I've noticed lately a couple moves that really zap my new clients. I'm going to lay out what they are, but I want this article to encourage you to do these by pointing out the long-term consequences of muscle atrophy of these crucial systems. This article is also to encourage you, if you are a regular exerciser, to shake up "routine" by throwing these moves in every once in a while!
The movements are bodyweight rows and walking lunges.
My clients get zapped because they don't go through this range of motion frequently. That may sound like a "no kidding, Sam, you're WICKED SMAHT!!" type of statement, but let's breakdown what these moves entail, how it is good for them long term, and negative consequences of long-term atrophy.
Ring Rows (or any bodyweight row)
What this move is:
Start: Full extension of the arm and some forward movement of the shoulder blades.
Finish: Full contraction of the arm and full backward movement of the shoulder blades toward the spine.
In this process, the forearms, biceps, shoulders, rear delt, lats, and rhomboids are all contracting to achieve the objective. That's a lot of different muscle groups, but my clients most often feel it in their upper forearms and lower part of their bicep head, focusing around the inside of the elbow. My clients very rarely complain of the same level of soreness from pressing motions (push up, shoulder press). Probably because it's easier more common to push away in every day life than it is to pull to you.
What does this tell us:
The weak point in that "chain" is the contraction of forearm and bicep. The big muscles of the back could handle the movement with ease relative to the smaller muscles of the forearm and bicep.
Why is this a problem short term:
The inability for the forearms and biceps to support a larger load diminishes the ability for the upper back and lats to be strained, adapt to training, and grow muscle. Stronger forearms and biceps = stronger upper back.
Having a strong upper back helps the body in several ways -- keeps your thoracic spine mobile, keeps shoulders healthy, supports hinging movements such as picking stuff up from the ground (deadlift), and prevents the upper back from dumping forward in a squat position (thus pulling on the lower back). Not only that, but helps with posture!
Additionally, it is my experience that having weak forearms negatively effects the brain's ability to assess a situation. If your grip, which is a function of the forearm, is weak, then the brain will "give up" because the information from the hands to the brain is that the body has not felt this kind of weight before and cannot support it. I see this a lot with deadlift -- if the grip feels weak, the brain issues a subconscious CEASE AND DESIST order, but the lifter tries to consciously override the order and grind their way through the lift. This is why I don't particularly like lifting with straps for deadlifts, as I feel it throws off information systems between the hands and brain.
Why this is a problem long term:
If left untaxed, the pulling chain (forearm to the lat) will continue to atrophy. All else being equal, they'll atrophy at a relative speed. You're big muscles will be weaker, but they'll still be stronger than your forearm & bicep, relatively.
A lack of strong back muscles has the opposite effect as positive aspects above. A weak upper back makes hinging at the hips and picking things up off the ground harder, which results in a bad movement pattern in one of two ways:
ONE - you'll default to a knee dominant pick up (think squatting way down to keep your chest tall when picking something up). This isn't necessarily bad, but your knee as a leverage point isn't as strong as your hips as a leverage point. And if you start to pick up, let's say a heavy box of books, and your quads and shoulders can't handle it, your center of gravity will shift forward, your hips will rise and increased pressure will be put on your hips and back. If your body isn't ready for that sudden weight shift, that's when something "suddenly" gets pulled. Nothing suddenly gets pulled. It's a function of years of dysfunction.
TWO - you'll try to use your hip as the leverage point, but your upper back can't support the weight so the "stop point" for the weight will move down your back to your lower back. If the upper back can't support the weight and you hunch forward, it has nowhere to go but down.
There are other ways not having a strong pulling system would be bad.
Your thoracic spine succumbs to the forward hunch of Text Neck or Desk Life and your posture looks terrible.
Not only that, but your balance is thrown off because you need to majorly shift your body weight around to reach overhead, look behind you, or reach across your body for something.
Lack of balance later in life can lead to serious problems -- when people break their hip, the odds of them dying within a year ARE HUGE!
You fall and can't pull yourself up.
Not trying to be a doomsdayer here, just saying, it's important to make sure we're working our pulling motion -- from the forearm all the way through to the lat and muscles around the scap.
Walking Lunges Also Give Clients A Real Good Zapparoo to the Glutes and Hip Muscles
What this move is:
Start: Standing position, stepping forward and bringing the back knee down to the ground so that both knees are at 90* angles.
Finish: Driving through the front leg's glute and hamstring to stand all the way up.
What this tells us:
Clients being zapped in the glutes and hamstrings tells me they're not moving through their full range of motion in their hip joint. AND THAT TOTALLY MAKES SENSE BECAUSE... WE NEVER REALLY USE OUR LEGS TO SIT OR STAND UP!!
Most Americans "plop squat" and "throw stand". To sit down, we make sure we're over the target, bend our knees slightly, and let gravity do the rest. Then, to get up, we're using momentum by throwing our torso forward (eliminating the engagement of glutes and hip flexors) then go in to a chest press and a tricep extension off the table or chair arms to stand up (eliminating the glutes and quads). WE NEVER REALLY USE OUR LEGS TO SIT OR STAND!! Next time you sit down and stand up from your desk or couch, think about this and tell me I'm wrong.
Everything in the first world prevents a deep stretch of the glutes -- our beds are high, our toilets are high, our bar stools are high, and if they're not high, we just plop. Once we plop, we throw ourselves in to standing.
I'd say the average American only utilizes the first 15 degrees of their hip movement (and that's really only to plop down, very little when standing up). This ain't a knock on them, that's just the environment in which we live!
Here are the long term consequences:
Know why you have to help grandpa get up out of his chair? Because years and years of muscle atrophy from not working the full range of motion of the squat. Do you want to be like that when you get older? Or do you want to be whooping your grandkids in some nerf basketball, putting those little punks in their place? Ya damn right ya do!
IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, glutes have several roles. They extend the hip (think straightening your leg). They help provide stability to the leg. Help brace the midsection and protect the lower back.
If you've got atrophied glutes, you're going to have a hard time picking stuff up off the ground and it the movement will likely default to the lower back rather than the big muscles of the hip. You'll also have trouble just sitting down and standing up. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to stand up and have zero help, your knees will likely buckle inward and put a bunch of pressure on the sides of your knees. That's not good long term.
If you've got atrophied glutes, you won't have a strong connection between your glutes and your foot, which helps provide balance in the leg.
TRY THIS: stand up and flex the arch of your foot and see what leg muscles you feel; then try collapsing your arch and see what muscles or pressure you feel. These are counteracting forces and both are needed for balance.
Finally, the glute is an extension of the core. It is really hard to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can AND also lean your torso forward (move through your lower back). Give it a try, I'll wait.
It's vital to have a strong pulling motion and full use of your hip musculature. There are some serious long-term consequences to not working these muscles. I've found that ring rows and walking lunges are some of the best ways to wake those muscles up and making them pull their own weight!! If you have a regular workout routine, I'd recommend adding these in.
If you're interested in coaching, online or in person, let me know and I'd love to help you maximize your body's life-long potential!