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Squat Therapy

Squat Therapy, or the overhead wall squat, is a relatively simple, yet dynamic training tool. At PLT4M, we use it for an array of different purposes. It can be used to dial in great squat positioning before a big below parallel day, assess current levels of mobility and track progress over time, or simply drill form during the development of new athletes.

Above all, though, we love these wall squats for their ability to act as a diagnostic tool.

Starting at least a full foot or more away, have the athlete face a wall, and settle into a shoulder width stance, with toes slightly turned out. Then, have the athlete raise their arms directly overhead in full lockout position. From here, we will ask them to complete a slow and controlled squat rep, during which we can look for common faults.

1. Do the arms unlock, or do the chest & shoulders drop toward the wall in a “hunched” position?

Take a look at the athlete’s shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. Many young athletes are incredibly immobile through their thoracic spine (section of the spine from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage) from sitting in front of computers, hunching over cell phones, etc. We can reverse this chronic thoracic flexion through regular mobility and strength/activation work.

2. Does the athlete lose their natural lumbar curve – aka does the lower back round out?

This likely signifies a lack of core stability or the need for specific activation. We’re not talking “strength” here, or the active generation of force – we’re talking about the ability to resist movement. With so many crazy dynamic “core” exercises out there, we tend to forget that the primary purpose of our abs is to stabilize the trunk and keep the spine in a neutral position. A great way to shore up and activate the core is through isometric holds. Planks, glute bridges, asymmetrical DB carries, etc are all great options to turn on and improve that core stability.

3. Is the athlete unable to get the hips below parallel?

Lack of depth could be due to a number of different issues. First is basic strength – if an athlete is extremely “untrained” he or she may be unable to support their bodyweight through a full range of motion. Here we can scale depth with targets of decreasing height, progressing them to full depth over time, much like we would scale a push up or pull up. It could also be a product of supremely tight hip flexors – another wonderful byproduct of our sedentary/sitting/desk lifestyle.

Frequently, the lack of depth actually arises due to a lack of ankle mobility, namely the total range of dorsiflexion. There are a number of easy tests and fixes for this issue that will help athletes achieve greater depth while maintaining an upright torso. We will be addressing those tests in future videos, but working calf/achilles flexibility is an excellent start for any athlete having trouble.

4. Are the knees caving in?

Valgus knee collapse is likely due to poor hip mobility or a lack of glute activation and can be a serious risk of injury (both in the gym and on the field). Soft tissue work (foam rolling and poses like the Pigeon stretch) coupled with targeted glute/hip activation (bridges, banded crab walks, etc), can help to open up that hip joint for proper external rotation. This will allow the knees to drive over the toes and maintain the natural hinge position of the knee joint. (See our article on this specific issue here: https://www.plt4m.com/fix-your-squat-4…).

5. Are the feet spinning out, actively rotating on the floor during the descent?

This is most likely the athlete’s body compensating for a lack of ankle mobility. If the knee cannot drive out over the toe, the ankle will rotate outwards in the path of least resistance. It is also possible that the athlete suffers from a lack of stabilization through the foot arch – cue them to drive the big toe into the ground as the squat. Lastly, the spin could also be caused by a lack of hip internal rotation, which we can fix with mobility drills like the Frog pose.

By no means are these the only possible faults and fixes, but they should give you a great place to start with your athletes. Every athlete will follow a slightly different path to perfect form, and regularly diagnosing their movement patterns is a great way to help them along the way.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!

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Teaching Jump Rope

Back as a first year PE teacher and high school strength coach, one thing that surprised me most was the inability of many students and athletes to jump rope. I had assumed that jumping rope was a universal skill kids picked up along the way during childhood. Turns out, that’s not necessarily the case. Again and again, I ran into kids who had serious trouble performing this basic plyometric movement and were embarrassed enough by the inability that they would avoid the movement altogether.

Jumping rope is an extremely valuable tool for athletics and basic healthy living alike. It promotes full body proprioception (or body control), develops simple plyometric ability, promotes proper soft mid-to-forefoot strike, does wonders for the ankle and shoulder joints over time, and can be used for metabolic conditioning. It’s also a movement that can be practiced anywhere, by anyone. Given these benefits, it behooves us to teach all of our charges how to jump rope with consistency and efficiency.

The first step in teaching it to new athletes, is finding an appropriate length rope. When placed under one foot and held up along the body, both handles should be roughly armpit height (from here, athletes will find their own personal sweet spot when it comes to rope length).

Once athletes have ropes in hand, our next step is grip and hand positioning. Instruct athletes to maintain a loose grip between the thumb and forefinger with the rest of the fingers “just along for the ride”. Hands should be held out from the body at roughly 45 degrees, at about waist height.

Then, we set up the swing. Make sure athletes avoid trying to move the rope with large shoulder circles. Movement should be limited to the wrist – elbows should be kept close to the torso. “Flick” the rope with snappy wrist action as opposed to shoulder circles.

Lastly, we focus on the jump. Our athletes should be instructed to hop lightly up and down on the mid-forefoot area. Feet and legs should remain together. Avoid piking the feet forward, or pulling them backwards in a semblance of a donkey kick.

In the end, the best way to learn is to try! Make sure students know that failing is an important part of reaching success and have at it!

Want to see how we can help you train your students & athletes? Request a free demo!

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How to Teach Push Ups

We teachers and coaches are constantly faced with the challenging task of introducing new and inexperienced students and athletes to what many may call “the basics.” It is this foundation that we lay when they first walk into the gym, that serves as the basis for their long-term fitness and performance. Our responsibility, then, is to demonstrate and instill mastery of these basics within each and every athlete.

More often than not, this is easier said than done.

Take the push up, for example. The foundational “push” movement, it is the functional baseline for all of the pressing that we will ever use in a training program. When done well, it develops strict pressing strength, reinforces safe/powerful shoulder pressing mechanics, works midline strength & stabilization, and can even be used in a conditioning capacity during volume training.

All of that being said, the push up is also a movement that is daunting for new or inexperienced athletes. Athletes are also quite often embarrassed if they cannot complete a real push up and avoid attempting it at all. What’s more, it’s also a movement frequently mis-coached and mis-performed.

So how can we help all of our athletes become masters of the push up?

First, we must articulate, completely but concisely, the points of performance that constitute a perfect push up.

1. Hand Placement – Palms flat on the ground, fingers forward, just outside of the shoulders.

2. Elbow Path – Shoulders remain externally rotated, tracking the elbows back towards the lats/rib cage, not flaring out to the side.

3. Midline Position – Core should remain engaged through the lift, maintaining a neutral spine. Hips should not sag, or move independent of the torso (think the worm style push up). Hips should never hit the ground and should move in time with the shoulders.

4. Full ROM – Chest must touch the floor at the bottom (not the abs) and elbows must lockout fully at the top.

Once you have defined & demonstrated the elements of a good push up, you look for common faults and work to correct them. For a few athletes, this may be as simple as verbal cues changing hand placement or engagement of the core.

As great educators, though, we must also acknowledge that not every one of our charges will be capable of a perfect rep on Day 1 no matter what we say. Even with an understanding of the movement, some athletes will lack the pressing or midline strength required. In fact, at first, most students and athletes will likely struggle to complete even 1 perfect push up from the floor.

Should we just throw athletes to the fire and let them struggle until they’ve figured it out or quit in the process?

Of course not.

Our goal is to progress students through a range of movement variations that continually challenges their capacity while simultaneously reinforces great positioning and technique.

In regards to the push up, we here at PLT4M opt to scale difficulty of the press through elevation. By taking the press off of the floor (via a box, bench, desk, or other object), we decrease the force necessary to press to full lockout (changing the percentage of bodyweight the press moves and midline must support).

This progression allows for the athlete to perform any prescribed volume of push ups in a given workout (thus developing their capacity) while not sacrificing form or the midline stabilization component (like in a push up from the knees). Once an athlete develops consistency at a given height, we move them down, increasing the difficulty. This consistent focus on appropriate movement mechanics, while progressing through an increasing level of difficulty results in the eventual completion of perfect reps from the floor.

Scale your push ups appropriately from the beginning, and your students and athletes will be pro’s in no time!

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Teaching the Thruster

The Thruster.

Arguably one of our favorite movements, as well as one of the most challenging in almost any training scenario. The thruster is a true full body movement that combines a full-depth squat with a press to lockout overhead. It is a serious “bang for buck” movement when it comes to athletic development.

Most obviously, it develops raw strength through a complete range of motion. Athletes see gains in the below parallel front squat action as well as the shoulder to overhead press. Being such a compound movement, though, the thruster is also super demanding of the core. Midline stabilization is as much a part of the movement as anything else.

It also doubles as a power development movement. Basically, the thruster is a dynamic coupling of individual strength pieces. The power transfer from our squat through a strong hip extension (like a push press or jerk) to make the bar weightless is what allows an athlete to perform reps at volume without experiencing undue fatigue. We are working to improve power output and economy of movement.

Also worth mentioning is the mobility component. The front squat and the shoulder to overhead press both require and work to develop range of motion and stability within almost every joint in the body.

Lastly, and certainly not least, the thruster can be used in a conditioning or stamina sense for the entire body. At light loads, the movement can be performed repetitively at high speed (anaerobic capacity) or for serious aerobic volume. Or it can be performed at heavier loading for less reps within a larger set of movements. We are able to train an athlete’s ability to move his or her body, as well as an external load, under general fatigue, in a number of different settings.

Being such a useful movement, it behooves us to teach it in a comprehensive fashion. First, we must always begin by making sure our athlete has a solid understanding of proper squat and press mechanics. If we’ve mastered the air squat, and understand a simple push up, then we can add a pvc and begin to drill the thruster itself.

Instruct the athlete to bring the pvc up to the shoulders in a full grip. Elbows should be high, the goal is to keep the upper arm parallel to the floor in this front rack position. Have the athlete complete 5 good front squat reps. If these are good, we can work on the press.

With the bar back at shoulder height, instruct the athlete to take a slight dip (torso remains vertical, just a slight bend of the knees). Then, squeeze the quads and glutes violently to get the bar “weightless” and finish by locking out the arms with the bar overhead. Bar should always end over the middle of the athlete’s body – not out in front or behind.

Once we’ve gotten comfortable with the overhead portion, we can put these two pieces together. Cue the athletes to drive up with the legs aggressively out of the front squat and finish with a full lockout.

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Teaching the Front Squat

One of the 3 most common loaded variations of our standard air squat – the Front Squat is widely regarded as the most “athletic” of the weighted squat movements.

While we believe that any and all squatting has great benefit to performance, the Front Squat is indeed a great lift which comes with a host of benefits beyond basic below parallel strength. Due to the “front rack” positioning of the barbell, a vertical torso is not just helpful but required. This means that hip and ankle mobility become an even greater part of the equation. As does midline stabilization (aka core strength). Lastly, the front rack position itself is one requiring some coordination and upper extremity mobility.

When attempting the Front Squat for the first time, there are a few main coaching points to keep in mind when teaching the front squat:

1. Hand placement – the front rack is a difficult position for many athletes to get into. Instruct them to take a wider than shoulder width and loose finger grip. The bar should rest on the meat of the shoulder, not the collarbone. We address front rack mobility development in other videos.

2. Elbow Height – this is the most common issue for new athletes. We want to keep the upper arm as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Use visual, auditory or tactile cues to get them to keep the chest proud and elbows high (the “2 Potato Rule”). One great cue is to tell your athletes to lead from the elbows on the way out of the bottom of their squat, cueing them to drive the elbows up.

3. As always, we recommend that athletes master the basic squat first before attempting any loaded variations. Even more important, though, is to maintain our 4 points of squat performance during every loaded rep. We never add weight to an improper movement!

The key to development is to master the basics…then master them again!