The ultimate goal of working out and beginning a new fitness routine is to stay happy and healthy for a long time. Right now I’m 26, but I want to be able to do what I’m doing now (to a lesser degree) when I’m 56. Beating myself up in the gym over and over everyday won’t help me reach my goal. There’s a time and place for intensity, but that’s only earned after the proper base has been established for a long period of time. Those new to fitness, as well as avid gym-goers, should be focused on building the base of their pyramid as great as they can. In this article, I will lay out three key principles to help you become bulletproof for the long run.
Principle 1: Lower Trapezuis
The first principle is centered around the lower trapezuis muscle. The lower what? Yes, I know. It’s that muscle in our middle back. The lower trap is often neglected because: 1) you can’t see it in the mirror, 2) it’s not a muscle you can show off at the beach, and 3) you simply don’t understand its importance. In CrossFit, you most likely go overhead with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell three times a week (on the low end). This causes your upper traps to become overactive, and forces them to do the majority of the work over head. Over time, our lower trap becomes weak and lengthened out. With a weaker lower trap, the scapulae aren’t able to rotate as effectively, which can promote instability in the shoulder joint. Ever notice shoulder pain as you raise your arm over your head? I am by no means a doctor, but strengthening your lower trap will ensure more scapular stability, which may reduce that shoulder pain.
Enough of the mumbo jumbo science talk, how do I strengthen my lower trap?
I’m glad you asked!
Before we strengthen, we must activate. A prone T raise with no weight or a light dumbbell allows you to isolate your lower trap. Set up with one hand on a bench or box at hip height, and spread your feet wider than your hips. Bend your knees and make sure your back is flat. The first movement comes from depressing your scapula. Think of trying to push your shoulder blade down and put it in your back pocket. From here, point your thumb up and out, and slowly raise your arm level to your shoulder. Hold for a second or two, and slowly lower your arm all while keeping your scapula pushed down.
Now, to strengthen the lower trap, you can perform something as simple as a supinated grip barbell or dumbbell row. The supine grip allows you to pin your elbows to your sides and pull the barbell or dumbbells with your lats and mid back. The key to this movement is not to go too heavy in weight. We want the weight light enough so that we’re working the intended muscles without having to use our legs or low back to move that barbell or dumbbells.
Principle 2: Loaded Carries
We workout and go to the gym so we only have to make one trip from the car with the groceries, right?! That’s essentially a loaded carry: moving an object from point A to point B. Loaded carries are a simple and great exercise to help promote shoulder stability, midline control, and anti-rotational strength. Just by adding an external load, our body naturally learns how to stabilize. You are forced to find proper alignment by increasing your body awareness and firing certain stabilizer muscles.
Loaded carries are one of the best core exercises you can do and the best part about them is that they can never get boring because there are numerous ways to carry something. My advice would be to start with carrying two kettlebells at your side, and then slowly progress to having one at your side and one overhead, and then progress to both kettlebells overhead. And if you don’t think you will get a workout just by carrying something, next time you are at the grocery store, opt to grab a basket while you shop. Your core will thank you.
Principle 3: Single Leg Movements
The final principle to becoming bulletproof for the long run is to understand the importance of single leg movements, and utilizing them in your training. Single leg training is extremely beneficial for those who may be training around an injury. Instead of trying to squat through knee pain, try implementing a single leg split squat or single leg lunge into your training. This movement can really allow you to isolate your leg muscles without any additional strain on your knee joint.
Secondly, single leg squats can help minimize strength disparities between legs. Just by doing a normal air squat, it is extremely difficult to tell if one leg is working harder than the other. And if all we do is squat, and one leg IS working harder than the other, we are just creating larger imbalances that will take longer to correct. Single leg squats will expose any imbalances and force your weaker leg to use its muscles properly.
Finally, single leg training is beneficial for overall balance and proprioception. Everybody needs balance. We need it going up and down the stairs; we need it on top of a ladder; and we need it just for walking. Performing single leg movements will highlight all of your tiny stabilizer muscles that don’t get worked during a traditional squat or deadlift.
There you have it! Three principles to include in your workouts to help you become bulletproof for the long run. Just by doing each of these one time a week, you will begin to reap the benefits. But something as simple as these three takes time to build upon. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your body. Treat it right, take care of it, and it will allow you do the things you enjoy for longer than you thought was possible.
Sources: T Nation, Breaking Muscle