Just about ever fitness magazine cover or website has an article with a title like “The One Exercise You’re Missing,” “Exercises You’re Not Doing But Should,” or “Do This for Flatter Abs.” It’s meant to be attention grabbing and convey that the reason you’re not seeing the results you want is because you’re not doing this one thing. But in the end, the exercise is just a variation of the same old movements. This post isn’t going to sell you on flatter abs or bigger muscles, but with more improved, pain free movement.
We normally associate exercises with something that you can load, something that you can lift. However, exercise can also be things that bring mobility to your joints, or give you a better way of doing things.
Yea, most programs are going to have a mix of loads and variations of the fundamental movements like push, pull, squat, and hip hinge. In fact, we’ve covered those movements in the past, and you likely do them every day. How many articles can you read or videos can you watch that show different variations of the squat and how to load it? For example, a squat can be loaded with a barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, bodyweight, medicine ball, ViPR, bands, and probably a few more. Then take that load and place it over head, on your back, in a front rack, unilaterally loaded, loaded in the arms (zercher), or in a goblet position. So while we could point out that you should do single arm overhead kettlebell squats for such and such a reason, it really wouldn’t add anything to your program, nor does it necessarily mean you could do it. Although you would look pretty badass.
Let’s move away from loaded exercises and into 3 exercises that will make you moving better, have you feeling better, and have you in less discomfort. Exercise making you feel better? Surely you’re joking.
No, seriously I want to highlight 3 exercises you may actually use, and that will actually benefit you.
- Thoracic Rotation
Breathing is an essential part of life. You may even be telling me, “I breathe every single day, without it I’d die.” You’d be right, you do need to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide or you would in fact die, or at the very least pass out. However, its way more than an inhale and an exhale. Short, hard power breathes can trigger the abs to fire quickly, much like you’d see in martial arts, long deep breathes can help relax and calm you much like yoga, or even holding your breath, known as a Valsalva maneuver, can aid in exercise like the deadlift or squat.
If you delve more into the world of exercise and read up on what other people are doing, you’ll see that breathing is important. In fact, PRI has a whole course focused on breathing. The more I watch people breathe during exercise, the more I realize people don’t know how to breathe. Did you know the diaphragm is part of your core musculature? It makes the top part of the cylinder or box or whatever shape you want to give your “core.”
Are you holding your breath when you do core exercises, like a plank? Do you do it all the time, some of the time, or never? Just throwing out a guess, but probably at the very least, some of the time, but in most cases, the go to is to hold your breath. So try to breathe. When doing core exercise, try to get in a good inhale followed by a forceful exhale.
Two drills when it comes to breathing is laying in a 90/90 position and focusing on deep, expansive breathing, and “crocodile breathing” where you lay on your stomach and try to feel your stomach lifting your body off the ground.
When was the last time you crawled on the ground? It’s likely been a while, however, if you have kids, you may do it more often. But were you comfortable in that position? Crawls have been mentioned previously, in passing on a few articles, most notably how they correspond to ab exercises to add to your program. In reality, crawling on the grounds is much more than an “ab exercise.” It’s a full body drill that requires coordination, finesse, strength, endurance, and good motor planning. What else does it require?
Keeping a neutral spine!
What else do we need to maintain a neutral spine for? Just about every other exercise. Deadlift? Neutral spine. Squat? Neutral Spine. Pushups? You betcha! So not only can crawling help improve core strength and coordination, but it can help to teach you that positioning that carries over into every other exercise you might do in the gym.
Want to really test your ability to crawl with good form? Do it while maintaining either a ball or a yoga block on the back. Sounds easy, but I can assure you, that it is not.
Thoracic Rotation Drill
Thoracic mobility is important for back health and this rotation drill is perfect for improving that. Often times, if there is low back pain or shoulder pain, you need to look at the joint above or below. Which brings us to the T-spine. If you lack necessary mobility in the T-spine, something else has to pick up the slack. This is why some version of thoracic rotation and mobility is in our warm-up. If you think about it, most occupations have employees sitting at a desk for multiple hours per day. What ends up happening is the body creates tension and patterns along lines of stress. Sitting in certain ways for extended periods of time forces the body to adapt. The body adapts in a way that will reduce pain and make it more efficient. Efficient is not always optimal however.
Even shifting away from common day to day behaviors, move it to the gym. When you press a bar overhead. If you lack requisite thoracic mobility, you may end up compensating with the lower back, or alter your shoulder mechanics and that presents a problem. Try one of these drills to increase your T-spine mobility and you’ll likely see an improvement in low back issues, shoulder mobility, and posture.