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Achieving balance through proper movement patterns

This is an excerpt from Lower Body Training by Jason Brown.

It makes sense to devote a significant amount of time to strength training the regions of the posterior chain such as the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors when they are underdeveloped (or, for many, simply not functioning properly), even if you don’t suffer from lower back pain. This effectively counters many of these issues by bringing people into more extension, external rotation, and abduction movements, and it provides a small countermeasure of relief from everyday postures many find themselves in for hours on end. (A staggering portion of the population spends the majority of their lives sitting in flexion-based postures.)

You will notice that this book spends a great deal of time systematically training the musculature of the posterior regions of the body. This is because daily postures of most people not only present structural problems but also create lack of strength in this key musculature, which allows compensation and faulty motor patterns to be ingrained and causes an overreliance on vulnerable areas of the body in everyday movement. For example, due to a lack of ability to load the hamstrings when picking up an object (as a result of weak hamstrings and poor motor control), that load is then relegated to the lumbar spine, or lower back, with little contribution from the glutes and hamstrings. Picking up an object without loading the hamstrings is akin to teaching a client to deadlift without learning the hip hinge pattern (with proper lumbopelvic rhythm) first. Together, a better awareness of lumbopelvic rhythm (motor control), the ability to articulate the hips in a manner that maintains a neutral spine when picking up an object, and the ability to effectively use the hips to create a hinge pattern and lock the lumbar spine into a static and stable position allow better usage of the glutes and hamstrings as prime movers instead of stabilizers.

In other words, posterior chain development, particularly of the glute complex and hamstrings, is a critical component of effective lower body training for health, longevity, performance, and athletics. While we know that the posterior plays a major role in overall success (whether in terms of health or performance), this isn’t to say that you should neglect training the anterior region of the body; quite the contrary. Instead, you should have an optimal balance of posterior versus anterior chain training and choose exercises that fit individual goals, needs, and anthropometrics (limb length), as well as consistently allow for motor pattern improvement. (The execution of the hip hinge pattern needs consistent attention because becoming complacent may put you at risk of injury.)

While quad-dominant exercises are important and will certainly be covered in great depth, understanding how strength in the posterior regions of the body that support both local motion and the hip hinge pattern plays a key role in lower back integrity is important for any strength and conditioning professional. A baseline level of knowledge with regard to hip- and quad-dominant and abduction- and adduction-dominant movements is the starting point to create more balance through movement and to strategically include specific movements in your program design. This will give you the ability to do the following:

  • Assess limitations. Since the human body is not completely symmetrical, neither is the ratio of strength between limbs. The ability to identify areas of opportunity for training focus and to select exercises based on those limitations is important for health and strength improvement. For instance, if an individual has a one-rep max front squat that is close to their one-rep max deadlift, that individual is limited in terms of posterior chain recruitment and maximal strength. Programming variations can then be included that address limitations of the musculature that drives hip extension and hip abduction, which will balance out the ratio of strength between the posterior and anterior chains of the individual.
  • Create balance within program design specific to need. Using the same example, offsetting the distribution of hip-dominant versus quad-dominant work in favor of the former will be important.
  • Address limitations related to job descriptions. If we know an individual works a desk job and is sitting for extended periods, it will make sense to counter these anatomical positions (i.e., more hip-dominant patterns). The overwhelming majority of individuals will present common posture maladies. We counter these maladies with movements that pull people into healthier postures.