Thursday, February 14, 2013

What I Love: Single Leg RDLs & Overhead Squats with a Band

Ahhh Valentine's Day. Pretty much a silly holiday if you ask me. But I guess you can have fun with it! I had fun writing a guest blog over at 110% Play Harder that's pretty much "the dirty scoop" on dating and living with another athlete :) Read it here. Did I get it right, ya think? 

I think one of the best ways to approach V-Day is to be selfish, and by that I mean do something "loving" for yourself and for your health! Below are a couple exercises I love right now to get the ball rolling with that; you don't even need a gym. They are dynamic and involve the entire body, but namely they involve areas that are usually weak on endurance athletes like hips/glutes. They are also great for stability throughout the body and at major joints, flexibility, mobility, and so on. Of course, they also hone in on weaknesses and/or strengths and build dynamic strength/power...

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
Anything that puts you on one leg is something of which I'm a fan. The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (SL RDL) is great because it focuses on the hips and posterior strength, namely in the glutes and hammys. It's also got a full-body component that combines core, upper back and shoulders, which act as stabilizers to maintain good posture and form throughout the motion of lowering down and coming back up. The non-planted leg gets worked too, posteriorly, as you'll see in the T-shape you form.

Personally, I see this movement to be easier for most people than a *true* single-leg squat done in good form. Single-leg squats, done well, are very tough; I usually use my TRX or something to allow me to go super low and maintain proper form (i.e. knee behind toe, butt back)

Note: There is a difference between the SL RDL and regular single-leg deadlifts. For a good visual resource to watch the difference between the two, click here.

How to do a SL RDL:
Hold two DBs at your side (or hold a barbell arms extended, hands at side) and lower them toward the floor by bending at waist and lowering chest while lifting non-planted leg. Keep back straight/spine neutral. A slight bend in the knee of the planted leg is OK. The lifted leg remains fully extended at knee and hip, and forms a straight line to the shoulder as you go down. Come up by driving power through the planted leg and contracting glutes/hammys. Lower the lifted leg back down, maintain good posture from core up. Repeat. *Note* You can also do these without weight and they are effective as well! I usually do weightless ones during warmups.

Some key points:
-Keep DBs or barbell close to body so they trace thighs/shins as you move down
-Upper body and rear lifted leg move in unison (this is the #1 mistake I see -- a lazy rear leg. The body should form a straight line from shoulder to ankle as you lower and come back up)
-Keep flat back and don't round shoulders or let weights drag you down
-Watch the knee to see if it is tracking correctly; you don't want it turning inward or outward at any extreme
-Go down only as far as the hamstring in the planted leg will allow; don't force it and don't feel like you have to touch the ground
-Light/moderate weight is usually enough. You can add more only if form sticks. Don't go so heavy that you compromise form.

The picture below of me is actually a regular SL DL and not so much a SL RDL. The differences are subtle, but there are differences! You can get the general idea from the pic. Also check out that link above, good video demonstrations.

Overhead Squats w/ Band
No matter how you slice it, these are tough, but super effective! Mostly, you'll see that it's harder to go as deep with o'head squats in good form. It is yet another excellent dynamic exercise that hones in on the posterior chain -- low back, glutes, hammys -- as well as quads, hips, etc.... with extra bonuses with the overhead component:
-Core strength and stability.This is more dynamic and functional than other core exercises that have you on the floor, for example. And good integrity of the low back is a key focus here (that said, proceed with caution).
-Shoulder health. The movement works on shoulder flexibility, mobility and strength. This can greatly benefit the swim in a couple ways. One, it strengthens muscles that stabilize the shoulder. Second, it can enhance ROM/flexibility that allows you to extend and lengthen arms farther; this can be a big plus for swimming.
-The Kinetic chain. This exercise tests all the major parts and if one isn't functioning properly, others will suffer. What happens in the hips affects the shoulders, vice vesa, and beyond. If there is a problem in an area, it's a great way to address what work is needed overall!

You can do these with a dowel (wooden, pvc), barbell, DBs, resistance band or simply arms o'head/no weight. I personally love the resistance band variation of these because there's added resistance through every aspect of movement and arguably an increased need to stabilize at the core and shoulders to prevent band from pulling forward.

Note: full-body warm up recommended before this exercise, including shoulder dislocates with a dowel and hip flexibility work.

How to do the O'head Squat w/ Band:
Step inside the band with feet wider than shoulder width. Grab the band on both sides and extend arms overhead, so essentially you'r putting yourself in a box. Make sure band is directly above the head and grip is fairly wide; definitely wider than shoulder width, arms thrust behind ears. Lower down by bending at the hips and leading the butt back. Get thighs as close to parallel to the ground as possible, deeper if you can maintain proper form. Keep weight distribution on heels mostly, and some mid-foot (but not toes). As you lift, drive up through hammys, glutes, quads mainly. Open hips (extend) forcefully as you complete the movement before starting another rep.

Some key points:
-Arms should remain perpendicular to the ground and above the ankles, not in front, nor too far behind...
-don't hyper-extend the shoulders (this can happen when chest falls forward too much and hips are tight)
-Knees behind toes. Knees behind toes. Knees behind toes. (only do a quarter squat if you can't stick to this rule)
-Weight more on heels, and do not come up onto your toes at any point
-Don't let knees cave in
-Chest up, back flat.
-This exercise is more about a healthy range of motion/good form and not about heavy weight!

Below you can see me suffering through a rep of this exercise as I was doing it for a photo shoot that was in a local magazine. Keeping a smile on my face for this was tough ;)

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