An athlete, whether performance or cosmetic, can only be good as his or her overall symmetry in both strength and structure. Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for most, that means one key item… Legs! Without a strong foundation, both performance and symmetry take a major dive if you’re rocking some weak little toothpicks and size 12’s so it’s time to quit letting your wheels take side saddle and start getting on the glute train!
When I say legs… you say…? You better have said squat or you can take a mighty hard trip to the unsung “judgement free zone”. Nothing is more athletically sound and applicable for strength, speed and size than the squat. Progression of the squat is simple but for many a bit of a complex issue for many reasons including weak spinal strength, poor glute activation or lack of coaching. Well set-up squats are performed with feet outside shoulder width, toes pronated naturally with the bar rested on the traps (not cervical spine) and an evenly set grip on the bar. From this point, the lifter braces himself almost as though he had just completed a squat from depth. Hips begin to push back and the lifter hinges at the knee, hips and abducts the hip at the femur descending to depth. Once depth is achieved, glutes are activated while maintaining the abducted femur and the lifter ascends back to the starting braced position.
Fortunately for you athletes, one cannot live on squats alone… though, if you were to choose to do 1 specific movement, the squat would probably trump 99.9% of what most would pick. Good Mornings are a great way to develop some solid glute and hamstring work while also developing the athlete’s core/spine strength. Feet shoulder-width apart and braced like the start of the squat, the athlete begins by hinging solely at the hips with a soft knee bend “bowing” with a neutral spine to a depth no lower than parallel with the floor; then, returning to a standing position through hamstring and glute activation. The key factor here is a neutral spine strengthening the thoracic and lumbar spine, stretching the hamstring to a comfortable limiting point and driving the concentric portion with a large glute squeeze.
In many cases, given the complexity of most lower extremity movements, we are typically remaining within a set range of motion. This is where application of General Physical Preparedness comes into play. To improve overall load-bearing movement over space and time, we will perform some weighted walking lunges. One key movement that I stress to a good few of my athletes is the Front Racked Walking Lunge, forcing stress to the T-Spine and engaging the core. Whether with a barbell, kettle bell or bells, the athlete performs a basic walking lunge (stepping forward and developing a 90° angle at both knees with subtle or no lower knee contact) with the weight in front rack position and then closing out with hamstring curls to help develop the conditioning of the hamstring and joint strength.
Here is what the day should look like:
Barbell or SSB Good Morning 5x8 (8 being difficult)
Banded/Machine Hamstring Curls 100 reps
Key points to always remember while training lower extremity work is to keep the spine in play and well-braced… An athlete’s lower extremity can be horribly strong but the spine is its most limiting factor. Treat your spine like glass and work that ass folks!
Written by Rob Saeva of No Coast Strength and Conditioning
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