Targeting Common Training Dysfunctions, Part II
Written by Will Safford, CSCS
In Part 1 we discussed some frequently neglected, yet highly important, smaller muscles and their contribution to injury prevention, posture, and performance in your main lifts. Although these muscles aren’t very glamorous from an aesthetic standpoint, and may seem like a chore to train, they will improve your posture, making you look more confident, and bring balance your physique.
Most importantly, when firing and functioning properly, they will help keep you out of the doctor’s office and in the gym for the long term. Remember, we hit many of these in the daily workouts at P360, however, you can always add a few sets of these at home, in open gym, or before class. Let’s wrap up this series by looking at some important muscles of the forearms, lower back, and lower legs.
Muscle Group: Wrist Extensors, Wrist Rotators
Common Dysfunctions: Poor wrist position / stability
Common Sources of Pain: Elbow, Wrist
The Fix: Finger Extensions, Wrist Rotations
The muscles of the wrists and forearms receive a tremendous amount of work in almost every workout. Most exercises, with the exception of a few, require involvement of the hands. We are either gripping a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, pull-up bar, whatever, or holding ourselves up off the floor like in a push-up, kickout, plank, etc. So the muscles of our lower arms get a ton of work. However, how much attention do you actually give to your forearms and wrists?
Typically, the forearm muscles are riddled with trigger points and tension. And often, there is an imbalance between the strength and endurance of our flexors, or muscles that pull your wrist down toward you, and our extensors, which move the wrist up, like in a front rack position. The repetitive gripping involved with functional exercise usually leaves our flexors overactive and our extensors weak and lacking endurance.
Additionally, our wrist rotators, which turn our hand and lower arm from prone to supine and visa versa, are rarely developed. Over time, the imbalance between opposing muscles of the forearm can lead to wrist, elbow, and sometimes shoulder pain. Combat these issues with finger extensions and weighted wrist rotations. Both of these exercises should be done with light loads and for high reps to build endurance.
It’s smart to balance all that repetitive gripping with the opposite motion; extension. This is an easy exercise that can be done anywhere and not necessarily the gym. Close all of your fingers tips together, including your thumb, as if you were an old angry Italian man trying to make a point. Capisce? Now, loop a rubber band around all of your closed fingers. Stretch the rubber band by extending your fingers and opening your hand as wide as possible. Repeat this motion of closing and opening for a minimum of twenty reps. You’ll be amazed at how bad the muscles on the back of your forearm burn after just one set. Complete three sets on both hands.
Wrist supination and pronation, or turning your hand facing down to up, is an important function of the hand, and often the cause of injury when done unintentionally and under load. To develop range of motion and strength in this position, hold a light dumbbell (5 – 10lbs) in one hand by the end cap. It should be sticking out of one side of your hand as if holding a hammer. Then, rotate your wrist and hand from down to up and back. Continue to rotate your hand for 10 – 15 repetitions before changing the position of the dumbbell in your hand. Grab the dumbbell by the other end now, so it’s sticking out of the other side of your hand, and continue to rotate for another 10-15 reps. Repeat for three sets and continue on the opposite hand.
Muscle Group: Lower Back, Erectors
Common Dysfunctions: Hip and spine instability / Lower back rounding
Common Sources of Pain: Lower back
The Fix: Knees Together Glute Bridge / Supermans
The region of the lower back and hips is a complicated area where many muscles and bones come together. It’s no wonder it’s a common source of dysfunction and pain, and nearly 80% of all American adults suffer from some form of lower back pain. Injury prevention of this area is of utmost importance, as you can sometimes work around a shoulder or wrist issue, a lower back injury will most likely put you out of the gym indefinitely.
We get a healthy dose of “core” training during our daily workouts at P360, however, in particular, the muscles of the lower back, especially the erector spinae should be given extra attention. This muscle works to stabilize your spine and is crucial in preventing the lower back from rounding during Deadlifts, Squats, and any form of a hip hinge.
Knees Together Glute Bridge
To strengthen the musculature of the lower back, assume a glute bridge position lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the ground, and heels close to your glutes. The regular glute bridge (another great exercise) requires your feet shoulder width apart, which mainly targets the glutes and hamstrings. Bringing your feet and knees together, however, will move the attention to your lower back and create strong spine stabilizers.
While keeping your knees pressed together through the entire set, raise and lower your hips off the ground while driving through your heels. To develop endurance in the lower back, do isometric holds in the top position for a minimum of five seconds. High rep sets of 15-30 or 10 reps with a 5 second hold in the extended, top positon will serve you well for lower back strength endurance. Do at least three sets.
The superman exercise is a phenomenal exercise for lower and upper back strength and posture. Lie face down (prone) on the ground with your arms extended in front of you as if you were flying, and keep your thumbs up. Using the muscles of your lower and upper back, arch upward raising your legs, arms, and chest off of the ground. Think of driving your pelvis into the ground and keeping your arms and legs straight, not bent. Again, to work strength endurance, complete sets of 15 or better yet, do 10 isometric holds of 5 – 10 seconds in the top, arched positon. Compete three sets, trying to focus on the muscles of your back, not your glutes.
Muscle Group: Lower Leg, Ankle
Common Dysfunctions: Shin Splints / Feet Collapsing Inward / Ankle Instability
Common Sources of Pain: Shins, Ankles, Knees
The Fix: Single Leg Calf Raise / Banded Dorsiflexion
The feet and ankles play a pivotal role in human movement. As many exercises are done from the feet, this area has a huge influence up the kinetic chain on the rest of the body. A dysfunction here could lead to issues at the knee, hip, lower back, and even the shoulder and neck. Foam rolling should be done on a regular basis to break up tight, overactive muscles in the lower leg. Strengthening of the muscles on the front shin and back calf will balance out the area and prevent ankle sprains, shin splints, and pain up the kinetic chain.
Single Leg Calf Raise
The calves get a lot of work from big compound movements like Squats, Cleans, Snatches, and Jumps, however to target the medial gastroc (calf), which is often underdeveloped, leading to unstable ankles and knees, add Single Leg Calf Raises. On one leg, stand on the ball of your foot on the edge of a low box or bumper plate. Allow your heel to hang off the box and using the muscle of your calf, drive evenly through the ball of your foot to raise your heel. Attempt to raise your heel as high as possible, then slowly lower back down to the starting position. Don’t allow your toe to turn in or out, but maintain a straight foot throughout the entire exercise.
Shoot for 3 sets of 15-20 reps per foot with no added weight.
The muscles of the shin are small and rather unglamorous but highly important for dorsiflexion (think pulling your toes toward your shin) of the foot and overall ankle health. Develop them with Banded Dorsiflexions. Set up a bench near a rig and loop a thin band around the bottom of the rig. Sit upright on the bench with one leg stretched lengthwise down the bench and your foot hanging off the end. Loop the other end of the band around the top of your foot and start the movement with some light tension in the band. Pull your toes toward your shin, stretching the band in the process, then, lower your foot back to the starting position. This is a small movement, but the muscles of your shin will be burning by the time you’re done with one set.
Do 10-15 reps per leg for three sets.
If optimum performance, injury prevention, and a balanced physique are important to you, these exercises are an absolute must. If you suffer from any of the aforementioned dysfunctions you should add the appropriate exercises a few times a week until it clears up.
After that, a weekly or semi-monthly maintenance program can be performed to keep these muscles firing and doing their job. This program also goes for anyone who isn’t facing any major dysfunctions but wants to stay performing at the top of their game. As with anything, consistency and commitment leads to lasting change. Stay on these exercises so you can stay in the gym and at your best.