Exercises are like dominoes. Get one thing wrong and the whole thing can topple over. Here, we present some common exercises and the "dominoes" that derail them, along with movement analyses and fixes.
Domino 1: Sagging Hips on the Push-Up
You've been told to do Push-Ups since grade school, but did anyone ever take the time to teach you how to do them correctly? Sagging hips are where most problems originate. If your hips sag, often you have no contraction through the trunk, which can mean no shoulder setting and poor hand positioning.
Build up from the base. Approach the Push-Up as a moving plank. When you set up, hold your feet and legs together. This creates a tension that carries up through the hips. Now brace your abs as if doing a plank. Hold that position as if your body were a steel beam.
Once you've mastered this, focus on proper shoulder position (think of pushing your shoulder blades toward your back pockets), hand position (shoulder-width with thumbs next to your armpits at the bottom of the movement), neck position (ears, shoulders and hips in a continuous line) and proper position at the bottom of the movement (chest, and only the chest, touches the ground). There's more to it than Coach Barowski let on back in the first grade, huh?
Domino 2: Ankle and Hip Mobility Problems on the Squat
This one is arguable, but often poor ankle or hip mobility is the first clue that your Squat is off. Can't go low enough? Ankle and hip mobility. Toes point out? Ankle mobility. Knees drop in or push forward? Ankle mobility. Butt wink? You guessed it—hip mobility.
Look at this possible (and common) chain of events: Lack of ankle mobility leads to outward pointing toes (due to ankle angle). Outward pointing toes lead to knee valgus. Knee valgus leads to lack of hip stability and tension. Lack of hip stability and tension goes up the posterior chain and compromises core stability. Compromised core stability leads to those 200 pounds sitting on your shoulders loaded on a flawed foundation.
If everything from your shoulders down is compromised—or not working at 100 percent—it's hard to expect yourself to generate the force necessary to squat down and stand back up under the load.
Mobility, mobility, mobility. Perform ankle mobility drills against a wall. Foam roll all the way down to the Achilles. Even simply use a wall behind you to get into a good squat position and just hang out there for awhile. All are good approaches, but they take time and patience. Don't be in a hurry and skip the mobility. You'll pay dearly later.
Domino 3: Faulty Hip-Hinging Pattern on Deadlift
You cannot do without a correct hip-hinging motion on the Deadlift. If the movement you are using to lift the bar from the ground closely resembles a Squat, then you're missing out on one of the biggest reasons to do this full-body monster.
Stand up tall. Squeeze your glutes. Pull your shoulders down and back. Exhale and brace your core. Without moving your knees forward, press your hips toward the wall behind you, keeping the tension that you just created throughout your body. Inhale slowly. Your knees are bending, but not pressing forward. Your hamstrings are beginning to get a bit tight. Stop. Now quickly thrust your hips forward and stop back at the start position.
Go through the starting checklist again and make sure you've crossed each step off. Warm up like this every time you plan on deadlifting, until you are 100 percent comfortable with the movement. It also helps to drop the weight to a load that you can comfortably lift with perfect technique. With a solid hip hinge motion, you can now focus on using Deadlifts for pretty much every muscle, from your traps to your hams.
Does applying these fixes automatically give you a perfect Squat or a flawless Push-Up? No, but they are necessary for anyone who has movement issues or is just learning these exercises.
Good trainers look for the root cause of faulty movement patterns. To paraphrase Gray Cook, every movement is a movement analysis. If your trainer simply throws a couple of weight plates under your heels for squats but never addresses ankle mobility, he's more than likely missing the root cause of many other movement problems as well.
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