Tag Archives: boxing

Shoulder Stabilziation for Striking: are you Focusing on the Right Muscles?

When considering upper body striking, martial artists tend to focus on the pectoral, triceps and deltoid muscle groups, and the glenohumeral (GH) joint, which is the most obvious shoulder joint. The GH joint consists of the humerus and the glenoid fossa of the scapula (the “socket” of the shoulder blade). Since this joint is essentially like a ball resting on a shallow dish, and not a deep socket like the hip joint, ligaments and the attached muscles provide most of the stability. There are also three other joints in the shoulder complex that play important roles in maintaining stability for the GH joint, with the scapulothoracic being most prone to abuse in combative training. This joint is formed by the fibrous connection of the scapula to the posterior torso wall, which allows the scapula to glide and rotate as the GH joint requires.

The serratus  anterior and the trapezius provide the ability to adduct (pull close to the ribcage), retract, depress, and upwardly or downwardly rotate the scapulae.  They maintain alignment of the glenoid fossa  with the head of the humerus.  A strong, reasonably flexible rotator cuff group is important, but the trapezius needs to be able to provide rotation and stabilization so that the GH joint stays centered and the rotator cuff isn’t impinged. The trapezius and serratus need to work synergistically with the GH joint movers. Striking in general requires the same coupling of scapular and humeral actions that has been reported for other overhand actions  (Kibler, et. al., 2007) such as the tennis serve.

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Specificity of Conditioning in Fight Activities: Basic Concepts & Application

Specificity of training is the basis on which all modern physical training rests. Briefly, to produce a desired physiological adaptation, a training program must place sufficient stress on the physiological systems in question (Willmore & Costill, 2004). In training environments this is commonly referred to as Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID).  Adaptations to training are limited to the physiological system overloaded by the program. This includes neuromotor, morphological, hormonal and metabolic elements. Fighting activities (encompassing both combat sports and fighting/self protection scenarios) present a unique programming challenge, requiring a range of adaptations to all systems.

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Motivating and Nurturing Students

I am always inspired when I see good teachers and coaches that understand and respect the interdependent nature of their relationship with their charges. Those that inspire and motivate while demonstrating a healthy respect for the challenges of daily life faced by their students, and their basic humanity always make me want to be a better instructor. In that vein I offer the following video:

Then again these guys are from Wall Street, so…

Basic Thoracic Spine Injury Prevention for Fighting Arts & Combat Sports

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.

Curvature of a healthy spinal column. Note the lateral symmetry.

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A Brief Discussion on the Relativity of Skills

Ed. Note: while the examples used in the piece below relate to punching and recreational/athletic MA training, the concepts can easily be applied to all other fighting skills and situations in which they might be used.

How many ways are there to skin a cat? Or in this case, throw a punch? Among both novice and experts (and “experts”), it can seem as if there is a “right” way to perform a fighting skill, yet variations are to be found from style to style,  from individual to individual, and even from moment to moment within the same encounter. The Q & A below came out of a discussion with martial artist and CSCS Daniel Ramos (fellow ATSU Human Movement Science alum).

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Development of Expertise in the Fighting Arts- Some Basic Notes

 What constitutes an “expert” in a fighting art or practice? Approaching the question from a motor learning perspective is highly useful, and has many obvious inroads into discussing pedagogy, practicality and transferability of a training method to a performance setting.Experts in any physical activity exhibit several common characteristics, regardless of the nature of the activity:
1. Superior ability to anticipate the likely outcome of a situation as it emerges. This is distinct from a conscious effort to guess what will happen, which we see in relative novices. Instead, this is more efficient perception-action linking. It manifests as shorter reaction time, with reaction time being the interval between stimulus and initiation of movement. RT is a reflection of the cognitive processing going on between perceptual and motor regions before a physical response is initiated. Combined with more efficient motor programs for the movement time, the result is a faster overall response time (RT and MT combined).
2. Less visual search for the important aspects of a developing situation. A relative novice looks everywhere, whereas the expert looks immediately at the salient areas (a shoulder movement before a punch, a slight drop of the forearm towards the belt line, etc.)
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More for the Core: Are Sit-ups Helping Your Lower Back, or Hurting?

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.