How do you move?
How do we as humans move? How do we avoid or minimize pain? Have you ever noticed that there are three major areas of pain in people and have you pondered as to why these areas are so afflicted, even on people that are “in shape”?
The Low Back (Lumbar Region), the Knee (Distal Femur, Proximal Tibia, Fibula and Patella) and the Shoulder (Glenohumeral and the Sterno-Clavicular Joints) are the pain points for many people, why is this so?
Two words need to be considered, Stability and Mobility. Certain joints of the body prefer stability and other favor mobility. Here’s a rundown from the ground up of the joints. The joints that favor stability are the foot, knee, low back and scapular region. Those that flourish in mobility are the ankle, hip, thoracic spine (middle back) and glenohumeral joint (shoulder). The joints need to do what they are designed to do, if not asymmetries and injuries occur. Here’s the double whammy, not only will the misaligned joint be affected, but the ones both above and below will! For example, if a person has tight hips, their hip movement is compromised, BUT the movement has to take place in other parts of the body, namely the knee and low back, the stability favoring joints above and below. This creates instability of these joints, hence pain and anomalies result. Many people have low back pain; they may stretch their backs, get chiropractic adjustments or take as many pain pills as they wish, the issue is still not being addressed. The issue may lie in the hips being tight and immobile and/or hamstrings being too tight. They may also have immobility issues with their Thoracic spine, aka T-Spine, where this region is not strong enough or mobile enough for the subject to move safely. Are the Erector Spinea and the Multifidi muscles (muscles that connect the vertebra) strong and engaged? How about the Rhomboids, Trapezius and other muscles of the Scapula, are they developed and does the individual know how to keep them engaged? On many occasions, issues of the low back lie in the areas above and below. Addressing the strength and flexibility on these major joints often has a significant effect upon relieving back pain.
How do we address and avoid these issues? Well, if you are not training, start. You’ll move better, feel better and live a longer if not a more productive life. Next is to consider that type of training that you are doing. Is it cardio, mobility or strength based? Are you getting the correct balance for optimal health? In the case of strength or resistance training are closed chain or open chain exercises involved? Closed chain movements involve more joints of the body and tend to be better for you. Open chain movements are more isolated movements that can have a shearing effect on the joint. Here’s an example, Bodyweight Squats verses Leg Extensions. Bodyweight (or weighted for that matter) are a closed chain movement. The major joints and muscle groups addressed are the hip, knee and ankle as far as the joints go and the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocs (calves) on the muscle side of the equation. There are other muscles and stabilizers involved, but to lesser degrees. There is also a good deal of core engagement involved for bracing, but we’ll address this at another time. The feet are planted firmly and positive joint compression is employed. Leg Extensions only address the Quadriceps in a concentric (muscle contraction) and eccentric (muscle extension) fashion. The other leg muscles are virtually dormant and only the knee joint is involved. There is a shearing effect on the knee joint and may cause injury over time. In my estimation, this machine should be disassembled, melted down and repurposed as something useful, like a Kettlebell! Just ask yourself, when you walk, run or jump – do you isolate a muscle or utilize the entire limb and torso? If you are in a rehabilitation situation or are a bodybuilder, then muscle isolation may be a requisite, but otherwise multi-joint movements are superior.
There are many reasons why I use Kettlebells as my central mode of training. With my one tool, the Kettlebell, all of the facets of fitness are addressed: Strength, Explosive Power, Flexibility, Durability, Muscular Endurance, Cardiovascular and Mobility. Let's consider mobility. When outsiders (I'm referring to those not acquainted with bonafide Kettlebell training when I say outsiders), view Kettlebell training as strength, explosive power and muscular endurance, not health promoting mobility.
Additionally and often in conjunction with the bo staff, freehand mobility and calisthenics that we perform on a daily basis in our classes, there are a three Kettlebell based complexes that my students engage in as a means to prepare their bodies for the rigors of the impending session. We execute 10 repetitions of each, each side or in each direction where applicable. They are the combinations (complexes) of 1) Figure 8, Low, Middle and High Halos, 2) Bottoms-Up Crescent Swings, Kettlebell Good Mornings and Goblet Squats and 3) The Armbar, Lying Side Press and Kettlebell Pullover.
Let's delve into the latter of the combination of movements; Armbar, Lying Side Press and Kettlebell Pullover. Generally, we do 10 repetitions of the Armbar, 10 reps of the Lying Side Press on both sides and then 10 reps of the Kettlebell Pullover. Two sets of each.
The Armbar packs the shoulder and prepares the participant for overhead work. Lie on your side in the fetal position as if you were beginning the Get-up, grasp the bell by the handle and bring the bell to your shoulder and roll onto your back. With two hands, press the bell upward and make certain that your wrist is straight, elbow locked and your shoulder packed. If the bell is in your right hand, take your right leg and bring it to the other side of your body so that your hip is facing the floor and most of your anterior is in the prone position. Do all of this while maintaining a relaxed neck and rotating around the bell in space. Attempt to bring your right hip as close to the floor as possible as you keep your arm and wrist locked. Once you’ve settled into the bottom of this movement, bring your right leg back across the body until you are supine with the bell above. This movement needs to be performed slowly, maximizing the opening on the hips and packing of the shoulders. Relish the time under the bell as your thoracic region savors the mobility!
The Lying Side Press is done as soon as you have completed the Armbar. As you are on your side, press the Kettlebell upward. It is an imperative to maintain a vertical forearm throughout this exercise, as well as a straight wrist. Pull the bell down so that your elbow is slightly behind your hip. Keep the bell steady and feel the rhomboids working. If you feel stress in your anterior deltoid, you are doing the movement incorrectly and most likely not keeping your forearm vertical.
The Kettlebell Pullover is a movement that I've witnessed all kinds of manners that people cheat when attempting this! Do be "that guy" (or girl for that matter). The Kettlebell is positioned over your head as you lie in the supine position. Grasp the bell in both hands at the horns and bring the bell overhead. Now, lock your arms, an lower the bell and you remember "Sometimes, Always, Never". Sometimes your thoracic region comes off of the ground, Always have your head and cervical spine off of the ground and Never let your lumbar of hips come off of the ground. So, lower the bell with your head of the mat and do not allow the bell to touch the ground. As you keep the bottom of the bell facing away from you, raise the bell so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Pause. Next, contract your abdominals as you rise the bell straight upward without permitting your lumbar spine to come off of the floor. Repeat this process for the 10 repetitions.
If you have any questions regarding this article or any other Kettlebell or fitness related matter, please feel free to contact me.
Strength and Honor!
Master RKC, 8th Degree Black Belt, CK-FMS, PCC and ACE Certified. Author of Ferocious Fitness and Survival Strong, producer of The Kettlebell Workout Library.
Chief Instructor, American Eagle MMA & Kettlebells