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Exercises Movements, technique & proper execution

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Old 05-22-2007, 10:39 AM   #1
Robert Doherty
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My gym has one of those martial arts stretching machines that stretch your groin. Is that a good stretch for loosening up the hip area?

My hips/hams/everything is very tight. Years of squatting (improperly and not stretching) I can only do OHS(not very well) with 25lb plates under my heals. And that's only with a 45lb bar. Would like the get rid of them but I need more hip flex to do it. Any other stretches?
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Old 05-22-2007, 12:21 PM   #2
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if you can do ohs with the heels elevated, consider ankle flexibility, not hip flexibility, as the culprit, or at least a contributor to the problem. stretch the calves with knees bent. simple one is just to get into the bottom of a squat, lift your heels, and lean most of your weight onto one leg, trying to push the knee toward the toe.

RE stretching machine - don't bother touching it.
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Old 05-22-2007, 01:39 PM   #3
Lincoln Brigham
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There are three joints that affect squat depth: the hip, the knee, and the ankle. If one joint is at its limit, the other two joints will have to bend further to achieve additional depth.

Elevating the heels allows the hip angle to be more open at any given squat depth. In other words, it circumvents tight hips. It helps the lifter acheive greater depth by putting greater emphasis on knee flexion rather than hip flexion. Since most people have better knee flexion than hip flexion, they can squat deeper if they elevate the heels.

Notice in this drawing that the hip and ankle angles are exactly the same in both squat examples:
http://www.crossfit.com/discus/messages/22/41964.jpg
The hip angle is only 90 degrees in both examples. (i.e. tight) The ankle angle is also unchanged. It is the knee angle that has changed. The second squat is deeper and the weight is still over the center of gravity (although it is shifting forward). But this is not the desired method to squat deeper. We want the lifter to sit back and suck the pelvis into the thighs. We don't want him to stick his knees further and further out over his toes. We want a more acute hip angle, not a more acute knee angle.

If the lifter on the left increases his ankle flexion (flexibility) the squat will be deeper but the knees will have go out past the toes. Is that the best way to fix this problem? I propose the best way for the lifter on the left to squat deeper is through increased hip and knee flexion, not increased ankle and knee flexion.

Look at this picture:
http://www.crossfit.com/mt-archive2/OHSElements1.jpg

Who has greater ankle flexion? The guy with the right. Who has greater hip flexion? Nicole on the left. Who is squatting deeper? Nicole.
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Old 05-22-2007, 02:27 PM   #4
Lincoln Brigham
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Another version:

http://www.crossfit.com/discus/messages/22/41972.jpg
Squatting deeper by elevating the heels vs. increasing the hip flexion.

All three squats have the same center of gravity and the same ankle flexion. The squat on the far left and the squat on the far right have exactly the same back angle. The squat in the middle has the toes way past the knees, but the back angle is actually more upright. The squat on the far right has slightly increased hip flexion compared to the the other two squats; the other two squats have 90 degree hip flexion.

(Message edited by lincoln on May 22, 2007)
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Old 05-22-2007, 06:21 PM   #5
Jay Cohen
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Lincoln, good stuff, very clear.
Thanks.

BTW, where are you at, I might have to do a road trip and come train with you for a few days.
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Old 05-22-2007, 07:50 PM   #6
Lincoln Brigham
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Old 05-23-2007, 05:23 AM   #7
Cal Jones
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Thanks for the pic. I have the same problem - I've never been able to keep my heels on the floor and achieve any kind of depth whilst maintaining and upright torso. I notice the lady in the picture has quite a curve to her spine. As someone who spends most of her day sat hunched over a computer, my spine really doesn't bend that way, which I think is a lot of my problem (not to mention tight hip flexors from sitting all day and ankles that bend very little). My thorassic vertebrae are actually partially fused (naturally) and I've had physio on them in the past. My mother (who made theatrical costumes) had the same issue with her spine so I guess it's a combination of genetics and hunching.
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Old 05-23-2007, 05:49 AM   #8
Jay Cohen
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Cal;

Consider converting your sit down desk/workstation to a stand up counter work area. Also consider Yoga or Pilate's, or hitting the O lifts with the help of a coach. I'm planning on moving to Sedona and live at Lincolns place. Spinal health is huge, so do what you have to, but do it. Even a monthly deep tissue massage or better yet, Rolfing sessions would help.

Jay
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Old 05-23-2007, 02:49 PM   #9
Craig Loizides
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I started doing pistols about 2 months ago. At the time I was able to do full ROM with my right leg, but only partial ROM with the left. If I tried to go deeper on my left leg I would either fall down, or my heel would come up. I worked on this mainly by doing pistols onto progressively lower steps or boxes. I can now go full ROM in both legs. It seems that for me, the problem wasn't flexibility, but lack of strength throughout the full range. It's possible that I'm more flexible now as well, but I didn't do any specific stretches to become more flexible. Working the pistols seems to have helped my regular and overhead squats as well.
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Old 05-23-2007, 03:57 PM   #10
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First, let me be clear that I’m by no means advocating ankle flexibility instead of hip flexibility—both are required, and Lincoln makes a reasonable case for increasing hip flexibility. In the circumstances Robert describes, I’ve assumed a lot about his position. While it’s most likely not perfect in terms of hip and back positioning, the most glaring issue at hand is his inability to keep the torso upright with the heels flat. Because he states he can perform a weighted OHS with his heels elevated on plates, he is clearly able to achieve at least a decent position this way—so how do you maintain that position without the plates? You increase the ankle flexibility to remove the gap. Is that the only thing that needs to happen? Probably not, but without photo/video, it’s all speculative anyway.

Now I want to address Lincoln’s argument in detail:

“Elevating the heels allows the hip angle to be more open at any given squat depth. In other words, it circumvents tight hips. It helps the lifter acheive greater depth by putting greater emphasis on knee flexion rather than hip flexion. Since most people have better knee flexion than hip flexion, they can squat deeper if they elevate the heels.”

With a legitimately full-depth squat—that is, hips, not bar, as low to the floor as is possible without disarticulating any joints, driving the knees forward (using up all ankle ROM) doesn’t really circumvent hip flexibility that significantly. What is does is allow the athlete to achieve the full depth while keeping his center of mass over his base without leaning the torso forward excessively, which is what must happen if the hips are pushed back to prevent the knees from protruding over the toes.

Ultimately squat depth is limited by 1) the length of the femurs relative to the tib/fib, i.e. how far the hip joints can reach down from the knee; 2) the thickness of the upper and lower legs, i.e. how much meat is in the way of closing the inside angle of the knee to 0 degrees; and 3) balance in this smallest knee angle.

With the knee angle closed as much as possible, we have a range of possible positions of the shins from closer to farther from vertical. The closer to vertical the shins are, the farther behind the feet the hips will be, demanding more forward lean of the torso to keep the center of mass over the base; the closer to parallel with the floor the shins are, the closer the hips are to above the base, allowing a more vertical torso and better overhead load support.



“The hip angle is only 90 degrees in both examples. (i.e. tight) The ankle angle is also unchanged. It is the knee angle that has changed. The second squat is deeper and the weight is still over the center of gravity (although it is shifting forward). But this is not the desired method to squat deeper. We want the lifter to sit back and suck the pelvis into the thighs. We don't want him to stick his knees further and further out over his toes. We want a more acute hip angle, not a more acute knee angle.

If the lifter on the left increases his ankle flexion (flexibility) the squat will be deeper but the knees will have go out past the toes. Is that the best way to fix this problem? I propose the best way for the lifter on the left to squat deeper is through increased hip and knee flexion, not increased ankle and knee flexion.”


Taking your first figure here, let’s follow Dude down to the bottom of the squat. Now if that weight he has on his back is heavy, we can assume it pretty much needs to remain along that line on its way down for the lifter to maintain his balance. If we want to avoid any further ankle flexion, the only option then is to drive the hips back and lean the torso forward to lower the hips while keeping the COM over the base. This is going to prevent excessive ankle flexion and prevent the knees from protruding over the toes.

However, the “bottom” position will not be full depth. In order to stay balanced, the hips and knees will have to remain back, meaning the knee cannot be flexed to the smallest possible degree, meaning the hips are not as low as they could possibly be. As important is the fact that to balance with the hips and knees so far behind the base, the lifter must compensate by leaning the torso forward. This approach to squatting works just fine for PLing and even most basic athletic training situations. But the OHS (which is the squat variation in question here) and the front squat are not possible with such a forward leaning torso with any significant loads.

Regarding the photo: Nicole is not at full depth. Her hips could be lowered 3-5 inches more by closing the angle of the knee completely (plenty of space left between her hamstrings and calves) and closing the ankle angle further.

Also the ankle angle is deceptive—her knees are well inside her feet, causing them to roll in and reducing the demand for ankle flexibility by using inversion of the feet to bring the knees lower than they would be if the ankles and knees were aligned soundly.

Nicole also has nice short legs, which reduces the need for forward knee displacement to keep her center of mass over her base with an upright torso. Dude, on the other hand, has long legs, requiring more forward knee displacement to keep his hips over his base with an upright torso.

Now here’s a picture of a full depth squat with greater ankle flexibility (weightlifting shoes allowing even greater ROM) and a nearly vertical torso (with 100kg sitting on it to boot):

http://www.crossfit.com/discus/messages/22/42049.jpg

Is this squat lower than Nicole’s? Significantly, and Aimee has longer legs than Nicole. Would Aimee be able to maintain that upright torso and depth without such a small ankle angle? Absolutely not—she would need to lean the torso forward to bring the hips back, which would also bring them up because the knees would be higher and the hips are unavoidably attached to the knees.

In your second figure, we have Dude in 2 positions in his squat descent (or ascent) with identical back and ankle angles. You say the center of mass is the same also, but even in that drawing, you can see that it has moved back in the lower of the two Dudes (look at the distance between the vertical line and the ankle joint). Now the point in the squat in which the hips must be the farthest back is when the thighs reach parallel to the floor (can’t make your femurs any shorter). So if we continued with Dude to parallel, in order to keep the ankle angle the same and keep the knees behind the toes, the hips must move back more, meaning the torso must lean forward more, lest his center of mass be behind his base and he falls on his . So we’re right back to what I described earlier in regards to the first figure—that the extra torso lean will inhibit the use of legit loading and the prevention of the knees protruding over the toes will inhibit full depth.

In that same figure, you show the second and third lifter at the same height, but I would argue the center Dude is deeper—the bars are at the same height, but the squat depth must be measured in regard to hip position—and with greater ankle flexibility, his feet would be flat, resulting in even lower hips if all else remains unchanged. This is precisely the point of the elevated heel on weightlifting shoes—to effectively increase the ankles’ ROM to allow full depth squatting with an upright torso.

The thicker the athlete’s legs, the larger the smallest possible knee angle and consequently the farther behind the base the hips will be with a larger ankle angle. So the thicker the legs, the more important ankle flexibility becomes to keep the hips over the base. The stick figure would be able to close the knee angle completely with his shins very upright and still keep his hips in over his base—but most of us are a little thicker than that.

The width of the stance and the degree of external rotation of the legs will also affect how much ankle flexibility is required to achieve full depth with an upright torso. The wider and more externally rotated, the less ankle flexibility needed because the hips can settle in more between the heels instead of behind them. But at a certain point, widening the stance will begin limiting possible depth due to the nature of the hip anatomy.

Regarding the arch of the back, some compensate for the hips-back position with spine flexibility—that is, they arch their backs excessively to bring the t-spine closer to vertical while the L- and S-spine are tilting more forward. This too will work fine until the loading increases, but think of the structural integrity of a bow versus a vertical column in terms of supporting direct downward force—clearly the vertical column can support more. Also, the farther from neutral spine position we go, the more uneven the stress on the vertebrae and discs become—so by bringing the hips in and keeping the torso erect with the spine closer to its neutral curvature, we have a stronger support with less injury risk for the spine.


So in conclusion:

1. What Lincoln describes will work in a sense in some situations. If you want only to back squat and are not interested in achieving what I would consider full depth, and/or are interested in engaging the hamstrings more, this is fine.

2. The overhead and front squats demand as upright of a torso as possible to support the loads, and the greater the load, the more important this is. This upright torso demands that the hips remain as close to above the base (feet) as possible, i.e. are not pushed back, which in turn demands that the knees protrude over the knees (the shorter the athlete's femurs, the less the knees will protrude at the smallest ankle angle), which demands more ankle flexibility.

3. The ‘Olympic’ squat I describe may not be the best for knee health because the position prevents full engagement of the hamstrings and therefore the knee is under imbalanced force. But considering the extremely low rate of injury in the sport of weightlifting, in which athletes are not only squatting enormous loads in this fashion, but are receiving those loads ballistically, I’d argue that the movement and positions should not be a concern for those on this board who will be handling fractions of these weights. At the same time, I’d say the Olympic squat is not always the most appropriate variation—and is certainly not the only variation that should be used for GPP—and does require time to become conditioned for. But again, in this case we’re talking about an OHS—which is by its derivation an Olympic squat and for genuine performance has the Olympic positioning demands.
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