I’ve often dealt with an uncomfortable feeling that some of the things we do as strength & conditioning coaches don’t necessarily have the “transfer” we believe it should when it comes to improving athletic movement. I have a strong faith however, that a fundamental quality like strength gained in the weight room is something that can be expressed in competition. Strength is the foundation on which we can build some amazing things like speed, power, agility and resilience. I also have faith that using evidence-based approaches to training energy systems and preparing our athletes to endure the rigors of practice and competition is time well spent.
Where I have trouble sometimes, is with some of the “smaller” things we try to implement. Mobility and activation drills, movement retraining etc. are all somewhat difficult things to coach in large groups when we have less than ideal coach to athlete ratios. These endeavors can be very specific, coaching-intensive, and contingent on conscious input from the athletes themselves.
Something as simple as a glute bridge can be thrown off by excessive extension in the low back, directing force into the ground through the toe, or even a lazy pause at terminal extension. Forget the fact that an athlete with an inhibited glute can get away with performing a visually appealing rep using no more than a strong hamstring contraction.
Philosophically, my belief is that if proximal/local dysfunction (closer to the center of mass) exists, it will only be extrapolated as it feeds forward globally through the extremities. A logical place to start in my opinion would be the hips, the engine that drives the lower extremities. Also, a place where there are famously dysfunctional force couples.
Vladimir Janda posited that there exists a pathological pair of compensatory mechanisms in the hips which have the potential to greatly alter the efficiency of any athlete. The name he gave to this unfortunate reality is Lower Crossed Syndrome.
Combined with some of my personal biases toward the difference between mobility and flexibility, I’ve been determined to find some resolution with respect to this issue. As a result, I have been experimenting with some new (to me) ideas in terms of how to retrain these force couples to work together instead of against each other.
Here is a video featuring some of the movement retraining strategies I’ve used with some success demonstrated by one of my men’s soccer players:
As I state in the video, Daniel experiences some pain in the hip flexors and low back during the early parts of the semester, and again as the semester wears on. As fitness volumes and competition schedules fluctuate, he will occasionally fall victim to the convenient strength he possesses in the hip flexors and low back. Without full functional activation of the glutes and abdominals, he is at the mercy of his two dominant groups. The following are some questions you may have at the end of the video.
Question 1: If the hip flexors are overactive or facilitated in Lower Crossed Syndrome, why activate them or train them?
In the lower crossed model, the hip flexors are facilitated by a pathological posture and flawed systemic movement in the lower half. Retraining the hip flexors to fire with a neutral spine and the engaged abdominals “earns” their activation in the absence of the pathologically facilitating postures.
Question 2: How can you create a situation where the low back is not overactive?
Cue the engagement of the abdominals to pull the spine out of lumbar extension in conjunction with the hip flexor activation as well as engaged glute on the stance leg side (for standing drills with the foam roller.) As well as cueing abdominal engagement in prone and seated exercises.
Question 3: We do “glute activation” all the time, why is the prone position better?
So maybe the prone position alone doesn’t make it better, but with the neutral spine and engaged abdominals, my opinion is that we can cue the glutes to fire in a manner in the absence of lumbar extension. This being in contrast to a position where the exercise or position allows for lumbar extension to produce a similar movement. In addition, the pad under the ASIS and abdominals facilitates a neutral spine where the glutes can operate prior to absolute terminal extension in conjunction with the hamstrings. In addition, in the palpatory assessment, we can gauge the timing of the Hamstring-Glute-Lumbar extensor complex.
At the end of the day, activation against resistance is great for grooving the neuromuscular connection and turning on certain muscles. My belief is that we can begin to expand our focus and start integrating movements by using conscious or active control to turn on those muscle groups that are less active. In this way, and with controlled postural demands, we can recreate situations where we actually want the athletes to have access to ranges of motion with newly learned functional capacity of inhibited muscle groups, as well as those which are overly facilitated.