Happy Holidays! Christmas was pretty busy this year and between plowing through peanut butter balls that looked like reindeer and unwrapping a box full of exercise bands and Valslides, I was unable to find time to repost my 12 Lifts of Christmas workout from last year. So here it is.
On the bright side, my Christmas presents included some chalk, hockey tape (because I haven’t retaped my stick all season and my superstitious side tells me that’s why I haven’t been putting up any ginos), and three new lacrosse balls after a friend-who-shall-not-be-named decided to drop my lax ball out the door of my truck onto a slightly pitched parking lot in the middle of the night while it was raining. Needless to say we didn’t spend a lot of time looking for it.
Alas, even through a busy holiday season, I’ve had a couple of things on my mind so here we go!
Core Strength for Overhead Pressing
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a coach/trainer, it’s that most of the general population does not have the core strength to get their arms to 180 degrees of shoulder flexion unloaded, nevermind with a weight in their hands. Overhead pressing might be one of the most over-prescribed, misunderstood exercise variations in the history of mankind.
It’s like watching the Phantom Gourmet without getting hungry: most people simply can’t do it.
But there are two sides to core strength and overhead pressing. First, you need adequate core strength to even get your hands above your head in the first place. If you don’t have the proper anterior core stability, your rib cage will flare as your lats and back extensors get tight to make up for the deficit.
Here’s an example of a bad situation: lifter A has been performing seated dumbbell presses for years and suddenly decides that he wants to perform standing overhead barbell presses. Years of strength gains have left this guy with some pretty big shoulders and triceps and maybe some tight hip flexors. But he lacks the core stability to meet the the new demand of standing. Furthermore, his tight hip flexors leave him hip-extension challenged. Since he’s pretty strong in his upper body, lifter A is putting some heavy loads onto an extremely extended lumbar spine. Bad news.
If you can’t maintain 180 degrees of shoulder flexion without any weight in your hands, overhead pressing isn’t an option.
How can we test this? Well, we can use a standing postural assessment or something like the overhead deep squat test from the FMS to find out if we have the ability to get our arms into the proper position. If we can’t, then we’ll go to the floor or table and perform a supine shoulder flexion to test for lat stiffness. If the floor flexion comes out negative, then we know that we have a core stability issue and not just tight muscles.
But it’s not enough to just have the core strength to get your arms overhead, so here’s the other side of the coin. If you ever want to press big weights overhead (which everyone does because it looks badass), you need to make sure that you’re continuously challenging your anterior core!
I think a common idea that people have is that after we progress from planks to ball rollouts and the ab wheel, we’re done. We’ve made it! We have great abs and tremendous anterior core strength!
Assuming that our mobility is perfect and our scapulae are stable, we’ll have a stronger overhead press if our core is made of steel and not overcooked pasta. Think about it this way, you probably wouldn’t do much bench pressing if the the bench was made of silly putty.
If you’ve stalled in your overhead press, try adding a little extra core work at the end of your upper body/pressing days. Try some harder bodyweight exercises like L-sit or front lever progressions.
All About Box Jumps (And why I sometimes hate them)
I have to admit. I HATE box jumps. Sometimes. Most of the time. Almost all of the time.
You know why? Because somewhere along the line, somebody decided that since their friend jumped onto the 24 inch box, they were going to jump onto the 36. And so on and so forth. And all of a sudden, we developed a generation of athletes performing 24 inch verticals onto 60 inch boxes, landing in deep squat positions, and then immediately jumping backward to the ground without even really getting fully on the box in the first place.
It’s like they always say, “If it doesn’t look athletic, it probably isn’t.”
But my point isn’t to bash box jumps, because they’re actually an awesome tool.
My point is to try and revive the initial point of jumping onto a box: to reduce the stress of landing on the joints.
Box jumps can be performed more frequently than traditional vertical jumps with less stress on the ankles, knees, hips, and spine. But if we’re constantly landing in a deep squat position on the box, we’re placing unnecessary compressive stress on the knee. Even worse, if we have a 24 inch vertical, jump to a 36 inch box, and then jump down, we’ve actually created a more stressful landing than a traditional vertical.
So here’s what you need to do: find out what your vertical is. (Or at least find out the neighborhood your vertical is in.) For the record, Calvin Johnson has a 42.5″ vertical. he could probably do box jumps to a 36 inch box. You, however, probably don’t have a 42.5″ vertical and would probably be better off with a 12″, 18″ or 24″ box.
Personally, I usually stick with the 24″ box. My vertical is unremarkable and in the 25-30″ neighborhood. So 24″ allows me to challenge myself a bit while also reducing almost all of the stress associated with landing.
The bottom line is this: if you have to squat to reach the box, then the box is too damn high! Get over yourself and pick a smaller box. A higher box jump doesn’t make you a better athlete, it makes you a better box jumper. And since there’s no box jump test in the Olympics, at the NFL combine, on the SATs, or in your annual appraisal at the office, your best box jump literally doesn’t matter.