by Joseph Ingriselli MA ATC, LAT
Training for all of us is part of our make up, part of our DNA, and for most of us our relationship with the steel is the longest relationship we have had. The science of training hard and training right expands each and every day and becomes ever increasingly in-depth. As human beings we are meant to adapt to multiple situations at any given time, and lucky for us we have a musculoskeletal system which can handle the majority of these everyday situations we are faced with. But like most systems we are not perfect and like any good machine the body needs maintenance work. Mention the phrase maintenance work and people think of an easy seldom completed exercise on a dusty old floor mat at the end of a workout when you are too tired to continue and all you can think about is what your next meal is going to consist of. With this in mind and wanting to consciously attack the areas we tend to neglect in training, I have selected several exercises for you to sprinkle into your workouts during the week in hopes of staving off overuse injuries, helping restore muscle imbalances and force coupling, and potentially curing an ailing problem that may be currently plaguing your training.
There are two concepts I decided to frame the “Super Six” after, the first being targeting chronic overuse problems we see across many athletes. As we examine the first concept we need to have a fundamental understanding of where things break down and how we can restore them to their correct being. For the purposes of this grouping we will begin with a top-down approach. Please view the Youtube videos after each exercise description for a video on how to perform each exercise. I apologize for the not-so-great quality but hopefully they will be some assistance to the visual learners out there.
The first exercise we call Chin Tucks with Rotation (fancy I know). Often with training we forget the importance of being balanced at the neck. The neck and upper spine is comprised of a complex series of bony blocks (cervical and upper thoracic vertebra), capsule, ligaments, a complex intricate muscular system and an even more complex nervous system. The reason for this exercise is simple – with continued pull exercises and heavy lifting we often utilize larger muscle groups such as the upper traps to accomplish movements of the cervical spine, and even worse if we are bogged down to sitting for the majority of our day due to our job we may adopt un-advantageous postures which may limit the amount of motion we obtain from our upper cervical spine. Due to this un-advantageous movement patter we end up obtaining “normal” movement by robbing motion from our lower cervical spine and thoracic vertebra. At the end of the day this exercise is intended to free up those tight structures deep within your neck to ensure proper movement patterns and correct posture. To perform this exercise is simple:
- Place your thumb directly on top of your jugular notch, the little divot on the top of your sternum and your index finger on your chin. Your hand should fit comfortably in this position as this will help assure you your neck has not extended too far forward. This hand position will also ensure a linear line of movement around a rotational axis.
- Now simply turn your head to the right as far as you can and hold for 10 seconds. Return to the center and turn your head to the left for 10 seconds.
- Repeat this 3 times each side.
- You may even feel a slight shake at the end of your turn as the deep neck muscles are forced to wake up and work.
- Repeat ten times each side. Yup – that’s it.
Exercise two and three focus on our beloved shoulders and scapular thoracic “joint”. The first is going to be standing band-resisted scaption. This will target the all important supraspinatus muscle, a key player of the rotator cuff, which helps initial abduction (raising of the arm) and depressing the humeral head within the glenoid (ball and socket joint) as to avoid banging into any other structures which may not liked to be pushed around (i.e. long head of the biceps tendon). Dysfunction with this muscle often leads to dreaded “impingement” issues seen in overhead athletes and weight lifters in general. To perform this exercise is simple:
- Stand in a staggered stance with one foot in the middle of a resistance band.
- Place your thumbs up towards the ceiling (thumbs up GOOD, thumbs down BAD).
- Keeping your elbows straight, lift your arms up to shoulder level. The angle of your arm should be half way between completely out to the side and completely out in front of you.
- Complete 3-4 sets of 15 reps at a resistance that produces some local shoulder fatigue but does not jeopardize form.
Exercise three focuses on how the shoulder blade moves along the rib cage and can compromise several important structures (some common one’s mentioned above). The scapula (a.k.a. shoulder blade) connects to the front of our shoulder via the clavicle (a.k.a collar bone). This joint is called the acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) and sits right on top of your humerus (arm bone). Think of this area as a house. The AC joint is the roof and the top of your humerus is the floor. Within the house runs several important tendons which help control shoulder motion. In thinking about the house, let me remind you of how we discussed earlier that the AC joint is the meeting place of the scapula and clavicle. If the muscles that control the scapula are weak, this will subsequently lower the roof of our house, squishing the important tendons that live within it and compromise how our shoulder moves in general. A main culprit in controlling scapular position is targeting the lower trap. To target the lower trap we use the Overhead Y-Pulls at squat depth. These are performed by:
- Secure a band around a sturdy poll at foot level.
- Achieve a comfortable stable squat position (every one is different so find the position that is right for you).
- Grasp the band and pull the bands apart with your elbows locked out straight, squeezing your shoulder blades down.
- Make sure you do not over extend your wrists as this will put unnecessary stress on your elbows.
- Make sure you do not push your head forward while pulling, keep your head in a neutral position at all times.
- Perform 3-4 sets of 15 reps at a resistance that produces some local shoulder fatigue but does not jeopardize form.
As we move down the kinetic chain the next stop is our core. I have two exercises for you to add to your arsenal to help not only strengthen the all important core but to help ward off low back pain as well as help improve recovery if you do happen to hurt your back while exercising. The first core exercise is the side plank. If you are not performing this exercise already I highly recommend adding it, as I personally believe it should be a foundational exercise for everyone. The key concept here is we are not looking for the number of repetitions we can run through but instead are actually looking for how long we can actually hold this position. In stressing the time component with this exercise we are looking to challenge how long your transverse abdominous, obliques, and multifidi (key stabilizing muscles that make up “the core”) can fight off fatigue. This exercise alone has been proven to target these muscles specifically as well as prevent fatty infiltration of musculature, which can often develop with chronic low back injuries. To perform this exercise:
- Begin lying on your side, propped up on your elbow.
- Making sure your body is in a straight line (ear inline with shoulder, shoulder inline with hip, hip inline with knee, knee in line with ankle) lift your hips up off the ground.
- Hold that position for as long as you can before a break is needed. Just for a frame of reference an average healthy female should be able to hold a side plank for 70 seconds where as an average healthy male should be able to hold a side plank position for 90 seconds.
- Repeat the hold 3x on each side.
- Also, this exercise can be easily modified by beginning with your knees in a bent position and progressed to up on your feet, to one foot on the ground. The entire progression is shown in the video below.
The second core exercise is the windshield wiper. This exercise will challenge your obliques and require strict attention to detail as you challenge your body to fight the forces of gravity. To perform this exercise:
- Begin lying on your back with your feet straight up in the air.
- Slowly rotate your legs to one side, keeping your back as flat as possible on the ground.
- Once you reach a point where you feel you are going to lose control of your legs, bring your legs back up to the center position and rotate to the opposite direction.
- The key here is to only go as far as your legs will let you without jeopardizing form. Gains in rotation will come with time as you continue to work hard with this movement.
- Perform 3 sets of 5 reps each side or to the point where you feel fatigue in the obliques. Weight can be added to your feet but I highly recommend starting without weight as your legs will provide an unexpected amount of force as they lower to the side (physics will get you every time).
Finally we have reached our last exercise. This exercise goes hand in hand with the core section and is a directed towards hip strengthening. The hips are essentially a global extension of the core so as a side note if you are having low back issues make sure you address any hip problems and vise versa. This exercise seeks to target the internal rotators of the hip (these muscles turn your hip in). These little muscles are often the forgotten bunch when it comes to strength work. A big drive in fitness over the past few years has been the push to strengthen hip external rotators (these muscles turn your hip out), which is great but we cannot forget about the other side of the equation. To perform this exercise:
- Begin by placing a resistance band around your ankles and lying on your stomach with your knees bent to a 90-degree angle.
- Slowly try and separate your feet as far as possible while still maintaining the same knee angle.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
- Perform 3×12 at a comfortable resistance that produces hip fatigue but does not jeopardize form.
- Do not worry if you cannot rotate very far (like me). Many people have short internal rotators of the hip. If you are having trouble rotating try some basic internal rotation stretches (just search some basic videos on Youtube) prior to performing this exercise.
- Always avoid pain with this exercise, if you are having deep hip pain with this exercise DO NOT push through it as this may be a sign of impingement issues at the hip.
After looking through the exercises above, did you happen to notice the second common concept? Each exercise targets different planes of movement! A concept often lost in training. We (myself included) tend to get caught up in moving in the sagittal plane only, up and down type movements such as the squat, overhead press, things of that nature. But remember what we talked about earlier, as human beings we have the ability to move in a multitude of directions! Therefore we should train ourselves in all different planes of movement, especially the frontal and transverse planes. Remember: the Super Six are meant to compliment your other moves and exercises, they are not meant to stress you out or add hours to your workout when your schedule is busy enough as it is. Simply pepper in these exercises as you see fit during your week, whether it is an exercise or two each time you workout, and hopefully with patience and time you will begin to see some differences in all aspects of your training.
To review the exercises in an easier to read form:
- Chin Tuck with Rotation – 3x10s each side
- Band Resisted Scaption – 3-4×15
- Overhead Y-Pulls – 3-4×15
- Side Plank 3x each side for time
- Windshield Wipers – 3×5 each side
- Band Resisted Hip Internal Rotation – 3×12