I wrote on Tuesday that you may not have to stretch your hip flexors, even if they feel “tight”. I also showed how easy it is to screw up a hip flexor stretch. If you missed it, make sure to read it HERE. But how does someone knows if he needs to stretch his hip flexors if we can’t rely on the fact that they feel “tight”? Those who are familiar with muscle testing a bit will say to use the Thomas test (or one of its variations) to assess hip flexor length. The Thomas test is a commonly used test among strength coaches, physical therapist and other rehab/training professionals. Here is what it looks like:
By letting one leg hang down, you can usually know if the person has short/stiff hip flexors if the knee of the down leg hangs higher than the hip. In the case of a shortness in the rectus femoris the knee will also stay extended over 90 degrees of flexion. A positive Thomas test (knee staying above hip level) usually is good indications that your hip flexors are short or stiff, but as I mentioned before it might mean that the problem is neurological, and stretching your hip flexors won’t solve the problem. To add to the confusion, a negative Thomas test (knee dropping all the way down) doesn’t mean that your hip flexors aren’t short/stiff. It could mean that your anterior capsule and ligaments are overstretched. One way to prevent this is to make sure that you stretch your hip flexors the right way, like I mentioned in my last post. But how do you know if it’s a capsule/ligaments issue or not?
Using the adduction drop test in conjunction to the Thomas test might be a good option. Here’s what it looks like:
The adduction drop test is something I picked up from the Postural Restoration Institute. They commonly use this test to identify what is called a left AIC (Anterior-Interior Chain) pattern, which implicates that most human beings are stuck in external rotation and abduction, and hip flexion in the left hip. The combination of a positive adduction drop test and a positive Thomas test usually points in the direction of a left AIC pattern because of the lack of hip extension and adduction on the left side.
We can also use the combination of these two tests to identify anterior capsule and/or ligament laxity. A positive adduction drop test and a negative Thomas test would be indication of anterior laxity in the hip capsule and/or ligaments.
Assessing before you prescribe a hip flexor stretch and making sure it is performed correctly if you need to prescribe it are the two keys here.
Want to know more about injury prevention? Sign up for my newsletter today!
I’m not breaking any news to you if I tell you that the hip flexor group is usually a problematic area in many people. There are numerous reasons for that, including the fact that nowadays we sit way too much and the hip flexor muscles can get short or stiff from spending so much time in that shortened position. Because of that, we prescribe a lot of hip flexor stretches in hope of getting some slack to those muscles. But there are a couple of problems with that.
First of all, sometimes the cause of the stiffness in the hip flexors might be neurological, rather than just muscular (I’ve talked about that in a previous blog post). If it’s the case, you’re not going to win that battle by stretching your hip flexors because the brain will always win and your hip flexors will keep stiffening right back.
Another problem I can see with that is that it is easy, very easy to screw up a hip flexor stretch. In fact, a lot of people stretch their hip flexors the wrong way and put all the stress on the anterior capsule and ligaments.
Hip flexor stretch done the WRONG way
The first problem with the picture above is that there really isn’t that many people, if at all that have that amount of hip extension, or hip extension should I say at that point. What happens with this position is the pelvis will anteriorly tilt, the the lower back will arch and even if the hip flexors will be stretched a little bit, it is the anterior hip capsule and ligaments that will be stretched. This can further cause hip instability and other issues you really don’t want to deal with.
Because of that, you need to be careful when prescribing a hip flexor stretch. You want to make sure that your client or your athlete is doing it the right way; you can’t assume that just getting in the position will be good enough. When getting down in a half-kneeling position, you want your back knee (the side you’re going to stretch) to be right underneath your hip. You want to initiate the stretch with a posterior pelvic tilt and a contraction of the glute on the side you want to stretch. By doing this, there are little chances that you’ll get into hyperextension. You’ll also notice that you won’t be able to get your hips forward much (assuming your maintaining the posterior tilt and the glute contraction).
Notice the posterior tilt in the half-kneeling position
Is there any ways to know if you’ve been stretching the wrong way? Yes. There are a couple of simple tests you can do to check if you have lax anterior ligaments. I’ll go over them in my next blog post on Thursday. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, make sure to sign up for my newsletter and get instant access to my 3 FREE sports performance reports!!!
There are 2 coaching cues that I’ve become more aware of lately that slipped under my radar for quite some time. I didn’t realize the importance they had on efficient movement patterns and how they could impact they way the athlete moves.
1- Neck position. By reading Weingroff’s stuff as well as watching his DVD set and seeing him speak, this is a big take home that I got from his message: you need to coach neck position. It is part of the spine and has an important impact on inner core function. This is something I feel like too many coaches would say “why the hell does it matter? It’s not a big deal”. Well, in fact, IT IS a big deal! When you deadlift, when you do chin ups, when you do lunges, and when you do any core exercises, the position of your neck affects how your whole body will react. The goal is to get efficient at joint centration and therefore the body can maximize stability and power production. The joint centration concept that Weingroff tallks about refers to your joints being in “optimal”, neutral and stable positions for the body to function and move as efficiently as possible. The position of the neck is a big part of this joint centration concept. Look carefully at your athletes and clients next time they lift; most of them naturally tend to compensate by reaching with their neck in many different positions. Coaching athletes and clients to pack in their neck is of utmost importance and I’ve been guilty of overlooking this coaching cue for way too long. I realize now it is as important as keeping a neutral spine, or keeping your shoulder blades back, etc.
2- Breathing. We’ve all heard this before at some point in our lives: while lifting, you want to inhale on the eccentric phase and exhale on the concentric phase of any given movement. Many of us have ditched this concept because we know that it is far from optimal when trying to move big weights and it is pretty inefficient strategy to create stability. Although I still believe this last theory, I’ve been more aware of the importance of breathing and how it affects your body, just not in the old fashion exhale while you push way. After taking the postural respiration home study course from the Postural Restoration Institute this past weekend, I realize how important breathing patterns really are.
It affects the position of your spine, your thorax and your ribs on both sides. Most people have ribs flaring out on the left side and are not very efficient at using their right diaphragm (more on this in an upcoming blog post); because of that the whole orientation of the spine, the thorax and the ribs are affected; which in turn affect neck and shoulder muscle function. Without going into too much details right now, breathing really does have a profound effect on how we move and position our body. I’m still not going to tell my athletes to exhale on the way up on a heavy set of deadlift because they need stiffness, which they couldn’t get that way, but there are ways to incorporate breathing patterns into training. Coaching effective breathing patterns is another often overlooked coaching cue that deserve more attention than it has had recently.
Have you signed up for my newsletter, yet?! …I dare you!! You might just get 3 FREE gifts!!!
Everybody wants to reach their goal. Athletes, weekend warriors and soccer moms all want the same thing out of their workout time: reach their goal. We see many, many people eager to get started, all motivated and looking at the end goal and looking so determined nothing is going to get in the way. Or at least, they think so. And in the process, so many of them will fail, quit and make excuses for not succeeding. The ones that will actually get to their ultimate goal are very rare. And I’m not just talking about the overweight client who shows up at a commercial gym to loose weight. I’m also talking about high level athletes who want to make it to the pro level.
They all have one thing in common; they look hungry. It looks like they are so motivated that nothing is going to stop them. But more often than not, something happens in the process, something gets lost along the way. It’s hard to tell what it is, but they loose that fire in their eyes and all of a sudden, they don’t seem to want it that bad anymore. What is it?
Some others just never loose it…
Everyone really motivated to reach his/her goal has something in common. They look at the end goal, what it is they want to achieve. But way too many of them fail to look at the process, what it actually takes to get where they want to be. Too many people don’t realize the effort, the sacrifices and the will power it’s going to take to get where they want. The athlete doesn’t realize he will have to stay home on Friday nights instead of going out with the buddies and grab drinks. The overweight dad doesn’t realize that he’s going to have to skip on the dessert at his son’s birthday party. The busy mom who wants to get in shape doesn’t realize that she’s going to have to go the gym even if she’s exhausted after a long day at work and she’ll need to cook dinner when she gets home. I’m not saying that when dieting you can’t have a piece of cake once in a while or anything like that. These are just some examples to show you that way too many times, we don’t realize what it takes.
When you set yourself a goal and really want to reach it, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: “How bad do I want it?” And trust me, you need to want it BAD! There are a million things that will get in your way; you’re going to face obstacles, it’s not going to be an easy road and it might take much longer than you first expected. But in the end it’s going to be “how bad do you want it?” You need one thing: COMMIT. You need to make a commitment to yourself and to your goal and never let go until you reach it. There are many things along the way that can help you. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are going to support you in the process, for example, is one of those things. Planning/preparing your meals ahead, scheduling your training sessions in your agenda just like any other important meeting (that can’t be canceled!) are some other things you might need to do to reach your goal.
The commitment you make to yourself, and how you stick to it is what matters. And if I ever hear of another hockey player who’s trying to go pro, but is not willing to make the commitment to drive 40 minutes every day for his off-season training during the summer….sorry pal, you just don’t deserve it. And be sure that there will be a kid out there who makes this commitment.
You don’t always have a second chance to get where you want. How bad do you want it?
For more insights on sports training and get instant access to my 3 FREE reports on speed training, shoulder pre-hab and soft-tissue work, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!!!
To keep up with the celebrations of the 1-year anniversary of my blog, I decided to celebrate things the right way:
Oups! I mean….
Like I said before I love top-10s! I don’t know if it’s because I was born in the 10th month of the year, or because I have 10 fingers, or because there is 10 years in a decade….but there’s something to this number 10. Anyway, as i mentioned on Tuesday, there are many things I learned through my blog that I wouldn’t have thought I’d learn through it when I first started it a year ago. So without further ado, here it is…..and….aaaaanndd….you guessed it, it’s in no particular order!
1. Improve writing skills…Duh!. Well, OK this is pretty obvious, but my writing skills (especially since English is my second language) improved a lot from writing 2 blog posts a week for a full year. I’m really happy about that as writing skills are a great skills to master.
2. Networking. I’ve made many, many new contacts in the health and fitness industry through my blog. Whether it is people linking to my blog (a big thanks to Kevin Neeld, Ben Bruno and Joe Dowdell who frequently do!) or me linking to other people’s websites, I’ve made many new friends in this business this way. This is something I have never even thought of before starting the blog, but it is an excellent way to network. It gets your name out there, people can see what you’re doing and you can share valuable information through it. This is definitely something I would recommend to any fitness professional who want to put his name out there and make contacts.
3. Sets the stage for the real show. This goes hand in hand with the 2 previous things; by networking and practicing your writing, it gives you a chance to eventually write for the well known specialized websites of our industry. I am very thankful to Kevin Neeld, Anthony Renna and Mike Boyle for the opportunities they gave me to write articles for those highly respected websites that people trust for high quality information. Since January of this year, I’ve had 2 articles published on HockeyStrengthAndConditioning.com, 2 on SportRehabExpert.com and one on StrengthCoach.com. Hopefully, there are going to be some more in the months and years to come!
4. Applying new information. Sometimes when learning new things or trying to understand new concepts, writing it down helps to understand more. On a couple different occasions I blogged about stuff that was new to me, and it helps retained information more easily and understand certain concepts better.
5. People actually care about what I have to say. I’m not cocky enough to say that everybody admire me for my knowledge and what I write about. I don’t see myself as an “internet expert” or somebody that people look up to. But I’m still amazed that over 4,000 people visit my blog each month and that people care about what I have to say. By the way, always feel free to contact me for any question, comment or whatever else. Questions and comments are always more than welcome, whether it is by e-mail, commenting on my posts, Facebook message, etc.
6. Rant. I don’t do that very often as I like to keep things positives, but once in a while I’ll go on a rant in my blog because something irritates me, and it’s always good to know that there’s someone out there to read it!
7. More friends on Facebook. I have so many more friends on facebook now that I have a blog. I put a link on my website and people who read my blog have actually friended me. I feel so much more special now…because your number of friends on Facebook is all that matters in 2011, right?!
8. Computer and internet marketing skills. Running a blog requires some more advanced computer skills. I had to learn that to run the blog by myself. It’s not that complicated when you get into it, but I definitely learned many new things. Same thing for internet marketing: when starting a blog, if you want people to read it, you need some strategies to expose yourself a little. This is how I discovered all the power of the social medias. My guess is that what we’re seeing with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter right now is just the tip of the iceberg.
9. Think and re-think. Having a blog is good because it makes you think about new things to write about. It forces you to find new stuff to write about, or just trying to present things from your own perspectives and you do things, because we all apply concepts differently. It also makes you re-think about some of the stuff you’re already doing. In the past I was pretty bad about that; I was usually just doing my thing, applying the stuff I knew with my clients and never really questioning how it could be applied differently, or if I should simply take a different approach altogether. It’s hard to explain, but having to write about what I do, makes me re-think it and question my methods….if it makes any sense…if it doesn’t, it’s because I’m French!
Siick shirt! Now everybody will know I speak French!
10. Posting cool pictures.
And if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, you’re not even cool!
Believe it or not, this week marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog!
Time flies by, as I only recently realized that this website has been going for a full year! It’s been quite a journey for me; I started from nothing at all and didn’t have many expectations for it. I actually started for 2 reasons:
1- I want help spread the word about good and smart training and nutrition, especially when it comes down to athletes’ training. This is something I’m really passionate about, I want to make athletes better and I realize there is so much crap going on in this business that the more people we have spreading the word, the better.
2- My colleague Kevin Neeld was being kind of pushy on me to start my blog. I didn’t understand in the first place why he insisted so much….but now I get it. And I am infinitely thankful to him for doing that and spending all the time he spent helping me set up the site so it looks and works as well as it does now.
That being said (and not being the best writer in English), I took the plunge and dove head first. On this journey, I got smarter, became a better writer and much more (which I will talk about more in details in Thursday’s post). I started with no one else than just my friends, colleagues, former colleagues and family reading my blog a year ago. If I had 10 visits on my website in a day, it was a good day! Fast forward a year later, I’ve had 28,830 visits during the last year, I hit 361 visits in a single day (the most so far, it was on December 7th, 2010) and for the last 2 months, I’ve averaged about 4,000 visits a month. It is not that impressive, but everything considered it’s not too bad for a website after only 1-year on the web!
What’s even more surprising to me is to realize that I wrote 104 different blog posts! I will admit that it was one of my concerns starting the blog and wanting to be consistent with it; I didn’t know if I was going to have enough ideas to write 2 blog posts a week consistently week in and week out. But I did it (so far, at least!) To “celebrate” this 1-year anniversary I did what I like to do best: make a top 10! So here is a top 10 of my best posts from the last year, according to the most objective person for the occasion….MYSELF!! Just like my top-10s usually go, here they are in no particular order:
Make sure you read these if missed any, and forward them to people who would be interested! I’ll be back on Thursday with another top 10 (what else! I just love top-10s) to keep up with the celebrations, so stay tuned!
Don’t forget to sign up for my FREE newsletter as well! Lots of great content and 3 FREE sports training and injury prevention reports!
As many of you already know, last weekend I was in Boston for the Boston Sports and Medicine Performance Group seminar called ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’.
On top of assisting to great presentations by some of the smartest minds in the business, I also met some great coaches and other people that work in the business. It was a truly valuable experience that got me thinking a lot about many of the things we do with our athletes. Generally when listening to a presentation, I approach it with the mindset “how can I apply this stuff with my athletes?”. Sometimes I’ll get more out of certain presentations because it is more applicable to my own situation.
It would be hard for me to recap the whole seminar and explain everything I learned, so I’ll just shoot you a top 10 of the things I got from the presentations at the seminar this past weekend. Here they are in no particular order and who’s presentation it was in:
1. Thomas Myers. We need to stop thinking about the body as individual muscles; it’s not how it works and it is literally impossible to isolate just one specific muscle, no matter what. The fascial system in the body inter-connects all of our organs, tissues and joints. We don’t have 600+ muscles in our body, we have only 1, and everything works together.
2. Jim Snider (U of Wisconsin). Hill (or incline) sprints are more specific for hockey training than flat surface because of the ground contact time. A skating stride as a longer contraction time (about 387 milliseconds) than a running stride (contraction time of 90 milliseconds). Sprinting on an incline surface lengthen the ground contact time and the duration of the contraction, to make it closer to a skating stride. Hill sprints are also more joint-friendly.
3. Jim Snider. When doing an ankle mobility test (wall test is a good example), if the foot of the hockey player collapses in, it will most likely transfer to on-ice performance; meaning that the athlete will tend to put his weight on the inside edges in his skates on his gliding leg, which will in turn decrease overall skating speed.
Wall Ankle Mobility Test
4. Charlie Weingroff. Exercise form is EVERYTHING! No one should ever sacrifice form for weights or whatever reason you can come with to move poorly. The body always follow the path of least resistance, and because of that it’s way too easy let your form go to crap when doing max effort lifts. The way your body move will ALWAYS be more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting. Charlie is a very, very knowledgeable guy….and he can squat 800 pounds, so when he talks, you listen.
5. Shirley Sahrmann. When we have some sort of movement restriction or dysfunction, it’s not always about a muscle being too stiff, but it’s also about another muscle being to loose (usually one that would counteract the restriction).
7. Cal Dietz (U of Minnesota). Block periodization can be extremely complex! All joking aside, Cal’s entire presentation was about his tri-phasic undulating block periodization model that he uses with his athletes and it made me realize that there is waaayyy more to periodization than just playing around with your sets and reps. Without going into too much details, Cal uses 3 phases that each last 2 weeks and each one is focused either on concentric effort, isometric effort or eccentric effort. This method may help athletes become much more reactive in a matter of 6 weeks. This is definitely stuff that I want to play around with in a near future!
8. This is one that came up in many of the presentation this past weekend (Sahrmann, Weingroff, Myers, Clare Franks). Muscles are rarely if ever short. Stiffness (or tone, as Weingroff and Sahrmann would call it) is much more common. But most of the time, the problem doesn’t even come from the muscle itself. It comes from the central nervous system; it’s responsible for sending the signals to the muscles to get stiff when something goes wrong in your body, and it can happen for many different reasons. This is a great example to help illustrate this point: if you have someone who has tight hamstrings and can’t get his thigh to 90 degrees on a straight leg raise test when lying on his back, chances are that if the person was dead, you could crank his leg all the way up to his face. This is a pretty dark example, but a good one to get the point across that your CNS controls everything.
9. Joe Maher (Yale). Joe’s presentation was about the training model they follow at Yale and how they structure their training throughout the year. There were many interesting things that came up in Joe’s presentation, but the thing I really liked is the way he closed his presentation. He concluded by saying “I don’t care what exercises you use, but you need a plan and implement it. You need to know where you’re going and the road you’re gonna take to get there”. This is something that struck me BIG TIME this past weekend! Too many coaches and trainers focus on the exercise selection. This is such a small piece of the puzzle in training athletes. Never lose the sight of the big picture, this is what’s truly important. If a coach still back squats his athletes or not may not matter as much as you think.
10. What I’ve come to love more and more about seminars are not even the presentations themselves (even if most of them were totally awesome!), but the get-togethers that happen after the seminars that allow you to make new contacts and talk shop with the presenters and the other people who attended the event. I had the chance to spend some time with Charlie Weingroff and Jim Snider amongst others, and I was blown away by the knowledge these guys have.
Get my 3 FREE sports training reports by signing up to my newsletter! Simply enter your information below!
I wrote a little bit in the past how some hip restrictions can come from a structural problem rather than from just a lack of mobility in soft-tissue. Femoroacetabular impingement (commonly known as CAM and Pincer impingement) can restrict hip flexion range of motion as well as abduction and external rotation.
These structural differences are only present in a very limited number of individual, but it’s really important to assess athletes and clients who present with a lack of mobility and clear out those potential problems before hammering on the soft-tissue and flexibility work. Trying to force someone in full hip flexion in the presence of a femoroacetabular impingement can have some pretty bad consequences.
Here is a simple test you can use to clear out a femoroacetabular impingement. The quadruped rock test is very helpful in helping determine if we might or might not be dealing with one of these problems. Put your client/athlete on all fours and ask him to rock back while maintaining neutral spine. With a normal hip, no matter the stiffness, the range of motion should improve as the client/athlete rocks back multiple times. If your client/athlete gets stuck at the exact same spot, even after rocking 15-20 consecutive times, chances are that you might be dealing with a femoroacetabular impingement.
If this is the case and your client/athlete’s quadruped rock doesn’t improve, you should refer them out to a medical professional to have them confirm or clear out the problem. This type of impingement is not very well known in the strength and conditioning community and it’s definitely something we need to be aware of as coaches.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to get more insights on injury prevention and performance training!! You’ll also receive 3 FREE reports!!!
I read Charlie Weingroff’s blog post 2 days ago that was called Putting Manual Therapy Into Perspective (make sure you read it, as it is one of the most enlightening thing I’ve read recently). For those who might not know Charlie, he is one of the smartest minds in this business and he has a unique perspective on things (I guess that’s what happens when you put physical therapy, strength and conditioning, powerlifting and manual therapy in the same person!). That being said, Charlie was discussing different manual therapy options in his blog post and when each one might be appropriate. The part of his blog post that really caught my attention though is the first part where he explains why we lose mobility in the first place.
Muscles are rarely, if ever, short. When a muscle feels stiff, it’s not necessarily short and it definitely doesn’t automatically means that you should stretch it. Stiffness can be created for many different reasons, and sometimes the cause of the problem may be somewhere else. For those who’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know that I’m a big advocate of stretching, so that might sound confusing coming from me, but bare with me you’ll understand why I’m saying this (because it is not ALWAYS appropriate to stretch).
One other thing to understand is that a muscle that feels tight might be short, or it might actually be long. This might be a complex thing to understand, but here is a simple example: think about someone in an anterior pelvic tilt.
When your pelvis is tilted forward, your hamstrings are going to be put on a stretch. Because of that, your hamstrings might feel stiff and if you use a straight leg raise to assess their length, they will most likely test short. But if you think about it, in this specific example, your pelvic position is what causes your hamstring to test short. If the pelvis is reposition correctly with appropriate strategies (read: not stretching your hamstrings), your hamstrings will get some slack and they most likely won’t feel stiff anymore (or less stiff).
This is just one example of why muscles that feel stiff might not need to be stretched. Another reason might be when muscles get stiff as a protective mechanism or a compensation pattern. Never forget the brain-muscle connection and its importance, especially when it comes down to “stiff” muscles. Your brain might send the signal to the muscle to stiffen up because there is something going wrong around the area. This might happen to prevent a muscle to overstretch or that might even prevent you from pulling a hammy or a quad while you sprint or play hockey or whatever else you’re doing. And when you’re performing a task at high or near-max intensity, your body will always compensate in the easiest way possible. And unfortunately this is not something we have control over; your brain is the boss and he’s the one sending the signal to the muscles if they should activate, stiffen, shut down, etc. So you can stretch all you want, but the muscle in question will never loosen up.
This is why assessing and addressing imbalances is key. It’s really important to address the underlying issues to whatever problem one might have. If you don’t, you might be studying for the wrong test. You can stretch a muscle all you want and it’ll always feel tight.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg when talking about short/stiff muscles and the implications of stretching and how the brain has so much control over what’s happening. And there are so many other things to consider. Hopefully that opened your eyes a little bit on how stretching stiff muscles might not always be the solution to everything.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. Get updates, insights and 3 FREE reports on sports training and athletic development!!!