By Pat Davidson on 4/14/2014 Back to Articles
Utilizing the Reach in Corrective Exercise Approaches
Utilizing the Reach in Corrective Exercise Approaches
One of the most important concepts that I have come to appreciate in the last couple of years is the idea of muscle chains. I was first exposed to this concept when I read Thomas Myers’ book, Anatomy Trains. Myers uses train track analogies to explain the way that muscles physically connect to adjacent muscles via a fascial network. When you make movements, chains fire rather than individual muscles. Myers’ major trains (chains) in the book include the posterior line, lateral line, superficial front line, deep front line, spiral line, and anterior and posterior functional lines. My big takeaway messages from Anatomy Trains included appreciating the interconnectedness of the movement system, and the incredible spider web like network of the myofascial system.
Reading Myers prepared me for Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) courses. The main chains featured in PRI are the Anterior Interior Chain (AIC), Brachial Chain (BC), and Temporomandibular Cervical Cranial Chain (TMCC). For all of these chains you have a left side version and a right side version. The brilliance of PRI is that you can ultimately see which side of which chain is restricting you and holding you back from achieving your highest level performance. What many people seem to miss regarding these chains is that they directly influence one another, intermingle with each other, and in some ways cannot be separated from one another.
How many oceans are there? Four right…Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic. Wrong…four oceans is pure bullshit. There is one ocean. As humans we just give them different names to make things easier. We do have hundreds and hundreds of muscles in the body, but in terms of movement and the understanding of chains perhaps this number is significantly less. Anatomy charts make things look obvious and easy. Rhomboids go from spine to scapula, end of story…wrong. Rhomboids merge with levator at the superomedial border of the scapula. Both muscles merge with serratus anterior. Serratus anterior starts on the anterior surface of the medial border of the scapula. It sweeps lateral and anterior from here, ultimately blending into the anterior rib cage. Serratus interdigitates with the fibers of the ipsilateral external obliques. The external obliques sweep to the contralateral side of the body and blends in with the contralateral internal obliques. The contralateral internal obliques fascially blend with the adductor muscles. This chain that I have described has been referred to as the Anterior Oblique Chain, The Serape, The Anterior Functional Line, and probably many more names that I’m not even familiar with.
We need to appreciate the fact that muscles are linked to other muscles through a fascial network before we start in on our discussion of using the head to assist in lifting. If you’re not on board the Anatomy Trains concept that’s okay. We don’t have to be friends, just don’t cuss me out for talking about things you don’t understand. This article is not meant to walk you through all of the anatomical concepts of the chains of muscles that course through your neck, face, and skull. If you want that information, read Anatomy Trains, go to Nebraska and talk to Ron Hruska, go to IndyFAST and have the geniuses there school you up. I’m just going to tell you about some of the things I coach athletes with that help secure the chains north of the clavicles and scapula and integrate them into the chains of the body proper.
I recently wrote an article for the Juggernaut folks where I told the reader to not suck at sucking. This is where this article will start from and build off of. The tongue, palate, mouth, and throat is fascially part of what Thomas Myers’ calls, The Deep Front Line. Stick your tongue to the roof of your mouth and suck/pull the roof down and flatten it out. You should feel some abdominal firing with this if you do it right. If I’m working with you on your head, neck, and face, I need you to show me proximal stability before we worry about distal mobility. Your proximal stability can be found in the mouth. Suck to stabilize. There’s about 10,000 other details that can improve what you’re doing with your tongue in your mouth, but for now let’s just say stick it to the roof, suck, and don’t move it too much.
Part 2 of my advice for athletes and lifters involves the concept of the reach. If you want to stabilize the abdominal core, try reaching both arms forward and dropping your sternum down towards your pelvis. Want more core…reach your knees forward and round out your low back. You’re never going to get much core activation unless you reach first. The arms are the extremity of the thorax. The legs are the extremity of the pelvis. What is the extremity of the head and face? The mandible. You can reach your arms, right? That’s easy. Appreciate the fact that you can reach with your mandibles too. Suck on the roof with the tongue. Keep your proximal stability. From here reach your bottom jaw forward. Give yourself a caveman underbite. It’s not that hard. I want to tell you about all kinds of cool things you can do with your face and head, but if you can’t suck and reach, forget about the cool stuff…otherwise we’re just assclowns focusing on bench press when we can’t do push ups.
Have you ever watched the movie, Pet Cemetery? Fantastic movie…murderous walking dead cats and toddlers, phenomenal. My favorite character is the old man from Maine though. Ask him for directions, and he’ll perhaps not be as helpful as you’d hope. “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how to get to the Stop & Shop?” “Ayuh, I can tell you that. Thing is though, you can’t get there from here.” Great.
I really want to help you gain a neutral spine. I want to get you out of having excessive anterior pelvic tilt, lumbar lordosis, flattening of the thoracic spine, and forward head posture. That stuff is not helping you get stronger. It’s giving you a good dose of reciprocal inhibition, pain, and decreased force production potential. Thing is though, you can’t just get there from here. There are potentially a lot of twists and turns that you’re going to have to take to reach a simple goal through a convoluted pathway. If you really want to get something though, I’ve got a suggestion for you…reach.
I’m a professor and an educator, so it’s partially in my nature at this point to give homework. Here is your homework…
1. Lie on your back.
2. Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the ground
3. Reach for the ceiling with your hands and arms
4. Move your sternum in an inferior direction…drop it towards your pelvis
5. Reach your knees for the ceiling (keep your feet flat on the ground)
6. Flatten your back on the ground as your knees reach (give a little isometric hamstring curl too pulling through your heels)
---At this point you should feel your abs and hamstrings…if not, I don’t know what the hell you did
7. Stick your tongue on your palate
8. Reach your mandible towards the ceiling
9. Look down in the direction of your feet with your eyeballs
10. Nod so that your forehead moves in an inferior direction (towards your chin) (at no point during this should your head have left the ground)
If you did this right, you should feel as though more of your body has come into contact with the ground. You should be feeling your abs and hamstrings pretty effectively. Authentic core stability starts with finding abs and hamstrings. These are two important groups of muscles that prevent prone collapse in a world with a gravitational field. This simple little article with one exercise involving 10 steps of instruction is a prerequisite article for understanding how I want you to perform exercises. You need to learn how to gain proximal stability prior to worrying about moving loads or at high velocity with your limbs. Proximal stability can be found in many places, but the mouth, the abs, and the ischial attachment side of the hamstrings are big time players in this model.
You heard me tell you about the old man in Pet Cemetery earlier in this article, and how he’ll tell you that you can’t get there from here. Where are we going you may be asking? Quite honestly that’s up to you. I don’t want to tell you what a good idea is for you from a fitness perspective. That’s personal stuff. You do what you want to do. All I really want to do is help you do more of the stuff that you enjoy in life. So where are we going? I don’t have the foggiest my brother/sister, but I sure as shit don’t want to see you go nowhere. Even if you think you’re healthy and optimal, chances are you’re not. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to the health and wellness of your overall organism. When you’re ready to take command of your body, I’ve got simple advice for you, grab the reigns and go, just don’t forget to reach for them.
Pat Davidson is an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Springfield College. Pat’s academic background includes an M.S. in Strength and Conditioning and a Ph.D in Exercise Physiology. Pat competes in Strongman in the 175 pound class, and has coached Springfield College Team Ironsports members to national championships and world championship appearances in Strongman. Pat specializes in using Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) concepts to keep athletes healthy and block program designs to help elite athletes raise their physiological fitness capacities to the highest possible levels. Pat is launching DELTA Force Training Systems (Dynamic Exercise Leading to Adaptations) in the spring of 2014. Services include seminars, in person evaluations, online evaluations, coaching for optimal lifting performance, strength and conditioning for all types of athletes, and program design. If you’d like to contact Pat, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his cell phone is (508) 685-8455. Don’t be afraid to give a call or shoot a text, you don’t have to be a stranger…let’s talk shop