Training Series: Strength, Part Two

Welcome back! This week we are going to be continuing with the second part to our strength part of our training series. Last week in Part One we covered the push, pull, squat, and hinge patterns. This week we will be covering the last three of our seven patterns: the lunge, rotation, and locomotion. These tend to be our more advanced training patterns and the ones that are also most commonly omitted from many training programs. However, they certainly have a significant role in a training program as they are motions that we perform routinely in our daily, occupational, and sport-related activities. So, let’s jump right into it and begin with the lunge pattern.

The Lunge Pattern

The lunge is similar to some of our squat patterns; however, the lunge pattern requires us to step (either forward, backward, or lateral) when being performed whereas the feet stay static with a squat. The lunge requires a significant amount of coordination, stability, balance, strength, and power. Our split squat and lateral squat are great precursors to our lunge patterns. The lunge is often overlooked as a strength pattern as it typically is not performed with as much weight as our other patterns, since it follows the rules of unilateral training that we discussed last week. The lunge displaces more weight on one leg versus the other and as a result substantially increases the weight demand to the loaded leg.

Similar to the squat the lunge requires really good trunk stability along with mobility of the joints of our lower extremity (hips, knees, and ankles); in fact, it requires all of these things to an even greater level as we move through the lunge more than we do with the squat.

Let’s review some of our favorite lunge patterns:

Kettlebell Goblet Reverse Lunge

Again, the Goblet is a great entry point when it comes to learning patterns as the goblet (in this case a kettlebell) assists activation of our core to help stabilize our trunk through the lunge pattern. We start out with a reverse lunge versus a forward lunge (where we would step forward) as the reverse lunge is easier from the standpoint that we do not move as much of our mass through the movement, compared to the front squat, therefore it is an easier movement to control.

2 Kettlebell Walking Lunges

The walking lunge is a version of the forward lunge. The forward lunge as discussed above is a progression off of the reverse lunge as we have to control and stabilize more of our mass through the movement compared to the reverse lunge as we are carrying our moving our body forward throughout the movement.

Front Racked USB Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge takes us from a sagittal plane movement (motion required in the reverse and forward lunge) to a frontal plane movement, which requires more strength from our lateral musculature that we often forget about with strength training. Movements in the frontal plane require a significant amount of stabilization in the sagittal and transverse plane.

USB Max (Multiaxial) Lunge

The Max Lunge is a very demanding form of the lunge in that it requires us to move in the sagittal plane while stabilizing a moving weight in the transverse plane hence its name. This form of a lunge requires good hip mobility, good core stability, and good mobility in our mid back just as we have previously discussed in our joint-by-joint approach.

Rotational Pattern

From our lunge pattern, we will move into our rotational pattern. The rotational pattern may be the first pattern that we discuss that is not very familiar to many from a training standpoint. In other words, it’s not very often you walk into a gym and discover someone who is focusing on training rotation. Whereas, seeing someone bench press, pull up, squat, deadlift, or lunge would be common. However, so many activities that we do throughout life require us to be able to rotate. This is commonly seen in rotational sports including golf, tennis, baseball, and softball. Activities such as punching and kicking and even running and walking have rotational components to them. Training rotation is a great way to understand the difference between functional strength training and just training for strength. The strength required to allow our body to effectively rotate must come from many different muscles working together. Therefore, if we try to improve our power through rotation by training isolated strength exercises, though we would certainly be getting stronger with the areas we were strengthening that may or may not translate to improvement of our ability to rotate more effectively and efficiently.

Rotation requires us to have mobile hips, a stable core, and a mobile mid back..sound familiar? These requirements continually show up throughout our functional training patterns. Rotation requires us to have good stability of our lead leg to post on, while having good mobility of rear leg to pivot from along with good stability of our trunk (core) to reduce the strain to our lower back and good mobility of our mid back to complete the rotation from our lower body through our upper body.  In other words, rotation is one of our more complex patterns that has more prerequisites that may need to be addressed prior to moving into rotational training.

When we train rotation, we often do not need a significant amount of load as we do not need a significant amount of force with rotational based movements, more often we need power which comes through proper control of the motion with good speed. Good control of motion comes through stability, so many of the exercises that we use to train the rotational pattern largely involve a stabilization component. To properly control rotation, it is mainly about the deceleration component of the movement as we can only rotate as fast as we can stop the motion, otherwise we would fall over in the process. Therefore, to create more energy, force or power through rotation we must have a good braking system in place, which occurs from proper stabilization and control. In addition, we need good mobility of our hips and mid back, which we have previously covered in our hip mobility and shoulder mobility posts. There are a couple of additional techniques that we use to unlock the hips and mid back, as well as to improve hip stability required for rotation. Let’s go ahead and review some of these:

Leg Threading (precursor to a Turkish Get Up)

Turkish Get Up

Each of the above exercises can be broken down into segments. We have already previously reviewed some of these within our training series. You could segment these as follows (when shown in entirety as above, the segments occur at the pauses during the exercise):

  • To Elbow (seen in Leg Threading & TGU)
  • To Stance Hand (seen in Leg Threading & TGU))
  • To Bridge (seen in Leg Threading & TGU)
  • Leg Threading (seen in Leg Threading)
  • To Half Windmill (seen in TGU)
  • To Overhead Lunge (seen in TGU)
  • To Standing Overhead Press (seen in TGU)

Obviously, each progressive step comes with a bigger demand and as such each segment should be mastered prior to attempting the next segment of movement until one is able to complete the entire motion.

90/90 Squat with Sandbag Pressout

The 90/90 squat is a great way to help improve and unlock hip mobility, particularly hip internal rotation (which tends to more often be restricted compared to external rotation). It accomplishes this through providing an active and stable core for our hip to move around.

To improve stability of the lead leg during rotation we utilize lateral band walk variations:

Lateral Band Walk with Sandbag Pressout

Lateral Band Walk with Offset Bar (RIP Trainer)

Lateral Band Walk with Kettlebell Overhead Press

Once we build a strong foundation for our hips, core and mid back we can then begin to build strength and power with rotation, here are some examples of the exercises that we use to build rotation:

Standing Rotation with Sandbag Pressout

Standing Rotation with Kettlebell Overhead Press

The other thing that we need to be very mindful of when training rotation is to be sure that we are creating the rotation from our mobile regions of the mid back (thoracic spine) and hips, which is created by properly pivoting the foot into the ground, which helps us to engage our “core” and create proper stability in our low back as we rotate to limit rotation from occurring at the lumbar spine and focusing it to the hips. Rotatory movement, especially with load, created at our lower back increases our risk of injury to this region. Therefore, when training rotation it is often recommended that you initially work with a trained professional to learn how to properly rotate prior to loading the movement.

Once we build a strong foundation to be able to properly rotate from, we can then add some of our previous lifts from the rotational position, as shown below with the rotational deadlift. We reserve this exercise until one can demonstrate the ability to properly hip hinge (as discussed in our hinge pattern) and properly rotate through the hips and mid back. Training this pattern properly can help us to learn how to properly rotate and bend with load, which significantly reduces our risk of a lower back injury.

Rotational Deadlift

The Locomotion (Gait) Pattern

Our last, but certainly not least, training pattern is locomotion or gait. Many would say why do we need to train something that is so fundamental to life? That is exactly the reason, in fact this pattern is probably the most important for us to train because it is so vital to our quality of life. It is a motion that we certainly take for granted. However, walking on two feet is a very skilled task, as seen by the fact that we are only one of a very few species who can accomplish this task. Locomotion also requires activation of all three planes of motion at once, as we have to move through the sagittal plane (forward and back), stabilize through the frontal plane (otherwise we could not walk a straight line) while we create slight rotation (transverse plane) when moving our body through space. An inability to properly move or stabilize through these planes will result in compensations during our gait cycle and increase our risk for injury. For example, a common cause of iliotibial band syndrome (a common injury in runners and athletes) has a high correlation to lack of frontal plane stability with running. We typically do not realize the importance of being able to perform this task well or with good efficiency until the time that we are limited with it, or it is taken away from us. One of the many reasons we focus on gait in our training (outside of the importance of building true human movement) is that improving the qualities that make up gait will help us improve the other six other patterns that we are discussing. People are often surprised to see squats, deadlifts, presses, and more improve when we place emphasis on improving the qualities of gait. As a result, the locomotion pattern is strongly integrated into our training programs here at ChiroFitt.

To train our body to understand how to move effectively through the sagittal plane with good stability, we utilize the dead bug or birddog exercise, as seen below we can perform these exercises with different variations to continue to challenge our body in a way that is going to help us to connect the stability and mobility required to effectively move through the sagittal plane.

Deadbug with Sandbag

Deadbug with LeverBell

Kettlebell Deadbug

To train frontal plane stability, we will begin with the side plank and variations of this exercise to activate our lateral stabilization system in a safer environment prior to moving onto more complex positions such as half kneeling, which further challenge frontal plane stability with a split stance in a vertical position having to stabilize against gravity.

Side Plank Variations

Side Plank from Knee

Side Plank from Knee with Sandbag Hold

Side Plank

Side Plank with Sandbag Hold

Side Plank with Cable Row

Half Kneeling Variations

Half Kneeling Setup & Hold

Half Kneeling Cable Chop

Half Kneeling Leverbell Lift

Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Row

Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Press

Inline Half Kneeling with Sandbag Rotation

If you have been following our previous blog posts, you will probably recognize some of these exercises as they have been previously discussed. This is another great aspect of functional training, since it involves full body training, we can use similar or the same exercise for different primary training goals.

The next progression of the locomotion (gait) pattern would be to go into a full upright position with marching and loading the body strategically to help us to activate our stabilization systems through the motion of gait. Marching is a very effective way to help us train pelvic stabilization, which is tremendously important with gait as it provides the foundation for good hip mobility, which is obviously necessary to maintain gait without compensation. The first couple examples here demonstrate ways that we assist the core to train it to understand how to be active through the gait pattern.

Marching w/ Band Assist (Arms Extended)

These latter examples demonstrate how we train our core to be reactive with this pattern.

Marching w/ Alternating Leverbell Press

Sandbag Front Load Max March

The final progression of our gait pattern is what many would think of when training gait, carries. However, as we see there are a lot of progressions in getting to an actual carry when training this pattern. The biggest thing we want to be certain of when moving into a carry is proper foot/ankle mobility and stability, pelvic and trunk stability. The first steps in training the carry is using a hybrid of the march and a carry as shown below:

Sandbag Front Racked Carry

Sandbag Sumo Carry

In these two versions of the carry we use the sandbag to assist in activating our stabilization system through support of the load provided by the sandbag.

The final and last of our progressions with the carries will be more dynamic versions of the carry where we add a press, hinge and row to the standard carry:

Carry w/ KB OH Press

Hip Hinge Carry with Sandbag

Hip Hinge Carry to Row with Sandbag

This concludes our seven patterns for strength training. You probably are noticing that true functional training isn’t as segmented in individual movement patterns as many believe. The fact is that the seven primal movement patterns we are discussing are just an easy way to compartmentalize that movement is complex and blurs lines of such categories. As demonstrated in our last couple of versions of the carry where we are coupling patterns to increase the functional challenge to our body with having to create strength through high thresholds of stability and mobility, which tends to have a better carry over to our everyday tasks.

This also helps reinforce why in functional fitness we don’t like to sit on machines. Why deliberately take away something so fundamental to how we as humans are designed to move? More importantly, why go against the way our body would like to create movement, that is like taking your car to the shop and taking off the wheels and putting in a bigger engine. What’s the point?!

Next we will cover Power and how we create power through functional movement. Power training is extremely important as we age, as we lose 17% of power for each decade of life past forty years, which can have profound impacts on our health if we are not preparing our body in a manner to assist through and slow the progression of these losses.

Till Next Time…

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