We have a guest post from a good friend of mine, Tim DiFrancesco. I’ve known Tim for the past 6 years and he’s been a great resource for me during that time. Today he’s put together a comprehensive article on the benefits of loaded carries and how to perform them. Enjoy!
GUIDE TO THE BEST CORE EXERCISE YOU’RE NOT DOING
There is an exercise you are ignoring that can solve your core and posture dysfunction. That exercise is the loaded carry, and you need to being doing it. First you need to know the WHY - as in why it’s such a big deal, and second you need to learn the HOW - as in how to do it correctly. Here is your guide on the loaded carry:
HUMOR ME FOR A SECOND AND FOLLOW THE COURSE OF EVENTS BELOW. WHETHER YOU’RE A PRO ATHLETE, AN ASPIRING ATHLETE OR A HUMAN WHO ENJOYS GETTING MORE FIT, CONSIDER HOW MUCH OF THE FOLLOWING IS FAMILIAR TO HOW YOUR TYPICAL DAY UNFOLDS:
- Roll out of bed and wonder what version of a pretzel you slept in that made your neck, shoulders, or low back feel stiff and sore.
- Sip your coffee while hunched over staring into your phone to see if anyone posted something life altering to Facebook.
- If you are a morning workout person this is the time when you would bang out some crunches – aka “hunchback makers”.
- Now you are running late so you rush to your car only to slink down into what could easily be mistaken for an upright fetal position with a steering wheel to rest your hands on. You maintain this position for your entire commute.
- Pull up to work and find the parking spot closest to the front door in an effort to minimize the amount of time standing up straight and walking around like a human.
- Hustle into work and sit down at your desk in a chair that invites you again into what resembles a seated fetal position but this time with a keyboard to rest your hands on instead of a steering wheel. You maintain this position for your entire workday. Well…not your entire workday – you take a few breaks to peer into your phone, double and triple checking to be sure that if the solution to world hunger is posted on Facebook, you will be the first to catch it.
- Now it’s time to hit the afternoon commute back in your car in you know what position…
- The commute home took you so long that it’s time for dinner so you swing through the drive-through (this way you avoid standing and walking like a human again), grab your reward for the day and hurry home to binge watch the new season of House of Cards. The ideal position to do this in is of course seated on the coach, slumped over your food on the coffee table, shoulders rolled forward, upper back looking like a camel’s hump with your head projected forward on the screen - this promotes the ideal shoveling action during consumption of your “nourishing foodstuffs” that were born from a drive-through window.
- After devouring several episodes of House of Cards along with whatever was in the paper sack of “food”, you check your phone one last time. You take this step to be sure that you get just enough late night blue-light from your devices to ruin any chance you have of a restful night’s sleep. Finally, time for you to curl back up in that pretzel position that makes your neck, shoulders, or low back feel so stiff and sore.
ANYTHING FAMILIAR THERE?
Repeating some version of that routine day after day is a lovely way to make it impossible for your postural and core musculature to function at a high level. Unfortunately, even when you target these bad habits and attempt to address them there is still a problem:
EXPECTING TO ERADICATE ALL DESTRUCTIVE ASPECTS OF THAT ROUTINE IS IMPRACTICAL…LIFE HAPPENS!
PROBLEM & SOLUTION
The problem is clear, but what is the solution? The solution is to train your core to be armed and ready for the insanity described above. One way to do exactly that is to pick heavy objects up, carry them, put them down and repeat. I know this is hard to believe but your body has a primal craving and is designed to lift and carry heavy things. Human evolution would have been a little tricky if we were a species with poor lifting/carrying biomechanics or structure. Your slothful mind might try to tell you sitting on the couch is a better plan, but sub too much sitting for lifting/carrying and you’re going to have problems!
When you sit more and lift/carry less, the muscles that you need to be strong get weak. Other muscles or connective tissues that get forced to the rescue of the atrophied groups end up being overused, misused and super tight. Vladimir Janda was a pioneer in the crusade to link primitive or developmental movement patterns to rehab/training. Janda identified familiar combinations of tightness and weakness, and gave a name to these musculoskeletal patterns of dysfunction:
ANY ATTEMPT YOU MAKE TO PERFORM AS AN ATHLETE, WEEKEND WARRIOR, OR HUMAN WHILE PRESENTING WITH ANY VERSION OF JANDA’S CROSSED SYNDROMES WILL EVENTUALLY END UP IN SPOILED PERFORMANCE AND/OR INJURY.
You may not appreciate lifting or carrying heavy objects as training for your core or better posture, but you should. Think of your postural and core muscles as the frame of a sturdy lift or loaded carry. If they were suddenly turned off in the middle of lifting or carrying a heavy object, you would crumple to the ground.
Planks should be part of your core training, but you need to include or progress to training your core while standing or ambulating. Last time I checked that is how humans typically function and perform.
WHETHER YOU ARE HOISTING A HEAVY BOX UP ON A HIGH SHELF, SPRINTING OFF OF THE BLOCKS IN A TRACK MEET OR DUNKING A BASKETBALL, YOUR PERFORMANCE WILL SUFFER IF YOU HAVE NEGLECTED TO TRAIN YOUR CORE IN STANDING OR WHILE WALKING.
Lifting and carrying heavy objects is a great way to train your core in standing or while walking. This will help you avoid postural and core dysfunction. Like anything else in training there are right ways and wrong ways to execute a lift or carry. The video below will show you how to lift and carry heavy objects the right way:
THIS EXERCISE CAN BE DONE WITH DUMBBELLS IF YOU DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO FARMER WALK BARS.
Get some loaded carry variations into your program. Not only is it the best core exercise you’re not doing, but it will help you offset the destruction you are doing by always being plugged into your phone, keyboard or steering wheel! Start with manageable loads and work towards heavier loads, once you have mastered the keys to lifting and carrying highlighted in the video above. You will perform better, feel better and be less susceptible to injury.
Janda Syndromes. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.jandaapproach.com/the-janda-approach/jandas-syndromes/
Kresser, C. (2013, February 22). How Artificial Light is Wrecking Your Sleep and What to do about it. Retrieved from http://chriskresser.com/how-artificial-light-is-wrecking-your-sleep-and-what-to-do-about-it
Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and President of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.
The goal of most strength and conditioning programs is to increase their athletes ability to produce force at higher velocities, which is known as power. There are a number of methods and exercises that can be used to develop power, such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, loaded jumps and utilizing the Olympic lifts.
The Olympic lifts seem to be a staple of many collegiate strength and conditioning programs because of the high power outputs that can be developed with the lifts and the many benefits that can be achieved through the movements. The two lifts that make up competitive Olympic weight lifting are the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. I haven’t seen many programs that utilize the Clean and Jerk in conjunction but separate the movement into two different exercises along with the snatch. Talking to most coaches, it seems as the clean is utilized by a large majority as an indicator exercise (test exercise) and becomes a primary focus of the training program. The following is an account of my personal experience of how we don’t perform the clean anymore as part of our programs. I hope it makes you think and you can better assess why you do what you do as a coach.
The clean has been a primary exercise in my training programs with all athletes since 2001 when I started training teams on a full time basis. This changed in 2004 when I started working with basketball and had a coach that didn’t want to perform the movement for fear of risking injury. I obliged and utilized other movements to develop power and started seeing great results with vertical jumps and sprint times. I continued to use these methods with my basketball athletes and continued to utilize the clean with my other athletes as I felt it was a fantastic movement to develop power and athleticism.
I came to Quinnipiac University in 2008 and began working with both Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey and Men’s and Women’s Basketball. I continued to teach the clean to my hockey athletes but not to my basketball athletes. After our first year of training, our clean average for both hockey teams went up 25 lbs. but our vertical jumps did not go up accordingly. I started to look back at my athletes verticals from Holy Cross and noticed that their verticals didn’t improve as well as their cleans had and started to assess why I was performing the movement if it wasn’t improving our power based on the vertical jump. Were we just becoming more efficient at cleaning? Could we better utilize our time developing power performing another movement? I started to take notice of what position seemed to be the weak point in the clean (I’ve always implemented the clean from the hang position) and noticed that it was the above the knee position. This was also the position that we would jump from, so my thought process was to increase the amount of force we could develop from this position and then program jumps and throws for our power development. We tested our vertical jumps after the season with our hockey athletes and nearly everybody’s vertical jumps went up or stayed the same in a sport that doesn’t jump. I continued to go with my intuition and started to program the rack pull (elevated deadlift) and other deadlift variations (trap bar, sumo) in place of Olympic lifting in phases when strength was our primary goal. The other problem I realized with the clean was that if I wanted to improve my athletes’ clean, we had to perform the clean year round. But when we made the switch to a deadlift variation, we were able to perform more movement towards developing force in a strength phase and then progress that to a jump when we were in a concentrated power phase.
This switch has worked for our program and with all of our athletes and I’m glad that we made this switch four years ago now. I hope I was able to make you think critically about why you do what you do in an effort to make your programs better for your athletes.
The following is an article from one of my assistant strength coaches at Quinnipiac, Sergio Merino. He does a great job and is up and coming young strength and conditioning professional.
IntroductionKettlebells have gained much notoriety since 2001 when Pavel Tsatsouline began the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC). While highly touted for their metabolic effect and fat loss applications, the RKC was first and foremost a “School of Strength”. Strength is the foundation upon which all qualities are built and is often represented as a glass. The bigger the glass, the more stuff (power, explosiveness, mobility, flexibility, conditioning, speed, agility, etc…) you can fit in there. The only downside to the quest for levels of ridiculous strength and increased muscle mass is the wear and tear the body may endure through constantly using high loads. To counter this, kettlebells can be used to decrease the load on the body, yet still increase strength, power and lean body mass (lbm). For example, Powerlifter Donnie Thompson stopped deadlifting altogether, started kettlebelling and took his deadlift from 766 to 832 in less than a year. If you are a power lifter, olympic lifter or a novice athlete, you’ll need to spend time under the bar but, double kettlebell lifts will provide excellent assistance work in a comprehensive training program.
I would highly recommend finding a local SFG** instructor to learn the proper mechanics of the following double kettlebell movements.
Tension = Strength, Power & LBM
By utilizing kettlebells, you can decrease load by up to 75% and still make significant progress in your strength, power and body composition goals. While some may argue that kettlebells put you at a mechanical disadvantage (which is what causes the use of less weight), the bottom line is you are still utilizing tension to optimize strength, power and lbm with decreased load on the body. The Central Nervous System does not know the difference between 300 pounds across your shoulders against 120 pound kettlebells in each hand. The CNS does understand tension though, through information relayed by the muscle proprioceptors. If kettlebell training offers any benefit, it is learning how to develop and utilize full body tension.
Tension is achieved through high intensity muscle contractions. Greater tension development allows you to generate greater force output. How does this work? According to Powers, (2012):
For the nervous system to properly control skeletal muscle movements, it must receive continuous sensory feedback from the contracting muscle. This sensory feedback includes (1) information concerning the tension developed by a muscle and (2) an account of the muscle length. Golgi tendon organs (GTOs) provide the central nervous system with feedback concerning the tension developed by the muscle, whereas the muscle spindle provides sensory information concerning the relative muscle length.
By generating tension, we allow for more efficient control of skeletal muscle. This is why training with kettlebells can lead to increased numbers in the big lifts (squat, deadlift, press). The key is to learn how to efficiently generate tension within each lift.
Kettlebell Front Squats
Ask anyone who has tried their front squat weight cut in half and put in each hand as a kettlebell if it felt the same. You will get a resounding no (unless maybe you know a group of elite monsters). Holding two heavy kettlebells requires focus, a strong upper body, and strong legs. In order to generate tension in the kettlebell front squat, proper alignment of the pelvis is a key aspect. Once the kettlebells have been cleaned into the rack position, a posterior pelvic tilt should be performed to ensure proper alignment. Once the pelvis has been set, drive your heels into the ground (while maintaining contact through the entire foot) and screw your feet into the ground. This should lead to an increased arch in the mid foot and external rotation of the femurs. Crush the handles of the kettlebell and develop lat tension by imaging pencils in your armpits that you are trying to snap in half. The scapula should now be depressed and slightly protracted. Take a deep belly breath and pull yourself into the bottom of the squat. Maintain tension throughout the entire movement and initiate the ascent with a forceful grunt and exhalation.
Key points for kettlebell front squats
Clean the kettlebells into the rack position or have a partner assist the kettlebells into position.
Maintain a neutral spine and pull yourself into the squat “imagine pulling your knees to your chest instead of lowering yourself”.
Hips and shoulders ascend simultaneously.
Kettlebell military press
The double kettlebell military press requires intense focus and tension throughout the entire body. Tight glutes (posterior pelvic tilt), breathing behind the shield (diaphragmatic breathing with a brace), and lat tension (grip and breaking the pencils in your arm pits) are musts in this lift. If we look at the construct of the kettlebell vs the dumbbell, the kettlebell’s line of resistance falls straight through the forearm while the dumbbell’s line of resistance falls outside of the wrists on each side. This allows for better loading of the deltoid. The kettlebell also increases the demand on the external rotators of the shoulder in order to stabilize the weight at the top of the press.
Key points for the double kettlebell military press
Clean the kettlebells into the rack position or have a partner assist the kettlebells into position.
Maintain a neutral spine & pelvic alignment, tense the glutes & lats, and utilize breathing behind the shield throughout the whole lift.
Sharp inhale of air before the lift and a forceful exhalation as the kettlebell is being pressed.
Avoid arching the lower back and allowing the rib cage to rise as you near the top of the press.
Actively pull the kettlebells back down by utilizing the lats.
Double Kettlebell Cleans & Snatches
Olympic lifters have some of the most dense and well-developed physique of any athlete because the clean & snatch train the whole body. The clean & snatch cannot be narrowed down to a particular muscle group being worked which is what makes them great muscle building exercises. The problem with barbell cleans & snatches are that most coaches and trainees would agree that there is a very high learning curve with extreme mobility & stability demands. One must have very mobile wrists, thoracic spine, hips, ankles and a near perfect overhead squat.
While there are mobility demands and a learning curve to the kettlebell clean & snatch, it is much lower than the barbell variations with just as much benefit. Watch anyone perform heavy double clean & snatches and you will see a level of savagery not found in many lifts. The forceful hip snap and the quick bracing of every muscle in the body during the top portion of the clean & snatch followed by a massive eccentric loading of the glutes, lats, and arms are what make these two lifts great variations.
The kettlebell also holds a few advantages over the barbell variations. With kettlebells, the weight can be swung between the legs increasing the eccentric load and leading to more powerful hips. Kettlebells can also be used for many reps without stressing the wrists. Unlike the barbell lifts, kettlebell cleans & snatches seem to get better with more reps.
Key points for the double kettlebell clean & snatch
Ensure that you lock your arm out overhead with a neutral wrist at the top of the kettlebell snatch
At the top of the snatch, slowly lower the bells to chest level (rack position), and swing them back between your legs to begin your next rep.
During the clean, finish in the rack position with your arms pressing tight against your torso. This position enables you to safely absorb the shock when cleaning the kettlebells.
Keep your elbows tight to your body as you clean the bells into the rack position.
As with all the lifts, maintain a neutral spine.
Avoid excessive arching of the low back at the top of the snatch. Finish with your hips all the way through and avoid allowing your rib cage to flare up and out.
*I strongly suggest addressing your double bell swing before getting into the clean & snatch as the clean & snatch are simply a swing variation. If you feel like your clean or snatch is “off” go back and make sure your swing is efficient.
The purpose of this article was not to dismiss the barbell variations but to simply offer complimentary movements that are similar movement patterns albeit with a different implement. The double kettlebell lifts allow for decreased systemic load (less stress + better recovery = more frequent training), a better line of resistance and increased range of motion that allows for greater eccentric loading. Whether you’re looking for improvement in your big lifts, a new lift to master or just to give your body a break from the high loads of barbell lifts, the double kettlebell lifts are worth the investment.
**Go to www.strongfirst.com/instructors/ to find an instructor near you.
Powers, S., & Howley, E. (2012). Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance. (8th ed., p. 572). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.