Technique Tuesday: Ab Rollout

Technique Tuesday: The Ab Rollout

The Ab Rollout is one of those exercises that you’ve likely seen on late night infomercials when you’re up waaay past your bed time.  For 3 easy payments of $19.99, you too can have the abs of your dreams by using this fitness wheel.  The fitness wheel will give you all the ab gainz you could possibly want.

If you’ve read previous articles on core training or the plank, you’ll remember that the role of the core is to resist movement.  You want to maintain spinal stability in a neutral position while moving.  That is one of the great things about the plank.  It’s an isometric anti extension exercise.  The Ab Rollout is at its base level, a plank, but with movement, which will make it significantly more challenging.

In order to perfect the Ab Rollout, there are a few steps that you’ll need to take to get there.

  • Perfect the Plank
  • Avoid Common Mistakes
  • Earn Your Next Progression

Perfect the Plank

The first step in doing an Ab Wheel Rollout is hammering down the technique of your plank.  If you are unable to maintain a plank with a neutral spine, then you must master this technique before graduating to something more challenging.  .

Common Mistakes

There are a few breakdowns of the rollout that we want to avoid in order to get the most out of the exercise.

  • Leading with the Arms
    • Performing the movement by leading with the arms will put the rest of the body in a less than optimal position.  This could be due to strength issue.  A great cue to remember is to think about initiating the exercise from the hips, while keeping the glutes contracted.  Then letting the arms and upper body following.
  • Low Back Arching/Caving
    • This is a result of not enough bracing, or just plain not being strong enough to perform the exercise.  You have two choices.  Brace harder through your abs and glutes, or pick an option that you can perform.  We want to avoid putting the back into a compromised position.
  • Hips Shifting Back
    • This is more of an issue on the return to start.  Rather than pull the wheel back while keeping a neutral spine, there’s a tendency to just shift the hips back up.  This disengages your core and leads to 1/2 an exercise, which could be another sign of some core weakness.

Earn Your Next Progression

Much like you wouldn’t jump from a stationary lifestyle to squatting 200 pounds on your first day of training ( I haven’t seen a couch to 200lb squat program yet) you wouldn’t try a rollout before conquering the basics.  This means we don’t advance until we’re ready.

  1. Physio Ball- In the kneeling position, place the stability ball in front of you. Reaching your arms out at a 45 degree angle, place your hands flat against the ball. Once you have braced your core you can begin extending. Be sure to contract everything, if you keep constant tension through your body it will make the movement as well as maintaining your form through the exercise much easier. Once you have extended as far as you can while keeping that modified plank position, you can start retracting your body to the start position under control.
  2. Glide Disc Negatives- from the same kneeling position, place each of your hands on the glide disks. With a tight, contracted core and glutes, extend your body to that modified plank position. While maintaining that good form, continue moving your hips toward the ground as your arms extend further overhead, until you are completely parallel to the floor. The key is control. Once your form begins to suffer or you have reached the end point of the extension, collapse to the ground, sliding your hands to your sides and push-up off the floor and return to the start position.
  1. Ab Wheel Rollouts- This is it! All your regressions and practice have lead to this exercise. Begin in the same manner, kneeling on the floor grasp either side of the Ab Wheel and begin in that kneeling plank position and once again think about bringing yourself into a plank while the hips and arms extend out to the floor.  Once you have extended out parallel to the floor or as far as you can while maintaining control and proper form, you will engage your lats while keeping your glutes contracted and return to the kneeling plank position.


No Pain, No Gain

No Pain, No Gain.  That used to be the mantra of many.  It actually still may be.  The thought process worked like this: If you were in pain, you surely had to be making progress and gains.  Right?  As long as there was progress and results, a little pain was worth it.  Who cares that you can barely walk or lift your arm above your head without pain.  You look great!  Speaking of which, Pain & Gain with Mark Wahlberg and The Rock was an awesome movie.  You should finish reading this, then go check it out.

Seriously though, pain is a bad thing.  It’s a signal telling your body to stop, that something is wrong.  Think of it like an emergency brake.  Working through it isn’t in your long term interests or even short term for that matter.   It would be like driving your car around with the emergency brake on.  We’ve all done that before.  We forget to take the emergency brake off, however our body doesn’t forget.  It’ll just keep reproducing that pain signal till 1 of 2 things happen.  Either an injury happens, or you just compensates for the movement to reduce the pain, which causes dysfunction and then we are right back to injury again.

 

How do we stay out of the pain cycle?

First, we need to recognize whether we’re actually feeling pain, or if we’re just in a little bit of discomfort.  There’s a big difference.  You can make it through discomfort.  It’s harder to work through pain and it can be detrimental to your overall well-being.

Second, we need to adjust our exercise selection so that we eliminate the chance of this happening again.

SMR/Foam Rolling– A great way to make sure you eliminate major pain is by taking care of the minor aches and pains through foam rolling and other SMR techniques like lacrosse ball or PKnott work.  What this does is increase blood flow and relieve tension in the muscles along with increasing range of motion and oxygen to the area.  SMR and foam rolling are like flossing and brush your teeth.  They are maintenance work for your muscles, keeping them healthy and functional.

Massage– If SMR and foam rolling are the flossing and brushing of teeth for your muscles, then massage is like going to the dentist.  A great massage therapist can help get to spots that tools cannot, and can provide much needed relief (thankfully we have on staff at AMP).  An LMT can be great for treating specific areas and get you back to working order.

Mobility- Mobility is much different from just stretching in that you are maintaining stability while increasing mobility.  Because without stability, we’d all just collapse into a pile of mush.  Muscley mush.

Other Recovery Strategies– Rest.  Sleep.  Nutrition.  Taking days off from training so your muscles have the ability to repair.  Speaking of repair, sleep is when your body makes all its repairs and resets you for the next day.  If your body isn’t regrouping due to lack of sleep, it will surely break down at some point.   Maybe not today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the line your body will meet its breaking point.  So get your sleep.

Nutrition is equally important as if you’re not fueling your body, it won’t optimally recover.

You can additionally treat with ice as it will temporarily provide relief for pain.  However, without breaking down your movements and seeing how or why your body is in pain, you will stay in the same cycle of pain.

Stretching

I’m only including this because I know the question is going to be asked.  “Can I stretch?”  The answer is “It depends.”

Sometimes when we feel pain, we have the urge to stretch.  Stretching “feels good” and it’s probably what you’ve always done. Stretching found its way into the fitness industry years ago when no one was stretching. It became a cure all for those who weren’t doing any other form of recovery. However now we know better and learned much more about the body. Something is better than nothing right? No, in many scenarios, stretching is going to be counterproductive.  It can bring more instability to an area that doesn’t need it.  Most times, a tight muscle is the only thing holding you together, preventing something more serious.  If you keep tugging on that link, that tight muscle through stretching, eventually a link down the chain is going to snap.  So stretching is going to be a “sometimes” strategy for pain.  It should only be used when necessary.

Takeaway

Pain is your bodies’ emergency brake.  It’s telling you to stop whatever it is your doing.  There is a distinct difference between pain and discomfort.  Some exercises are not going to be comfortable or hard.  That’s a good thing.  Those will teach you to grow, to excel, to be better.  Pain, either acute or chronic, is a cry for help.  Employ these strategies to break through that pain cycle.

Now seriously, go watch that movie.


Technique Tuesday: Side Plank

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This week on Technique Tuesday, we give the Side Plank a few tweaks and cues that’ll give you the maximum benefits.  The side plank is often an overlooked ab exercise as we tend to think only of the front of our stomach as “abs.”  But, the side plank holds tremendous benefits for your stomach and for the health of your lower back.

The Basics

  • Pick a side to start on, with the feet together and your elbow below your shoulder.
  • Brace your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet.
  • Maintain the position without letting your hips drop or rotate.

 

Technical Breakdown

Hip Alignment

The first part of the side plank to look at is where the hips are in relation to the rest of the body. Not only do you want a straight line from the feet to the shoulders looking from the front, but also from the side.  The issue that arises with side planks is that people will leave their butts hanging out, like their in a twerking music video.  We want to avoid that.

The simple fix is to squeeze the hell out of the glutes, much like the top of a deadlift or even just a regular front plank.  This will ensure that the hips get pushed through and in alignment with the rest of the body.

If you take a look at the above video, another great way to get proper alignment is to put your back against a wall, with the heels, butt, elbow and shoulders against the wall. You have no choice but to stay in a solid side plank.

Elbow Position

The next issue is kind of a two parter related to the elbow and shoulder positioning.  When setting up for the side plank, the tendency is to just put the elbow wherever without a second thought to WHERE is should go.  This results in the elbow being too far away from the shoulder, as you can see in the video, or in some cases too close.  The simple fix for this is making sure that you’re positioned right underneath the shoulder.  This will maintain a more shoulder friendly position.

Additionally, you want to press into the floor with your arm as this will get the muscles that surround the shoulder to contract, keeping stability in the joint.  I can’t tell you how many times I see people sinking into their shoulder, and relying solely on the joint to support them.  Use those muscles!


Cardio: Yes or No?

One of the top questions that we get asked as trainers is either “What should I do for cardio,” or “Should I be doing cardio?”  And you’re going to hate this answer, and it’s a total cliche, but….

It Depends

It depends, the answer for any question.  The reason is that it is going to depend on what you are training for.  Training for a marathon, yea you’re going to need some cardiovascular training.  Actually you are going to need a lot of it, like 26 miles worth of it.  However, cardio doesn’t have to be just running on treadmills, sitting on a bicycles, or ellipticalling (I just make up a word) on ellipticals.  Cardio is really anything that gets your heart rate and respiration rate elevated above its normal resting point.  For some people, walking fast gets an elevated heart rate.  For others, it may take a little more work.

Here we’re going to cover some explosive exercises that are going to jack up your heart rate right away, testing your work capacity.

In no particular order, here are 5 exercises that will test your cardio limits:

Sled/Prowler– If you’ve never experienced the prowler or “prowler flu,” you are in for a treat; And by treat, I mean an incredibly difficult workout.  Pushing a prowler or sled is a lot like sprinting, but against a load.  Here you have two options, you can either load it super heavy and work on strength or strength/endurance, or you can lighten it and use it for acceleration, speed, and conditioning.  However, what you choose is based upon you and what your programs goal is.

Here’s your workout: 50 ft. (or space available) Every Minute on the Minute x10.

or

If you’re feeling extra saucy and want to test your upper limits, try 1 minute of work with 2 minutes of rest.

 

Kettlebell Swings- What looks like a squat with a front raise is actually an explosive, hip driven exercise meant to develop full body strength and mobility.  Kettlebell swings are a great posterior chain exercise that will challenge your glutes and your anaerobic capacity when done correctly.  If you’re new to swings, practice and get your technique right before you add quantity to your workout.  Quality beats quantity.

Your challenge: 4x 25 swings with a 20-30 second break in between sets.

Sprints– As a former sprinter, nothing beats going to the track or a turf field and cranking out a bunch of sprints.  But before you jump right into sprinting, you’re going to need to do some warm-up drills and get a little mobility.  Why sprinting?  Spiriting helps you burn fat, increase your metabolism, and increase your bodies’ ability to do work.  Plus rather than jog for a half hour, you can sprint and get a much more efficient, time saving workout.

The Workout: I use this one quite often mostly because the shorter sprints allow my muscles and nervous system to wake up before I go all out (by all out I mean 80-90% effort) for my longer sprints.

6x50m

6x 100m

 

Battle Ropes- One of the great things about battle ropes is that anyone can do them.  It’s all a matter of how much intensity and force you can put into them.  Another awesome aspect is you can vary the waves you make with ease.  As with the sprints, they will help build anaerobic and aerobic capacity.  So think of the ropes as sprints for your upper body.

The Workout: 10 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest x8

 

Medicine Ball Slams- Pick up a ball and slam it over and over again.  What’s not fun about that?  In addition to getting a great conditioning workout in, you get to take out some aggression on a ball.  Some med balls bounce, some don’t, but either way it requires putting a great deal of force into the ground.  Make each slam as explosive as possible.

The Workout: One of my favorites is a tabata influenced interval of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest x 8 rounds.

All of these have a common theme, they are intense and require an all-out effort which almost always results in an uptick in metabolism which will help burn fat.

Takeaway

Cardio isn’t all about going slow and steady on a treadmill, it can equally be more explosive moves that will help develop your work capacity.  Exercises like the above will provide an intense cardio session that will benefit your entire body.  In addition to doing each exercise separate, you can combine some into a circuit type workout for an even bigger calorie burn.

It is important to note that none of this matters.  What I mean is that none of these moves matter if you’re not putting effort into your nutrition.  That’s what matters most when it comes to losing fat.  Because in the end, you can’t out train a bad diet.


Add These 3 Overlooked Exercises for…

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.

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  • Breathing
  • Crawling
  • Thoracic Rotation

 

Breathing

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.

 

Crawls

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.