18 Months of Daily Max Squats

December 1st, 2015 by Laura

This is a summary of my 18-month long daily max squat experience.

WHY I CHOSE TO SQUAT EVERY DAY

Confidence with Heavy Weight
Given my other lifts, I was sure that I had the physical strength for a decent squat if I could get past the panic and technique blunders. I could do endless reps with a weight, then put another ten pounds on the bar and be stapled. At meets, I was so nervous under the bar that I would ‘forget’ how to squat. My technique for reps didn’t hold up under heavies, and it always took many months longer than anticipated to dial it in. A method I found to minimize this was to incorporate heavy singles during all blocks of training. This worked to an extent but with every programming option I had tried, I felt as though I could have used a lot more attention on singles.

Autoregulation
I trained late at night after putting my kids to bed, and my hips had some quirks. My percentage-based training plan never seemed to line up with my abilities on that particular day. I wanted to take advantage of the days where I was able to perform well and not feel pressured to push through on days I wasn’t. I also wanted to stay mentally connected to the lift as opposed to mindlessly pushing through prescribed reps.

Potentially Stronger Joints and Connective Tissues
Aside from dropping weights on my foot, or messing up a powerclean and breaking a collarbone, I have never sustained an injury in the weight room. Pregnancy is another story. I was left with loose ligaments, snapping hips, abdominal separation, hernias, abdominal surgery including belly button removal, and SI joint troubles. A knee surgery found its way in there, too. I felt like I was in a different body every squat day due to inconsistent mobility and joint issues. Everything seemed to happen at random and I felt like I had no control over my body’s quirks. I would not have chosen high frequency squats if I believed that these existing issues were not workable. The fact that I had such ups and downs showed me that there was potential to improve.

Success with Similar Systems
The Chinese System was suggested to me by a weightlifter friend who was convinced that it could work for powerlifting. It entailed working to a max on a squat variation two days per week, followed by back-off work. It got me past an age-old stall and I was making better progress than ever until anxiety surrounding each session’s max lift began to dominate. I eventually moved on to another way of training though I hated to leave something that was working so well. Daily maxing’s max-then-back-off style with autoregulation was very similar to the system that worked for me in the past, but the ‘daily’ aspect seemed like it could help with the anxiety.

Schedule
Logistics-wise, short, frequent workouts appeal to me. I always did well with lots of brief mini-sessions in my home gym as it was the only way I could train around the (non)schedule of young children.

I did my research, followed whatever training blogs I could find and all sources seemed to agree that daily squatting will not kill you. Being primarily a weightlifting method, there were only a handful of powerlifters I was able to find at the time who were doing some sort of daily max or Bulgarian-inspired training. They seemed to be in good health and happy with their choice. Some reported that their joints and connective tissues never felt better.

As a 35+ mom of three, I didn’t come across any accounts of this training method from my particular demographic, but I didn’t consider this experiment to be much of a gamble considering my squat frustrations and stagnant numbers.

On April 3rd 2014, I began my first month of daily maxes.

 

MY INTRO MONTH OF DAILY MAX SQUATS

Day 1
• Front Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 x 2-3 @7-8
• Bench, bench accessories

Day 2
• Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 x 2-3 @7-8
• 2 x 5 @5 speedy
• Unilateral or extra hip work

Day 3
• Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 × 2-3 @7-8
• Bench, bench accessories

Day 4
• Front Squat to Daily Max
• 2 x 5-8 @6-7
• Deadlift to top single @8, or light speedy singles

Day 5 (Sometimes)
• Squat or Front Squat to Daily Max
• Unilateral or extra hip work

 

I worked to a daily max on either a squat or front squat every training day. The daily max is whatever can be done perfectly on that day, not a grinder or a true competition max (though there are some daily maxers who go to failure each day).

With plenty of bad memories of squat fails and struggle patterns to work through, I was comfortable shooting for an RPE of 7-8 to start. Maxes were calm, adrenaline-free and focused on pushing evenly through both legs. Any change in bar speed or technique meant it was time to back off.

Back-off work was not set in stone, it depended on what I felt I could do perfectly and what fit the schedule. I started a little lighter than usually prescribed, taking 20-25% off of my daily max and adjusting the weight with each subsequent set. Sometimes I would skip the back-off work altogether. Rest periods were short and the squat portion of my day usually took 30 minutes or less.

I had logged my volume totals for the months of training leading up to my daily max trial and made sure to stay in the same range as what I was doing before.

 

What a Daily Training Max Looks Like
Example 1: The video below is a front squat daily max. The preceding squats on this day had uniform tempo and technique. In the last clip, I was slightly slower out of the hole and my chest dipped so it was my ‘max’ for the day.

Example 2: The video below is a beltless squat training max of 240. The weight moved quickly but there was a quick shift forward on the rebound so it was my ‘max’ for the day. (I squat in a dark room on most days to help stay calm.)

 

The Immediate Changes in My Squat
I quickly became desensitizing to having a heavy barbell on my back. I liked the calm, adrenaline-free approach and was surprised at what I could get done with easy breathing, tuning in and not anticipating exactly how much weight I was going to lift each day.

I was constantly discovering tiny adjustments that would make my squats feel easier. My singles allowed me to concentrate on quality while my back-off sets echoed and instilled perfect patterns.

Occasionally, I’d revert to old habits by unracking aggressively and setting up in a way that seems full of conviction but really it was nerves. Anything I do from that point on is like jumping off a cliff. I’d re-rack the bar, take a few breaths and squat slowly and quietly. The panicked feeling would go away and the squat felt under control. The tech errors started slipping away along with the nerves.
Actual Max Tests :

Front Squat: 40lb PR! (225)
It felt too soon to be testing anything but I was feeling strong and curious. My ‘really bad day’ daily max weight had increased by 30 pounds and I hadn’t factored in a belt or aggression yet. 225 wasn’t pretty, but it went up and it was a huge PR for me. I’m very sorry about the cursing at the end. I sometimes let my chest drop on heavy front squats, miss the hook and it becomes a process. 🙂

 

Squat: 25lb PR! (300)
About a week after my front squat test, I was having a fantastic day in the gym, I just wrapped up a light week and felt fresh…and it was Mother’s Day. It felt like a good day to test the waters.

I put on a belt and wraps for my test but left out the adrenaline. The calm focus used for my daily maxes served me much better than excitement. When going for a PR, I had to remind myself NOT to add anything to the lift. Just do the same thing each time no matter how much is on the bar.


Daily Fluctuations

On the charts, I like to see the dips in daily performance and how they do not affect the overall outcome. It is also neat to see the difference between the training max and actual max. I became detached from numbers and their connotations.

 

NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS ON DAILY MAXING
I enjoyed the trial period of daily maxing so much that I continued with it for 18 months. I learned a lot by training this way. Daily squat training goes well when I don’t try to force or control things too much. Just go with the flow and note the patterns.

The following is a collection of notes about things that worked out well for me and things that didn’t. I’ll continue to edit and add to this list as time goes on.

Favorite Back-off Options
Over the year, I tried a variety of back-off templates for volume. Some favorites are listed below.

Singles Only

  • Daily Max
  • 4-10 singles
    Start by taking 85-90% of the daily max weight and adjust with each set.
    Work back up to the max or do multiple singles at the desired intensity for the day.
    No more than a minute and a half of rest between each squat.
  • I noticed that the ‘more singles’ option usually precedes a new PR. The extra practice with heavy singles helps sharpen tech and depending on how I take this phase and what I was doing leading up to it, some fatigue drops off as well.

Weak Point Correction

  • Daily Max
  • Select an exercise based on flaw in the daily max (borrowed from the Chinese System that worked so well for me in the past).
    Example 1: Falling forward in the squat – back off with safety bar squats.
    Example 2: Slow point in the top 2/3 – back off with partials.
    Adjust weights used accordingly.

Pauses

  • Daily Max
  • Perform back off reps with pauses.
    For triples, start with 70-75% of daily max weight.
    For doubles, start with 75-80% of the daily max weight.
    Adjust weights used accordingly; use less weight for extra-long pauses.
  • I also like slow eccentrics. I was hesitant to use them since there is obviously an exaggerated eccentric component that could possibly interfere with recovery. Also, I like to read and take everything with a grain of salt but some research does show that moving the bar as fast as possible is more productive for strength gains than going super-slow. In spite of that, I thought that slow eccentrics might be a good choice for someone like myself who is naturally speedy, prone to lateral shifts and can get sloppy. So far, it seems to be working out very well. I recently went through a ‘long eccentrics and pauses only’ phase and when finally I allowed myself to go to tempo, I was pleasantly surprised. I noticed that I got more aches and problematic tension when I am sloppy and shift my weight around than when I go exaggeratedly slow and stay on course.

Occlusions (For Lighter Sessions)

  • Daily Max
  • Perform back-off sets for high reps with occlusions.
    Very light weight is fine.

Website: Squat Nemesis

  • Squat Nemesis has a list of fun work-up and back-off options that reads like a Chinese takeout menu. As time went on, I decided that most of these templates lead me to doing more volume than I want or need. I just wanted to include this option incase I change my mind on that later, or if anyone else is reading and interested in more volume ideas.

I vary what I do on a given day. On the days that my daily max is strong, I’ll reinforce it with some heavy-ish back-off reps. On the days that my daily max does not go so well, I’ll make up for it with some lighter volume, or stick to singles if I think I need to reel in tech. I try to work in phases but there aren’t really any hard lines anywhere. I’m still learning and observing the patterns so going with the flow is useful. I stay better connected when I don’t follow too a stringent of a plan but set limits on volume in order to avoid sharp increases.

Progression
The more I focus on perfection and minimize struggle patterns in training, the better it translates to my true max efforts. I’m most concerned with the quality of the rep. I’d rather hit the same daily max for 2 months straight and have it be faster and smoother than it was than to push heavier weights into grinder-territory. Another sign of progress is my daily minimum going up (my ‘bad day’ max, or minimum amount of weight I use for my daily max).

When I began this, I was under the impression that one of the premises of daily maxing was to stay away from slow or grinding lifts. Now I see daily maxers who actually go for a max-max or fail everyday and they are doing great. I’m actually very certain that allowing frequent grinders into my training would not work for me right now, but getting comfortable grinding through squats might be useful in the future.

Originally, I wasn’t excited about tracking PRs because I thought that in itself would make me anxious. I didn’t want to feel pressured to always beat my previous best at whatever cost. Luckily, I find it pretty easy to stay out of that mindset. Progress isn’t linear and the training numbers don’t mean much to me anymore, so many things influence them. Simply switching my session from late night when I’m exhausted to early afternoon after a cup of caffeinated tea is good for an instant PR.

Increasing Volume
The best piece of advice I had read was to do as little as possible for as long as possible. Unfortunately, I ignored that and I had to learn the hard way!

A criticism of this method that initially worried me was that the only way to progress would be to keep piling on volume. Soon enough, you will need to be in the gym for hours each day of the week, multiple times per day. In an effort to outrun what I thought was an impending stall, I made the mistake of adding volume when it was not yet warranted and at times, getting carried away. Some of the back-off templates I used called for pushing sets until it felt like another set would be impossible. I found out that I had very good stamina for this – the sets kept coming and feeling easy. Within a short timeframe, my 30 minute gym sessions were taking nearly 2 hours and my minor flare ups and pains were becoming major.

I had expected my daily max to temporarily plummet with the volume increase and then bounce back. It didn’t. Actually, my max single was on a steady decline but I could do endless reps and sets. My technique was getting progressively sloppier as my ‘let’s just get through these reps’ patterns were dominating. This was the problem that I was trying to escape from in more traditional programming and I was reminded of why I chose high frequency max squats in the first place. Since then, my preference has been to get away with as little as possible, and to get my volume in back-off sets as opposed to working up. I like to feel the flaw in the top single and drill it the correction with a weight I can do perfectly.

You’d think that large volume changes would be blatantly obvious but even small changes add up quickly with daily frequency. The consequences of sharp increases can be severe and negate whatever benefits I am getting from the extra squat work.

In spite of my volume-happy phases and length of time I’ve been doing this, I still respond well to short, frequent squat sessions. I know that volume drives progress but for me, I don’t believe that having to be in the gym all day is a looming issue. What I have found for myself (for now anyway) is that it does not take very much work just to maintain or slowly increase my daily max. I can go into ‘coast’ mode off-season or when I need extra time to dedicate to other areas. My intensity and frequency stay the same but I’ll spend much of my back-off time on weak points.

Additionally, what I ‘can’ do, and what I ‘need to do’ in order to progress are two very different things. I have always had a lot of stamina and ability to crank out volume but being able to do more doesn’t mean that I will respond well to it.

I suppose the rate at which to increase volume will be different for everyone. Now that this style of training is a little more popular with powerlifters, I’ve seen some accounts from daily squatters who cut their days DOWN once they reached a certain daily training weight and they continue to progress. I think there are plenty of reasons why very modest increases, or even pulling back a bit at times can be useful for some.

One major point I learned about this style of training is to only increase volume if  I am actually stalling – not because of a predetermined timeline or what I see other people do.

Squat Variations
I stay better balanced by cycling through stances and variations. Wide stances, narrow stances, specialty bars, pauses and partials are all in the rotation. Sometimes even a change of shoe seems to register to my body as something a little different.

There were periods where I did only my favorite narrow high-bar squat and conventional deadlift. When I finally decided to do some wide-stance work, I was struggling with less than half of my narrow squat weight. The temptation to practice my narrow high-bar is always there since that is where I see the best numbers. Doing variations that I am not good at keeps me balanced and boosts my competition squat more than just sticking to my favorites, even though I usually have to work very light by comparison.

Choices in squat variations and rep ranges also help me to avoid anxiety. When I find myself expecting a level of performance out of my competition squat or getting greedy with numbers, I like being able to establish new PRs in other areas.

Deadlift
5-12 singles once per week works well for me right now, anywhere from 60-90%. I’ve always had luck with light, speedy deadlifts, even before I began daily squat maxes. I pull in my opposite stance most of the time which shaves quite a few pounds off of the workload. My deadlift tends to go up from squatting moreso than pulling.

Daily Max For Bench
After my successful intro month of daily max squats, I wanted to try it for bench as well. I transitioned from my normal 2-day per week schedule to 3 days per week, working to a max and backing off just like the squat. I chose a small handful of bench variations to cycle through and hit a PR of some sort every single session.

At my competition in March, I left with a 160 bench in my ‘peaked’ state. In June, after just one month after starting ‘daily max’ style training for bench, I could easy hit a 170 paused bench any day of the week. As a spaghetti-armed female, a bench gain like that is very much appreciated. 🙂

The sweet spot for me with bench still seems to be three times per week, I have no need or desire to up the frequency at this time. I like working up to top sets between 1 and 5 reps with back-off sets as while leaving plenty of room for ‘busy work’ for my scrawny upper body. My bench seems to want more volume than my squat.

My shoulders are very healthy and never hurt but I do keep my push-to-pull ration to something like 1:2. Sometimes if I don’t want to bench, I apply the same daily max principles to pull-ups, working to a top weighted single then backing off. I also found that my favorite way to warm up to bench is to front squat.

Accessories, Supplemental Lifts and Other Work
My squat isn’t ‘perfect’, I am prone to lateral shifting, a hip that buckles and one side of my body tends to do things differently than the other. Incorporating a little bit of extra work alongside the squats keeps my imbalances in check so I can continue to squat frequently. It can be the difference between progress sailing and things feeling great, or stalling and being in pain.

When I have a glaring weak spot that needs attention, I like having the option of just working to a daily max and making up volume in other movements. I’ve been able to increase or at least maintain my daily max that way while building up the areas that need it.

I also like to do a couple of conditioning sessions each week that I can easily throw my extra work into. They are usually just 15 minute-long circuits.

Body Weight and Strength
At 5’7, I am definitely on the taller side for my weight class, but an increase in bodyweight did not accompany my increase in squat performance. When I began daily maxing, my walking around weight was 137-140. A couple of months into daily maxing, I settled in the range of 134- 137, so a couple of pounds lost.

Staying Healthy

Trigger point work also helps keep me healthy enough to squat frequently. Stretching and mobility work can be disastrous for me due my ligaments being left very lax after pregnancies. Breaking up fascial restrictions is key in heading off little aches before they turn into something more sinister.

One of the things I was hoping to get out of squatting daily was to find out exactly what triggers my pains and quirks and what I can do to manage it. Repetitive patterns and networks of trigger points alert me to possible movement dysfunction and weak areas. The combination of daily maxing and trigger point work is holistic for me, exposing weaknesses all over my body, forcing me to take a step back to address them before moving forward again. Most times, this is accompanied by a temporary dip in performance which I am happy to accept as I come out stronger on the other end. As time goes on, I feel like I am bulletproofing my body.

Joints and Ligaments
Though all of my body quirks did not totally disappear, and I had moments where it seemed like nothing would ever help… there has been a marked improvement. Before, I could not even identify what problems existed, never mind knowing what to do about it. Somewhere along the line, the pains and annoyances that used to dominate my sessions faded into the background.

On a less frequent training schedule, I had a lot of mystery pain, my mobility was drastically different from day to day and it took me a long time to warm up. Now, I don’t need much time to be ready to squat and could most likely hit my daily minimum with no warm-up at all.  I rarely have a day where I can’t get my squat technique down.  My hips are also more quiet than before.

Here is how my hips sounded when I first began daily maxing:

And here is how they sound most of the time now:

I also used to live in fear of my SI joint; it was a nuisance that felt I had no control over. It has several major slip-ups each year, for seemingly no reason at all. My SI went out again this past October and I didn’t go to my meet because of it. Once I was out of the acute phase, I kept squatting daily as part of rehabilitation but used occlusions to minimize the load. I also saw a movement specialist and worked on correcting some postural issues and imbalances. I spent countless hours and late nights reading everything I could get my hands on about hip and pelvic floor function, trigger points and hip stability. I took those measures because I had to. I couldn’t just ignore the underlying issues, let things heal for a week or two then get right back to what I was doing as I did in the years prior, because they would come back again to bite me sooner than later. I don’t know if this is the last I will hear from my SI joint but after some work, it doesn’t feel so fragile.

More importantly, even though there are sometimes ‘sensations’, nothing actually hurts. Even more importantly, when my body wants to rebel, I am better at reading its language. When I am overextending, I have an assortment of mini-fixes to choose from to wake up the correct muscles and get through my session.  When the sides of my calves are buzzing, I’m not properly using my butt.  I also know when to cut it at the daily minimum, or not squat at all.

I have to backpedal at times to reinforce the weak links. I used to feel frustrated by taking a step back but now I am always happy to fix issues as they arise. The improvements I am working on make both training and daily life a lot more comfortable than it was. I have no doubts that daily squatting makes joints and ligaments stronger.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON MY 18 MONTHS OF DAILY MAX SQUATS
I have never felt so good in general as I do squatting daily. Not only did I not die but I’m no longer a nervous disaster under the bar. I treat it the same way as if I were going to move a couch across a room or dig a hole in the yard or something. No emotion to it, nothing riding on it. Nothing is expected of me, the number I hit doesn’t matter. Just do the movement deliberately and perfectly, no grinding or struggle. It doesn’t get to a point where technique changes, it’s just whatever can be done perfectly that day.

One thing that helps me stay calm under heavy squats is remembering ‘hey, I just did this weight yesterday, and the day before’. That alone calms me down pretty quick. You get desensitized and it becomes an everyday thing. The frequency makes it instinctive. I can just walk up to the bar, totally indifferent, and do it.

This Might be the Best Thing I’ve Ever Tried
Originally, Daily Max Squats were just going to be a short deviation from my normal routine. I was looking for a temporary method to work on my heavy squat technique and boost confidence but it ended up being one of the most enlightening, therapeutic and addictive programming choices I’ve ever made.

More Reading on Daily Max Squats
This book was my starting point on daily maxing and answered any questions I had. If anyone stumbles here and hasn’t picked this up, I hope they do so. It is only a $7 download and an amazing read – whether you are planning to squat frequently or not.

Meet Report – 845 @131.4

October 28th, 2015 by Laura

This was my first (hopefully only) time competing sumo. My SI joint was flaring up going into this meet and conventionals were off the table.

Squat

Opener: 255 Good Lift
Was glad I went conservative. This felt light but I felt floaty and unfocused, as I always do for squatting at meets. Probably nerves.

Second: 265 Good Lift

Third: 275 Good Lift (+5 Meet PR)
I can definitely see my hips twisting but in spite of that, the squats went up fast and the bar felt light. So why the light attempts? On one hand, I whimped out on my squat attempts. On the other hand, I was happy to go with lifts that I was confident in, get a 5lb lead on my previous total, not kill off my hip right out of the gate and save the mental and physical energy for later.

Bench
Opener: 155 Good Lift
The bench felt much higher than my bench at home and my form was off.

Second: 165 Good Lift
I was going to ask for blocks under my feet but that would be stupid; I’m not short. I tightened my belt to avoid overarching and brought my feet a little farther back. It ended up feeling easier than my opener.

Third: 170 Good Lift (+10 Meet PR)
I really should have tried 175 but I am very happy with a +10 meet PR on bench.

Deadlift
Opener: 370 Good Lift
I originally had a 355 opener but upped it to 370 at the last minute.

Second: 400 Good Lift (+10 meet PR)
HIDEOUS. The conventional puller in me took over; I realized it the moment the bar came off the ground. When I sumo correctly, it feels like I am pulling the bar off the floor forever then lockout is a breeze. If there is speed off the ground on heavy weight, I’m going to be in trouble at lockout and in no position to grind it. At home, I’m lucky to even get 370 locked out when it goes this way.

My shoulders were way out in front, I was windmilling and had to get back behind the bar without resting it on my thighs or jerking it. It turned into the most awful grind with several standstill pauses. I wished that I had opted for just having more patience off the floor.

My left side locked out first, then my right, but there was no downward movement, unlock/re lock or any of that. I got 2 greens from the sides, and 1 red from the front for one hip locking out more slowly than the other.

Third: 410 no lift
After the grind that was 400, I still felt that I should try 410 because I started 400 wrong. It got maybe a few inches up but I had no fight left in me.

I went 8/9
275/170/400
TOTAL: 845 @131.4 (+25 Meet Pr)

If want to pull sumo in a meet again, I’m going to need to figure out how to calm down. Sumo doesn’t lend itself to frenzy the way conventional does, and if you do get out of position, it’s much harder to grind. On the other hand, for a sumo that went wrong, that was much more than I thought I could do. That makes me very excited to see where my conventional actually is.

My main goal for this meet was just to do better than I did before but honestly, I didn’t know if it was going to happen. It gets increasingly more challenging to increase my total at every single meet. Big PR’s are harder to come by and if a couple of attempts don’t go as planned, it is easy total LESS than my previous best. So, not going backward (on paper) is good. 🙂

It also felt great to make a 400 pull official, even if it was ugly and in my opposite stance.

I felt like I wasn’t able to give this meet the attention that I have been able to give previous meets. Someone always needs my time for something and I feel guilty trying to find time for my own interests. It is odd that somehow I could keep more balls in the air when the kids were babies. People have complimented my numbers for being a mom of 3 training in the basement without a coach or training partners. For this meet, I really felt like ‘you know what, I deserve to feel good about that’.

Squat Tech Problems and Solutions

December 6th, 2014 by Laura

These are a few of the many squat issues that have come up and ways they have been fixed.


Staggered Stance and Lateral Shifts
At one meet, the staggered stance was so pronounced that people near the platform were telling me to square off my stance during my squat attempts. One foot was a good six inches in front of the other and I couldn’t straighten out.

Some of the pains and annoyances associated with this include:

  • Lateral shifting in squats and pulls
  • Feeling like I can’t sit weight into my left hip and difficulty balancing weight on that leg
  • Increased tension in hamstring and adductor group on left, usually accompanied by snapping
  • Clusters of perpetually regenerating trigger points on one side
  • When seated, left femur will appear to be several inches longer than my right
  • Muscles on one side of my body are bigger than the other
  • Shuffling my feet around for ages trying to square off my stance
  • SI joint flare-ups
  • I don’t expect my body to be perfectly symmetrical, but my stance can get way out of the ‘acceptable’ range, and the stagger became more pronounced the more I trained. I tried to fix it with standard hip stability work in conjunction with trigger point release. Though my posture in daily movements was better, the improvements weren’t holding up to my lifting.

    Solutions:
    Training in Staggered Stances
    Sounds counterintuitive, but purposefully training in staggered stances helps with this. I thought that since my squats favored one leg a few inches ahead, maybe forcing the opposite leg ahead would help even things out. I did some research first to make sure that staggered training was ‘a thing’, because I could see it going one way or another. I found a bunch of helpful movements that I did not know existed.

    The Jefferson Deadlift, or ‘Straddle Deadlift’ is a classic strongman lift.

    Some others that have been helpful:

  • Staggered Stance Squats, Front Squats and Goblets
  • Staggered Stance Box Squats
  • Staggered Stance Good Mornings
  • Staggered Stance RDLs
  • To stagger, the toe of one foot should be inline with the heel of the other horizontally. Concentrate on pushing through the heel of the front leg but allow weight on the toe of the back leg as well.

    What I like about this in comparison to unilateral work (which I also do) is that I am not limited by balance. Unilateral work can sometimes be wobbly, and I’ll use momentum to bypass my weak spots. A staggered stance gives the problem areas an opportunity to contribute to the lift.

    Staggered stance lifts work well as ‘activators’ – just a few brief, light sets before the bilateral movement. I also use them as my normal lift, especially on days where my stance felt staggered to begin with and I think my evenly loaded bilateral movement would have been flawed. They work well as accessories, too.

    This sort of work released my tight side more than any amount of static stretching could ever do.

    Trigger Point Release
    I had to release all trigger points related to my hips and pelvis. This included:

  • Rectus Femoris, Sartorius
  • TFL
  • Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus
  • QL
  • Adductor Longus and Brevis
  • Pectineus
  • Gracilis
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Piriformis
  • All Hamstring Muscles
  • All Calf Muscles
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Nothing works in isolation and this is/was a commitment, but worth the effort. Some trigger point just won’t release or coming back repeatedly if there are still perpetuating factors. Trigger points that form for lack of stability can be (rightfully) stubborn.

    Pelvic Alignment:
    I reset my pelvis using a pilates ring, squeezing it between my thighs, then putting my legs inside the ring and pushing out to the sides. I’ve seen people do that using their hands for resistance but I find it difficult to get enough pressure that way.

    To help maintain the alignment, I need to remember to always do some sort of activation work prior to lifting. I have a bad habit of thinking that my issues are resolved, neglecting the extra work, and not noticing that I am relapsing until it becomes a major problem. A single leg box squat pre-squat is usually a good indicator of how my hips are holding up.

    Go Slow and Pause
    Once I am at least capable of producing a somewhat balanced squat, there is usually some residual shifting left over. The longer I had let the shift go on, the more time it can take to go away. It seems to just be a neuro thing because all I have to do is slow down and pay attention.

    When I am coming out of a shifting phase, pausing feels horrible because I had been allowing myself to quickly bounce by the instability. That area of the squat feels untrained. I have to start very light but thing wake up quickly and soon enough my pause squat numbers start catching up to my tempo squat.

    Long eccentrics also help, maintaining even pressure on each leg all the way down. The ‘maintain even pressure’ thing really needs to be a constant for me. Every squat PR I’ve had was made when I was thinking almost solely of keeping the weight evenly distributed, slowing down and staying focused during each phase of the movement.

    Something that DID NOT work is forcing an even stance when my stance wants to be staggered. The result of doing that is painful, swollen knees. If I can’t get in my left hip and my stance is badly staggered, it’s better for me to focus on waking up that hip rather than loading up the crappy pattern.

     
    Overarching Low Back, Bar Forward of Center (Squat-Morning)

    Bad squat

    Solutions:
    Keeping APT in check

    Ankle Flexibility and Lower Leg Trigger Point Release
    Having restricted ankle motion completely changes my angles in the squat.

    More.

    Sit in Front of the Weight
    This was a band-aid overcorrection cue for when my anterior tilt was dominating. Thinking of sitting in front of the bar and throwing it off back behind me helped to keep my posture neutral and abdomen engaged. This is a stark contrast to the ‘arch your back’ cue that you hear so much; I found (after my squat being stagnant and tweaking my hip a few times) that I have to do the complete opposite.

    Good Morning Squat
    Another exercise that seems counterintuitive, but it teaches the correct positioning in the squat.

    Front Squat
    Front squatting does wonders for my squat positioning. My squat seems to do best when I keep a 50/50 mix of squats and front squats.

    Hands-Free Squat
    I think I read about this in one of the Pavel books. It is one of the quickest ways I have found to get my bar path worked out. I’ve been doing these regularly when warming up.

     
    Free-Falling Panic in the Hole
    This might be laxity-related as other lax people seem to relate to this. Normally my muscles carry a lot of tension to compensate for the lax structures, but some days, everything feels loose and shaky. Certain times of the month definitely come into play.

    Solutions:
    Build Tension Throughout the Lift
    Think of a coiled spring. When this just isn’t happening for me, it is helpful to hang a light band over the top of the cage to pull against and actually pull myself down into the squat.

    Slow Down the Tempo
    Go super-slow for the the descent and pause at the stopping point. Feel the muscles contracting bringing me down to the hole. Once that feels ok, just do a 5-count descent for the first 2/3 of the squat and go to tempo on the rebound.

    Envision the Lift
    Feel out the lift before it happens so it is not a guessing game at the bottom as to which muscles will feel like participating.

     
    Weight Shifting Onto Toes During Squats

    Solutions:
    Ankle Flexibility and Lower Leg Trigger Point Release
    Yes, again.

    More

    Cues for the Feet

  • Roll toes up or tap them up to shift to heel
  • Arch feet
  • Work on Posture and Balance
    Practice finding my center of balance during the day. Tip myself forward and get used to pushing back and staying back. Release trigger points anywhere in my body that might be pulling me in odd directions.

    Hands-free Squat

     
    Chest Cave

    Solutions:
    Elbows
    Simply cueing my elbows takes care of this without affecting my posture as ‘chest up’-type cues can do.

  • Pull down with elbows
  • Point elbows to the ground
  • Pin elbows to lats
  • Bring elbows forward
  • Just the position of the elbows is enough to solve the problem for me, and making sure that the elbows stay pointed at the ground in the hole of the squat. ‘Pull the bar into the traps’ works for me sometimes, too.

    Breathe Into the Spine
    This cue also helps my posture and upper body position during squats.

    Psoas and Strength Training

    December 3rd, 2014 by Laura

    ANATOMY AND FUNCTION

    The Psoas is the Most Important Muscle in the Body
    The psoas is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs. It crosses many joints in the body and has a very far-reaching effect (not limited to the hips). It is its own antagonist between lumbar flexion and extension. It helps to position spine, pelvis and femur relative to each other. It is important in the transfer of weight from trunk to legs and feet while moving and standing. It is a synergist to many other muscles and extremely hard to isolate.

    In sports-specific terms, the psoas is usually thought of as a hip flexor and stabilizer. But ‘hip flexor’ is only a tiny part of what the psoas is. It is a messenger. It influences alignment, joint rotation and circulation. It is your deepest connection to the earth and the compass that tells you where you are in time and space.

    Skeletal Alignment Fosters a Happy Psoas
    A balanced, healthy pelvis transfers weight through the hips, legs and feet. If the bones aren’t aligned, the psoas steps in to provide support. When the iliopsoas is used as a structural support, it becomes a stabilizer rather than a mover. A shortened psoas tips the pelvis forward, compressing the hip socket and preventing the leg from moving separately from the trunk. It eventually loses its range of motion, flexibility and strength. Problems stemming from that include rotation in the spine, pelvis and legs, twisting pelvis, and leg length discrepancy. It also limits movement in the hip socket, resulting in faulty walking patterns, compensation by other muscles and torque on the joints.

    The psoas can only function as it should when it is not performing the role of a ligament.

    Proprioception is Critical for Maximum Power
    Proprioception is the awareness of where your body is in space and time and the relative position of neighboring parts. It allows for joint angle control and is much more important than what individual muscles are doing.

    Supple Muscles Transmit Clear Signals. Stiff Muscles Do Not.
    A supple psoas is proprioceptive and responsive. A crisp signal requires supple muscles. Surface muscles glide over deeper muscles and the psoas gets feedback during these movements. A clear signal is transmitted to the psoas from these muscles.

    By contrast, stiff muscles that are in a state of permanent contraction do not transmit a clear signal. The deep muscles get entrapped in the surface muscles around them, move arbitrarily instead of glide, and don’t give good feedback due to adhesions around the spine.

    Fuzzy signals and poor proprioception can make basic movements like sitting down and getting up become complicated. Releasing tissue tension, tone, and lengthening will enhance body awareness.

    Somatic Memory and Gut Feelings
    Somatic memory refers to the body’s intelligence. Somatic healing is about connecting with the sixth sense to smooth the way for a health and wellness breakthrough.

    Somatic memory relates to the psoas’s effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems. The psoas has a main role in behavior patterns and as an organ of perception, can hold the memory of traumatic stress. The involvement of the psoas causes pain, tightness and unresponsiveness.

    Impulses from the central nervous system (emotional responses/ feelings) can create tension in muscles, which affect the psoas due to its deep, central location. When the psoas is released, emotions like anxiety and fear might surface. Allowing these feelings to surface and release allows the body to work in harmony.

    Manual Psoas Release and Stretching
    Opinions on manual psoas work and stretching range from ‘necessary’ (sports oriented sources) to ‘ineffective’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘disrespectful’ (Somatics practitioners).

    The psoas itself is rarely the problem, and release through manual manipulation only shuts down the messages that the psoas is trying to communicate for a brief period.

    Invasive techniques trigger its innate response. The psoas is part of the fear reflex. It tightens when there is dysfunction in the skeletal and nervous system.

    The common approach of strengthening the abdominals and stretching the psoas doesn’t change the movement pattern or muscle memory. Additionally, stretching exercises target the superficial muscles moreso than the psoas. Changing the movement pattern and muscle memory will provide a lasting effect.

    The psoas could be any pairing of weak/tight, weak/lengthened, overused/tight, inhibited/lengthened, etc., In the case of a lengthened and overused psoas, attempting to stretching it isn’t of any benefit and can lead to more pain.

    Effects on the body
    The psoas has an endless list of possible far-reaching effects. A few examples:

    If the SI joint is out, it is guaranteed that the psoas is not happy. And the psoas technically isn’t going to be functioning exactly as it should until the SI joint pain and instability is resolved.

    When the psoas is overly tight, the hamstring tightens up to overcome the Psoas’s pull, and vise versa.

    The psoas is connected to the diaphragm, and psoas tension can originate from improper breathing.

    There jaw and pelvis mirror each other. When one is tense, the other will be, too. Releasing tension in one will release the other.

     
    WORKING WITH THE PSOAS

    Muscles to Release
    Through ‘psoas stretching’ is considered incomplete, there are other muscles that should be freed to more effectively reach the psoas. Theses muscles include the hamstrings, gluteus minimus, rectus femoris, and rotators.

    Constructive Rest
    Constructive Rest Position (CRP) is recommended by somatics practitioners and is appropriate for everyone from the elite athlete to the sedentary. It can be done daily. Some experts believe that CRP is the only pose that truly allows the psoas to release.

  • Begin by lying on the back with arms either by your sides, folded over your chest or placed on hips. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor, feet hip distance apart.
  • Quiet your mind and tune into your pelvis. Notice which areas have weight, what feels light or lifted off the floor, and tune into your torque patterns.
  • As you lay, the spine will get heavy and lengthen. Do not force it, let gravity do the work.
  • As the psoas releases, there will be more openness and awareness in the hip sockets, and the weight will pass through legs and feet. Keep the awareness in hip sockets and do not stress the lower back. Keeping the trunk together allows the psoas to work as a unit instead of in segments.

    Ideal length of time to stay in this pose is 15-20 minutes. Changes in postural alignment are usually evident within a couple of weeks.

    Cues for Improving Movements

    • Pelvis is part of the core, legs move separately.
    • Articulate at hip socket.
    • Flexion point is not at the lumbar, it’s at the hip. The back remains neutral when the pelvis stays part of the core.
    • Sit on your sit bones.

     
     


     

     

    image

     

    Hip & Thigh Trigger Points

    August 4th, 2014 by Laura

    I made this image to show all hip and thigh trigger points/referred pain on one image. It saves me from frantically flipping through a book or scrolling web pages as I am releasing, trying to figure out which tender points are causing which sensations.

    RELEASE NOTES
    This is a list of notes on my own problematic points and methods to release.

    Psoas and Iliacus (Iliopsoas)
    Psoas and Iliacus are clearly separate in them abdomen but seem to come together in the thigh, and are grouped together as ‘Iliopsoas’.

    I haven’t manually released here due to surgical materials in my abdomen, and the only other option to get at it would be to swallow the beastie ball. A search for other psoas release options turned into many nights reading about the complexity of this muscle.

    Its usually not recommended to just go straight for the psoas as it is not the root of the problem. Areas such as quads, piriformis, the back and just about anywhere else influence the psoas, causing it to function more like a ligament. Those areas should be worked on first and it can become a real guessing game as to which muscles are causing what. Professional testing is very helpful. I spent years trying to sort this out on my own with fleeting successes here and there. My psoas seems to resolve itself (without direct intervention) when other quirks in my body are fixed.

    TFL
    IT Band pain is due to tightness in the TFL and glutes. Releasing these areas will relieve IT band pain whereas direct massage of the IT band will not relieve symptoms. Pain in the side of the thigh is most likely coming from the underlying vastus lateralis. Be mindful of sleeping and sitting positions, avoid pulling knees up to chest while sitting and refrain from lying in fetal position while sleeping.

    Vastus Medialis
    I was certain that I had another meniscus tear when there were trigger points here. They can cause a buckling knee and are often mistaken for ligament damage or arthritis.

    All Quad Points
    I wish all points released as easily as the quads. Any method works. I can take one out with my thumb while waiting at a traffic light. The quads are capable of a strong pull on the pelvis as well as knee and hip pain. Sometimes I forget to even bother with them because they are so quick to release but my posture always feels improved when they are clear of congestion.

    Adductor Longus, Adductor Brevis, Pectineus and Gracilis
    Adductor and groin trigger points can be tricky to close in and one of the most painful to release. I’ve had them completely alter my squat pattern by pulling me to the side. They have also caused inflammation similar to an actual cartilage tear or injury on my knee. The adductor group is actually bigger than the hamstrings and only a little smaller than the quads so their ability to tilt the pelvis is significant. They are also capable of inhibiting the glutes.

    I’ve noticed that building strength as well as improving tissue quality in the adductors is a fairly quick process and found plenty of sources that agree – however I have personally found that the inverse is also true. They are quick to regress and bind up.

    Due to the awkward angle, I can release these points best by using my hands. There are tutorials online on how to manually release muscles without exhausting your hands, and technique really does get remarkably better with practice. The Adductors go up pretty high so don’t be afraid to get right into the origin. I use a deep, alternating stroke massage, angling down over the point, digging in with the thumb once I find the tender spot. My masseuse noticed a large improvement in my inner thighs after just a month of using primarily hands on this area.

    I can also reach these trigger points while lying on a lacrosse ball and passively turn my leg (foot turned in). My dog’s Kong ball is good for this – the larger diameter makes it easier to reach the adductors.

    When things are really bad and I am desperate to get through a session, there is the bar. This method is harsh and I should probably forget that it exists. I heat the area first, then hang myself over the barbell by one leg. From there, roll around a bit to find the tender spot(s) and sink in. 99% of the time my full weight on the bar is more than enough but if I want more, hold a weight on top of that. Sometimes violent releases like that can shut things down more than help; just have to know when to stop.

    Also just want to note that I get a spot that is so bad that it requires metal, it usually means something is wrong and I have some real work to do aside from releasing. Figuring out and fixing what is actually wrong (aka why the trigger point exists in the first place) resolves the points better than overly aggressive releases.

     
    Femoral Triangle

    Probably should be mindful of the Femoral Triangle when releasing in the adductor region, especially when using aggressive methods.

    Adductor Magnus TrP2
    This is easy to reach sitting on a chair with a lacrosse or beastie ball under me. It provides some instant relief to get through a session, but this is another one that resolves itself for me without intervention when other areas are addressed.

    Gluteus Minimus and Medius
    Can be excruciating and can cause some of the worst dysfunction of all points to have. Some sources say that almost everyone has a trigger point in one or both. Can feel like disc herniations and radiate down the legs. Lateral thigh and calf can light up, too.

    If you find something here, also check the opposite shoulder, most likely there will be something in there, too. And check adductors – the adductor points are usuallly the primary points that keep the glutes from fully engaging in the first place.

    I had devastating effects when I began working on my medial glutes, I was very unstable the first few times I released it. My glute med and min trigger points would not resolve unless adductors were dealt with at the same time. I haven’t had a lot of trouble with my glute max.

    Piriformis
    If this one loses tone then the glute medius and minimus (and everything else) jumps in to stabilize. This one might also present itself as a twisting spine and hip rotation or stability issues. It is easy to reach by crossing your legs in a figure 4 and sitting on the ball.

    Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus
    Pain can run down the inside/back of the leg down to the calf and be mistaken for sciatica.
     

    Other Points Related to Hip and Thigh Pain
    Not shown on the above image are some lower and mid-back points which can refer pain around the hip region and/or pull the pelvis out of alignment.

    Quadratus Lumborum

    QL trigger points are capable of producing symptoms similar to hip bursitis. The QL points seem to cause a lot of ‘mystery pain’ around the glutes and hips. They aren’t thought of to be very stubborn and I have definitely found that to be true for myself, just a small bit of work makes a difference.

    In the case of APT where the lower back is far from the floor, I prefer a larger diameter Kong ball (rubber dog ball) to a lacrosse ball.

    Superficial Spinal Muscles (Iliocostalis Lumborum and Longissimus Thoracic)

    From the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook : ‘Stiffness or tightness in the lower back is a sign of latent trigger points in the back muscles, even when you are not presently having back pain. Trigger points that keep one side of the back contracted can cause scoliosis curve. Muscle tension maintained by points can also pull the SI joint out of place, keeping the pelvis twisted and cocked.’

    Multifidi

    Soleus

    Soleus trigger points can cause deep pains in the sacroiliac area as well as back spasms. I find it easy to release this point just by digging my thumb into it (TrP3 in this image).

    The soleus can also refer pain to the jaw, forming satellite trigger points there. The jaw is a mirror of the hip – more on that below.

    Lower Leg Trigger Points.
     

    Trigger Points in the Jaw
    Jaw trigger points are included in this list because the jaw and hips mirror each other. Releasing tension in the jaw releases tension in the hips and vise versa.

    Masseter

    There are biting and chewing muscles. Some of us keep these muscles clenched almost all the time. A side benefit of releasing this area is that it can cause sinus drainage and lessen the appearance of undereye bags.

    This area can *sort of* be reached from the outside. The most effective method is to put your thumb into your mouth and pinch your fingers against it from the outside. Work from the cheekbone to bottom of jaw.

    In addition to trigger point work, a change of habits is absolutely necessary to relieve this area. The trigger points will keep regenerating unless you learn to stop clenching the jaw and grinding teeth when stressed.

    For me, not clenching and grinding is much easier said than done. Simply willing myself not to do it doesn’t work. The most promising tips I have come across are on this page. He suggestions include to slur the speech, and to hold the jaw open for extended periods.

     

    Deadlift Road to 400

    August 3rd, 2014 by Laura

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
    Sunday, August 3rd 2014: I lifted 400lbs for the first time.


     
    I’ve used this page to record my notes on the way to a 400 pound deadlift. Here is the work that I did in the months leading up to it:

     
    January 2014: First time locking out 400 (reverse bands)
    In my last competition, my deadlift max was 375lbs.

    Today, I had a really grindy 400 out of reverse bands. Lockout is usually a challenge for me since I pull rounded, but I will be working hard on my butt for a better finish.


     

    February: 400 Reverse Bands – 8 seconds down to 4
    One month later. This was my retake with the same setup from last month. Down from an 8 second pull to 4.

    I’d been working on loosening a tight hip and bringing up speed in the glutes for a smoother finish.

    I thought 390 might move sans bands, but 400 might be just out of reach. I think I need to get the bar to move past the knee very quickly, like almost as fast as it does with reverse bands. Floor speed and positioning will be the focus for this month.
     
    March (Competition): 390

    I got a stomach bug just before my meet and everything over 300 on that day was shaking like a leaf. I did get my final attempt of 390. The bar moved SLOW at the knee but I didn’t get dragged down as I predicted. I think the slowness was a result of being sick so I am not too worried about it. My 380 2nd attempt actually looked worse than this, and a 315 warmup was just as bad!

    I was surprised that my max didn’t have a disproportionately slow lockout as I do normally… the whole thing was slow. I was wiped out.

    This confirms that I do want to stick to competing with high bar squats. It carries over well to my deadlift and leaves my hips healthy enough to pull. If low bar is going to rough me up too much to pull or leave me to tired to pull at the end of a meet, it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to bring it in. Deadlift is where I can get the most on my total.

    I also think it is time to bring in more heavy conventional work. I’ve noticed at a few meets that I have a ‘wake up call’ lift, usually my 2nd attempt. This is a lift that I will just barely make if my technique is off, and usually it is. I just think it might be time for a little more practice with heavies. I still love speed work and consider it to be one of the most important parts of my deadlift training. But there are things you can get away with at light weights that won’t work near a max.

    I saw this in this month’s Power magazine:

    This is the current national rank for my weight class. I am at #5 in the deadlift. Maybe #4 because it looks like one lady pulled a deadlift so awesome that it got ranked twice in the same day :). It feels amazing to be so close in numbers with some top ranked lifters.
     
    August 3: My First 400lb Deadlift
    I rarely set arbitrary numeric goals, but I had been dreaming of a 400 pull since I took up powerlifting. This was the best day ever. The only thing now is to make it official in a meet.
     
    August 17: Pulled 400 Again, Ironed the Lockout
    2 weeks after my first 400 attempt, I convinced myself that 400 was not an actual max, and I had another go with it. I did a full mock meet, spacing out my lifts throughout the day like an actual meet. I wanted to make sure that a jump from 370 (opener) to 400 (2nd attempt) would not be too much. I also wanted to smooth out my lockout and see how 400 would feel at the end of a long day. It felt easier than the first time. I was much happier with the mechanics of this one.

     

    October 23, 2015 (Competition) – 400 in the Books
    Finally made it to a competition and was very excited about trying 400 in a meet setting. My SI joint had not cooperating for some time (which is why it had been so long since my last competition) and conventionals were off the table. I went for 400 in my opposite stance and though it was hideous, the lift got 2 greens. 400@132 is now official.

    Lower Leg Trigger Points

    July 17th, 2014 by Laura

    As a long femured squatter with stance-width restrictions, I need better-than-average dorsiflexion to keep the bar balanced over mid-foot. When my ankles are stiff, I overarch my lumbar, can’t hit depth, get on my toes, bar path goes off and I end up with unfavorable squat angles. I’m lax just about everywhere else – my ankles are the one place where I really had to work on mobility.

    It took about 6 months of dedicated work and now I can comfortably drop into a squat with plenty of knee travel at any given time. I haven’t had to revisit anything on this page since. Once the change took place, it was permanent and maintenance-free.

    I made the following diagram to have handy during release sessions. It shows all of the lower leg trigger points and referred pain on one image. (Not shown is the pain on the underside of the foot, SI joint and face.)

    RELEASE NOTES

    This is a list of notes on individual points and methods used to release. ( I’m only logging the points that I work with regularly and have notes that I’d like to remember about them).

    Peroneal Trigger Points (Peroneus Longus in particular)
    My favorite way to release is to place a lacrosse ball or beastie ball under the lateral calf (under the trigger point area), and place the other leg on top for added weight. Sink into the stab, alternating with gently rocking the hips. I have to be careful to make the movement very tiny. If I keep rolling off of the trigger point, the movement is too large. I tend to tense up against the release for this point. To get around that – draw circles with the big toe, flex and release the foot, alternating with just sinking into the stab. After the release, I give a quick and gentle massage to that area as well as the calves to bring blood and keep from getting too sore.

    When this muscle is not being so much of a problem, I can easily stab it with my thumb to release within a minute.

    Pain in this area seems to be common among narrow squatters. During times when my hip or SI joint are flaring up, this point becomes active for me.

    This point is connected to the gluteus minimus*. The pain referral pattern from that area can activate the peroneal trigger points, causing a chain reaction.

    All of my other lower leg trigger points resolved quickly and easily. The peroneal points were the only ones who gave me a hard time (my gluteus minimus was also problematic at the time).

    Gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis anterior should also be treated alongside the peroneals. Weaknesses from trigger points in mentioned muscles will cause the peroneal muscles to overload.

    Soleus TrP2 and TrP3
    These points do not require a lot for me to release, it is easy to dig in with a thumb.

    Extensor Digitorum Longus
    The referred pain pattern I am currently having is most inline with the Extensor Digitorum Longus, though both extensors could also be involved, as well as the Tibialis Anterior. Much of the pain is on the shin itself. I have been doing a lot of staggered training lately and in that I try to keep my heel planted. This is much more difficult on my right side, and I think that in my efforts to keep my heel planted, I might be doing something odd with my feet. Like most lower leg points, these points usually work in cahoots with something else (hips). Hopefully as my weak hip gains strength, this point will dissolve for good, like my peroneals did when my glutes found their place in this world.

    This area seems to want heavy and precise pressure. I have a hard time fully releasing my anterior shin points with my hands alone, my lacrosse and beastie ball do a much better job.
     

    STRETCHES

    Pistol Stretch
    These stretches were only necessary for me when beginning my ankle dorsiflexion project.

    When I am feeling stiff, mobilizing one side at a time seems less daunting than trying to force myself into a weightless squat. I don’t find that getting into a full pistol is imperative, but it is helpful to at least shift hips forward and get comfortable in that position pre-squat. Before I was able to get into a full pistol, I’d to start on the ground, keeling. Plant one foot in front, foot flat and lean into it, bringing butt to ankle, letting knee track forward over toe. Rock back and forth a bit to get deeper, if needed. Be careful not to come up on the toe, which will be the tendency if ankles are restricted.

    If things are going well, the other leg can extend, or take it a step farther by reaching out and grabbing the foot of the extended leg with opposite hand. I like being able to get into a full pistol pre-squat, I think the balance in that position is useful.

     

    Leaning Squat Stretch
    Sit down in a squat and shift weight forward. Can place hands on ground or grab something to pull against. Keep heels planted and rock forward as much as possible. Hold for a second or two, then recover back to neutral. Repeat a few times.

    I’m cheating here; should really be in flats 🙂

     

    Deactivating the trigger point prior to stretching is key. Muscles with trigger points are shortened and can not reach their full length.

    Trigger Point Release Protocols

    July 16th, 2014 by Laura

    Trigger points, also known as trigger sites or muscle knots, are described as hyperirritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers.

    Trigger points cause pain and they hinder performance. Muscles with trigger points fatigue more easily, stay contracted longer and are weaker than healthy muscles. The decreased range of motion and weakness can also be present in muscles used to maintain body posture.

    Unlike mobility work and stretching, working on trigger points won’t encourage your body to lose connection to its normal ranges of motion if you are lax.

     
    TECHNIQUES
    Deep Stroking Massage
    Make stokes with thumbs/fingers across trigger point.
    Intermittent pain might allow you to go a little deeper since the pain is off and on.
    Deep stroking massage incorporates a bit of muscle lengthening directly on trigger point with each stroke.

    Ischemic Compression
    Press and hold until the area releases (static pressure).

    The method that has been working well for me for most areas is to put heavy pressure on the trigger point and ‘sink in to the stab’, breathing through discomfort and gently rocking intermittently until the pain dissipates.

    DURATION
    Most sources recommend anywhere between 10 seconds and a minute. 3-5 minutes is the usual recommended limit for working on a trigger point. If it has not released by then, move on to the next.

    I’m guilty of assaulting trigger points for way longer than that. It made me very sore and bruised.

    FOLLOWING THE RELEASE
    When you release a trigger point, it takes some time for the chemistry around the point to change. During this time, all of the unpleasantries relating to the point might come to surface. To minimize this, a gentle massage around the released point and all neighboring muscles is recommended. If you don’t massage afterward, the worst that happens is that you experience lingering inflammation for a few days at most. A good release for me is usually followed by the trigger point area feeling like ‘glass shards’ along with some limpness.

    The tenderness during this time *could* affect performance so a big annihilation of trigger points might not be the best idea before a competition or an important training day.

    Immediately following a release, it is recommended to briefly lengthen the muscle with a gentle stretch. Many sources also agree that after the release and lengthening, immediately put the muscle to work with a strengthening movement.

    MASSAGE THERAPY
    I have to remember to try to get in and see my masseuse once per month. By working on my trigger points at home, I am able to get much more out of my massage appointments. She can give more attention to the trigger points that are more difficult to release on my own.

    A helpful technique ahe showed me is a pre-workout workout circulation massage for the anterior thigh. You grab the muscle and pull it off the bone in very quick, deep and aggressive alternating strokes, moving up and down the leg (no oil is used).

     

     

    Hip & Thigh Trigger Points

    Lower Leg Trigger Points

    Laxity and Lifting

    April 10th, 2014 by Laura

    I had Symphis Pubic Dysfunction in 3 pregnancies. During the second and third pregnancies, my hip started slipping out on me with no warning and I was prescribed a walker. By the third pregnancy, my hips were grinding and clicking constantly, my SI joint was always inflamed, and I had sensations like I was cracking in half.

    When I got back to lifting weights postpartum, there were days when I felt very loose and unstable under the bar. I had snapping hips. I seemed to suffer at least one tweak each month. I started tracking my disasters and they typically came around the same time each month. My doctor confirmed that I was still dealing with laxity from SPD.

    This is a list of the things that I have either had some success with or am currently working on:

    Trigger Point Therapy
    Trigger point work is my primary method of self-care. I only stretch briefly to introduce a muscle to its new length following a trigger point release. If the muscle doesn’t lengthen, I opt for activation over more stretching. My body isn’t gong to release a tight area if it feels there isn’t enough stability. Trigger point work is much safer lengthening option for me than stretching and yanking structures out of place.

    You’d think that a lax person’s muscles would be supple and stretchable but it is actually the complete opposite. My muscles get ridiculously tight and uncomfortable. Stubborn, restrictive trigger points form for stability. It is a temptation to indulge in a good stretch. I stay much healthier if I resist that urge.

    Stability Instead of Mobility Before Lifting
    Most of the popular warmup drills have proven to be disasterous for me. Every SI joint explosion I suffered was preceded by some type of mobility work or stretching. My muscles felt extremely tight and uncomfortable, yet somehow I was able to contort myself into these exaggerated positions. A lax person needs to create stability rather than mobilize the joint. My warmups now consist of:

    A. Something to get the blood moving
    B. Manual Soft Tissue Work (LAX ball, Self Massage, Rolling, etc.)
    C. Activation (Side Planks, Dead Bugs, Light Pause Squats, Hip Thrusts, etc.)

    When I do stretch, it is only for a few seconds to introduce a muscle to its new length (following trigger point release).

    In training, I seem to stay healthier (and my lifts do well) when I put speed on the back burner in favor of long pauses and slow eccentrics.

    Slow Down and Pause
    My squat does well when I incorporate a lot of 5-count eccentrics and pauses. The MAT specialist I saw also suggested pausing in multiple locations during both the eccentric on concentric of the squat, focusing hard on the muscle contraction at each stop.

    Stop Short of Full ROM
    This one is probably pretty obvious but still a hard habit to break. I don’t need to be doing pause squats where I have dropped so low to the ground that my butt is on the floor and I am sitting there with zero tension. Overcoming the dead weight to stand up is difficult, but sitting on the floor does nothing to teach me to stay tight and stable.

    Movement Specialist
    A movement specialist can help to form better patterns and create a balanced posture. The therapist I saw also prescribed a mineral regime which could help ease the effects of SPD. Unfortunately I could not keep up with the appointments due to my children’s schedules and the distance I had to travel. But this was the first professional that I saw who actually had a clue what I was going through rather than prescribe the standard ‘rest, anti-inflammatories, and stretch’ (stretch?!).

    MAT (Muscle Activation Technique) Specialist
    The premise of MAT is that muscle tightness is secondary to muscle weakness. A muscle becomes tight because it is lacking stability, but instead of trying to loosen a tight muscle, MAT improves the stability of your joints by reactivating muscles and their ability to contract on demand. This technique will get you strong in your end range of motion (and make you aware of your end ranges) if you are lax.

    MAT is exercise-oriented and stretching is used only to expose weaknesses. The muscle is tested, activated, and retested over again. It is a complete solution instead of a temporary band-aid fix as it retrains the brain.

    My specialist said that the people who see the quickest results are elite athletes, and people who are really messed up. I fit both categories and my results were fantastic. My monthly disaster time was noticeably less intense after only 6 sessions, and my body feels stable in ways it has not since having kids.

    Altering my Training Schedule
    Relaxin is elevated at certain times and if you have SPD, problems might be more severe then. The options above help mitigate the symptoms but if I am having a rough day, shifting around the training schedule isn’t a big deal. As far as competing, it isn’t totally ideal to have to check my calendar to make sure my competition won’t fall on a day that I might. I am hopeful that over time and continued treatment, that this won’t be an issue. But for now, holding back on the days I know I am most likely to injure myself helps me stay healthy for the long run.

    Diastasis and Lifting

    April 10th, 2014 by Laura

    I had surgery and this is no longer an issue. I will keep this page here anyway incase anyone else is googling how others handled training with a diastasis.

    After my second baby, I had to have my belly button surgically removed and mesh lodged in its place with a big midline side to side slash. Then I got pregnant with my third baby and was left with old surgical materials poking me through the skin, more hernias and a host of other things along with the diastasis. I had the ab separation for years. It was surgically repaired in January 2016 (along with some other abdominal procedures that take a while to heal, which is why I haven’t been competing or posting much lately).

    I was told by my doctor and surgeons that in my case, the connective tissue there was destroyed and the only way to suture it back would be surgically. Given the futile efforts that were put into closing it and the extent of the trauma to that area, this did prove to be true for me. However, some people are able to close the gap on their own.

    Transverse Abdominal Work and Splinting
    If anyone is reading and looking for a starting point on healing their diastasis, ‘Lose Your Mummy Tummy’ by Julie Tupler helps many people.

    And her site:

    DiastasisRehab.com

    The book title is a little misleading… It sounds like it would be about how to lose fat or get rid of love handles but it is actually all about how to heal split abdominals.

    I loved this book and passed on my paper copy to another mom with this problem. She was able to totally fix her diastasis with the exercises in the book. One note on this book is that it is a little outdated (2004) and the author no longer recommends a few of the exercises it. That said, seated/ standing transverse abdominal movements and stomach vacuums seem to work out very well for many, and it encourages constant awareness on how to move in daily life.

    Training with Diastasis
    As I mentioned, I had many other things going on alongside the diastasis, so I can’t really pinpoint which sort of discomfort came from what. These were some of the adjustments I made that allowed me to continue training.

    I had to avoid:

    • Rows where I was facing the ground
    • Planks (front)
    • Push-ups
    • Burpees
    • Anything where gravity pulls my upper abs open (my diastasis was only in the upper portion, my lower abs are intact).

    If I did want to perform any of those movements, I could still do some of them while wearing a brace. And of course if you are researching how to work out with a diastasis, you probably already know not to do any crunches or twists.

    Binders
    Tupler recommends using something to splint the abdominals together during the core moves suggested in the book, and that is something I was been to apply to my training for my sport. It holds my abs in place so they can work together. All surrounding muscles can work more efficiently as a result. When I lifted weights and used a belt, I couldn’t push out against my belt. I’d just brace my abs the best I can while the belt splices them together.

    You can splint your abs together with just a sheet or towel. I opted for binders if I knew I would have to lean over for anything. The difference between a binder and a splint is that the binder will compress the abs toward the spine, where the splint pulls them together horizontally. I find that binders also help pull my abs together, keeping everything in the right place so I am less prone to shifting and injury. When using a binder, I never just put it on and then forget about it or rely on it to do all the work. I pay careful attention to my pelvic alignment and practice using my core as a unit when it is all being held together.

    image Some binders have wires in them that stab you when you squat. The medical grade binders are gentle to wear but can be cumbersome. I loved the Ann Chery Workout Cincher (to the right). It is workout-specific and comfortable to move in.

    Pilates
    Pilates movements encourage tightening your ‘inner corset’ and engaging the TVA. Not all pilates moves are ok to do with a diastasis. A qualified pilates instructor can help, but if course if you have diastasis, it probably means you have young kids and getting out for private pilates classes is a pipe dream. A Google search for ‘diastasis pilates’ will turn up plenty of safe options. Any movement where you feel your abs separating more, or protruding, is not ok.

    Stomach Vacuum
    This was my go-to ab exercise. It can immediately dim the discomfort and pain that spread from the abs to the back. (As I mentioned, I had other things with the diastasis that caused pain. I’ve read that a diastasis on its own is painless, but some affected women have said otherwise.)

    After Surgery
    After surgery and completing therapy, my abdomen is back to 100%. I am very grateful to be able to get back to training with no restrictions.

    I didn’t mention much about pelvic floor here. From what I understand, problems there can be related to diastasis, but the pelvic floor stuff even affects women who have not given birth. My experience was that I had issues while I was pregnant and nursing (I nursed each baby for a year) and after that, things were pretty much back to normal. I’m surprised I didn’t have more problems with that given the state of my abdomen. I still think it is wise to always pee before deadlifts though 🙂

    « Previous Entries