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Neck Muscle Strength, Bracing And Training The System

describe the imageMike Gittleson was the Director of Strength & Conditioning at the University of Michigan for 30 years and was a part of 15 Football Championships in that time. He explains, developing one area and neglecting another is not conducive to optimal athletic performance.

On January 31, 2014 the American Journal of Sports Medicine published an article on neck strength titled, Effect of Neck Muscle Strength and Anticipatory Cervical Muscle Activation on the Kinematic Response of the Head to Impulsive Loads. The findings indicated that male and female athletes could potentially modify risk factors for concussion by developing neck musculature. It was shown that having greater neck strength when bracing for impact reduces the magnitude of the head’s kinematic response. The anticipatory act of bracing for a violent collision is important in protecting oneself from the effects of whiplash, yet bracing in itself is a common occurrence.  When you run, neck muscles contract before your foot hits the ground. The process of running is inherently bouncy as our muscle tendon units act as springs to propel us up and forward. This aerial phase neck muscle contraction is in anticipation of the ground reaction force.  Ground reaction force causes a vertical acceleration of the head that actually pitches the head forward at foot strike.  

The human head uses a self-stabilizing system that does not rely on muscular reflex to control the pitching action during running. Reflex alone cannot control the action of the head once ground strike occurs – having fewer than then 10 milliseconds to control the up and forward action of the head is not enough time for our natural reflexes.

Our head, which is pitched forward upon landing, also rolls and yaws. This requires contractions of neck extensors, as well as flexors and a downward swing of an arm that dampens vertical acceleration. Each arm constitutes about eight percent of total body mass, roughly the same relative percent as the 5 to 6 kilogram runner’s head. If you consider the head in running as the primary mass then the downward swing of the stance side arm becomes the counter mass accelerating in the opposite direction, thereby dampening the skull’s oscillation. The athlete then alters their running form by bending and swinging his or her arms in movements with the appropriate power and speed to counter these varying vectors of force.  Changing the mass or active stiffness of the arms through strength training and not addressing the mass and/or muscular system of the head and neck can be problematic. The coach and athlete will spend countless hours trying to achieve a particular running form that cannot truly be corrected unless they address the musculature that is controlling the movement of the skull.

Running Form

There is another issue that the neck must attend to during running. When we land during sprinting we avoid falling down by utilizing the muscles of the lower back and hip – particularly the largest muscle of our body, the powerful gluteus maximus – to decelerate the trunk. As the trunk accelerates forward and then backward the head and neck accelerates backward then forward. Try this at home: Sit in your car and accelerate quickly forward then step on the brake. Vehicle acceleration provides example that the more the trunk pitches the more the head reacts. Increasing the strength and/or mass of the trunk and not addressing the strength and/or mass of the head and neck adversely effects athleticism.

As mentioned, the head also rolls and yaws during running, usually towards the stance side foot at foot strike.  Once the runner is in the aerial phase one leg quickly swings forward while the opposite leg is thrust behind the body, causing angular momentum around the vertical axis. We counteract this by swinging our arms in an opposite phase to the legs to have an equal and opposite angular momentum. The neck must not only rotate in the opposite direction of the trunk but quickly prepare for being thrust vertically and forward upon landing.

The human brain is encased in a rigid skull and covered by a muscular scalp which is surrounded by three layers of membranes and floats in a protective cushion of cerebrospinal fluid. Though protected, brain trauma can occur with sudden acceleration or deceleration within the cranium. Control of head stabilization is one important line of defense for protecting the brain from perturbation.   During activity, it remains relatively stable as we integrate information about the head and body from our eyes, vestibular system and proprioceptors of the neck. For athletes involved in any sport with an associated head trauma risk, protecting the brain from excessive subconcussive forces through strength training head and neck musculature for bracing is the first job of a strength and conditioning coach.

For any athlete to excel in sport, they must train the structures that decelerate opposing masses. This means that athletes must have head and neck training as part of their exercise regime. The head and neck muscles are countering arm swing, trunk pitch and rotation, as the arms are countering head pitch, leg swing and trunk movement. Developing one area and neglecting another is not conducive to optimal athletic development or performance. Train the entire system.

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Muscle Tissue Middle Age

When strength training to gain muscular weight it is common knowledge you need to add calories to your diet to maintain the newly developed tissue. When you reach middle age things change. Ageing results in a gradual decrease in size and volume of lean muscle and its subsequent mass reduces each decade. Though part of the strategy for maintaining muscle mass in middle age is similar to when you were young, that is to habitually be active and strength train; to slow the gradual loss of muscle the nutritional approach necessary to maximize maintaining lean muscle is actually counterintuitive.

Researchers have found that caloric restriction attenuates age-related muscle loss. In aged muscle restricting calories leads to metabolic reprogramming of the pathways to derive energy. For the science based reader it means that there is a decreased dependency on glycolysis and an increased cellular dependency on oxydative phosphorylation. It is speculated that you should reduce the amount of calories you need by 8% when you reach midlife, which inturn allows you to maintain the highest amount of muscular tissue. It is also recommended by researchers that the protein you eat is high in leucine (leucine is the dietary amino acid that has the capacity to directly stimulate muscle protein synthesis) with foods such as cheese, soybeans, beef, chicken, pork, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and beans.  

The bottom line is as you age eat less to maintain more. Get Strong and Stay Strong.        

Training Middle Age    

Getting A Grip On Life

A person’s chronological age can be quite different from their biological age. Scientists perpetually are on the lookout for the biomarkers that they can put together to most approximate one's demise. Though there is no exact definition for biological age, it generally indicates whether the body is functioning better or worse than its chronological age.

Recently, Gretchen Reynolds wrote an article in the New York Times, 'Older Athletes Have a Strikingly Young Fitness Age.' The article discussed how researchers have surmised that athletic seniors are typically 20 years or more younger physically than their chronological age compared to their non-athletic constituents. Looking at epidemiological studies those who are fitter generally have a longer life span. Getting fit and having the ability to change one's fitness age should be a viable reason to exercise.

The 2015 Lancet Medical Journal recently published, 'Grip strength and mortality: a biomarker of ageing?'  It was discussed that grip strength is simple to measure yet a powerful predictor of future disability, morbidity and mortality at any age. It may go as far as identifying an individual’s risk for having a heart attack or stroke or dying from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers found that an 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of their study was linked to a "16% higher risk of dying from any cause, a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke and a 7% higher risk of heart attack."

This is the largest study to have made this connection, as well as it was determined that grip strength was a relevant measure across high-income, middle-income and low-income in all countries.

Keeping fit and Getting Strong changes your life.

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 Measure Your Grip Strength With The Pendulum Power Grip Pro

Sleep, Knees And Spine

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Over time the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones begins to wear. All joints in the body are susceptible and in athletics osteoarthritis is often seen earlier than normalespecially in the knees and spine. A population based study in the journal Spine found heavily active people getting less than 7 hours of sleep per day, have a remarkably higher prevalence of arthritis in the lower back than those who sleep longer.


When there is too much or abnormal loading risk factors for lumbar muscle strain and lumbar disc degeneration are elevated. If an athlete has a shorter sleep time the lumbar muscles and discs are under tension for a longer period. Therefore, this status may lead to further lumbar degeneration and be related to low back osteoarthritis.

Dr. Brian Hainline, Chief Medical Officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association recently addressed the Collegiate Strength Coaches at their National Convention. He discussed the extensive issue of sleep deprivation in collegiate athletics. He explained how lack of sleep increases sports injury risk and pointed to a study whose findings indicated, "if an athlete is progressively sleep deprived over a period of 12 weeks, their neuromuscular performance will continue to diminish, even when the athlete believes that, after three days, they are back to normal."

Not only does sleep deprivation increases the risk of overuse and fatigue injuries but is often associated with signs of depression, anger, feelings of tension, anxiety and all the symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder. 

College students are among the most sleep-deprived people in the country. According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Nature Science and Sleep, 50% of college students report daytime sleepiness and 70% attain insufficient quality.  A comprehensive study at an independent college preparatory school showed increased sleep duration after a delay in school start time. When school was started at 8.30 am, 30 minutes later than usual, sleep duration was increased by 45 minutes on school days. 

Serious training requires adequate sleep. Early morning workouts must be well thought out and scheduled to ensure that athletes are getting adequate sleep and peak performance. Coaches need to consider sleep if they want to Get and keep their athletes healthy and Strong.

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Barbell Squat Form

Gabe Harrington has a Masters degree from Michigan State University. Gabe has coached at MSU, the United States Military Academy and most recently was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Colgate University Patriot League Football Champions. Gabe explains, even if you are an avid barbell squatter, the Pendulum Squat Pro is still a great tool to have in your weight room.

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Teaching squatting form with a barbell requires coaching as well as skill progression. Teaching form on the Pendulum Power Squat Pro, because the yoke resting on the athletes shoulders is accommodating, only requires the lifter to grasp the work arms and squat and their form is excellent. 

I purchased a Pendulum Squat Pro for my facility and when the machine arrived my athletes began trying it. I quickly saw, without almost any instruction, athletes who usually struggled with squatting had excellent form on the Squat Pro. The floating yoke was changing the resistance in relationship to the lever system during the movement.  I was delighted with what was occurring and decided that the Power Squat Pro should become part of my squatting progression routine.

The following are my '10 Progressive Steps' that I used to teach the proper form of barbell squatting.

 PROGRESSION #1: FEEL THE CORRECT FORM

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 PROGRESSION #2: STANCE BASICS

•    Begin with feet slightly wider than shoulder width – toes pointed slightly out

•    “Spread the Floor” with your feet: if you were on ice, you would do the splits – this helps to keep your knees from buckling in during the movement

•    Push through the heels, falling forward can put unnecessary strain on your spine – keeping your weight back keeps your center of gravity from falling forward and helps keep your knees behind your toes (more on this later)… try lifting your big toes slightly just before performing the movement 

PROGRESSION #3: BREATHING

•    Always breath into your belly, not your chest – this helps promote internal stability around the spine

•    Breath in at the top – now hold your breath on the way down and in the bottom position for a split second (unless you have high blood pressure)

•    Once upward movement is initiated breath out as you stand up

PROGRESSION #4: WALL SQUAT (BOX)
•    This series will help you learn to sit back rather than down when you squat as well as to keep your knees behind your toes

•    Begin by setting an adjustable platform or low box near a wall – make sure it is sturdy enough to support your bodyweight!

•    Set the platform such that as you sit on it the tops of your thighs are parallel with the floor

•    From the seated position place your toes against the wall and assume your squat stance

•    Take a breath into the belly, Spread the floor, lift your big toes and stand

•    Try to sit back onto the platform without “plopping” down onto it and return to the standing position once again

•    Once you can repeat this 2-3 times in a row without “plopping” down you are ready to move onto the next progression

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PROGRESSION #5: WALL SQUAT (PARTNER)

•    This time begin standing with your toes against the wall in your squat stance

•    Breath into the belly, spread the floor, lift the big toes, push your hips back and maintain a good arch in your spine

•    You will notice that at ¾ of the way down you will have to use your hip flexor muscles to pull you down 

•    This is where it gets tough!  Your partner will have to spot you from behind and keep you from falling backwards – your partner’s job is to push you forward enough so that you can pull yourself down to parallel… you want to get used to your hip flexors working hard here!

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PROGRESSION #6: WALL SQUAT (SOLO)

•    Once you feel comfortable enough, try this without your partner

•    Note that this is the exact form you will use with the bar on your back – you must master this exercise before moving on!

•    You may pick this up right away, or you may have to practice 2 sets of 3 reps on this each day for as long as a couple of weeks to master it – either way, stay with it because it will pay you back down the road!

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PROGRESSION #7: MODIFIED FRONT SQUAT

•    Once you have mastered the wall squat place an empty barbell across your shoulders and extend your arms out straight with your thumbs up to the ceiling and at eye level
•    Now squat like you’ve been practicing against the wall: breath into the belly, spread the floor, lift the toes, push the hips back and maintain a great spinal arch
•    The purpose of the bar here is to give you some feedback as to whether you are falling forward or not – if the bar rolls off your shoulders you are falling forward – check your weight distribution and keep working on it!
•    Once you can do this for a set of 2-3 reps in a row you are ready to back squat!

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PROGRESSION #8: HOLDING THE BAR ON YOUR BACK

•    For the back squat, we want a “low bar position”

•    To achieve this, squeeze your shoulder blades together hard – this will create a natural “shelf” for the bar to sit on... The “shelf” is your trapezius and rear deltoid muscles contracting – the bar will sit here comfortably without feeling like you are rubbing your spine with the bar

•    Grip the bar firmly – experiment with the width of your hands for comfort – try to turn your wrists in… they won’t move very much, but by contracting your wrist muscles your wrists will hurt less from the awkwardness of the position

•    Keep your eyes up and push your head back into the bar (like when you try to make your neck look bigger in your team photo)

•    Note that this may feel uncomfortable at first… your wrists and upper back may not be strong enough initially to support much weight in this fashion, but STICK WITH IT, your upper back will grow thick with muscle from supporting weight in this manner – not to mention this is the most advantageous way to hold the bar (in time your spine will thank you)

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PROGRESSION #9: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

•    At this point, having mastered the previous progressions, the back squat should be a breeze

•    Perform your practice sets with no more than 2 reps at a time with light weight until you get the hang of it (have a partner watch you!) and add weight slowly – in time you will have a healthy and impressive physique from all of your hard work!   

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Remember:
Breath into the belly
Spread the floor
Lift the toes
Head back
Great arch
Drive through the heels... and.... Get Strong

PROGRESSION #10: RECHECK YOUR FORM

Gabe Harrington Squat Pro

Reverse Glute/Ham And Hamstring Injuries

Having a wide variety of training tools allows a coach and athlete to regionally target specific areas of the anatomy.  Choosing the appropriate exercises that specifically develops the upper or the lower section of a biarticular muscle can lead to an adaptation that protects an athlete from injury. The Journal, Science Medicine and Sport recently published an article that examined the anatomic distribution of acute hamstring injuries in a large population of football players. They based their findings upon their utilization of 'Magnetic Resonance Imaging' which produced detailed pictures of the tissue post trauma.

The study looked at the MRIs and determined the location of where each athlete sustained tissue damage to their hamstring. The locations of the hamstring muscle injury was first divided into proximal (nearest to the center of the body) or distal. Injuries then were classified as a specific type such as myotendinous junction (where the tendon and muscle bisect) or a location such as the muscle belly or myofascial (fibrous tissue surrounding or invested in the muscle).

Researcher found when trauma occurred, the long head of the biceps femoris was the most often injured, which was damaged fifty seven percent of the time normally at the proximal myotendinous junction.

Long Head Hamstring 

Common exercises for the hamstrings in weight rooms are leg curls, glute-ham raises and the Romanian deadlift. These are wonderful exercises yet they target the distal end of the muscle.

To best train the proximal end of the long head of the often injured bicep femoris an athlete should use the Pendulum Reverse Glute/Ham. Repetitions emphasizing the eccentric or lowering phase of the lift and training to failure will decrease the stiffness of the myotendinous junction, which will mean a healthy strong hamstring and therefore a healthy strong athlete.

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Hamstring Training on the Reverse Glute/Ham

Getting Strong

Sprint Running Form

Running at top speed is complex and requires teaching, education, coaching and practice. Showing a film, having a slide presentation, a demonstration, handouts and a quiz is part of the learning process.

The following is an example of a handout and quiz:

Handout

I. The Hands and Arms - The faster arms go the faster the legs go.

A. Relax your hands       

1. If the hands are relaxed the chances are good the arms and shoulders will be relaxed

2. The index finger and thumb should slightly touch or the hand should remain in a               natural position

3. Start with your lower arm at a right angle to the upper arm  

4. Powerfully drive your hand forward no higher than your shoulder

5. Keep the right angle while vigorously pumping your arms

B. The rear action of the arm is responsible for higher knee lift

1. The thumb should almost brush your thigh on the descent of your arm

2. The downward moving hand should clear the buttocks

3. Keep the arm at a right angle during the stroke allowing the elbow to open slightly at the end of the stroke

4. Your upper arm should become almost parallel to the ground

5. Always assure that there isn’t excessive swinging of the lower arm during running maintaining the right angle of the lower and upper arm

C. Proper movement of the arms insures unnecessary rotation of the lower torso

1. While pumping your arms keep your shoulders square

2. While pumping your arms do not rotate your hips


II. Head, Neck and Shoulders - position and relaxation allows for faster movement, a more powerful stroke and greater knee lift

A. Relax muscles of the face

1. Breath through your mouth and nose

2. Relax your mouth

3. Eyes should be focused at an object at eye level straight ahead - not at your feet or upward

4. The head should always remain in a normal postural position

5. Never allow the head to rock from side to side or move up or down

B. Relax your shoulders

1. Keep your shoulders down while pumping your arms

2. Do not shrug your shoulders towards your ears

3. Relaxed shoulders allow you to pump your arms faster

4. Keep your shoulders square


III. Legs, Foot and Torso - knee lift must be without improper body rotation and the avoidance of exaggerated movements

A. The torso should be upright

1. When running the trunk should be slightly forward of vertical

2. Do not allow torso rotation

3. Do not allow bending in the middle of the torso - crunching

4. Do not allow bending backwards

5. Run tall

B. High knee lift is desirable and completion of the drive stroke or drive leg is desirable

1. Lift your knee high with a powerful stroke

2. The drive must take place wholly behind the body’s vertical line with the drive leg

3. At no time should there be an attempt to reach out with the lifted foot

4. The lifted foot should be slightly cocked or dorsiflexed

5. The returning lifted foot will land slightly ahead of the body and then will be used to drive forward


Quiz

Fill in:

1. In running the faster the arms go the faster the ____________go.

2. The proper rear action of the arms is responsible for___________________________.

3. When pumping your arms your shoulders should remain________________________.

4. Proper movement of the arms insures unnecessary rotation of the_________________.

5. How should your head , in relation to your torso, remain when running with proper form?

   ______________________________________________________________________.

True or False:

6. You should run tall?___________.

7. You should not reach out with your lifted foot when running_____________.

8. You should not bend or crunch in the torso when running________________.

9. You should not shrug your shoulders when running_____________________.

10. You should relax your head, neck and shoulders when running____________.

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Cincinnati Bengals Weight Room

Cincinnati Bengals Weight Room Pendulum Equipment
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Pendulum Seated Squats
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Pendulum 5 Way Neck Machines
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Pendulum 3 Way Rows
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Pendulum Hip Presses

Ohio State Buckeyes Pendulum Neck Machines

Ohio State University the 2014 NCAA Football National Champions

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Pendulum Head and Neck Machines

The Pendulum Reverse Glute/Ham

Having a wide variety of training tools allows a coach and athlete to regionally target specific areas of the anatomy.  Choosing the appropriate exercise that specifically develops the upper and the lower sections of biarticular muscles leads to overall greater muscular adaptation. 

The Pendulum Reverse Glute/Ham was engineered to strengthen the hips, glutes and hamstrings. The machine also allows athletes with ankle sprains, casts, back loading issues and knees to continue to stay strong and get strong.

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When each repetition is performed from a bent knee position to a straight leg (the movement is as if the athlete was about to stand) the hips become targeted on the Pendulum Reverse Glute/Ham. 

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Keeping the knees bent from the beginning of the movement to the finish of the exercise emphasizes the gluteal muscles.

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Keeping the legs straight and locked from start to finish, stretches and strengthens the hamstrings.
Three great exercises on one great machine.
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