One thing my biomechanics professor repeatedly drilled into my head was to assess, dissect and comprehend (ADC). Never move forward until you execute these three steps to lay your foundational ground work. In retrospect, I think this may have been the most valuable bit of wisdom bestowed upon me throughout my complete higher learning endeavor.
Unfortunately, following this little ADC principle forces one to lead a life of hesitation, skepticism and uncertainty. I first experienced this dilemma as a lowly volunteer at my university S&C program.
After watching the first workout, I had nothing but questions: "Why do you do that? What is your reason for this? Is that for everybody? How does that relate to what the athlete does on the field?" At that time, I was asking simply because it was all new and exciting to me and I wanted to learn. After hearing some of the answers, I walked away feeling more confused than before I asked.
A few years later, I found myself in Florida working at a very respectful elite athletic training facility. Once again, I found that my hand was going up every five seconds to ask questions. However, I found that the answers always pacified the issue at hand. I always walked away satisfied, even though the answers always lead me to ask yet even more questions.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out what had happened before. I had gotten confused because the information being passed on to me just didn’t make sense. In other words, it was just simply wrong. That coach had never taken the time to assess what his athletes truly did in their sports.
He had never dissected the athletes' environment to evaluate the type of forces that were actually expressed and absorbed by the athletes. He simply did what the guy who taught him did. Without question, he implemented rep for rep and set for set the exact same programs his mentor used. To me, that opens the door for a lot of problems.
My challenge to you is to look past what others in the industry are doing and practice a little ADC. You may be very surprised at what you discover. Things are rarely what they first appear to be.
Unfortunately, it is typical human behavior to “look” but not “see.” For instance, what was your wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend wearing yesterday? I bet very few of you can answer this question. I can honestly say I have no clue what my wife wore yesterday, and we were together all day. You probably looked right at them a hundred times but didn’t really “see” them.
Now, off the top of your head, tell me exactly what your athletes do in their sport? I don’t mean tell me their position. I mean WHAT DO THEY REALLY DO as they play their sport? Don’t be general, be very descriptive and assess and dissect their environments.
Now go watch your athletes play their sport and tell me what you “see.” Once again, be descriptive and assess and dissect their environments. What forces do your athletes apply when they accelerate? What about when they decelerate? How about cutting? Swing a bat? Tackling another athlete? Throwing a ball? Kicking a ball? How does momentum play a role? Etc.
Assess and dissect what you see. What forces do you see your athletes applying and absorbing? If you could draw lines to represent these force vectors, what would you see? Where would these lines point?
What you would discover is that pure vertical loading rarely exists in sport. (Prove to me that I am wrong. I dare you!!!) Sans the tip off at the beginning of a basketball game, I cannot think of any sport where the majority of force application/absorption isn’t heavily influenced by horizontal forces.
Time in and time out we see the expression and absorption of horizontal forces in sport. Why is this important? Well, let me answer that with two more questions: Will the same muscles be used in the same way to deal with horizontal versus vertical loading? How will rotational loading change things?
Here is a very remedial example: Hold your arm straight out in front of your body and have a friend press down on it. What muscles are going to activate to deal with the load? Hold your arm in the exact same starting place. Have your friend push your hand out to the side (away from your midline). What muscles are going to activate to deal with this load?
Did you notice a difference in the recruitment of your shoulder and chest musculature? Did you notice a difference in your abdomen and low back? How about in your hips and legs? What it boils down to in the end is that the joint angle does not provide the definitive decision on which muscles are going to be activated. Rather, the characteristics of the force make the final decision.
Let’s take this a step further. Assume a push up position and concentrate on your core area (hips, abdomen and lower back). Assess and dissect what your muscles are doing. Think about the force vectors and imagine the lines.
Now pick one hand up without shifting your hips and shoulders. Maintain that level plank position through your body. Now tell me what you feel through your core? Assess and dissect what your muscles are doing. Think about the force vectors and imagine the lines. Did you notice that when force is experienced unilaterally, it creates a torque through the body? Think about how many times we apply unilateral force during sport.
Now, let's answer the “why is this important” question by examining what is happening in the weight rooms throughout North America. There is fairly standard set of exercises you see in almost all programs:
- Squats - Vertical loading
- Bench press - Vertical loading
- Lunge - Primarily Vertical
- Pull Up - Vertical loading
- Leg Press - Truly vertical if you analyze what is happening
- Olympic Lifts - Vertical loading
- The list goes on!!!
I don’t want you to misinterpret the point I am trying make. I am not discrediting the value of these exercises. Other than the leg press, these exercises and their various forms are very prominent in my training programs. I view these exercises as important and extremely necessary for almost all my athletes.
However, I also recognize that on their own, they may not produce the MOST optimal carryover to sport. They will produce good carryover, no doubt, but the results will not be the MOST optimal given that a very big component of the athlete’s true environment is neglected: horizontal loading.
Rotational/horizontal strength exercises, in my opinion, are the icing on the cake. They are the glue that helps tie everything together. They are not the total picture, rather a very important (and often times neglected) piece of the puzzle.
So, how can you incorporate this type of loading into your training? There are dozens of different techniques you can use to manipulate the loading vectors of almost any “free weight” exercise. One of the most effective ways I have found to develop horizontal and rotational strength is with an adjustable cable machine. The ability to alter the height of the cable and thus change the angle of pull makes this type of machine priceless. It also allows you to train using stances and postures very similar to those experienced during sport, helping to ensure you are strengthening the movements required to be successful and not just disassociated “isolated muscle motions.”
You can use the cable machine to alter loading for almost any type of exercise. In the following examples, you can see how I change the orientation of the horizontal loading so it pulls from all directions (frontal, lateral and side). I also demonstrate exercises that utilize rotation and opposition to rotation.
Linear Lunge Technique
This next series of exercises are based off of the linear lunge. Before we start into the exercises, I want to outline the linear lunge technique. For the linear lunge, we utilize a seven point checklist. Note: Stride length may lengthen to increase the base of support during heavier horizontal loading. (Images correspond with points below.)
The stride length should place the hips and shoulders in vertical alignment with the primary load on the front heel (see Figure 1).
Here is how we gauge appropriate stride length:
- Kneel down onto one knee with the hips and shoulders directly over the base knee.
- Adjust the front foot so the front lower leg is perpendicular to the ground and the weight is on the heel.
- Mark the front of the back and front foot.
- Your stride length is from immediately behind the first line to toes at the second line.
Spinal alignment should always be vertical and neutral (see Figure 2). Over striding and tight hip flexors may cause hip flexion and an anterior tilt of the spine or forward lean.
The front and back foot stay forward. It is common to rotate the front foot inward and let the back foot fall to the side. Avoid this and consider the same alignment that would be used during your gate.
The focus of the descent should be on:
- Keeping the weight on the front heal.
- Lowering the back knee straight down, rather than bending the front knee.
- Dropping the hips straight down and not pushing them forward; and
- Keeping the shoulders over the hips with no hip flexion.
The front knee should not rotate inward. Inability to keep the knee and/or hips in proper alignment may be indicative of poor glute medius strength or activation.
- The back knee, hips, and shoulders should be in alignment.
- The front knee should not close more than a 90 degree angle.
- The back knee should remain approximately one to two inches off of the ground.
The ascent initiates with a push through the front heel. The shoulders should maintain their alignment directly over the hips and should not dip forward. Step back to the starting position with one smooth stride.
Linear Lunge Variations
Front Pull w/Rotation
Side Pull w/Rotation
Opposite Side Pull
Opposite Side Pull w/Rotation
Back Pull w/Rotation