Tag Archives: mobility

Sumo Deadlift Mobility

sumo-deadlift-dan-green

The sumo deadlift is a little more intricate and technical than the conventional deadlift, which I have covered more in depth in this article. I recently started using the sumo deadlift in my own training and came to find that my hip mobility wasn’t quite as good as it should be for an optimal pulling position with the sumo setup. I will outline below what I did to begin solving the problem! I still have to improve further, but I’m on the right track and seeing great improvements already.

 

How to Pull Sumo

I’m not going to write out a full tutorial here, but if you’re interested in how a sumo deadlift should be pulled, read this.

You can also look up Dan Green deadlift videos on YouTube, if you’re a visual learner.

 

Sumo Deadlift Mobility Demands

The sumo deadlift places a great demand on hip mobility and also ankle mobility. I’ve covered both topics in the linked articles, but I’m going to just give you a few mobility drills and stretches I have personally found helpful in getting into a better sumo deadlift position.

These stretches are what I specifically use for the sumo deadlift position as part of my daily stretching and warmup routines. You should still be stretching your other problem areas as well.

Super Frog Stretch

This is a great way to stretch your hips from Kelly Starrett (Supple Leopard). I’d recommend doing this after lifting and on your off days. Ideally you should stretch your problem areas at least once per day.

Wide Stance Pause Squats

These will stretch your hips a lot in what I guess you can call a weighted dynamic stretch. Take a stance that’s as wide as you can go, while still reaching parallel. Pause at the bottom for the stretch to happen.

I usually do these toward the end of my workouts with very light weight.

Compress Your Hips

Using a Voodoo floss band, wrap your hip(s) up. Then do some hip stretches (i.e. the couch stretch or a half kneeling hip flexor stretch), light sumo deadlift (this will give you a great chance to open up the hips in the exact position you’re trying to improve) and/or light wide stance pause squats. Below is a video showing WTF I’m talking about.

Floss Your Hips

This is basically a hip flexor stretch using a resistance band. I do this as part of my warmup routine.

Mobilize Your Ankles

This is my favorite drill to improve ankle mobility, which – along with better hip mobility – will put you in a better position for sumo pulling.

I usually do this briefly as part of my warmup and then spend another 4-5mins on it after the workout as part of my stretching at the end of the workout. How much time you should spend on it depends on how tight your ankles are.

 

And that’s about it! I have to add that I’m not a doctor or a personal trainer, so take what advice you find helpful with that in mind. As always, I’m just sharing my personal experience and hope it benefits you in some way.

Squat Assistance Work

In this article, I’m going to break down my approach to assistance work for the barbell squat. If  you’re interested in information about the squat movement itself, read my Squat 101 article.

 

More Squats

To get better at the squat, most of my assistance work is simply squatting more. Because I currently use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 (with principles from his new book Beyond 5/3/1), I do my warmup sets and then my 5/3/1 work sets. This is the main portion of my workout that almost never changes (unless I’m maxing out), but the rest of the workout will vary from cycle to cycle or even week to week.

Personally, one of the things I struggle with is speed, so a lot of my squat workouts recently have had a dynamic work component. This means, for example, that I will do 8 sets of 2 repetitions with 60% of my one repetition maximum. You can get a lot more details about the Dynamic Effort Method from ‘The Westside Barbell Book of Methods‘ (by Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell). You can also read about it in Jordan Syatt’s article ‘Incorporating the Dynamic Effort Method‘. The main point to take away from that is to find a weakness in your squat and improve it.

Similarly, if you’re weak out of the bottom of the squat, pause squats are a great idea. When you reach the bottom position of the squat, stay there for a second, and then use your glutes (as you always should) to squat back up. This almost eliminates the stretch reflex (or the ‘bounce out of the hole’) and allows you to train your glutes, which are extremely important for a strong squat. The pause squat variations shown in the video of the month I posted up a couple days ago are also great and will improve your flexiblity a lot.

Again, all of these are just examples. The point is to find what a weakness is in your squat and attack it with some variations of the squat. Bands and/or chains might also benefit you to alter resistance. I would recommend reading this article about bands and chains written by Dave Tate.

I also do front squats as a warmup on my deadlift day, which increases my frequency for the squat (along with other benefits).

 

Posterior Chain Work

Because I squat high bar, the movement places more stress on my quadriceps than my hamstrings. As a result, I do some work for my posterior chain after I’m done squatting.

Band Good Morning

This is quickly turning into my favorite posterior chain exercise.  I choose this variation of the Good Morning movement for a very simple reason: At this point in the workout, I’m generally tired of having a barbell on my back from all the squatting, so I choose to do these with a band instead. It allows me to get some valuable posterior chain work in without having to put a barbell on my back.

If you have access to a safety squat bar, it might make the regular Good Morning a more feasible option for you. A video of the Band Good Morning is below, but I actually hook the band to something in front of me as shown in this video. Also check out this video about the Barbell Good Morning.

Stiff Legged Deadlift (SLDL)

Another excellent exercise for your hamstrings and entire posterior chain.

Cable Pull Through

This one is great for your hips as well.

Kettlebell Swing

These will also hit your hips and your entire posterior chain. They will also help make you more explosive.

Glute Bridge

I also like to do a band variation of this movement right now because most of my energy is used for squats, but doing them with a loaded barbell is a great idea as well.

Hip Thrust

Another great one for your hips and glutes.

Glute Ham Raise

I can’t do a posterior chain exercise list without these.

 

Abs

Strong abdominal muscles and core stability are important with the squat. I don’t like sit ups, because they tend to involve the lower back (not in a good way) a lot unless your form is absolutely perfect. I’m also not a fan of most crunch variations for the same reason, but I do like the one below.

Standing Cable Crunch

I actually do this one on my deadlift day, because it’s basically the opposing movement pattern. It could easily be used on squat day as well though.

Ab Wheel Rollouts

These are my favorite abdominal exercise. It’s optimal to have an ab wheel to perform this exercise, but you can also load some plates on a barbell and do rollouts with that.

Planks

These are a great exercise to build some baseline core stability. I think you should be able to hold a plank for 60 seconds or longer. The ability to hold your core stable will help in keeping your torso rigid during the squat. This will help prevent rounding in your back. The Hardcore Plank can also be a challenge on its own. Some more plank variations are shown in the video below.

Rotational Core Exercises

These are mainly to strengthen your obliques. Elliott Hulse describes a few variations in the video below.

 

Explosiveness and Conditioning

Dynamic effort or speed squats as described above (in the ‘More Squats’ paragraph) will help develop more explosive power and speed, but there are some other ways to do this as well.

Box Jumps

Other jump exercises can also benefit you. You can make jumping an entire separate workout, so choose something simple if you’re doing it at the end of a squat workout.

You’ll need something like a plyo box to jump onto. You can also build your own.

Sprints

My favorite are hill sprints. Jim Wendler also recommends them in his 5/3/1 book, which is the training program I follow as mentioned above.

Prowler Pushes

These are terrific. Like sprints and jumps, you might want to make these a separate workout. You’ll need a prowler or just get the Butcher from Rogue. It’s basically the same thing and a little cheaper I believe. Or you can go all out and get this badass push/pull sled.

 

Lower Back

A lot of the posterior chain exercises will target this (i.e. the Good Morning and SLDL), but if you need some more lower back work, here are a couple exercises I like.

Back Extension or Hyperextension

You can also use a jumpstretch band and wrap it around your neck. Or simply hold a weight. (My personal preference would be a band though.)

Reverse Hypers

Who better to teach it than Louie Simmons?

 

Unilateral Exercises

While I don’t think it’s wise to replace bilateral leg exercises with exercises done on one leg, I do think unilateral exercises can be a nice addition to your squat workout. Below are a few exercises I like.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Pistol Squat

 

Lunges

There are a ton of different lunge exercises you can do. They’re great for increasing flexibility and also strengthening your legs.

Body Weight Forward Lunge

You can add a weighted vest, a barbell (front rack or on your back) or hold dumbbells to make it more difficult.

Rear or Reverse Lunge

This one is shown with a front loaded barbell, but you can do them without weight, with dumbbells, etc. as well of course. I actually prefer these over forward lunges.

 

Other Things to Consider

Obviously the list above is not a complete one of all the options available to you. They are simply a selection of my personal favorite exercises within those categories. I don’t do all of these exercises every squat workout, but I try to hit my weaknesses in various ways when I have the energy and time. You will have to prioritize what is most important to you and select exercises accordingly.

Hip flexibility and ankle flexibility are very important with the squat. I’ve written articles on both topics already, so I’m not going to cover them in this article. It’s already getting long with all the exercises. Most of my mobility and active recovery work is done with separate workouts, but a nice way to finish a squat day is to do a few explosive hip mobility drills as seen in the video below.

 

I think that about covers my approach to assistance work for the squat. This actually turned into a longer article than I was expecting. Again… I wouldn’t recommend doing all of the exercises listed all the time. They are just some options I like to target weak areas. Simply squatting a lot will usually translate to a stronger squat, but sometimes you need to tweak things a little bit to improve something.

I’m not a doctor, personal trainer or anything like that. I’m simply a guy who loves to lift weights and acquire knowledge on the topic. If you have something to add to this article, feel free to leave a comment.

DOMS Prevention & Treatment

In this article, I’m going to cover a few simple things you can do to help prevent the dreaded Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) as much as possible. If it can’t be avoided completely, I’m also going to offer you a few tools to alleviate it.

 

What Causes DOMS?

As usual, I’ll keep it pretty damn basic. The eccentric (or negative) portion of the movement (i.e. lowering the barbell to your chest on the bench press or dropping into the ‘hole’ on a squat) lengthens the muscle and causes damage, which can result in acute soreness and/or delayed soreness. Acute soreness happens during or right after training. DOMS can occur hours or days after training, but it’s usually worst in the 24 – 72 hour range. It usually won’t last longer than a week, even if you don’t really do anything to actively combat it.

This is not bad, because you need to inflict microtrauma on muscle tissue to force the muscle into repairing itself . The question is simply how much damage do you need to cause in one training session to force your body to adapt and grow more muscle without creating so much soreness that you can barely move a day or two after lifting.

 

How Much Volume is Needed?

This will vary so much that a blanket statement is impossible. The only people you can really make somewhat of a blanket statement for are beginners to resistance training. Generally, programs like Starting Strength will benefit beginners because the most important barbell lifts are used, frequency is high, intensity (% of one repetition maximum) is high and volume is fairly low. Why does low volume make sense for a beginner? Because they’re adapted to no volume, so even a low amount of training volume will signal to the body, “Hey, grow some muscle! You’re going to need it.” Frequency will be a much more important factor.

For intermediate and advanced lifters especially, the amount of volume will depend on the end goal and what you’re currently adapted to (incredibly important).

An example: If your primary goal is strength, you’re currently using low volume and your lifts are continuously improving, it makes absolutely no sense to throw a ton of extra volume into your routine from one week to the next. Can it benefit you to increase your volume over time using a sensible scheme to do so? Of course! It could help you build more muscle, which can translate to stronger lifts.

But what if you’re a powerlifter looking to stay in a certain weight class? That would mean you’re probably eating to maintain your weight, leaving little room for error with your training. In this scenario, it doesn’t make sense to really increase volume beyond what is needed to increase strength at an acceptable level to you.

I could proceed to go into all sorts of scenarios where volume needs to be increased more or less, but this article isn’t about that. So, on a very basic level, the amount of volume must be chosen by you based on what you’re adapted to already and what your end goal is. If you choose to increase it from what you’re currently doing, obviously the potential for DOMS is there. This, to me, means that a smart move would be to increase it slowly over time (and only when you’re eating to grow).

 

An Example of Increasing Volume

Let’s say you’re running 5/3/1 with the First Set Last setup from Jim Wendler’s new book Beyond 5/3/1 and you’re looking to increase your volume. On a typical training day, you’re currently doing the main lift warmups + 5/3/1 prescribed work sets + First Set Last as your main assistance work + other assistance work (i.e. standing cable crunch on deadlift day). Maybe you chose the multiple first sets last approach, so that is 3×8 extra volume on average coming from the main assistance work.

A stupid thing to do would be to just jump into something crazy like German Volume Training for your main assistance work, which features 10 sets of 10 repetitions. Your main assistance work would now jump from roughly 3×8 (24 total reps) to 10×10 (100 total reps). Obviously the intensity (% of 1RM) would be much lower for 10×10, but the volume would still be sickening and cause you some epic DOMS… if you make it through the workout alive.

A smarter approach would be to ease into main assistance work like the Boring But Big template (described in detail in the Beyond 5/3/1 book, but I’m just using it as a rough example in this article), which features 5 sets of 10 repetitions. So before you were doing First Set Last (Multiple Sets) which comes out to about 3×8 (24 total reps) on average, but you’re looking to increase to 5×10 (50 total reps) at a lower percentage of your training maximum. That’s still double the volume, which is likely more than you need to increase it by immediately, so I would run one or two cycles with 4×10 (40 total reps). Then bump it up to 5×10 for another forced adaptation. The end result will be that you’ll experience some DOMS from increasing your volume, but it won’t be so bad that you don’t want to get out of bed.

This type of approach works well to make your body adapt to more volume, but not completely annihilate it. Remember that volume is an important training variable that can be increased over time for great benefits, but intensity and frequency are also extremely important factors to consider when designing a training program.

 

Mobility Work to Help Prevent DOMS

Now that you know a gradual increase of volume over time will aid in making DOMS more manageable as opposed to increasing it quickly, I’m going to tell you about another easy thing you can do immediately after your workout with weights to decrease the chance of getting severe delayed onset muscle soreness.

A nice bonus about the type of mobility work shown is that it will also improve your explosiveness, along with making you more flexible and thus more durable as an athlete!

The first video is specifically for hip mobility, which is crucial for so many movements that no one who lifts should neglect it. I started doing these exercises right after squat and deadlift workouts a couple months back, mainly to improve my flexiblity and explosiveness, but I soon noticed a decrease in the amount of DOMS I was getting as a result. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but based on bro science it works and I’d recommend at least trying it out.

Personally, my most punishing bouts of DOMS have been in the lower body, so I can’t really recommend something I’ve tried personally to reduce upper body soreness with dynamic mobility work done immediately post-workout, but below are a few exercises that are great for upper body mobility and explosiveness, so I could see them having similar carryover to preventing delayed onset muscle soreness in the upper body.

 

Active Recovery to Alleviate DOMS

I already did a full article on active recovery here, so I won’t go into much detail in this one. It’s definitely a very potent tool for getting rid of DOMS. I can’t really think of a better way actually. The things covered are going for walks, massage, self myofascial release (basically massaging yourself), yoga and corrective stretching.

 

Other Ways to Recover from DOMS

Eat well (read my nutrition 101 article). Sleep enough and sleep well. Elliott Hulse describes some important factors on getting quality sleep here.

 

That’s about it. I hope that helps some people! As always, it’s just my opinion on the matter.

Ankle Mobility

Other Mobility Articles: Shoulder Mobility | Thoracic Mobility | Hip Mobility

 

Adequate mobility throughout the body is important, especially for people who lift weights and athletes that have to move efficiently. Even non-lifters and non-athletes can benefit from postural integrity however, so there is really no valid excuse to have poor mobility. With that being said, the ankles (and adequate range of motion within them) are part of an important foundation that allows you to have better mechanics in all sorts of movement patterns from walking to squatting.

 

Do You Have Decent Ankle Mobility?

A great way to test ankle mobility quickly is to check whether or not you’re able to get into the bottom position of a pistol squat. A pistol squat places a lot of demands on ankle mobility. Where you’re able to compensate more easily for poor ankle mobility in a bilateral squat, the pistol squat will expose your weakness. The video below from MobilityWOD is where this idea came from.

Strength or lack thereof could be a limiting factor in this test, so if you can’t do a pistol squat and you believe it’s because you simply aren’t strong enough to do a unilateral squat movement, then keep it bilateral. Do a regular body weight squat: Heels on the ground throughout the movement with weight distributed through the tripod of your feet. Your feet should be turned out slightly at about 15° and people with exceptional ankle mobility will be able to keep them pointed straight forward. Don’t try to keep your feet pointed straight forward, unless you know you have great ankle flexibility. This can cause knee pain without the required ankle mobility. Why? Answer part 1 and part 2. 🙂 Squat all the way down with the knees tracking your feet (at minimum) or preferably outside your feet. If your knees cave inward during any part of the movement, or you simply can’t get them to at least track your feet, there is a very good chance  you should work on hip mobility. (Note: This does not mean you have adequate ankle mobility, it simply means you have poor hip mobility.)

When doing the squat movement, see if you notice your feet turning outward as you squat down. If this happens, there is a good chance you should work  on ankle mobility. The turning out of the feet is how your ankle compensates for less than optimal mobility to reach depth on the squat. Great hip mobility can compensate for this a little bit, but you should still strive to at least have good ankle mobility.

 

Improving Ankle Mobility

Now that you kind of know where you stand with regards to your ankle mobility, it’s time to improve it.

One of my favorite ankle mobility drills is this one from Kelly Starrett.

More ankle mobility drills: Foam roll your calves like this and stretch them like this. Also mash your calves like this. Improve ankle mobility with a box, jumpstretch band and a friend like this. More ankle mobility work being done here. Another good ankle stretch is this one. If you’re looking for a badass foam roller, the Rumble Roller is your best bet. Your cheapest option is getting a PVC pipe though. Pro tip: Wrap it in duct tape to make it less slippery.

Fix your feet! The feet are also important. Mash them like this with a tennis ball, lacrosse ball (what I use personally) and/or golf ball. Also worth watching: Rebuilding the Feet (from MWOD) – Part 1 and Part 2

 

Compensating for Ankle Mobility Issues When Squatting

Now you know how to improve your ankle mobility, but it’s not going to be completely fixed overnight (while you will notice a difference immediately after self myofascial release) and there is a very potent trick to quickly mask a deficit in ankle flexiblity: Wear Olympic weightlifting shoes to squat (high bar, Oly style squat with a fairly narrow stance) or when you perform Olympic lifts like the snatch or clean. The 0.75″ heel lift in these shoes allows for greater ankle range of motion, which in turn enables you to squat deeper with less than optimal ankle and/or hip flexiblity. Oly shoes also give you a very stable platform to squat from, because they don’t compress like most other shoes. This doesn’t mean you stop working on mobility. It simply means you can compensate a little bit for less than optimal ankle mobility.

adidas-power-perfect-2

Note: If you squat low bar with a wider stance, you’re probably better off wearing flat shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors. More on that in my article about lifting shoes.

 

Conclusion

There is usually a fairly easy way to address a mobility or pain issue. In this case, we have a lack of flexibility in the ankle, so we attack what’s above it (the lower leg) and what’s below it (the foot) to improve it. Coupled with poor ankle mobility can be knee pain, which we try to improve by fixing hip mobility and ankle mobility. Above and below again.

And that wraps up ankle mobility. As always, it’s just my opinion. I’m not a doctor or physical therapist. I’m just a guy who lifts and reads. If you have anything to add, leave it in the comments and I might edit this article to include it.

Best Reads of the Week

Here are some great articles published this week about working out.

The 30 Second Mobility Cure by Max Shank — Some information on how sitting a lot destroys your body and an exercise called a Thoracic Bridge, which you can do to help counter the effects of being in a seated position a lot. A tutorial video for the movement is included in the article.

Training for Maximum Muscle Growth Explained by Bret Contreras – A fairly informative article on how to combine various training variables to grow bigger and stronger.

Four Reasons You Might Not Need to Deload by Eric Cressey – In this article, Eric Cressey explores some situations you might find yourself in, when you don’t need to take deload weeks within the context of your workout routine.

Back to Basics: Creating an Effective Fat Loss Program by Jordan Syatt – A nice set of basic guidelines to follow, when you’re trying to lose fat in an efficient manner.

Six Diet Myths That Are Holding You Back by Jake Johnson – He touches on some very common dieting myths that a lot of people still seem to believe.

Active Recovery

If you’re here, you probably lift weights. If you don’t, you should start. But I’m going to cover something that is often overlooked by people who train hard: Active recovery.

 

What is Active Recovery?

Basically put, active recovery is what you (should) do to help you recover more quickly between workouts. Most workouts are filled with things that are catabolic and break you down, so you can recover, grow and come back stronger (simply put). Lifting weights and sprinting are great examples for this. They take a lot out of you, but you come back stronger, faster, or more “in shape” for the next workout (or at least you should). Active recovery will help speed up the process of building you back up between hard workouts.

 

How Do I Actively Recover?

Active recovery workouts will be anabolic activities that build you up. Some things you can implement daily would be walking (yes, walking), self myofascial release (i.e. foam rolling), massages (I guess this is more ‘passive’), yoga, contrast showers, and corrective stretching. I’m sure there are other active recovery methods (i.e. rubbing ointment all over yourself or popping ibuprofen pills like a drug addict), but I’m trying to keep things simple and natural.

 

How Do I Walk?

Not serious.

 

What is Self Myofascial Relase (SMR)?

It’s basically giving yourself a massage to release tension in your muscles. Here is some more information from Wikipedia about myofascial release.

Here is a nice video showing some basic ‘mashing’ techniques from Kelly Starrett:

SMR tools: Foam roller (more advanced: rumble roller or PVC pipe), tennis ball (more advanced: lacrosse ball, masochistic: baseball), and the stick. You can get by with just a tennis ball, but I’d recommend at least working up to a lacrosse ball. Rollers (foam, rumble or PVC) can be nice to roll larger areas, but the balls are pretty essential to release smaller tension points.

SMR resources: MobilityWOD is probably my favorite, but it’s not free anymore. You can either shell out the cash for it, or try to find the older videos from Kelly Starrett on YouTube here.

Others: Elliott Hulse foam rolling | Lower back relief with tennis ball from some chiro lady (this method can be applied to other parts of the body as well) | Quick SMR with lacrosse or tennis ball from Dan Go

 

What is a Massage?

You’re going to want to go with a deep tissue massage. It will hurt.

 

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice (various types exist) to unite your body physically, mentally and spiritually. Take what you will from it, but to me it’s a great way to stretch, calm down and recover. I would advise you to take a beginners class to get started, but there are also plenty of yoga videos to be found on YouTube.

 

What are Contrast Showers?

A contrast shower involves going back and forth between hot and cold water in the shower. This type of recovery work is mostly based on anecdotal evidence that it helps (i.e. NFL players taking ice baths after practice). One approach would be the Power Shower (1min hot, 1min cold basically).

Another approach is going as hot as you can with the water, then gradually decreasing the temperature while always allowing your body to fully adjust to the reduced temperature until you’re as cold as you can go comfortably.

Possible benefits of contrast showers: Improvement in circulatory system and lymphatic drainage, which basically means you’re getting increased blood flow and it may reduce swelling. Personally, I just feel awesome and refreshed after taking a contrast shower, so I’m going to keep taking them.

 

What is Corrective Stretching?

These are dynamic or static stretches to improve how you move (range of motion) and also your posture overall. MobilityWOD probably covers this best, but there are some other alternatives too.

Below is one of my favorite hip warmup routines, especially for lower body days (read: squat and deadlift), courtesy of world class powerlifter Mark Bell from SuperTraining.tv:

Other examples: Elliott Hulse‘s Daily Charge & Ground Stretching and also his Bio Energizer Warmup | Dan Go‘s 6 Minute Superhuman Flow | Candito‘s 5 Exercises for Hip Mobility (great at the end of lower body workouts) | Agile 8 warmup for hips from DeFranco | Computer Guy Posture Fix | The Injury Recovery & Prevention forum on bodybuilding.com has some great threads as well (check the sticky threads particularly)

 

And I think that about covers the basics on active recovery. If you have something to add, leave it in the comments. As always, this is just advice I’m giving based on knowledge I’ve acquired. I’m not a doctor. 🙂