Your Abs are Not In Your Neck

Reading the title of this post you're probably thinking I've gone off the deep end. Some of you are probably calling me names like "Captain Obvious" or saying things like "No s@#$ Sherlock". Well now that I have your attention, before you disregard this post entirely I'd like to bring a scenario to mind. 

Watch most exercisers do a plank, a push-up, or even move heavy weight. One of the first things you may notice is their forward head posture, or their face contorting into a look of pure constipation. We'll come back to this in a moment.

Our bodies are naturally lazy. They to do whatever they can in the easiest manner possible, and it takes quite a lot of figurative butt kicking to teach our bodies to stop being so lazy. Case and point right now as I type this my shoulders are hunched forward, this is a lazy position, because my muscles don't have to work as hard to maintain this position. Is it good for me, heck no. This adds to my point though.

When training, because our bodies want to do things in the easiest manner possible, they begin to compensate. When left unaware of these compensations bad things happen. From weak body parts staying weak, to possibly even injury. 

One of the most common areas that compensation happens is in the neck.

Picture your middle school PE Class. Remember doing the fitness testing. All those kids that would do push-ups and the first thing to drop was almost always their head? 

This is because the body prefers using our neck as a stabilizer as oppose to the core. In all actuality the core should be the main stabilizer. Not only are the muscles in the core stronger and bigger than the neck, they also do a lot better job of stabilizing our spine. 

I am willing to bet that Giraffe's have a really hard time not stabilizing with their necks

I am willing to bet that Giraffe's have a really hard time not stabilizing with their necks

When lifting heavy weights, and we scrunch up our face, it's much of the same thing. Our neck is actually tensing up, and we're taking the stability away from the midsection and putting in onto the neck. 

This is a lot more common then you may think and an extremely hard habit to break. 

If you're not sure whether or not you're compensating with your neck here are a couple things you can look out for:

  1. Does your neck feel persistently tight?
  2. Do you get a lot of tension headaches?
  3. Do you find your back hurting or at least somewhat sore after performing core work, or even doing heavy lifting?

There are other questions we can ask; however, answering "yes" to any of the above questions gives indication the neck is doing too much. 

While in our head we know that our necks are not our abs, it's important to be cognizant of this when we train.

When you do planks think about making a "wrestler's neck". Pulling your neck into your throat by pulling your head back. Same with push-ups. When lifting heavy practice relaxing your face. You'll find on subsequent days that the muscles in your neck and shoulders actually feel looser, and your back may even feel better too. 

- Dave

Stop Jumping to Outrageously High Boxes, Seriously, Stop It

When I think of JJ Watt I think of two things. One of the most dominant defensive players in NFL History, and a really high box jump.

About a year ago JJ Watt jumped to the top of an impressive 61 inch box. It looked something like the video below.

I mean who doesn't want to be as athletic as Watt? The guy is an animal. In response of seeing this video we all of a sudden had a flourish of people want to jump this high. Because if JJ Watt is athletic, and can jump to really high boxes, really high box jumps must make me athletic. As a result we get many videos much like this. (Look away if your squeamish)

First off, I'd like to point out that JJ Watt used actual boxes, and they were slightly cushioned. Never, ever, ever, should anyone use bumper plates to jump to high boxes.

Here's the thing; not only are high boxes dangerous in the sense of wiping out, but they also are not as effective of a tool of training athleticism as you might think. They can actually be an okay sign of a good athlete; I mean, you won't see someone make a high box that has no athletic ability, but they really have no place in a gym or in training.

One thing that happens in performing high box jumps is an athlete never really gets to true triple extension, nor true triple flexion for that matter. 

Triple extension is one of the key foundations of power production and as a result, athleticism. It is the extension of the hip, knee, and ankle all at the same time. Look at an elite sprinter when they are pushing off, or better yet, check out this picture of 8th wonder of the world: Michael Jordan.

Or one of, if not the fastest man in history; Usain Bolt, look at his plant leg.

Bottom line, triple extension needs to be trained for power development. It's the foundation of power production and I could find picture after picture of top athletes in a plethora of sports at some point or another utilizing triple extension to create massive amounts of power.

If we were to watch again, we can scroll back up to JJ's box jump he has to bring his legs up so fast to actually land the jump that his hips never really get into full extension.

Second is triple flexion. If triple extension is the extension of your ankles, knees, and hips, then I think we can guess what triple flexion is. 

The key with triple flexion is that it's the landing, it's the body absorbing the force of gravity. And this is crucial. When we get hurt it is usually when our body is absorbing force or transitioning from force absorption to force reproduction. For that reason it's imperative to absorb force properly.

One key thing to keep in mind is that in order to keep the back healthy we  don't want the spine to be part of that force absorbing chain. In some instances it is inevitable, but of even more importance is that we shouldn't allow that to happen in our training. We can't always control what happens in the game of play, but we can control our training. And the better our body becomes at absorbing force the right way during training, the more prepared it will be in doing so during a game, when, let's be honest, we could careless about using proper mechanics.

The other danger that happens comes when we repeatedly subject our low back to such force, over time it will lead to issues. It is not always acute, but make no mistake, the damages we put on our body now will be paid for eventually.

Let's look at the kind of force absorption that our body goes through during the performance of really high box jumps. 

 

Look at that guys low back. The thing is, even a respectively high box jump can do that. 

I hope I'm making some sense here. Most of us, if we're being honest really don't need to jump higher than a "24 inch box. Very few of us may go up to "30. Make no mistake, if we start losing triple extension and triple flexion we are losing an aspect of power training that should not be ignored.

All this to say, I love box jumps, I love them as a teaching tool for power training when used properly.

If you have any question about whether your box is too high take a look at your landing. As I've learned from Mike Boyle, "you're landing should look like your jump". If you're hips are lower on your landing than on your loading phase of the jump than you're box is too high, and perhaps your ego is as well. Check your ego at the door, and lower the box. Your back will thank me, and depending on what kind of boxes you have you're shins will thank me too.

- Dave