Is All Effort Created Equal?

For those of you who aren’t big on reading, I’ll save you some time: the answer is “No”.  Unfortunately, if you want to know why, you’ll have to read on!

One of the most common mistakes we see in inexperienced athletes is the “more is better” mentality.  In all honesty, who can blame them?  The pop-culture stereotype of the successful athlete is someone who goes into the gym and works him or herself to the brink of death repeatedly.  Think Rocky Balboa…or the people in Nike commercials.  Those people don’t look all that concerned about what they’re doing.  They’re just concerned with doing whatever it is until they collapse into a pool of their own sweat (wearing the latest stylish athletic footwear, of course).  There’s good news and bad news.  The good news is, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) destroy yourself during every training session.  The bad news is, it still ain’t easy.  

Like so many things in the world of athletic performance, it all comes back to having a good plan, having the discipline to stick to your plan, and having a knowledgeable coach to let you know when it’s time to step on the gas and when it’s time to pump the brakes.  To make the most of your training, you need that drive to push yourself beyond the limit of what you thought you could do, but you also need the discipline and focus to manage that drive and direct it in a way that is going be best for your performance, resilience, and longevity in your sport.  This is why elite Crossfit competitors don’t do Crossfit, at least as it exists in most affiliates.  They know that in order to improve and excel in their sport, a daily max effort sweatfest of random movements won’t cut it.  Instead, they need to direct that effort towards the specific things that will make them better at their sport – developing their weightlifting technique, building their aerobic base, improving their strength endurance, etc.  They can improve at all of those things, possibly in the same day, through multiple sub-maximal efforts.  The same is true for any athlete.  Sometimes a max effort is required to move an athlete forward.  Often, the focus should be elsewhere.

The other “inequality” we see in effort has to do with correct movement patterns.  At SISU Strong, one of our goals for pretty much every athlete, regardless of sport or level of competition, is to make them more efficient.  In other words, we want them to expend less energy to perform the same amount of work.  It doesn’t take a genius to see how that can be an advantage in competition or just allow you to perform at a higher level for longer in practice or on casual rides.  However, it’s not immediately obvious how you make that happen.  One of the biggest ways we can start developing greater efficiency is by learning and practicing correct movement patterns.  By mastering major movements, such as the squat, hip hinge, push and pull, we are teaching our body to stabilize and absorb force through the muscles best equipped to handle that force.  If you never learn the correct movement pattern, you can waste a lot of time and effort and actually make yourself less efficient and more prone to injury.  It pays off to do your research, learn how to move correctly, and make the most of your training time.

If you need help learning correct movement patterns or with a training program in general, check out our online training options or downloadable PDF training programs.

Make 2017 Your Year

One thing that sets SISU Strong apart is our commitment to our values. We have a few, but there’s one that we consider a sort of “first among equals”: perseverance.  In fact, “sisu” loosely translates from Finnish as “the will to persevere through adversity”.  As we turn the page on another year, I’ve been reflecting on that word and what it means.  Often, we think of perseverance as pushing on through a terrible tragedy or some sort of extremely difficult circumstance – and it is. However, it also applies to everyday life.  Often, when we set goals – as many of us tend to do around this time of year  – we don’t count on all of the inevitable little setbacks that are going to stand between us and reaching that goal. We don’t think about all the times we’re going to feel like giving up.  When pursuit of that goal is going to seem like it’s not worth the extra work, the longer hours, the sacrifice.  That’s when we need perseverance – the will to keep going, even when it’s tough to tell if you’re even making progress towards your goal.  

Perseverance is a funny thing.  It’s entirely mental – physical limitations aside, you should be able to push through adversity by simply deciding to push through adversity.  On the other hand, if you ask any athlete – especially an action sports athlete – what their toughest challenge in their sport is, I can almost guarantee they will say something mental.  The point is, it’s all in your head, but mastering what’s in your head is easier said than done.  The good news is, there are some proven strategies you can use to stack the deck in your favor, and make sure you’re prepared to persevere, whatever your goals may be.

  • Have a plan.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to increase the chances that you’ll reach the goals you set for yourself this year is to have an actionable plan to achieve them.  It can be as simple as setting milestones for yourself, breaking your progress down into manageable sections that you can conquer, piece-by-piece.  Or it can be more complex – something like a calendar of daily actions you can take to keep moving towards your goal.  Either way, having a plan means you have a path to reach your goal.  No guesswork, no wondering what you should be doing, just simple steps to get you where you want to go.

  • Be accountable.

One of the best ways to keep yourself on track mentally is to make sure you have some help.  An objective third party can tell you when you’re straying from the path that leads to your goals, and serve as a wake up call to get you back on track.  It’s not as hard to find an “accountabili-buddy” as you might think.  Reach out to your friends, family and co-workers.  See if they’ll help keep you on track in exchange for you performing the same service for them.  Then, just share your plan with him/her and ask them to check in with you once a week or once a month.  A quick text message or email might be the difference between staying the course and calling it quits.

  • Record everything.

What gets measured gets managed.  Write down your progress toward your goals.  Keep a journal, a spreadsheet, a note on your cell phone – whatever works.  The important thing is that you record.  Recording does at least two things that will help you keep your head in the game.  First, it creates a log that you can go back over to see your progress.  When you feel like you’re treading water and not making any headway, you can look back and see exactly how far you’ve come since you started.  That can be just the push you need to keep driving towards the finish line.  Second, creating a record forces you to pause and reflect.  It means you are taking some time everyday to deliberately think about your goals and what you’re doing to reach them.


As you set your goals for the new year, keep these strategies in mind.  If your plan for 2017 involves becoming stronger, faster, and better at your sport, learn how we can help you at sisustrong.com or by setting up a free intro consultation today.

Stability and Mobility in Action Sports

Stability and mobility can sometimes seem like the yin and yang of the fitness world.  One coach says that a performance issue needs to be addressed by stretching and yoga, while another says that the problem is really instability, so targeted strength work is the only answer.  The reality is more complex and, like everything else in the world of athletic performance, solutions are specific to the sport and to the individual.  The fact of the matter is, you need a good balance of stability and mobility to support good movement, reduce your risk of injury, and keep you performing at your peak throughout the season.  Read our latest blog post to learn more about how we address the mobility/stability trade off in our training philosophy.

There has been a lot of back-and-forth in the strength and conditioning community about the appropriate circumstances for encouraging stability over mobility (or vice versa) in a given joint.  Mobility, or “the ability to produce a desired movement”, and Stability, or “the ability to resist an undesired moved, are often at odds from a training perspective.  Generally, an increase in stability in a given joint means a corresponding decrease in mobility.  By the same token, greater mobility usually means less stability.  

This theoretical trade-off is fairly intuitive for anyone with a basic understanding of human movement.  However, as usual, the realities of training and athletic performance are more complex.  Some respected coaches and clinicians contend that certain joints tend to need more stability, while other, typically adjacent, joints need more mobility.  It’s also arguable that some joints should be more mobile in one plane, but more stable in the other two.  The knee is a great example of this, as we want to encourage good mobility through flexion and extension, but promote stability in lateral and rotational movement.

The bottom line is that there are several ways to approach mobility and stability.  At SISU Strong, we believe that the best method is to assess the individual athlete, consider the demands of his/her primary sport, and determine the optimal approach based on those facts. However, we can also make some generalizations based on what we know about the physical demands that are placed on most of our athletes, regardless of sport.   

For example, we know that most of our athletes are exposed to strong, often unexpected rotational forces when they’re performing in their sport.  Whether it’s cornering on a bike, landing a trick on a board, or resisting an opponent’s takedown attempt, one thing we can count on is that the athlete will be called upon to resist some level of torque.  Therefore, we tend to incorporate anti-rotational stability movements into many of our programs.  Exercises like the Palloff Press and its variations help stabilize the trunk against rotational forces, reducing the risk of injury, improving body control, and allowing the athlete to maintain a more efficient position.

The other side of the coin is that action sports are inherently unpredictable.  During an unanticipated event, such as a crash, the forces an athlete is going to need to resist are totally unknown.  In such circumstances, it pays to have a good balance of stability and mobility, as each can mitigate the risk of injury in its own right.  A stable joint is more likely to be able to resist the forces that could lead to injury, while a more mobile joint can potentially absorb more force, also reducing the risk of injury.  

For exactly this reason, we try to cultivate a good balance of baseline stability and mobility in all of our athletes, preparing them for any situation they may encounter.   We do this by teaching good movement patterns.  Every SISU Strong athlete is required to master 4 major movements: the hip hinge, the squat, the upper body push, and the upper body pull.  By learning these movements, the athletes are learning how to move safely and effectively, and how to use the correct muscles to absorb and produce force.  This improves both mobility, by dialing in correct movement patterns, and stability, by developing strength in the muscles that support those movement patterns.  This greater overall efficiency of movement has immense carryover to the bike and board.

To get started with a program that will help you master movement, become more stable and improve your mobility, set up a free consultation.

Bike Position and Lower Back Pain

Take a look at the two images above.  There are many obvious differences – size, attire beard length, overall ginger-ness – but I want to focus on a less obvious, and very important, similarity: body position.  Let’s look again:

 hip_hinge_transfer_lines

If you paid attention to the red lines, hopefully you got the point – despite being in two completely different settings, doing two completely different activities, their back position is almost identical.  Why would that be the case?  What relationship is there between a safe, effective deadlift position and a solid attack position on the bike?

It boils down to this:  the lumbar spine (also known as the lower back) and the connective tissues that support it are not made to handle significant external resistance under flexion. In other words, if your back is rounded, you are over-relying on ligaments, as opposed to muscles, to absorb force that should be transferred down the chain to your glutes and hamstrings.  If you want a herniated disc (or any number of other chronic lower back issues), that’s how you get it.  In a more immediate sense, riding with a rounded lower back is often the primary cause of lower back fatigue, which quickly degrades performance and can cost you precious seconds on your race run.

This is one of the reasons why we emphasize development of a good hip hinge in our athletes.  Mastering the hip hinge engrains a movement pattern that secures the lower back, activates your core, and transfers force efficiently down the posterior chain to the glutes and hamstrings.  Learning this relatively simple movement pattern will help save your lower back in both the short and long term.

However, learning the movement pattern is only the first step.  You also need to spend some time working on overall strength to ensure that you have the core stability to hold a good attack position for as long as necessary during a run.  To learn more about how SISU Strong can help you on that front, schedule a free consultation with us!      

Assessing Assessments

Any coach worth their salt knows that an assessment is a critical part of the training process.  Without an understanding of an athlete’s current condition, it’s very difficult to determine which training protocols are going to be most effective for him/her.  It’s also virtually impossible to measure progress, which is crucial for keeping morale high and, most importantly, knowing if your program is working.  As an athlete, there are various parts of an assessment that you should be paying attention to.  Information is power, and an assessment from a qualified trainer should yield some valuable insight into your strengths and weaknesses, which can help you take control of your training and performance

Did Your Coach Do an Assessment?

This should be a no-brainer, for the reasons outlined above. If your training process doesn’t start with some sort of assessment, that should be a huge red flag.  A strength training program that doesn’t have as its foundation a baseline measurement of your performance and physical condition on day one signifies at least one of three things: ignorance, incompetence or ineffectiveness.      

Asymmetries and Imbalances

Asymmetries and imbalances are one of the most important things we look for when assessing an athlete.  Why? Because they are the strongest indicators of potential future injury.  Unfortunately, your brain is very good at compensating for asymmetry.  If your left leg is stronger than your right, your brain will rely more on your left leg, which both compounds the asymmetry issues and ultimately leads to dysfunctional movement patterns and, finally, injury.  If you have serious symmetry issues, correcting them should be a high priority for you and your coach.  

Mobility Issues/Movement Patterns

The next thing you should be looking for in your assessment is identification of any mobility restrictions at any joint.  Inadequate mobility can also kick of the chain reaction of compensation, dysfunction, and injury.  For instance, if you don’t have great hip mobility, your body might compensate for that during a deadlift with movement in the lumbar spine or SI Joint.  Basically, if you’re telling your body to get into a position that it doesn’t have the mobility to get into the “right” way, it will try to get to it another way, regardless of differences in safety or efficiency.

The other side of this coin is hypermobility.  It is entirely possible, and actually quite common, especially in women, to have too much mobility in a joint.  Hypermobility generally indicates insufficient strength to properly stabilize the joint, which also puts the athlete at risk for injury.  Like Goldilocks, we want our mobility to be “not too hot, not too cold”.

Development Priorities

Once you’ve gone through the physical part of your assessment, it’s time to do a little “triage”. Based on the results, you should ask your coach what your training priorities are going to be.  

Are there any issues that may need a referral to a PT or other medical professional?

What needs to be corrected first?  

What can be fixed relatively quickly?  

What will need a more long-term approach?

Your priorities should also be based on your goals.  If you’re just walking into the gym for the first time in years and your priority is just to be able to ride your bike and play with your kids pain-free, your priorities will be much different than a professional athlete who is interested in improving his/her performance and lowering his/her risk of injury.

All in all, you should be looking for a coach who is at least doing some sort of assessment.  Then, if he/she doesn’t answer these questions, make sure you ask them.  Being aware of your problems and knowing the “why” behind your training will help build trust and confidence with your coach and set you up for long-term training success.  At SISU Strong, assessment starts on day 1 and continues every day that you’re in the gym.  It’s not always formal, but it’s always going on in the background.  As coaches, we’re constantly trying to proactively identify minor issues and get them taken care of before they become more serious. If you want to learn more, set up a free intro consultation with us!

Fueling Your Passion

If you’re a regular reader of our blog or if you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ve probably picked up on our biggest value as a business, which is enjoying life outside the gym. We believe that pursuit of optimal athletic performance, especially for action sports enthusiasts, doesn’t have to mean 2 hours per day, 6 days per week in the gym. We structure many of our training programs around the idea that we are working with very active people who are spending at least 2 days per week doing some sort of recreational or competitive activity outside of the gym. We support that lifestyle and believe that our training protocols can actually help you maximize your time in those activities, rather than leave you fatigued, sore, and unable to perform to your potential. However, if you’re interested in making the most of your time on the bike/board/trail/slopes/mat there’s another aspect of performance that you have to pay attention to: nutrition.

At the risk of sounding like every other strength coach who’s ever written anything about nutrition, the first thing you should understand is that, like many things in life, what you put into your body is what you will get out. Now, that’s a very broad and simple statement to describe what is actually a very complex idea, so let’s unpack it. How does what you eat affect your athletic performance? How do you know what to eat to support better performance? What are some actionable steps you can take to start improving your nutrition today?

You probably already know that what you eat and drink has an impact on your athletic performance. What you might not know is just how much of an impact. One excellent example is water. As little as 2% dehydration can decrease aerobic endurance, increase heart rate and body temperature, and increase reliance on carbohydrate as an energy source during athletic activity. Basically, that means you’re going to become fatigued and feel fatigued faster. Not ideal. Another example has to do with your carbohydrate intake. Without going into too much detail regarding energy systems, suffice it to say that, if you do not consume enough carbohydrates between training sessions, you may not fully replenish your glycogen stores. That can lead to an inability to perform at your best, especially during intense activity, as your body is forced to rely on less efficient energy sources. Your overall protein intake is also an important factor. Insufficient protein deprives your body of the basic building blocks it need to repair muscle tissue damaged during intense exercise, potentially contributing to muscle soreness and jeopardizing strength gains from your training session.

Eating in a way that supports performance doesn’t have to be hard, but you do have to take the time to educate yourself on what foods you should be consuming (most of the time) and which ones you should avoid. Some of this is intuitive and aligns with what you’ve probably heard through mainstream media. For example, you shouldn’t be eating much of anything that comes out of a deep fryer. Partially because of the overall fat content that comes with anything cooked in oil, but also because of the quality and type of fat used in most commercial deep fryers. Another good general rule is to avoid highly processed foods. There are several mental shortcuts you can use to quickly figure out if a food is highly processed. The easiest might be to look at the ingredient list. The longer the list, the more likely that you are looking at a highly processed food. If the food’s not in a package, then you can apply the “caveman” test – if a caveman wouldn’t immediately recognize it as food, it’s probably highly processed. For example, an apple is a relatively unprocessed food. It can be directly picked off of a tree and eaten. An apple pie is processed. It contains apples, but they’ve been sliced and cooked, had sugar and spices added to them, and been encapsulated in a buttery, flaky crust…mmmmmm. There are a variety of reasons to avoid processed foods, but one the most important is that they typically contain refined sugars or other additives that, at best, do not support optimum athletic performance and, at worst, can seriously hinder it.

So, what are some good “rules of thumb” and actions you can take to start down a path towards eating habits that will support your athletic activity?

1) Hydrate.

This might be the most important and often-overlooked thing you can do to support better athletic performance. If you’re not adequately hydrated going into your training session or competition, you’re not going to perform to your potential, period. Hydration is all the more important because it’s so easy to do. Buy a reusable water bottle and just sip water all day during work, school, or whatever your daily activities may be. Make sure to continue drinking small amounts during training/competition and a little more than normal afterwards. Though it’s not a problem for most people, there IS such a thing as overhydration. Luckily, our natural “thirst” mechanism works very well at telling our body how much water we need. Don’t continue to drink past the point of quenching your thirst, and you should be OK.

2) Get Enough Protein.

There are several different schools of thought on what constitutes “enough” protein and specific recommendations for individual athletes are well outside the scope of this article. What we do know is that dietary protein is absolutely vital to proper recovery after intense physical activity. Training is a deliberately destructive process. We are reaching slightly past our body’s comfortable physical capacity in order to force it to adapt and become stronger/better conditioned. In order to ensure that adaptation takes place, we have to provide both the stimulus (training) and the tools for recovery. Adequate protein is part of the latter. Without getting into weighing and measuring your food (which will always be the optimal approach) you can start by just trying to eat some amount of protein at every meal. Protein sources vary in quality, so focus on things like lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes (beans), or yogurt (greek style, if possible). If you are concerned about your overall protein intake, you can try adding a protein shake after training. There are a variety of options available, including vegan, dairy-free, organic, etc. To get specific recommendations for how much protein you need, consult a nutritionist, particularly one who specializes in sports performance.

3) Refuel After Intense Activity.

This one is simple, but also often overlooked. While there are different viewpoints on which nutrients to consume and how long after training to consume them, it is safe to say that you need to eat after training. Try to get some protein (see #2) and a good dose of simple carbohydrates. After training, your body is primed to process carbohydrates, and the bulk of what you put in will likely go towards replenishing your glycogen stores to prepare you for your next session. Simple carbs are things with a higher glycemic index like white rice, oatmeal, potatoes, etc. If you are going to eat refined sugars, like candy or something (which we still don’t recommend) immediately post-workout is the time to do it.

4) If Can’t Kill It or Grow It, Don’t Eat It.

All of the smartasses reading this right now are saying “Well, pizza is made from flour, which comes from wheat, which you can grow, so pizza must be ok!”. No. You have to apply a little common sense to make this one work. Don’t overthink it. You can’t go out into the woods and kill a pizza and you can’t plant a pizza seed and grow a slice. That Nick Offerman video is fake…sorry to crush your dreams. This is really just another mental shortcut to steer you away from processed foods and towards “whole” foods that are richer in micronutrients that support athletic performance.

5) Meal Prep.

If you want to stick to these rules and see a significant impact on your performance from these changes, you should start preparing your own meals. This helps you control and know exactly what is going into your meals, saves you money, and also ensures that your aren’t tempted to eat junk because “there was nothing else around”. If you prepare your meal beforehand, that excuse goes away.

If you’re looking to truly optimize your performance, you need to get a plan from a qualified nutritionist. These 5 best practices are just a good way to get started down the road to eating for better performance. If you don’t have a training plan yet, set up a free intro consultation to learn about what we offer and how we can help you make the most of your life outside the gym.

Are Your Asymmetries Holding You Back?

Asymmetry is an issue that is often painless, in and of itself, and can therefore be very easy to overlook.  However, to the trained coach or physical therapist, it is well-known as one of the most probable underlying causes of acute injury during physical activity.  In fact, it is the #2 risk factor for athletic injury, with previous injury coming in at #1.  What is asymmetry? How does it develop? What can be done to address it?

Asymmetry, in the physiological sense, is a condition in which a muscle on one side of the body is significantly stronger or weaker than the corresponding muscle on the other side.  It does not have to be, and usually isn’t, limited to one pair of muscles.  It is perfectly possible to have stronger glutes AND hamstrings AND spinal erectors on one side.  Furthermore, strength is not the only thing that can be “asymmetrical”.  It is also common to see athletes with greater (or lesser) mobility in a joint on one side than in the corresponding joint on the other side.  In short, asymmetry is an imbalance between the left and right side of the body.

Most people are asymmetrical to some degree, if only in the sense that they express a preference for doing things with their “dominant” hand or foot.  Almost everyone naturally feels more comfortable using one hand or the other to perform tasks that require fine motor control.  Baseball players throw with either their right or left hand – few can proficiently switch between them.  Hockey players are more comfortable with one hand lower on the stick than the other.  Downhill MTB racers have one foot ahead of the other in the “attack position”.  Over time, without some sort of training intervention, the dominant side and the non-dominant side begin to diverge in terms of mobility, flexibility, motor control, and/or strength.  As this divergence increases, the athlete unintentionally reinforces it, compensating for the weakness of one side by overusing the other.  Dysfunctional movement patterns eventually develop, which will ultimately cause injury, given enough time.  Injury can then actually create NEW asymmetries by causing the athlete to rely on the uninjured side to to the daily work of both sides.  This is likely one of the main reasons that previous injury is such a strong predictor of new injury.

So, asymmetry is natural, to some degree.  However, that doesn’t meant that there’s nothing we can do to fix or alleviate it.  While many sports and recreational activities will, by their very nature, encourage asymmetries to develop, a well-thought-out strength training program can counteract those imbalances, ensuring well-rounded development on both sides of the body, regardless of the demands of the sport.  There are landmines (the blow-you-up kind, not the exercise) in this approach, though. Training a certain movement with an external load (added weight), such as a squat or press, without first correcting any dysfunction in the current movement pattern can actually compound asymmetry and increase your risk of injury.  That’s why it’s important to have a coach, trainer, or therapist who can objectively assess your movement patterns, asymmetries, and other issues, and then correctly prioritize them to optimize your performance without increasing your risk for injury.

If you’re concerned about a strength or mobility imbalance that could be holding you back in your sport, set up a free intro consultation with us to talk about how a personalized strength training program can help fix those problems and get you firing on all cylinders.

Ski Season Prehab: Protecting the ACL

It’s a nightmare scenario for any skier:  an audible pop right after a quick change in direction, followed by a buckling sensation in the knee joint and, most likely, plenty of pain.

During intense athletic activity, the knee joint is often exposed to tremendous amounts of force, especially during directional changes and/or deceleration.  When that happens, the role of the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is to prevent the tibia (shin bone) from separating from the femur (thigh bone), which is generally not a good thing.   When the force absorbed by the joint exceeds the surrounding musculature’s ability to resist it, the  ACL becomes vulnerable and susceptible to injury.  You can read more about the kinesiological mechanisms of ACL injury here.   Skiers and snowboarders are at a particularly high risk for ACL injury because of the constant directional changes involved in these sports.

However, the good news is, there is a way to greatly reduce that risk.  We know that a combination of excessive shearing and rotational forces on the knee joint can cause an ACL injury, but what is the underlying issue that makes those forces “excessive”?  The answer is strength.  Weak hips, and weak hamstrings in particular, can lead to a general inability to stabilize the knee joint and safely absorb force during deceleration and directional changes.  Read more about that here.

The bottom line is (simply) this: the risk of ACL injury, on the slopes or anywhere else, can be greatly reduced by increasing strength in the hips and legs.   An ACL tear is almost always a very expensive, season-ending injury, and many athletes never fully recover from it.  If you aren’t working on improving your strength to help prevent this type of injury, you should be.

To learn more about how a well-planned strength training program can help protect your knees (and other joints) while also taking your training and performance to the next level, check out our website at sisustrong.com or sign up for a time to chat with us for free!

 

Why Do We Harp on the Hip Hinge?

I know you’ve all wondered this. Why in the hell do we care so much about the hip hinge? Why are we constantly in your ear about it when you aren’t doing it perfectly?

Lower back pain is one of the most common ailments that brings new people through our door. It’s a problem that affects millions of people, and it can be especially troublesome for athletes (recreational or professional), who are constantly pushing their bodies to the limit. It can range from an occasional nagging pain to totally debilitating and it keeps many athlete from performing at their peak. Luckily, however, it’s usually one of the easiest problems to fix, if you know what you’re doing. Enter the hip hinge.

What causes lower back pain?

It is different for everyone, but a couple of things are probably at least contributing, if not totally to blame for a given case of lower back pain.

Inactive and/or weak glutes – in our society, it has become increasingly common for a person to spend the majority of their waking hours seated in a chair. Many people spend their entire workday seated at a computer, then sit in a car and drive home, where they sit down and have dinner. Being in this position for hours on end over an extended period of time will eventually cause the hip flexors to shorten. As the hip flexors shorten, the glutes must relax to accommodate the extra tightness.

Over time, this leads to inactive, weak glutes that are not capable of producing the amount of force that they should be. This, combined with #2, leads to over-reliance on other muscles, like the spinal erectors, which are not made to bear the load that could and should be carried by the glutes.

Poor movement patterns – The second major contributing factor in many causes of back pain is poor movement. Basically, this means moving in a way that does not efficiently distribute the load being moved, which places excessive stress on parts of the body that are not made to handle it.

The most common example of this we see is when someone bends over to pick something up of the ground, and they immediately flex (bend) their lumbar spine (lower back). This puts a great deal of stress on the lower back and basically takes the glutes out of the equation as far as helping you pick that thing up. Instead you’re relying on your spinal erectors to do the job, which aren’t made for lifting. They’re made for keeping you standing straight up (erect), as the name implies.

You may be able to get away with doing this for a while, but eventually, it will catch up to you and you will become one of the 75-80% of people who experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.

The hip hinge, god bless it, helps us solve both of these problems. When we teach you the hip hinge movement, what we are really teaching you to do is use your glutes. The hip hinge is nothing more than a simple movement pattern that transfers weight from your lower back to your glutes and hamstrings, which are much stronger and therefore better equipped to bear that weight. Essentially, we are trying to reprogram how your body moves and which muscles you use when it does. As you learn how to engage your glutes and protect your lower back, you are also strengthening and “waking up” your glutes.\

What movements do we use to dial in the hip hinge?

Hip Hinge with PVC On Back.
Romanian Deadlift
Banded Hip Hinge
Banded Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

To learn more about how perfecting the hip hinge can help alleviate lower back pain and take your training and performance to the next level, check out our website at sisustrong.com or sign up for a free consultation using our nifty online calendar!

The Value of Discipline

We’ve all run across people in life who have huge dreams and ambitions, but always seem to be in the same place they were the last time we saw them.  Why is that?  Are their dreams and goals unrealistic?  Are they just incapable of reaching them?

I think most of them are 100% capable of reaching their goals – the problem lies in taking consistent action to move themselves gradually toward that goal.  For instance:  if my goal is to be a chef, I’m never going to get there if I just talk about how much I want to be a chef while munching on microwaved Top Ramen and watching Chopped on Netflix.  

The same goes for any goal, whether it be academic, athletic, professional, or purely personal.  Dreams very rarely come true without some action on the part of the dreamer.  When I was growing up, my parents told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I believed them wholeheartedly (still do!).  But they also made sure I knew that “wanting” to be something wouldn’t be enough if I wasn’t willing to put in the work necessary to reach that goal.

How does that apply to the gym?

Strength training has done a great deal for me physically – it has also allowed me to coach, to compete, and to enjoy new sports and activities at a relatively high intensity.  However, those physical benefits pale in comparison to the mental benefits.

Pretty much anyone can go into the gym on any given day and pick up some weights and put them back down.  Will that one day alone help them reach their goals?  Not in any meaningful way.  

BUT, if that person continues to go into the gym and pick up that barbell, day after day, until the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, the weights will eventually start to feel a little bit lighter.  That person might start to notice a change on the scale, or in the way their pants fit.  Or, more along the lines of what we do at SISU Strong, maybe they start to notice just a little less arm pump or a little more endurance on their board or bike.  

Your goals, whatever they may be, will only be achieved when you are ready to commit to consistently and relentlessly pursuing them, day after day,  week after week, month after month, and year after year.  That means you need three key things:

  1. Discipline – this is simple.  You have to commit to your goal and put in the work, day after day.  Even when you don’t feel good.  Even when you’re tired.  Even when you’re friend is having a pool party and you really want to go because it’s the last day of summer and you just got a new bathing suit and all the cool kids are going to be there and blah blah blah.  Discipline means mastering your impulses and emotions and focusing on the task at hand. 
  2. Work Ethic – if you want to reach your goals, if you have to be willing to put in the work.  That means not just showing up, but training with a purpose.  You can’t just go through the motions every day, never challenging yourself, and expect to make real progress.
  3. Longsighted-ness – according to my word processing software, this isn’t a word, so I guess that means I created it.  This is basically the opposite of shortsightedness (which, confusingly, is somehow already a word).  You have to have the willpower to sacrifice your short-term comfort and convenience for the sake of your long-term goal.  If you want to be great, you have to be willing to do what others are unwilling to do to get there, and realize that it still won’t happen quickly.

Strength training will give you all of these things.  If you don’t have them, you will acquire them or you will not succeed at getting stronger.  

You don’t get stronger by showing up just when you feel like it.  

You don’t get stronger by just going through the motions.

You don’t get stronger by stopping when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Above and beyond the physical gainz, this is what we do at SISU Strong.  We develop these qualities.  We show our athletes, particularly the younger ones,  that through discipline, drive, and dedication, they can and WILL reach their goal.  Those are lessons that will stay with the athlete through their athletic career and for the rest of their lives.