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F.I.S.T Part 8: Integrated Hip-Core-Shoulder in Sagittal and Transverse Planes

Welcome back to the FIST series. My apologies for the long delay since the last article. I’ve been busy completing a new video series and opening a new personal training studio. But a new year is ahead of us and I will be bringing you four more articles on integrated hip-core-shoulder training. In this article, we will expand upon shoulder flexion integrated movement patterns in the sagittal and transverse planes.

A key principle that underlies functional total body integration is performing exercises in the standing position, which creates a real life gravitational response that excites the nervous system and stimulates proprioceptive feedback from the ground up. Total body integration must include participation from the hips, thighs, core, and upper extremities. All efficient movement must take place against the background of a strong and stable core. One of my mentors, Vern Gambetta, states this as “a toe nails to finger nails approach”. If we are to create functional strength carryover to life’s activities, we must follow another key principle regarding the human movement system:

To produce effective powerful movement patterns, we must load the system prior to unloading, decelerate before accelerating, perform eccentric contractions prior to concentric contractions, and create kinetic chain pronation before supination.

These principles are clearly demonstrated in sporting activities. If we want to jump higher, we must flex the hip, knee, and ankle by performing a partial squat prior to the jump. This storing of elastic energy or pre-loading allows us to jump higher. To test this theory, we would simply see how high we could jump without a pre-loading or jumping with the legs kept straight. Then, we would perform a 1/2 squat prior to the jump. The later quite clearly produces a higher jump. If we want to throw farther or harder, we must follow a sequence of pre-loading movements to produce a smooth powerful release. If you’ve ever watched someone try to throw a ball with their feet together without prior hip flexion, trunk-hip rotation, accompanied by shoulder extension, it looks like they’re throwing a dart at a board. Proper pre-loading mechanics are essential, but the missing link is often a lack of core strength and dynamic spinal stabilization.

Many traditional exercises that are directed at improving core strength and spinal stabilization strength are often very static and performed in prone or supine positions. The lying positions fail to teach our movement system to react to gravity, momentum, and ground reaction forces in a three dimensional environment. Obviously the floor-based movements do not load and integrate the hip complex or lower extremities to function in a life-like manner. The feet are not in contact with the ground, and therefore do not create the foundation for correct biomechanical sequences that transfer to real life.

The exercises in the following series can be paralleled to many traditional floor based exercises. For example: a prone cobra may be compared to the 1⁄2 squat to two arm overhead raise; an opposite arm leg raise may be compared to the stationary split lunge and reach to overhead raise, or advanced to the reverse lunge and reach/ one leg romanian dead lift to overhead raise. If the goal is to improve functional core strength and dynamic spinal stabilization, we must train the core in a total body manner. Adopting this methodology will result in improved balance, posture, integrated hip-leg strength, integrated upper extremity strength, and a stable core.

In the previous article, we brought to life the principle of kinetic chain loading before unloading. The shoulder complex was targeted by performing a reach prior to the overhead raise pattern. The lower extremities and hip complex were integrated by performing a flexion pattern (squatting, lunging, or bending-romanian dead lift) prior to standing or extending the knees and hips. The superficial and deep back extensors were called upon to decelerate during the descent of all movement patterns before accelerating. The inner unit musculature was required to keep hoop tension within the abdominal wall during the descent versus allowing the belly to push outward. A key focal point of all movement was to emphasize the draw in maneuver (belly button to spine) during the overhead raise pattern. Raising one or both arms overhead has been found to naturally facilitate recruitment of the transverses abdominus and accompanying inner unit musculature.

In the last article we covered key points for each exercise. I now want to bring attention to choosing a proper weight load before launching into the new exercises for this article. It is important to learn each movement pattern with a weight load equal to approximately 50-60% of a max load for the shoulder complex. This will serve as a general warm-up for the shoulder complex and allows the exerciser to focus on proper lower body mechanics and deep abdominal wall function without over challenging the shoulder flexion pattern. This is especially helpful when progressing to more complex patterns, which challenge balance and proprioception. The goal is to progressively increase weight load, which will maximally challenge the shoulder flexion pattern within a repetition range of 10-15 repetitions.

The first new pattern we will cover is performed by loading the lower extremities with a 1⁄4-1/2 squat pattern prior to dual bent arm shoulder flexion. (Figure 1) When coaching the 1⁄4-1/2 squat, make sure the exerciser allows the arms to hang comfortably at the sides of the thighs with palms facing thighs. This is a great opportunity to que proper sitting mechanics which will carryover to improving the squat exercise in the future.

Figure 1

The focus of the 1⁄4-1⁄2 squat pattern should be to sit (stick the buttocks out) while bending the knees and hinging from the hips (torso moving forward) so that shoulders align over ankles. The chest and rib cage should be lifted as if taking a big breath, and a neutral lumbar curve should be maintained. The kneecaps should track in alignment with the second and third toes. It is very common to see a knee dominant squat, where the buttocks is tucked with the lumbar spine flattened, and knees rolling inward creating over pronation at the feet. Watch for this and coach accordingly.

Once proper squatting mechanics have been mastered, the dual arm shoulder flexion pattern follows. Instruct the client to ascend from the 1⁄4-1⁄2 squat while simultaneously performing a dual bent arm punch toward the ceiling (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Emphasize bending the arms immediately while driving the elbows forward away from the torso with knuckles up. The elbows should finish at shoulders height with palms facing one another and a 90˚ angle at the upper-lower arm. The exerciser should be standing in a fully upright posture with a tight drawn in abdominal wall. This would be similar to how military personnel would stand at attention. The pelvis and lumbar spine should be in a neutral position with eyes focused straight ahead. It is typical for exercisers to float forward with the pelvis and extend the trunk backward beyond neutral. This is typical of poor core control and lack of awareness of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex in space. We must make sure to correct this position at this point – have the client hold the dumbbells at this end range, and help them reposition the pelvis, lumbar spine, and trunk.

This is why I suggest using lighter loads when teaching a new exercise. The shoulder complex and neck stabilizers should be able to handle holding this end range pattern for a few seconds without undue fatigue while repositioning occurs. Ideally, we want the exerciser to hold this end point for approximately one second, and descend back to the starting position. Remember the focus is all about exhibiting proper squat mechanics and achieving ideal posture at the end range of the bent arm flexion movement while concentrating on the draw-in maneuver. Everyone has a stabilizer threshold and we should only allow increases in weight load to the point where the head/neck, shoulder complex, and core can be stabilized effectively.

The next progression of this movement pattern is to perform the exercise in an alternate arm fashion (Figure 3-4). There will be greater recruitment required from the oblique system to maintain dynamic stability of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.

Figure 3 Figure 4

The starting position is the same, one arm will move through the bent arm shoulder flexion pattern while the other arm remains along the side of the body. The shoulders and hips should remain square or facing forward during the one arm action. It is common for the exerciser to rotate the torso toward the non-involved arm side. Again, have the exerciser hold the end point (bent arm shoulder flexion) and help them reposition the pelvis, lumbar spine, and trunk to a neutral square position. After they descend back to the start position, perform the movement with the other arm. A faster tempo may be performed if proper mechanics are adhered to.

Now we will progress by adding a twist, literally. There will be greater coordination required to perform these variations. First, the dual bent arm shoulder flexion pattern is performed with 45˚ trunk and hip rotation (Figure 5-6)

Figure 5 Figure 6

Start in the same position as previously mentioned, if rotating left 45˚, drive the elbows forward and knuckles up at an oblique angle while standing and releasing the right heel. The left leg will receive a transference of load, much like a right handed golfer after the swing has been completed. The exerciser should focus on intrinsically creating a stable left hip while maintaining pronation of the left foot (big toe in contact with the ground). You will notice that the load is a little greater on the left arm as it starts with less mechanical advantage. Return to the starting position and perform the opposite pattern by rotating to the right 45˚. When performing this pattern in an alternate arm action, the tempo is a little quicker and is more like a true boxing pattern (Figure 7-8)

Figure 7 Figure 8

As the trunk rotates left 45˚, the right arm performs the action, and visa versa. Both actions integrate the oblique system to a greater degree and require greater mobility throughout the scapula and thoracic spine. As we all age and become more sedentary, thoracic extension and rotation slowly deteriorates. Thus, it is very important to progressively expose individuals to transverse plane motions.

Next, we will decrease the base of support and perform the shoulder flexion pattern in a split stance. This stance will challenge the balance and postural systems to a higher degree as well as place an increased demand upon the core to dynamically stabilize. To set up, have the exerciser stand in a split stance while positioning the front leg in a 1⁄4 lunge while remaining on the ball of the back foot. It is important to glide the front knee over the mid-foot forward of the ankle while keeping the back leg straight. The trunk should maintain an upright posture throughout with shoulders over hips. The stance should remain static throughout the shoulder flexion pattern. By maintaining this position, we will increase the overall stability of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.

This position also creates more of an integrated isolation atmosphere for the shoulder complex and core to perform the movement. In other words, we don’t have as much help from our friends to produce the shoulder flexion pattern, so we expose the shoulder complex to greater overload. I know the purpose of this article is to demonstrate loading before unloading of the system, but sometimes this isn’t possible depending on the task at hand. I use the following patterns to challenge the system to learn to function and stabilize without pre-loading and also for many body builders who are interested in greater hypertrophy.

Figure 9

We can perform a dual bent arm shoulder flexion pattern, much like the previous dual arm motions (Figure 9). I like to perform a full set with one leg forward, then the next set with the other leg forward. To spice it up, you may want to perform half of the desired number of repetitions with one leg forward and the next half with the other leg forward. To bias one arm, hold only one dumbbell with the opposite arm to the lead leg in the 1⁄4 lunge position. The exerciser may perform a sagittal plane movement and then progress to the transverse plane movement at 45˚ across toward the lead leg (Figure 10-11). We can even use an alternate sagittal and transverse plane combination motion.

Figure 10 Figure 11

A point to remember, we want to emphasize keeping the knee of the front leg over the mid-foot. It is common to see the knee migrate back behind the ankle, which destabilizes the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex by creating more of a posterior pelvic tilt and trunk extension beyond neutral. This may be a by-product of poor neuromuscular coordination or it may mean that the weight load is too heavy. This reaction also reveals decreased strength in the shoulder complex. Again, have the exerciser hold the flexed shoulder position, and reposition the knee over the mid-foot.

The last variation I use for sprint athletes. The set up is the same as above with the exerciser holding two dumbbells. This is a plyometric activity that requires a great deal of dynamic balance and stabilization. Start by performing a bent arm shoulder flexion pattern with the opposite arm to the lead leg. As soon as the arm decelerates and gets back to the start position, perform a split jump 1⁄4 lunge and reverse the leg position. The arms are at the sides during this jump lunge action. Then, perform the pattern with the other arm, which again is opposite to the lead leg. Continue this pattern for the desired amount of repetitions.

I hope to have challenged traditional thinking and created a few more tools for you to add to the exercise toolbox. Remember, life’s movements are often dynamic integrated actions that require us to use the entire body as we produce force from the core outward. Teaching our bodies to use friends through integration is needed to preserve and strengthen our spines when we are exposed to dynamic tasks. Sometimes, as I mentioned, we don’t have the ability to use the hips and thighs to help us. At these times, our movement system must learn to function in more of an isolated but integrated fashion, as seen in the 1⁄4 lunge split stance. You can take this principle and apply it to the 1⁄4-1/2 squat shoulder flexion patterns. Instead of using the hips and thighs to help produce the arm action, keep a static 1⁄4-1/2 squat and perform the dual or alternate patterns in the sagittal or transverse planes

For information on Mark’s new 3-part video series, F.I.S.T. 2: The Next Level, visit his Author Page.