Can you spot the similarity in movement between each of the figures below?
Once upon a time, I thought I was decently strong. I can hold a sturdy back lever, whip through muscle ups, and perform a body weight snatch. Core strength? Oh yeah, I got that. It’s a funny thing, though: injuries challenge our assumptions.
Some recent muscle testing revealed that I have the quadratus lumborums, multifidus, and illiocostalis of a scrawny, skinny-jeans wearing hipster. The core strength which I thought I possessed had been on vacation for quite some time. Ask me to hold a side plank and then lift the top leg up a couple of inches and you might as well have asked me to deadlift a near maximal weight for reps. It was a struggle.
But wait a minute! Wait just a God damn minute! I’m strong! I lift every day! I take care of my mobility! How could I not hold a single leg side plank????
A clue lies in the graphic below.
I practice weightlifting and CrossFit. Taken together, these two types of sports produce a lethal mixture of fitness. However, there is a glaring weakness in both disciplines. Think of all the types of movements one does in the aforementioned activities. Whether it is a snatch or clean and jerk from weightlifting or kipping pullups and ball slams in CrossFit, the majority of movements exist primarily in the sagittal and coronal (frontal) planes.
So it is clear that not much movement happens in the transverse plane in my sports of choice. Why should it matter? Three reasons: Power, stability, and longevity. The commonality that exists in the pictures at the beginning of this article is that all of the activities show movement in the transverse plan. Notice that each of those events require a tremendous amount of directed power at specific times. For the purposes of weightlifting and CrossFit, the muscle groups involved in generating power along the transverse plane also have the ability to generate loads of stability while an athlete moves in the other two planes of movement. Inattention not only to spinal stabilizers but also transverse plane movement patterns can be deleterious to an athlete’s long term performance and health.
For instance, the ballistic nature of weightlifting and some movements in CrossFit loads the body with a tremendous amount of force throughout various positions. Without stressing the different areas of core strength, the athlete becomes susceptible to wholesale system breakdown.
The body is smart. It knows which muscles are strong and weak. Muscles which are weak are protected by muscles which are stronger, even though they might not be intended to do the other muscles’ work. Once the assisting muscles have spent their time trying to pull along the weaker muscles, they fail and thus expose the weak muscles to work they simply cannot handle. It is at this point that injury can occur.
We ultimately exercise because it makes us healthier and helps us live longer, but if we want to live a long life free of debilitating injuries, if longevity is truly a goal of our fitness programs, then we need to address these undervalued areas of strength. First, incorporate more movements that involve travel along the transverse plane of movement. (A word of caution here: do not include twisting movements that place axial loads on the spine i.e. twisting your body with a loaded barbell in the high bar back squat position).
- Transverse ball slams – Instead of simply lifting the ball over head and slamming it directly down in front, pick up the ball and rotate around your head and then slam it down diagonally.
- Wall slams – Take a slam ball and turning from your side, with both hands on the ball, hurl it aggressively into the wall, making sure to utilize your hips in the same way you would throw a ball.
- Partner passes and shuffles – More of a movement to be incorporated in a warmup or as accessory lifts after a workout. Much in the same manner as the wall slam, pass a medicine ball to a partner across the room as you slide side to side, making sure to alternate each side. The side to side slide will also strengthen the hip adductors and abductors.
- Sledgehammer drops and hits- Simple: swing a sledge hammer down onto a tire or swing it into the tire, the same way CrossFit Games athletes did in the Double Banger Event. See video below.
Second, when programmed correctly, curls and other isolation movements are beneficial. Isolation movements are functional in nature insofar as they provide greater stability to the prime mover muscle groups. These types of movements should be programmed as accessory lifts once the day’s primary training is over. Movements like plank holds, leg raises, and/or single leg deadlifts can help provide the necessary core strength to stave off potential injuries, which could derail your quest for improved health and performance.
Now, if you program curls into a conditioning workout, do us all a favor and just kill yourself.
It was great to see such tremendous progress today. For our barbell mechanics, we got after some split jerk volume. Remember, the jerk is more about hip drive, footwork, and pushing actively under the bar and less about pushing the bar up with the arms. The change in speed by lots of our junior athletes is something worth noting. Most improved award on the jerk goes to Marinos. That pesky back leg is finally turning in like it should on the split. Nice work!
After our barbell mechanics, we hit a challenging conditioning workout involving a mixture of Russian kettlebell swings, tall box jumps, push jerks, and pushups. Jacked to see people getting after it!
Unfortunately, this was the last class of the week. We have half days and I have parent teacher conferences all week right after school. Bummer…
Stay tuned, I might just cook up something you can do at home!
2 Rounds Jerk: Push Press, Push Jerk, Jerk Step Throughs, Jerk Balance, Split Jerk
2 sets of 3 @ 65% 1 RM
3 sets of 2 @ 75% 1 RM
2 sets of 2 @ 70% 1 RM
*1-2 minutes between sets.
15 Russian Swings (24/16)
5 Box Jumps (30″/24″)
5 Push Jerks (115/95)
2 rounds of above complex.
1 round of above complex
*8 minute time cap for junior members.
*Note on box jumps: Athletes must demonstrate control at top of the box and then STEP DOWN off the box. A rep will not count if the athlete jumps off of the box.