The actions of fighting arts (including combatives and self-defense systems) and combat sports place regular high stresses on the spinal column. I’ve previously mentioned the anterior-posterior compressive and shear forces that affect the lumbar spine, but not the transverse rotational (torsional) and lateral compressive forces that actions like punching, kicking, throwing and falling places on the thoracic spine. Basic fighting postures, such as a standing guard or striking can encourage thoracic kyphosis and lateral asymmetry. Left unchecked, torso actions can become plagued by dominant muscular patterns of imbalance to one side or the other, as a result of a favored limb or ingrained movement compensations due to faulty stabilization or movement system activity. Over time these muscular imbalances can lead to vertebral facet degradation and arthritis, disk herniations and ruptures, nerve entrapment and bone spurs (typically in the direction of excessive muscular tension), all of which translate to reduced performance.
Category Archives: conditioning
The overhead squat assessment promoted by NASM (Clark & Lucett, 2011) provides a useful evaluation of the functional status of the latissimus dorsi during a common movement (video example here). The OHS requires that both trunk extension and shoulder flexion occur simultaneously, either or both of which may be altered if the muscle has become chronically shortened and tight. When the lats are hypertonic, shoulder range or motion (ROM) is altered due to excessive internal rotation and depression of the humerus, which further affects the actions of the scapula. This can be seen when an individual’s arms habitually fall forward past the line of the torso during the eccentric phase of the squat in an OHS evaluation, which is an indication of the arthrokinematic (joint movement) compensations needed to accommodate functional ROM as the muscle attempts to maintain a shorter distance between origin and insertion (for an excellent visual of how this occurs, take a look here).
I love using medicine balls with rope handles, but they can be expensive. Take a look at this excellent article by Ross Emamait, from the always interesting RossTraining.com Blog on how to make your own own rope handles.
Back in the days when I identified myself as a karate practitioner, I enthusiastically pursued all forms of supplemental conditioning that I could find throughout the branches of the folk art. I spent a considerable amount of time researching, constructing and using various makiwara, kakiya, and weights according to the notes left by early authors such as Motobu, Funakoshi, Mabuni & Miyagi. Among these, the chishi soon became a favorite in my training regimens. The chishi is an example of a class of asymmetrical lever weights that can be found in physical culture around the world. “Indian Clubs” are another example of the concept, and Chinese martial arts may also include them in their conditioning methods (Kennedy & Guo, 2005). The early Okinawan karate culture discovered its utility as a training device, and several branches of karate adopted them as part of their “hojo undo”, or supplemental training.
Despite my enthusiasm for the chishi, my concurrent study of kinesiology eventually began to make me question the effects some of the traditional methods of usage, and my formal education in this field has only confirmed that some common practices are dangerous to the shoulder joint system.
After a brutally hot summer the last few weekends have brought nice, mild weather here in VA, and what better way to enjoy it than working duck-to-counter setups on the training contraptions in the back yard:
A topic that comes up frequently on the FSRI blog is “core training,” particularly as it relates to moderating the lower back/spinal stress that training in all fighting arts creates. I dialogue quite a bit with people from various fighting arts circles, and often someone will respond to a core-related topic with “I do x reps of sit-ups everyday.” Ostensibly this seems like a good way to train the core musculature, however it neglects many important elements of the core’s movement and stabilization systems at the favor of the most visible aspect, the rectus abdominis (the “6-pack” that people are unfortunately obsessed with). Due to their positioning in the spinal column and the muscular attachments of several muscles, notably the psoas, the lumbar vertebrae end up being exposed to kinematic demands and kinetic forces that are greater than one might think. Full sit-ups actually increase these forces, since hip flexion is required along with the desired rectus abdominis action, which places a combined compressive and shearing force on the lumbar vertebrae of the lower back:
Clinicians often recommend abdominal exercises as both a prophylactic and a treatment for low back pain…However, sit-up type exercises, even when performed with the knees in flexion, generate compressive loads on the lumbar spine well over 3000 N (ed: 675 lbs. force) . According to one clinical report, the use of sit-up type exercises appears to have actually contributed to low back pain development among a group of 29 exercisers. Partial crunches have been advocated as providing strong abdominal muscle challenge, with minimal spinal compression (Hall, 2007).
The action of a full sit-up creates several surprisingly high forces: compression on the anterior (front) facets, tension on the posterior (rear) facets and shear at the medial rotation point of the lumbar spine, particularly the lower vertebrae.
If the goal is to correct the stresses that training and conditioning place on our lower backs by strengthening the rest of the core, it should be clear that full sit-ups are not a good choice, and that the RA muscle is not the best target for “core training.” Don’t forget the image of the core as a tall tower with guy wires stabilizing it in all directions. The other core movers and stabilizers also need proper conditioning Although the RA is visible and easy to target, standard sit-ups and targeting it exclusively may actually increase the stress load to the lumbar spine, worsening existing muscular imbalances, performance deficits and increasing the risk of low back pain/chronic injuries.
The solution is to leave full sit ups out of your conditioning routines. Take a look at Bob’s Back Brief article for some suggestions and links to video demonstrations of many core exercises which can add balance and increased performance- as well as decreased stress on the lumbar spine- to your conditioning.
Feel free to contact one of us for consultation and more ideas.
Hall, S.J. (2007). Basic Biomechanics (5th ed.) (p.305). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.