Tune Up for Long-Term Training
I get it. You want to be a total badass. You want to lift heavy stuff and be a super human who can do everything. I totally understand, because I’m the same way. But if you want to be a badass and lift heavy stuff, and continue to do this until you are eighty years old, you have to take care of the little things.
Think of it this way: If you were a NASCAR driver, would you race your car without first getting your tires aligned? Probably not. And then after racing your car, would you take the car right into your next race without first getting a tune up? Again, probably not. If you want your body to be a high-performing machine, you have to treat it like you would a high-performing car. Your body needs a tune up before and after you work out - especially if you want to be a superhuman as you get older.
Your Body Is Compensating for Poor Movement
In regards to alignment, your body can get “out of tune” in three specific ways: in the frontal plane, the sagittal plane, and the transverse plane. This is called compensation.
For the most part, you don’t feel your compensations, so you might not realize you have them. On the other hand, you do feel tightness and pain. Tightness and pain are the eventual breakdowns that ensue after you have been compensating for a long time. Over time, compensation leads to pain and injury, which, of course, gets in the way of being a badass.
It is a huge misconception that high-performance athletes are perfect and have no compensations. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Most athletes are compensating a lot, and that’s what makes them so strong at what they do. It also makes them prone to injury. The secret to being superhuman for a long time is to minimize compensation as much as possible as you go along.
I took some pictures of a strong athlete who works out with good movement and form, but still has some pretty pronounced compensations. Check out these pictures to get an idea of what to look for with yourself or with your athletes if you are a coach:
Some compensations may seem small, but if left unchecked, they can become a big problem.
How Do You Reduce Compensation?
Now, the question is, what do you need to do to minimize these compensations so that you can continue to be a badass for a very long time? Keep in mind that most stretching, foam rolling, and lacrosse ball smashing exercises will not necessarily reduce compensation.
Below I have included two sample anti-compensation programs. Let’s go over some of the characteristics that make the two programs effective at putting your body into a better position and therefore making your body less prone to injury:
- Low demand. Low-demand exercises allow compensatory muscle patterns to be broken. As soon as you get up on your feet and start moving around, muscle memory will kick in and your compensations will prevail. Think of movements that involve laying on the floor, for example. The muscles of the shoulders, spine, and hips can relax when you are in this position, which allows the position of the body to change.
- Optimal joint positioning. Joint relationships and overall body positioning are key. You will notice in the exercise instructions I have provided that in each exercise, the position of the entire body matters, all the way down to the position of the hands and feet. In order for compensations to be reduced, postural changes need to happen throughout the entire body, not just one joint or one muscle. The absence of this factor is what causes most stretching and foam rolling routines to be ineffective at reducing compensation. Often times one part of the body is focused on or stretched when the rest of the body is not in a good position.
- Foot placement. Most of these exercises are done with the feet straight and hip-width apart. This one detail will make or break the effectiveness of these exercises.
Here is what straight, hip-width apart feet look like:
When the feet are straight, the outer edges of the feet are actually straight, not tapered out at an angle.
Here is what most people think straight feet look like:
This is not straight. Note that the outer edges of the feet are angled out.
Tips for Success
Here are some tips to keep in mind when doing these or similar exercises:
Relax and focus. When you do an anti-compensation routine, your environment and state of mind matter. The goal is to change the way your body functions. If you just go through the motions without focusing on what you are doing (down to the way you are breathing and the position of your hands and feet), your body will just continue to cheat and nothing will change. You have to be able to relax, so put yourself into an environment where you feel comfortable and can focus. Breathe. Don’t hold your breath. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Increase your body awareness. The key word here is to increase your body awareness. Become aware of things you were not previously aware of while you do the exercises. For example, how does your body feel in relationship to the ground? Is one side heavier than the other? Are both feet straight, or is one foot turned out ten degrees more than the other? Noticing and changing these things will lead to change throughout the body.
Daily Anti-Compensation Routine
Here is a sample anti-compensation routine. Do these exercises in this particular order before and after your workout. Be sure to listen to your body, and skip anything that doesn’t feel right.
Purpose: Set your hips.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor pointed straight ahead (straight will look slightly pigeon toed).
- Put a hard object between your knees. A foam roller or yoga block works well.
- Place your arms out to your sides at a 45-degree angle with your palms facing up.
- Squeeze your knees into the hard object, hold it for a count of one, and then release.
- Keep your stomach muscles relaxed. You should feel the contractions in the inner thighs.
- Continue to repeat until you feel even on both sides of your inner thighs (40–80 reps).
- Make the squeezes smooth and slow, not jerky or fast. Keep your stomach relaxed and breathe.
Common Mistakes: Palms down and feet not in line with hips.
Left: Correct; Right: Incorrect.
Purpose: Loosen up your shoulders and upper back.
- After finishing the knee squeezes, take a small break, then place the hard object between your knees again.
- Interlace your fingers above your chest. Keep your elbows straight throughout the exercise. Keep your shoulders on the floor. Place constant pressure on the hard object for the duration of the exercise.
- Keeping both arms straight, lower your arms to the floor above your head and then back up to the starting position. Do not force your arms to the floor. Go only as far behind your head as you are able.
- Continue until you notice that you begin to feel more limber in your shoulders, this will take about 20–30 reps.
- Be sure to keep your abdominals relaxed and breathe with each rep. Check in periodically to make sure you are still squeezing the object with even pressure on both sides.
Common Mistake: Bending the elbows.
Left: Correct; Right: Incorrect.
Kneeling Wall Clock
Purpose: Move your shoulders through a full range of motion.
- Kneel down facing a wall with your knees all the way up to the wall. The tops of your feet should be on the ground and your forehead and nose should be touching the wall. Keep your abs relaxed through the following three positions.
- Position 1: Raise your arms directly overhead and keep your shoulders relaxed. Relax your stomach to allow your pelvis to tilt forward. Curl your fingers toward your palms and stick your thumbs out. Rotate your thumbs/arms outward from the shoulder (moving the back of your hand toward the wall). Hold for 1 minute.
- Position 2: Move your hands down to 45 degrees. Repeat the outward rotation with your arms from the shoulders. Hold for 1 minute.
- Position 3: Move your arms down to 90 degrees (straight out from your shoulders, parallel to floor). Repeat the outward rotation with your arms from the shoulders. Hold for 1 minute.
Common Mistakes: Bending the elbows and/or holding the abs in tight.
Left: Position 1; Middle: Position 2; Right: Position 3.