Whether your goal is to get stronger, more powerful, improve athleticism, or you are simply looking to move and feel better, incorporate the following coaching cues into your exercise programs and learn what it’s like to Train Smart and Hard.
Maintain Three Points of Contact (“tripod”) with feet
A lot of individuals I see on a daily basis, both athletic and adult populations, struggle with maintaining good ankle and foot positioning with a lot of their movements (which in turn will beat up the knees and hips over the long term). Whether it’s an ankle caving inwards at the bottom of a squat position, or the heel lifting completely off of the ground during a bulgarian split squat. When lifting, it’s important to remember maintaining the tripod setup (1st and 5th metatarsal aka. the inside and outside “ball” of feet AND heel) for all of the movements, not one or the other. Whether squatting, deadlifting, lunging, or any other lower body movement, think about pushing off evenly with the balls of your feet and the heel to prevent any unwanted ankle compensations.
Keep your front shin vertical
One of the worst things you can do for your body (and knees) is initiating a lift by going too far forward over your toes. Specifically with single-leg variations, a lot of people initiate the movement by pushing their knee over top of their toes instead of sitting straight down. On top of placing a lot of shear stress on the knee, the movement pattern itself takes away from the glute activation component and doesn’t carry over to anything we perform in a dynamic, athletic effort. While maintaining the tripod foot (as discussed above) on the front leg, think about maintaining a vertical shin with all lunge and single-leg variations. If you have to place a bench or some other “stopper” directly in front of the knee in order to properly groove the pattern, do so.
Fill your lower back with air
Properly bracing the core before a lift is something A LOT of people struggle with. And majority of the time, it’s one of the weak links that contributes to their inability to get stronger (and remain healthy) over the course of time. While there are a lot of different coaching cues out there for how to properly brace the core, this is the one that resonates with me the most and has contributed to my ability to remain healthy despite pulling some appreciable weight. Instead of thinking about trying to expand your sides and belly, think about filling up your lower back with air on your inhale. In turn, the belly and sides will naturally expand. Combine this cue after “thinking about getting punched in the stomach” for a rock-solid and stable spine.
Chest up, then exhale (for proper posture)
One of the WORST things I see in the gym is when people “roll their shoulders” back in order to create what they feel is a good posture. Whether it’s the person doing it before a row, or the meathead guy who tries too hard while walking around in the mall, we’ve all seen it. Not only does this glue the shoulder blades down and back via rhomboid engagement (and thus downwardly rotate our shoulder blades which effects our ability to get overhead safely) it leads to a myriad of junky neck and shoulder issues. Instead, when trying to establish a good posture, either throughout your day to day life or when attempting some farmer walks, try the following:
– Puff your chest up (exaggerate it)
– Fully exhale every last inch of air out of your lungs while you attempt to keep your chest up
What you should notice is that you are now aligned in a true “perfect” posture. Your ribs are stacked directly on top of and parallel to your pelvis, creating an optimal alignment for your diaphragm and core to function properly. Your chest has remained elevated, but it has done so through lower trap activation and thoracic extension as opposed to rhomboid dominance and poor core control.
Stay tuned for future series to find the other six coaching cues that you can use to take your programming, gains and health to the next level.
As always, Train Smart and Hard.