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What I Learned About Movement and Injury Prevention From 2 Weeks of Powerlifting

If you're a young athlete looking to make it to the elite levels of sport, do you know what the number one recommended action is to take?  Play multiple sports.  There are a number of studies showing the ill-effects of early sports specialization for the young athlete.  Playing multiple sports leads to improved coordination, conditioning, WAY fewer injuries, and better performance.  What's not to like?  

Now the main point of this article is to recommend that you take the same approach to your adult fitness regimen.  All too often, we find one athletic activity that we enjoy and don't do much more than that.  The runners that don't perform any strength training exercises. .  . The lifter at the gym that seems like he exclusively does bench and other pressing movements. . . The beer league hockey player that doesn't workout outside of hockey.  This type of behavior leads to increased injury, stiffness, decreased balance, etc. due to repetitious movement patterns and overuse.  

Rather, altering movement patterns reduces the risk of overuse. SO, what I'm recommending you do is start taking up activities that you historically haven't tried.  I'd like to see a CrossFit athlete start taking pilates. . . A runner start taking zumba classes. . .  A triathlete that learns to perform olympic lifting.    

Over the last few years I've experimented with the following exercise types:

  • CrossFit
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Bootcamp
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Bodybuilding
  • Zumba
  • Barre
  • Spinning

Hopefully, 5 years from now this list will have doubled.  

After all the sports I've played and exercise forms I've tried, something has always bothered me.  I've never been "strong".  As a football player in high school, a personal trainer, bodybuilder, etc. I've never had impressive numbers with my squat, deadlift, and bench the way so many people do.  I felt like this perceived lack of strength really limited my muscle growth and body composition numbers.  As my 30's roll on, I've found myself getting frustrated at my increasing waist size.  Enter Coach Phil.  While working out in my local gym, a veteran Powerlifting Coach named Phil Halliwell approached me and we started up a coversation about my questions and concerns regarding my inability to get "strong" with those 3 main lifts mentioned above.

Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a specific sport in which your performance is based on the SUM total of your 1 repetition max of the three following lifts:

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Bench Press

The top competitiors in the sport move a gargantuan amount of weight and are experts in utilizing the body mechanics in a manner that maximizes strength and performance while pushing to the brink of what the body can handle.  So injury prevention is a huge part of this sport.  As an injury prevention expert myself, I thought that a different perspective and some increased strength could be something good for me.  So here are my experiences in Powerlifting with Coach Phil.    

Deadlift

Deadlifting is considered one of the most basic foundation exercises in strength training. More so than many other exercises, it is considered very functional. While not every person out there performs exercises like Power Jerks or Bulgarian Split Squats, everyone lifts things of the floor. Whether it's picking up a grandkid or lifting up the couch to move it across the room, it's the sort of movement well all need to be able to do.

My personal history of deadlifting involves a personal record 1 rep max of about 325 pounds with poor form. I've injured my back performing deadlifts and I found that whenever I lift heavy, I'm unable to keep proper form (and that's just not acceptable seeing as I'm a chiropractor). So what do I do? Like many other people, I would just limit my deadlift amounts and try my best to deadlift few and far between in my workouts. I would also limit my range of motion to try to keep my back in less "exposed" ranges (which limits the effectiveness of the lift). Now, thanks to Coach Phil, that's not the case anymore.

Important Things To Note (not that all can be seen on video):

  • I was wearing raised heel shoes
  • This is a reduced range of motion (4 inch plates on floor)
  • Table top flat back at the beginning of the motion, indicating poor back technique and increased stress on the lower back
  • 5 reps at 305

Important Things To Note:

  • This video was taken only 3 weeks later!
  • No shoes
  • Full range of motion (starting with weight on the floor)
  • Lifting belt
  • Much better form with a more upright angle to the spine and pelvis
  • The 1 rep max here is 415lb!!!!

Squat

I have a love-hate relationship with squatting.  As a former baseball catcher, I used to feel more comfortable squatting than I did sitting.  However, over the years of squatting I developed what's commonly referred as a "butt wink" or excessive low back and pelvic motion that led to a few herniated discs in my lower back.  I've also never been able to get very strong with my squat.  My lifetime 1 rep max is probably around 250 pounds.  Not surprisingly, I've never felt balanced while squatting.  I've always felt as if I'm right on the brink of falling down.  So you can imagine my amazement when I was able to squat 375 pounds during my second session with Coach Phil.   

Important Things To Note in my Old Squatting Technique:

  • Again, I'm wearing raised heel shoes (which should make the lift easier)
  • No lifting belt
  • Rather narrow stance
  • More of a "knee based squat" meaning less hip hinging is occurring (so more of the stress is on my quads and knees)
  • "High Bar" positioning with the bar (I'll explain after the second squatting video)
  • 225 lbs for 5 reps was tough

Important Things To Note on Powerlifting Squats:

  • Squatting in socks--I'm not wearing any footwear
  • I'm wearing a weight belt
  • I'm "Low Bar squatting" which means the bar is resting further down my back allowing my center of gravity to be further back and my lower back to stay more neutral
  • My stance is much wider
  • The entire squat is a "hip hinge" meaning my pelvis travels backwards and most of the stress of the lift is on my hips as opposed to my quads
  • I'm able to be WAY more balanced
  • My 1 rep max here is 375lbs!!!

Bench Press

While I don't have any videos for bench press, I'll give you the cliff notes.  My old bench press 1 rep max was 235 pounds.  By utilizing the powerlifting techniques, I was able to have my 1 rep max to be at 280 pounds.  What made the difference?  A few things:

  • The powerlifting bench press has you tap below the pecs, right at the sternum.  In the past I had always tapped the bar at nipple level
  • The core engagement involving squeezing the elbows in towards the torso
  • Keeping the mouth close and keeping a maximum amount of tension and pressure in the core

What I Didn't Know Then That I Know Now:

1. Using A Weight Belt - I've always "poo-pooed" using a weight belt because of the the school of thought stating "if you use a weight belt then your core will get weak."  However, using the belt allowed me to engage my core better and protect my spine when performing heavy lifts.  I recommend not using them at lighter weights and strapping them tight with heavier weights.  

2. Keeping Your Mouth Closed - When I'm training my patients and personal trainers in rehabiliation and foundational movement, belly breathing is always a necessity of the movement.  The way you learn to engage your core is by using your core muscles; not by holding your breath.  Holding your breath during foundational movements leads to overall body stiffness and imbalances which will open the door to injuries like low back pain, neck pain, etc.  During my powerlifting efforts, I was trained to keep my mouth closed at all times during the lifts because it would help keep the negative pressure in my core.  WHAT A DIFFERENCE!    

3. Trapezius and Lat Engagement - This is my favorite lesson learned because of it's carry over to application in other activities.  Not only do I know how to perform these 3 movements better, but I'm able to engage my traps and lats while performing olympics lifts.  I've already noticed my technique with olympic lifts has improved and the weight I'm able to use has improved.  I'm thrilled!

The main takeways of this article are:

  • Stay varied in your activities--try a new activity that you've never tried before
  • Powerlifting experts have a lot to offer people looking for increased body performance and injury prevention
  • There's always more to learn
  • Even chiropractors can learn more about mechanics of the body ;)

2016 is an incredible time in history.  We learn at such a ridiculously fast pace right now that if we don't take a minute to observe that, we'll miss out on what's working and what doesn't.  This article is about what we've learned lately, and what we're looking forward to in the future.

My Personal Health and Fitness

  • I'm physically pretty healthy right now-  I have inconsistent, minor hip/right leg discomfort from a radiculpathy from 2015 but it hasn't been stopping me from working out 100% so I'm pretty happy with that.  Considering I have a laundry list of injuries (including herniated discs, torn labrums, torn meniscus, dislocated kneecaps, etc), that's pretty good.  I'm not being limited at all.
  • My body composition isn't where I would like it to be- I'll touch on this later
  • Kombucha is Awesome- For years now we've been aware that we should all probably be taking Probiotics. The bugs in our gut and the pH of them are a big predictor of many health processies of our body. Well in the last few months I've really taken to the Kombucha drinks available and I've started brewing my own at home. I'll let you know what that's like going forward.
  • John Rusin's Functional Hypertrophy Training 1 was Great, Tough, and Not for Me

After dealing with a recurrent lumbar ridiculopathy issue in 2015, and starting my business, the gym and my personal body composition took a bit of a hit. I found myself with about 10 more pounds of fat, and 5-6 less pounds of muscle than I was accustomed to being. I had been seeing articles and posts for Dr. John Rusin from his website, www.drjohnrusin.com, for several months. He calls himself 'The Strength Doc' and is an expert in strength and conditioning, training and fitness. He has a signature program called 'Functional Hypertrophy Training', a 12 week lifting program, prioritizing muscle growth while still utilizing healthy, functional training and it gets amazing results for the participants. From what I could see, he was getting a good amount of the respected upcoming names in the fitness + rehabilitation worlds as participants in this program. With my body composition issues I felt like it would be a great time to increase some muscle mass and I was looking forward to learning something I didn't already know about fitness and exercises.

  • What I learned from John Rusin's Functional Hypertrophy Training
  • Warm Up Sets are a Great Idea for Each Exercise You Do.
    • not only do they allow you to achieve better hypertrophy, it's a huge psychological victory after you've accomplished 1-2 sets of an exercises that you were dreading before it started. He suggests you use 50%, 60% 70% of your 'working weight' and try to be very explosive with the concentric part of the exercise which I think is a great idea.
  • The lat activation exercise followed up by Deadlifts is Fantastic.
    • I'll touch more on lat activation during the powerlifting article next week; but I was shocked how good my deadlifting technique was after performing straight arm lat pulldown activations before before the deadlifts. It's a great strategy.
  • I don't personally live to be in the gym.
    • I've always struggled with high set, high volume training cause I just flat out don't enjoy it. This program's workouts are mentally and physically tough, they last about 1.5 hours per training session and I was doing 5 workouts a week. If I had it to do again, I'd only do 4 workouts per week as the mental drain really got to me and I didn't end up completing the 12 weeks of the program.
    • I think it's a great program and I'm glad I did it. I learned a great deal and anyone looking to #1 understand how to lift weight without exposing your body to injury an #2 learn from a master I'd recommend you check out this program. If you have more energy and time for the weight room than I do, you can find it for a discount by clicking here and punching in SH10 as your discount code.
  • AWESOME EXERCISES That I Previously Wasn't Performing That I Am Now As A Result of this Program:
  • Romanian Deadlifts - What an amazing exercise for stabilizing the lower back while also increasing flexibility of the hamstrings and posterior chain (not to mention lots of back side hypertrophy).  I'm starting to have some of my pain-free patients utilize this one.
  • Face Pulls - A great warm up or burner exercise that can help fight again the all too common upper crossed syndrome of pec major/pec minor dominance in the upper body.  
  • Weight Gain - Now I'll be the first to admit that my diet was pretty crappy during the program. He makes it very clear that 'you can't out-lift a bad diet'. Well….he was right. Between the 4th of July, my Bachelor party, my birthday, etc...I just didn't eat well during this time period and my results suffered. I'm also typically CrossFitting 3-4 times a week which I wasn't doing. All that combined and you've added a few pounds of fat which was definitely not the gameplan going into it.

We Can DEFINITELY Learn Something from Powerlifting

  • Powerlifting might have something serious to contribute to movement and fitness education - While training with the FHT program, I noticed that my bench, squat, deadlift, numbers were not going up. I felt like it was really limiting my effectiveness in the program since those were a huge priority. More than that, they've (squat/deadlift/bench) never been very impressive. As a rehab professional, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a former personal trainer and a lifelong fitness enthusiast, I've always been frustrated that my strength numbers have always been measly.

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