Just like we learned in part 1 of this series, weak links aren’t to be taken lightly. However, you don’t want to go overboard and make “correctives” the hub and spoke of your entire workout, which takes things too far in the opposite direction. We still want to lift, but we just need to be aware of the little things. Here are two more common weak links that can plague a lifter after strength and muscle development.
Problem 1: Kyphotic Spine Posture
A kyphotic spine is characterized by a rounding of the mid-back, and usually makes for hardship when performing moves like deadlifts, bent-over rows or pull-ups that require a flat back. Above anything, learning to properly initiate pulls by using the upper back correctly is the first place to start when attempting to correct this. Other than this, the way to unlock from this position will come (not surprisingly) through the supplementation of soft tissue work and stretching. Focus on foam roller extensions (seen in the “big lift” video example below) and stretches to the lats and triceps, along with foam rolling along the mid-back.
Trap raises activate the lower traps, which is of utmost importance when it comes to raising the ribcage and getting the mid- back out of flexion. It’s a small muscle group, so it doesn’t take much weight to make the muscles work. Remember that’s because going too heavy will activate your deltoids instead during the following exercises:
Trap 3 Raises: Remember to envision “tossing” the dumbbell underhand to a partner in front of you to get the idea for this lift. In the video, I’m using an 8-pound dumbbell, and that’s more than enough weight.
Kettlebell Angled Press: The angled press allows for an isometric back contraction through the lift, and a better force curve for the lower traps, since the deltoids have less of a chance to involve themselves in the lift. Be sure to keep the torso stable in the 45-degree angle I have it set in below. Twenty pounds is more than enough weight for strong guys.
Big Lift Solution: Front Squats
I know what you’re thinking: If you’re kyphotic, front squats are going to immediately be an issue with regards to maintaining form and posture through the lift. And you’re right. But you have to make the needed adjustments before jumping into them. The most common problem with front squats that I’ve seen comes in the form of mobility and flexibility to keep the elbows up high and torso from slouching down. Check out the tips that can help both your arms and mid-back to fix your front squat here.
Weak Link 2: Valgus Knees
The term valgus refers to the knees tending to fall inwards towards the midline while baring load (“knock knees”). This is especially evident during squats, and it creates unwanted stress forces on the knees. Many coaches erroneously diagnose this as being a sole and direct problem with the VMO muscle, located on the medial side of the thigh closest to the knee. But in reality, knees that collapse inward can be a product of several problems, VMO included. Weak and tight inner thighs, weak glutes, and even weak outer shin muscles could all play a part in valgus knees. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use a corrective choice that I like to use as my go-to that covers as much as possible.
Peterson Step-Ups definitely get the VMO involved, along with being a single leg exercise that pushes the knee over the toe to allow for a safe stress for the joint to accustom itself to dealing with. Ensuring that the tracking of the knee stays over the foot is made into a manageable challenge since there isn’t a load in this exercise. To make it harder, raise the height of the step. Be sure not to do any work with the off leg — and that includes any “push-off” from the ground. It is okay, however, to roll onto the ball of the foot on the working leg.
Big Lift Solution
Split-stance training in general is the golden ticket to keeping your body working hard, moving substantial loads, and training for muscle development all while correcting the valgus. Bilateral stance movements like standard squats and deadlifts allow the lower back to compensate more readily when the legs aren’t holding their geometric form. Removing one leg at a time diffuses that loading, and asks for more stability at the hip and knee joints. Walking lunges with proper alignment are a good place to start, along with my personal favorite, the rear leg elevated split squat.
Remember, the lifts forego their importance if proper alignment isn’t prioritized. With that said, be sure to keep the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder aligned at all times.
Bonus Exercise: Reverse Deficit Lunges
Reverse lunges performed from a deficit will engage the glutes and quads more due to the added range of motion and greater work required to get out from the hole. It’s a good way to make light weights feel heavy, and get more out of a single leg exercise.