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Tight Hips and the Domino Effect on Training
As coaches, trainers and athletes, we have learned that our bodies are complex machines and must be trained as such. In the quest for peak performance, strength, and fat loss, we’ve come to fully appreciate the benefits of bodyweight and free weight exercises. This may mean starting with push-up variations instead of benching a beginner 130lbs. Similarly, you can try performing a single bodyweight pistol squat before bringing out the knee wraps and maximizing the leg press. The theory is that if we use our body as a unit at home, on the field and under the grass, it should train that way – as a unit. By doing so, you or your clients will progress to more intense multi-joint exercises such as squats, cleans and push presses. Each of these multi-joint movements has a specific kinetic chain. This kinetic chain can also be described as a domino effect of muscle contraction throughout the body. Learning to contract the muscles in the correct sequence is what dictates good form and makes an exercise like the squat functional and safe.
When there is an injury, knot or tightness in a particular muscle, your kinetic chain will be interrupted. The tight area will be stretched with little or no muscle contraction. This disruption of the sequence forces the body to “skip the path” to the next phase of the movement by recruiting stronger muscles to pick up the slack for muscles that are not contracting. It’s a diversion, so to speak, but it’s the body’s most efficient way to complete the lift at that time. This is where form breaks down and a new or additional injury can occur. This can also happen if there is a weak area (relative to the other muscles working in the movement) or any imbalance from one side of the body to the other. But since tightening creates a weakness that can cause an injury, we’ll start there. One of the most common destroyers of the kinetic chain is tight hips.
The most obvious sign of having a tight hip is pain on one or both sides during movements involving the hip. If you’re a beast and don’t feel pain or are just used to it, here are some more specific signs of less-than-optimal hip health.
* Difficulty or inability to flare the knees from a squat with a medium-wide stance
* Difficulty performing full range kicks with your body straight
* Loss of explosiveness from squat or lunge
* Have trouble closing on top of a dead lift
* Having problems shooting from the bottom of the box collection
If you think that all these things are difficult and this is just a sign of intense training, please read on. It is important to be able to spot a problem or weakness so that you and/or your customers can continue to improve and achieve your goals. If you’re still not sure, here are three quick motion tests you can do almost anywhere:
Body weight bridge
Lie back on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Press through your heels, squeeze your butt, and hook your hips up creating a shoulder-to-knee plank position. Ideally, you will be able to create a straight body line from shoulder to hip (no higher). If you feel pain in the hip area or are unable to complete this movement in the plank position, then you have tight hips.
Body weight bridge 1
Body weight bridge 2
Wide stance wall squats
Face a blank wall with your toes no more than an inch away from it. Before you begin, be sure to clear the area behind you or your client in case you lose your balance and fall back. Although a difficult movement, the wall squat leaves no room for cheating yourself out of good squat form. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes slightly outwards. Sit down and slowly pull your body down, keeping your knees spread over your toes. Don’t stand wider than your knees can take. If there is pain or tightness in one or both hips, you need to work on hip mobility.
Wide Wall Squat 1
Wide wall squat 2
Stand in a split stance, with the front foot firmly planted on the floor and the back foot raised on a bench or a low stool. Your back heel should be off the scale and your front knee should be slightly bent. Keep your chest up and shoulders back. Lower your hips, allowing your trailing knee to come down to a point just before it touches the floor. Press firmly into the front heel and return to the starting position. Make sure you don’t lean forward as this will take care of the tightness and not allow the hips to extend.
Split Squat 1
Squat Split 2
If you failed one or more of these tests, then I think you know what it means… that’s right – 90 minute Hot Yoga Class 3-4 times a week.
Make some sensible changes in your daily routine and some necessary changes in your training. Here are some examples of common causes and suggestions for improvement.
This could be a customer with a sedentary career sitting in front of a computer all day or a commuter who spends long hours in the car. Maybe a high school or college athlete who sits in class all day and tends to get tighter than others. Less chronic incidences may include the need to travel to games or meetings or to take a long plane flight. Either way, remove the chair whenever possible and as soon as possible. Try using a hands free head set or blue tooth and get out from behind the desk. If you’re traveling, buy a short foam roller. If you are a traveling athlete, then bring the short foam roller and do a good dynamic warm-up before the activity.
Inadequate warm-up before training or competition
This is self-explanatory. If you’re in a hurry, the last thing you want to skip is your core warm-up. I say yours because everyone is different and the more attention you pay to maintaining your flexibility, the less tiring and long your warm up will seem. Make sure you, your client or athlete have a scheduled warm-up. This prevents you from rushing through random moves or wasting time trying to figure out what to do next.
Don’t be a lazy ass
Literally. Make sure you are using your Glutes to their full potential. When squatting, deadlifting or even squatting, use a flat shoe (Chuck Taylors are great). Wearing flat shoes helps you keep your body weight on your heels and use your back muscles as much as possible, such as your glutes, hamstrings and back. You can practice or learn glute activation with exercises like kettlebell swings, pull-ups, and bodyweight bridges as discussed above.
Inadequate active recovery
This could be Big Pete in the gym hitting a new 1/4 squat PR and calling it a day. But he’ll feel like he got hit by a Mac truck tomorrow morning. Why? Because an ammonia-induced touch jump after a PR is not classified as proper active recovery. Find time for extra work that meets your training and mobility needs. If your sessions have a strict time limit, try an extra workout 24 hours after a max effort to increase your recovery time.
Finally, I’ll discuss some logical suggestions on how to modify your training without compromising it. Start with a planned warm-up. Before a session it is always better to choose dynamic (moving) stretches as opposed to static (holding a single position for the time) stretches. You can use the three movements discussed above for moderate repetitions using only your body weight in one circuit. Again, any other hip mobility moves you’ve learned along the way will do just fine. Whatever falls into place, so to speak.
Now that you’re ready to train, consider the squat as your maximum effort. I say this because the box squat is very easily and safely modified to slowly increase and monitor your hip mobility. Good mobility in the squat is necessary to be able to keep the knees out, take a wider stance and reach parallel or below (depending on your goals). If you are very tight, then start with a higher box and a medium stance. Never stand wider than your knees can take. Also keep in mind that you should wear a very flat shoe to ensure that you get as much posterior chain involvement as possible.
So you have a firm stance (wide enough that you can stand with your knees even on your toes) and a box high enough that you can sit far, under control. This is your starting point. As you train this lift, every three to four weeks, lower the box half an inch and take a slightly wider stance. Don’t forget the knee rule! This will gradually and safely increase your range of motion. One last tip – in order to preserve all your hard work, it might be a good idea to train your abs in standing or seated Jandas to exclude the involvement of hip flexors. Hey, at the end of the day, every effort is your success. It is not enough to read what to do. You have the will to do it.
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