 pound plates that will cause the bar to be lower than standard height).

Give it a try and let me know what you guys think!

The Toe Touch: Why we did the Sit-and-Reach in gym class

First off I would like to apologize for not posting in a very long time.  I recently started a second job and so a lot of my free time has now been resorted to napping in lieu of my long work days.  I will try harder to post more frequently as the weeks progress.

In Middle/High School we all had to complete the Presidents Council Fitness Test.  The Test from what I remember consisted of Situps in a minute, Pullups, Shuttle Run, Mile run, and the Sit-and-Reach (if I forgot any please enlighten me).  I also would like to know if this fitness test is still performed in gym class (thats right I said GYM class), or if some less-fit variation is being conducted (thanks to all of the fat kids).

Getting off track a little there.  More Importantly I wanted to take special look at the Sit-and-Reach:

Image

This test takes a look at two specific and functional patterns.  First is “unloaded” spinal flexion, when I say unloaded I mean that no external force is acting on your lower spine during this exercise.  This is contrary to most of the sit-up variations where the external force acting on your spine is the force of your body movements (this argument is for another post).  

The other movement pattern this test is looking at is your ability to “hinge” at the hips.  Think of your hips as a door hinge, the door frame is your legs and your upper body is the door itself.  This is an important functional movement pattern because it is the main movement to activate the posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your legs that all work together).  

How is this position any different from a person who is standing and asked to touch their toes.  Yes their body is oriented differently so gravity and your core musculature is acting in a different matter, but the principle is still the same.  

 Image

See.  Virtually no difference in the test.

Now why is this test so important?  Why is the ability to touch your toes so important?

Stand up right now and try to touch your toes without bending your knees.  Can you do it?  If so great, if not…well you might need some work on your hips that static stretching simply won’t solve.  The inability to touch your toes does not qualify as muscle stiffness, it qualifies as movement dysfunction (the inability to move properly or freely through a full range of motion).

Those individuals who cannot touch their toes should not deadlift, ever.  The inability to properly hinge at the hips will cause you to round the lower spine.  So when that rounded spine is placed under an external load (the deadlift or some variation) this is when many potentially bad things can happen (herniation, pulled muscles just to name a few).  

Here is a short video of Gray Cook talking more in depth about the toe touch, and why not being able to touch your toes is NOT muscle stiffness (tightness).  

Little update:  I will be going to Cressey Performance in Hudson Ma (just outside of Boston) for the Elite Training Workshop on April 21st.  There will be a bunch of speakers whom I look up to for their knowledge and resources and I am really looking forward to it.  I will take what I learn from them and share some of it with you (can’t give away all of my secrets).