Isometrics can be a great way to strengthen weaknesses throughout a range of motion in a movement.
In this example I’m using an assisted low range isometric squat, but you can take the principle and apply it to anything. Use that pause to connect with your muscles and feel what’s working, what’s not, what should be. Take the time while in that pause to figure it out and get everything responding the way it should be and then groove it proper. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so find it and strengthen it.
I’ll typically start people between 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps with 5-6 second pauses per rep. I like this for slowing down mechanics and working on grooving proper patterns.
I’ve found this exercise to be an excellent way to get people comfortable with the bottom position of a squat. (Note: Make sure the range of motion is there first.)
Most of us are one-side dominant in our daily activities. We typically open doors, carry groceries, get in and out of vehicles more frequently on one side than the other. Over time these unconscious movements add up and create imbalances in our body which can sometimes lead to insidious aches pains or injuries. One of my favorite stretches that can both expose imbalances from left to right and help restore some balance is the Banana Stretch. Here’s a quick video tutorial! Hope you enjoy!
Our hips play a huge role in our mobility. They are at the center of where all the action takes place. Just about every way we move involves the hip joint in some capacity, whether it be direct or indirect when we initiate movement, forces travel through the area. It’s needless to say that keeping them healthy will have a huge impact in our overall well being and quality of life.
So, how do we keep them healthy you ask? With 21 muscles crossing this incredible piece of architecture you might think that the answer is going to be complex. Many experts will give you numerous stretches and exercises to take to task however the most important thing to do is keep them greased by keeping them moving regularly through all their movement ranges. This is something that should be done daily however most of us have set patterns throughout our day that have us using our hips in a very limited capacity and so they become limited to that.
There are 6 primary ranges of motion that the hip joint provides for us:
Flexion – when the thigh bone moves forward ahead of the hip.
Extension – when the thigh bones moves backward behind the hip.
Abduction – when the thigh bone moves out to the side of the hip.
Adduction – when the thigh bones moves across our mid-line.
External Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points out away from the body.
Internal Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points in toward the body.
Do you move your hips through all these ranges in a deliberate manner daily? Chances are that you don’t and by limiting the range of motion and freedom of your hips the cascade effect of compensatory patterns and the insidious onset of pain occurs.
To help mitigate this terrible outcome, I’m going to provide you with one simple dance that takes just seconds to perform to keep those hips greased and mobile daily. Whether you’re young, old or currently experience some form of discomfort, this little jig has got you covered. I have to give full credit to Kevin Darby, strength coach/educator extraordinaire and the authority in Canada for Fascial Stretch Therapy, as I picked this up from his playbook.
You can read this description, but the video provides a clear and easy visual as well as instructions. While my mother is from South America, you’ll see that I clearly didn’t inherit those well greased dance hips often associated with South American populations. Enjoy!
Step 1: Take one foot and plant it to the ground. Remember, plants don’t move so this foot will stay where it is for the whole dance as we maneuver around it.
Step 2: Take your other foot and step forward. (Planted foot hip is now in extension)
Step 3: Take that same foot and step back. (Planted foot hip is now in flexion)
Step 4: Now take a step across your planted foot to the side. (Planted foot hip is now in adduction)
Step 5: Step over to the other side. (Planted foot hip is now in abduction)
Step 6: Step back over to the other side crossing that planted foot and facing your whole body that way. (Planted foot hip is now in internal rotation)
Step 7: Now step back over to the other side again and rotate your whole body to face that direction without moving that planted foot. (Planted foot hip is now in external rotation)
Can you see how we’ve just covered all of the primary ranges of motion for our hip? It’s genius! You can repeat these steps and each time you go through them as your hip frees up, you can take larger and deeper steps increasing the range of motion.
It’s well known how important core stability is, and
while static exercises like planks are a great place to start and learn how to feel
and engage your core for stability, you’ll need to advance and be able to
maintain stability with weight and or force transfer. I’ve found that most people are good with sagittal
plane stability (resisting a forward or back bend), but poor with coronal (side
to side) and transverse (rotational) stability.
The latter two are especially important for all populations as something
as simple as getting in and out of your car requires the awareness and
stability of all planes.
The Palloff Press is an excellent movement choice that incorporates stability work in all planes, with focus on the transverse and coronal while adding some force transfer through the press. I like starting with the half-kneeling variation to promote the locking in of good pelvic stability, and for people with tight hip flexors and quads, you get to work in a nice open hip position on the knee down side. I’ll initially use an isometric hold at the top of the extended range to make sure that people are able to feel and adapt appropriately to the force transfer.
This is a fantastic movement to include in your movement prep. or warm-up exercises.
See the video below for a full demonstration and explanation.
Here’s what it looks like:
Anchor a Large O-Band or resistance band to a stable object at about shoulder height when you are kneeling.
Face 90 degrees away from the anchor so that your torso is perpendicular to it. Holding the band with inside hand first and overlapping with the outside, center hands over solar plexus (mid-torso) and move away from the anchor so that there is resistance on the band. (Distance will depend on your current level of comfort and strength.)
Assume a half-kneeling position with inside knee down on the ground inline with hips, shoulders and head. Outside leg should be forward and flexed 90 degrees at hip and knee with foot maintaining full contact on ground. Ensure pelvis is level and lock it in by contracting glutes, hamstrings and core.
From this position slowly press hands forward straight away from torso fully straightening arms and maintaining shoulder height.
Keep hips and shoulders square with one another and resist the torsion of the band. Hold arms extended position for specified time and then slowly bring hands back toward torso.
Remember to breathe throughout.
Complete full set with weaker side first before switching.
Recommended variables to start with:
2-3 sets, 4-8 reps per side, 3-5 second holds in extended position.
This is a movement that I picked up from Dr. Spina’s FRC
material. I love it because it addresses
the top range (short range) portion of a hamstring curl or knee flexion which
is so often neglected. Most hamstring
movements focus on the mid or low range, and the movements that are supposed to
include the top range are often performed poorly, leaving it out anyway. In many cases people don’t even have to flexibility
to perform work for this range and that’s the other reason why I like this
movement. It also works on quad
flexibility at the same time, in particular the rectus femoris that crosses
both the knee and hip joint which is often a restricting muscle for many
I like using this as a movement prep/warm-up movement
especially on a lower body focused day.
The set-up is key to making this an effective movement and for those
that can’t get into this position, the video below offers an alternative
Cramping or muscle spasms in the hamstrings are common
when first attempting this movement.
This is a normal response and will pass once your body and brain adapt
to the pattern.
This exercise should be performed slow and controlled
Start in a half-kneeling rec fem stretch position
keeping head, shoulders, hips and planted knee aligned with one another. Hold the foot of your back leg up as close to
your butt as you can manage.
Slowly release your foot while squeezing hamstrings and
glutes controlling the negative all the way down to the ground. Try not to let your foot just sling shot out
of your hand. Slowly curl your leg back up to the top position as
far as possible before assisting with hand as little as possible and returning
2-3 sets, 3-6 reps/side, slow and controlled throughout. (4-5 seconds to lower, 3-4 seconds to return to start.)
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.
An issue that’s becoming
more prevalent in my practice is lack of ankle mobility, particularly with
dorsi flexion (foot flexes up toward shin).
I’ll hear comments about how calves always feel tight even though the
individual is always stretching them out.
While the calves feel like they have an issue, the problem might stem
from somewhere else. In a case where I
hear comments such as above, looking at the body globally and assessing postural
alignment can help find the source.
Two fairly common postural
patterns that are just about guaranteed to produce limited ankle mobility as
well as many other problems that I won’t dig into in this article are “sway
back” and “hyper lordosis.” In both
cases a dysfunction through the core triggers compensatory patterns in order
for the body to keep balanced.
Sway Back – In the case of the sway back posture the pelvis
shifts forward off the plumb line usually presenting with a posterior pelvic
tilt and flattening of the lower back.
There are many possible reasons for this that may include weakness in
the transversus abdominis (TVA), imbalanced internal and external obliques,
glute weakness, poor sequencing etc. But
it’s the lack of support through the core that displaces the weight creating an
“S” like posture when viewed from the side.
With the pelvis shifting forward, the upper torso needs to shift back
making the head shift forward. In the
lower body knees will usually lock out in hyper extension and due to the angle
that the weight is being driven through the tibia, a constant posterior glide
at the talocrural joint (ankle) stresses the Achilles tendon.
Hyper Lordosis – With hyper lordosis a slightly different “S” like
pattern forms as the pelvis dumps forward in an anterior tilt which tends to
create a flatter upper back and exaggerates the arch in the low back shifting
the torso forward off the plumb line.
The weight displacement of the upper body causes the lower body to
compensate by pushing the pelvis backward as well as the knees in a lockout
position. As with the “Sway Back”
posture, this places the tibia at an unfavorable angle to bear load through the
There are a number of
other issues that are also formed with these postures, but since this article
is about tight calves, I’m just going to highlight how they are affected. In both the sway back and hyper lordosis
cases, these postures produce a constant stress on the calves through both the
knee joint as well as the ankle joint. The
calves are in a lengthened state crossing the knee and working hard to fight
hyper extension and stabilize the joint.
Through the ankle, because of the way the weight is being distributed
through the tibia (lower leg) and the angle that it is forced to meet the talus
(foot bone), they’re again stretched and working hard to combat the posterior
glide and stabilize. The body’s nervous
system will perceive these areas as being unstable causing the calf muscles to
brace for stability making them tight. No
amount of stretching will remedy this type of tension. In order for mobility to take place in any
joint, there needs to be stability for your nervous system to allow the
To address the constant
tension through the calves, postural improvement is needed first to place the
load of the body in an optimal position where the joints are stable. Improving the function of your core will
generate the greatest success in these situations.
In this video I explain the compensatory patterns and offer a simple tool to help improve your posture.
Mobility is a buzz word that is often used interchangeably with flexibility, however mobility is not just being flexible, but the ability to control your full range of motion and flexibility with proper muscle coordination patterns and awareness.
If you want to maximize performance and movement efficiency, mobility is a must! So, it’s not just about being flexible, but also being in control throughout your entire motion. You need to be able to own it. Here’s where implementing things like slow reps and isometrics come into play. Before you start to just move weight through a movement, you should be able to go through that movement in slow motion and be able to pause it at any point throughout it without deviation. If you can do this, you will reduce your risk of injury and overload and create a more fluid and efficient movement pattern.
Here are a few techniques and examples you can try:
Isometrics – I’m a huge fan of these! In gymnastics just about everything we did included being able to hold the movement position isometrically before being allowed to progress to the sexy stuff.
Example: The Back Extension – this is a movement I always see performed poorly in the gym. Most of the time I see a swing up with momentum. Try just holding your body at the top position for 5-10 seconds and see how it goes. You can try pausing this movement at any point in the arc and holding to see where you may have weakness. It’s a humbling experience and will really make you see what muscles you’re working, and what ones you aren’t.
10 Second Negatives – One of the greatest power lifters of all time, Ed Coan talked about these at a SWIS conference one year. He explained how you should be able to control every aspect of your squat throughout its entire motion.
Example: The Squat – a lot of people like to rush through this movement letting gravity push them through the negative. Try counting out a full 10 second negative with your squat keeping the motion constant and smooth. This will allow you to feel every little deviation and instability you may have. Guess what? The more stability you have, the more force you will be able to generate and the bigger your real lift will be.
Think of the Opposite – I encourage this with every movement in order to stimulate the full use of your stabilizers as well as help maximize the agonist contraction.
Example: The Bench Press – instead of just letting gravity push the bar down to your chest, think of pulling it down instead. Envision squeezing or rowing it through the negative. You’ll find a much smoother and solid movement, and actually get a nice explosive pop into your positive out of the bottom!
This video gives a contrast between the typical momentum rep, and isometric rep and a slow controlled rep.