This video centers on some of the isolated accessory movements that one might include for the upper body as a compliment to the 'meat and potatoes' that will come from our big compound movements (explored in previous installments 'upper body push' and 'upper body pull').
00:40 Cuban Rotations- My demo is actually a tiny bit sloppy here as the elbows are shifting slightly up and down, notwithstanding that you can see the goal here is to isolate external rotation of the shoulder during the concentric (here lifting) and the internal rotation during the eccentric (lowering), without allowing the scapulars (shoulder blades) to protract or elevate.
01:02 Here I'm demonstrating a light muscle snatch from the hang. This is a good example of how the best way to 'target' a particular area is not necessarily to 'isolate' a particular area. By using my hips back and upper body to help get the bar overhead while externally rotating I help train the muscles of the rotator cuff in their role as 'synergists' and stabilizers rather than prime movers while also working on my snatch technique.
01:23 Wrist curls and wrist extensions. Usually I like to work the muscles of the wrist and forearm as part of a compound movement but isolation has its place, particularly in the context of facilitating more targeted stress and blood flow when recovering from an injury or learning how to activate a particular muscle. The same goes for movements like Bicep curls 01:35 and tricep extensions
01:38, the internet is full of a thousand variations of bending and straightening your elbows against a resistance if you need them, just remember that you only have so much training time and you have many other joints.
01:44 Some bodyweight-based movements for the wrists, hands and fingers. This is just a small sample, there's a whole world of this stuff available if you hang out with people who are into rock climbing or hand balancing.
02:13 Dumbbell lateral raises.
02:20 Bent over dumbbell lateral raises.
02:40 Dumbell flies, these can be handy for learning how to switch on the pecs and also to give them a good stretch. Remember to depress and retract and try to focus the load on the pecs rather than the front deltoids or biceps.
03:41 Ring muscleup transitions. Once you've gotten a good base in the basic pushing and pulling movements we can start to get more interesting/creative. The transition part is a little awkward if you've just been doing chins and dips so this drill can help bridge the gap.
04:11 Dumbbell Pullover- As with the straight arm pulldown we are training shoulder extension. Given that the pecs, lats and triceps all play a role in extending the shoulder against resistance at this angle this exercise can potentially be varied slightly to target any of the above. Pullovers can be a good stretch but be cautious with the weight as you'll be weak in the end range.
04:39 I demonstrate some 'isolation' movements with sloppy form and cheating with momentum. Sometimes this sort of thing has its place, for instance I might cheat to get the weight up and lower it with control in order to overload the eccentric, but often the use of extra momentum on what is supposed to be an isolation exercise will be caused by too much weight and a stubborn ego. At best this will result in strengthening the wrong areas, at worst it can reinforce shoddy patterns and lead to injuries.
04:48 I comment on the allure of novelty. Sometimes different/novel movements can help us to identify or address weaknesses in our strength/conditioning/mobility, they can also be engaging/fun/challenging. Just make sure that these movements complement and build on a solid foundation in the basics rather than detracting from your long term development by distracting you from training that might be less sexy but more productive/rewarding over time.
In this episode I cover some potential garnish for the big movements that constitute the bulk of our lower body training effort. I also reflect briefly on the uses of complimentary practices like 'accessories', 'movement prep', 'correctives' and 'prehab'.
00:23 Hip thrusts- these were mentioned when we covered hinges generally, but they are worth reiterating. Apart from teaching you how to extend the hips using the glutes like one would in a deadlift or clean these can be performed as an exercise in their own right to test/encourage hip extension and the ability to ‘recruit’ the glutes which is often compromised in those with a sedentary lifestyle. Because my clients tend to address loading and stabilizing with the hips in our other movements, I am not a giant fan of performing these with a heavy load (the glutes will tend to get worked by squats hinges and carries if you’re doing them properly) or one leg at a time (I usually address this with other unilateral work like lunges and loaded carries) but those are still options. At 00:39 a demonstrate a variation of hip thrust into table top, this changes the angle that the hips are working at and provides an opportunity to train shoulder extension at the same time.
01:02 Sissy Squat- this is a way to isolate knee extension. Start gently with these as you will be deliberately loading the front of the knee joint (and the surrounding muscles) using some awkward leverage. I didn’t go terribly deep in this variation but the range can be extended as long as participants are smart and do so gradually.
01:19 Hindu Squats- with a different arm swing variation starting at 1:27. These are traditionally done with no load and for very high reps. They’ll work the lungs as much as the knees and quads. Be careful if your knees and ankles aren’t used to squatting with your heals lifted. It would be worth getting used to the position at the bottom static and unloaded first, and then maybe getting accustomed to moving slowly through that range of motion before you add speed, a bouncing motion and high reps.
01:34 Hamstring Curls- I start with a rather awkward version using the cable machine, mostly to prove a point that you can improvise in the gym if you need to, this variation can also be performed well with an elastic band. Hamstring curls are not exactly a mainstay in most of my programming, but I have found them useful at different points. Specifically I used hamstring curls to help address an asymmetry in my hamstring development that was messing with my lifting after spending a long time on crutches (in conjunction with nearly every other lower body lift and stretch shown in these videos). I have used them to address weak or undersized hamstrings in clients, on the rare occasions that that was been as issue that wasn’t addressed by the compound lifts, usually after some kind of injury. At 01:52 I demonstrate hamstring curls on the TRX, you could do the same thing using rings or another suspension device like ‘Redcord’, I’ve also gone a similar variation with a swiss ball 02:07. Although the different pieces of equipment may have a slightly different feel, its the pattern is really more important than your choice of apparatus.
02:23 Squat Jumping… Here we jump forward by 6 months and teleport to the Eastern Suburbs where I demonstrate 'squat jumps' and 'split squat jumps'. Before you attempt these I would recommend developing a solid squat and lunge along with some calf raises and maybe some skipping. Even then start gently and build up slowly. Warnings aside, these can be a good option for working the lower body explosively if you have no equipment available. I’ll also use these when I have to work with large number of students at once since its hard to get across the finer technical points necessary to perform explosive lifts safely. These simple, brutal basics can build impressive legs and lungs and can be the foundation for a high volume ‘base’ of conditioning that will translate well into heavy lifting later.
02:55 Back Extensions- these should really be called hip extensions, they are a more isolated form of the hinge pattern that removes the knee involvement in order to target the ‘posterior chain’ the most emphasized muscles in that group here will be the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors, particularly in the lumbar region. I find these useful as a light, high rep accessory or ‘finisher’ for that area. 'Reverse hypers' and 'glute ham raises' could also be useful in similar circumstances, I might discuss these variations in the future.
03:12 ‘stiff legged deadlift’ and at 03:30 the ‘good morning’ these are both options for practicing/emphasizing the hinge pattern, but the variation in where the weight is held shifts the emphasis slightly. The awkward leverage of the good morning makes it better suited for lighter weights and the use of a strict technique (minimal knee bend) in order to target the hamstrings, the back muscles will generally be forced to work fairly hard even without much load. The stiff legged deadlift can handle some heavier loads but one should still remain strict with the quality of the movement. These is an accessory movement that should complement our big lifts and help us get stronger, sometimes this means less weight. If we just wanted to lift as much weight as possible then we would do so using the regular (more upright) deadlift where our hamstrings aren’t as stretched, quads are in a better position to contribute and our skeleton (rather than the strength of our erectors) is able to support more of the load.
04:08 I’m demonstrating some gentle ankle circles (emphasizing inversion) which I’m using to get a stiff ankle moving again after I sprained it. There are some ranges of motion which we won’t address with traditional gym exercises and while a small movement like ankle inversion is hardly going to replace key patterns like squats and deadlifts at the centre of our training, developing strength and control through a full range of motion using these ‘weird’ movements can help to address/prevent injuries and identify weak links that might be holding back our lifts or our performance outside of the gym. I’ve found some of Ido’s stuff from ‘the Corset’ very useful in this regard along with my training as a yoga teacher. If you’re especially interested in developing your knowledge in this area, I’d recommend living with your sister for 6 years while she studies sports science and then physiotherapy, and then finding a yoga instructor girlfriend and living with her for 5 years while she studies osteopathy. For best results try this while furiously training yourself in various disciplines, having grown up on a diet of dance and martial arts.
04:42 I make some comments about the possibility of being distracted by novelty and neglecting the basics in the process. It’s a hard balance to strike between being close-minded and dogmatic and having exercise ADHD. Again I find Dan John helpful here with his idea of ‘the 6th movement’ (being whatever else you decide to do) after squat, push, pull, hinge and loaded carry. It’s a handy heuristic to help you prioritize where to direct your strength training efforts. Apart from isolated accessory movements, some good options for this category may include getups, brachiating, tumbling, rolling/groundwork and crawling, all great practices to include in your training but they are beyond the scope of this little introductory series.