Building the perfect pressing platform: Part 1

By Mark Clevenger
July 8th 2016

Regardless if you’re a Crossfitter, Strongman, or Olympic lifter, the press is a cornerstone of your training. The concept itself is very simple, press the weight over your head. The proper execution of said concept is anything but easy. I want to take a look at the press from an osteokinematic, biomechanical, and maximal performance viewpoint, in an effort to marry the three into the safest and strongest pressing position possible. This first part will cover everything from your feet to your shoulders.

The stability of every platform starts with its base so that’s where we’ll begin. We want a base of support that is wide enough to offer sufficient stability while not being so wide that we lose the ability to generate maximum power from hips for any power variation of the press. A general rule of thumb is the wider your feet get past your hips, the greater the decrease in force production through the hips1. I have found the happy medium between base of support and power production for most people lies with the feet directly underneath their hips or just slightly wider than their hips.

We can’t sufficiently discuss the position of the feet without addressing the toe angle. This angle of the foot itself serves two main purposes: First, it positions the entire leg for maximum recruitment of the lateral rotators of the hip and the gluteus maximus. Recruitment of these muscles is important not just for producing force in the power variation of the press, but they also help stabilize the pelvis during these dynamic movements1. A stable pelvis during these power movements will decrease the risk of lumbopelvic injuries and increase force transmission from the legs and hips to the bar2.

The second main job of the toe angle, in conjunction with a wide enough base, is to allow the vertical dip and drive of the torso. This movement is a combination of lateral rotation of the thighs, abduction of the thighs, flexion and extension of the knees, and slight flexion and extension of the hips. All of these movements increase the overall amount of active musculature involved across the hip which produces a more stable pelvis and generates greater force production. Lateral rotation and abduction of the thighs are what create room for the pelvis to drop vertically. Without this, athletes will be inclined to hinge forward at the waist which will create horizontal displacement of the bar in the drive. This displacement creates an external moment that makes the execution more difficult than it has to be.

Gym Log Press

Moving up from the pelvis we get to the area that creates stability in both the thoracolumbar and pelvic regions, the ‘core’. Our posterior back muscles are actively engaged when we are vertical and under load by supporting our torso to keep it upright. The other anterolateral (AL) muscles of the core must also be braced to share the weight of the external applied load and to help stabilize the pelvis. These AL muscles have anterior, lateral, and posterior attachments to the pelvis, the ribcage, and around to the fascia of the lower back2. Without the active engagement of these muscles the pelvis is more susceptible to movement and because of the relationship the pelvis has with the lower back any movement here will create some sort of flexion or extension in the lumbar spine2. Any flexion/extension here under load is a can of injury soup with your face on the cover.

Hopefully you’ve found this information useful and applicable to your press.  Stay tuned for ‘Building the Perfect Pressing Platform: Part 2’ where you will learn how to position your hands and arms.

References:

  1. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the hip: A focus on muscular actions. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy. 2010; 40(2): 82-94.
  2. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation Second Edition. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Bringing Balance to your Force: An Argument for Focused Anterolateral Core Training in Strongman

by Mark Clevenger
July 6th 2016

A strongman has a strong back. This is the foundation that strongman programming is built upon. The muscles of the back help stabilize the axial skeleton (core) through which our appendicular system (limbs) work. It allows for the transmission of force from the ground to heavy things we move from one place to another. The problem with a lot of strongman programming is the lack of core work. The focus is only on the muscles of the back and ignores the anterolateral (AL) core musculature. These ignored muscles include the ‘traditional’ abdominals, both sets of oblique’s, and the transverse abdominis. These muscles are the Luke Skywalker of our core force, bringing balance to the axial system for the betterment of strongmen everywhere.

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Traditionally, most of our training volume is utilized for our main lifts. In these lifts the back bears the majority of the burden from the weight.  In addition to these main lifts we perform additional isolated accessory movements to further strengthen our backs.  Taking it even further, we perform more strongman specific movements, like carries and loads, which again are meant to strengthen our back.  Then we may do some planks or Russian twists for a couple of sets at the end of a workout and call it a day. In this scenario, the posterior core musculature is disproportionally strengthened when compared to the AL musculature.  Granted, these muscles are not able to move heavy weights like their posterior compadres, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

The greatest issue with such a muscle disproportion in the core is the increased risk of injury. There is no shortage of available data that support the idea that stability of the spinal column and static balance of the core is directly correlated to trunk flexor, extensor, and lateral endurance measures1,2. This proves there is a need for a strong relationship between both the large powerful posterior core muscles and the smaller weaker muscles of the AL core. Any large gap in strength and endurance between the posterior core musculature and the AL core musculature leads to instability of the spinal column and static balance of the core. This instability and loss of balance under large loads, like during deadlifts or keg carries, is a personal invitation from you to the injury monster for him to come to your training session and ruin your day.

Another advantage of increasing the amount of AL core work is the translation to our strongman event specific performance, like in our log presses and stone loads. Available data shows us that overall core strengthening leads to an increase in trunk strength and lower leg functional stability2,3,4. Obviously training the complete core strengthens the complete core and adds to stability of the spinal column, but the effect of increased lower limb functional stability can come as a surprise. Considering the fact that the core is a conduit of force transfer between our appendicular system and the ground, it is easy to see how a more stable transfer of force can create better positional stability for the limbs operating through it. Coincidently, this includes 100% of all strongman exercises.

If you’re a Sith lord on the dark side of AL core training and you’re thinking about joining light I’ve got a good place for you to start. For the sake of education let’s look at some of the components that warrant consideration when programming for your AL core .First, consider the 3 types of motion your AL core operates in: Anterior flexion, lateral flexion, and axial (torso) rotation. These 3 elements should be worked at least twice through each microcycle. Second, consider the type of contractions these muscles are capable of producing: Concentric (shortening), eccentric (lengthening under tension), and isometric (tension produced without movement). You should cycle though each of these contraction types with each of the above mentioned types of motion every other microcycle. Lastly, don’t think about training your AL core in terms of sets and reps. Instead, think about it in terms of time spent under tension (TUT). You should start by trying to accumulate at least 4 quality minutes of TUT that is dispersed among the types of motion and contraction types listed, with 8 minutes being the eventual goal to reach. I’ve included a 4 week mesocycle of AL core training exercises and progressions below.  The exercise section includes elaborated descriptions for clarity and do not always represent the traditional name for each. Exercise progressions should only be used when previous exercises, with prescribed quality TUT, have been achieved consistently. This mesocycle, in conjunction with the information listed, should help start you on your path to becoming an AL Jedi.

BeginALCoreTemp

We know how important a strong back is to strongman since these large muscles are at the center of almost everything we do and they rightfully deserve a lot of attention. The problem with posterior chain and core training arises when we neglect the AL core muscles in our programming and training. These muscles provide significant contributions to both injury prevention and exercise performance. We must not ignore these essential muscles and allow them to become disproportionately weaker than their posterior counterparts.  The next time you train and think there is no time for your AL core, that is Emperor Palpatine calling you to the dark side. Ignore his call by choosing the light and your strongman career will prosper.

References:

  1. Barati A. Safarcherati A. Aghayari A. Azizi F. Abbasi H. Evaluation of Relationship between Trunk Muscle Endurance and Static Balance in Male Students. Asian J Sports Med. 2013; 4(4): 289-294.
  2. Bliss L. Teeple P. Core Stability: The centerpiece of any Training Program. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2005; 4(3): 179-183.
  3. The Effect of Core Strengthening on Lower Leg Functional Stability in Football Players. R. M. Tarpy. California University of Pennsylvania. Master’s Thesis Proposal. libweb.calu.edu/thesis/umi-cop-1009.pdf. 2005. Accessed May 14, 2016 at 4:01pm.
  4. Sellentin R. Jones R. The Effect of Core and Lower Limb Exercises on Trunk Strength and Lower Limb Stability on Australian Soldiers. Journal of Military Veterans Health. 2012; 20(4): 21-35.

Why Strongman?

Imagine that you want to build your pyramid of fitness and at the top of this pyramid is a physical goal that you have set for yourself. Having that peak in place tells you where you want your fitness to go. With the end game in mind, now you have to take your first step towards it. How do you get there? No matter what goal you have set at the top of your pyramid the base is the same for all of them, strength. Raw strength is the trait every professional or recreational athlete possesses and displays in one capacity or another. Bodybuilders, football players, powerlifters, crossfitters, and even runners all possess either high values of absolute or relative strength.

Strongman is a sport that is built on the concept of displaying strength across multiple physical domains with various implements. Training for this is focused on feats of physical strength and mental toughness. Considering that the bottom tier of anyone’s fitness pyramid is built on the foundation of strength, it only makes sense that strongman training is the first step for everyone looking to improve their physical performance.  Resistance training for strongman is the start of your journey and will be key in turning you into the mentally tough and physically strong individual you’re striving to be.