I’m not only a coach at the Movement Minneapolis, I’m also the first touchpoint for anyone curious about joining our gym community. This means that twice a week I meet with those who sign up for a free hour-long introductory session where we chat about each person’s exercise history and current goals and mutually decide if Movement is a great fit for where they are right now.
Everyone is different, no doubt. People come in with different movement histories and experience levels, and they span the strength spectrum. Even so, certain themes emerged in self-reports on how people are feeling on a day-to-day basis. Many people are experiencing nagging aches, and a main complaint is low-back pain. Based on conversations I’ve had with hundreds of people from all walks of life, I have a sneaking suspicion about a couple of the potential cause(s):
- Spending too much time doing hinge movements (for more on the hinge, check out my last post) with little variation in terms of frequency, volume, and intensity. This is especially common with new lifters. We do what we know, right?
- Spending too much time at a desk or hunched over their phones.
To dig into why this is a problem, I turned to fellow Movement Minneapolis coach Erika Mundinger, PT, DPT, and OCS, a physical therapist at a top orthopedic pain clinic here in the Twin Cities. What follows is our chat on why building balanced strength is important and our favorite exercises for going about doing just that.
JVB: OK, Erika, here’s what I’m seeing: Often, when potential members first come through our doors, they tell me they’re feeling a bit of bodily discomfort, and low-back pain is the oft-repeated culprit. Based on your experience, what do you think could be contributing?
Erika: Speaking generally, our bodies were built to move in three planes of motion. First there’s the sagittal plane, where bilateral (two-legged) squats and deadlifts, as well as sitting, reside. Second is the frontal plane, which include movements where we move from the center out to the side and back again, like jumping jacks. Third is the transverse, or rotational, plane, and it includes movements like golf swings and swinging a baseball bat.
Oftentimes people spend too much time exercising (or not, in the case of sitting) in the sagittal plane and not enough time in the other two.
JVB: I hear you, I know how stiff my hips and shoulders get when I spend a big chunk of time typing away at my computer. Why is this a problem?
Erika: If you’re sitting or exercising too much in the sagittal plane, you aren’t using the muscles you need for lateral and rotational movements, like reaching to the side for something on your countertop or putting on your seatbelt. The same goes for lifting weights in a single plane: if you’re constantly pushing and pulling in the sagittal plane, and then you move outside of that plane but you haven’t strengthened the muscles you need to do so, those muscles don’t have the strength or mobility to support that movement and you run the risk of injury.
Ahhh, no thank you to injury! Now, I understand how improving your strength and mobility in all three dimensions will positively impact your everyday movements outside the gym. But let’s talk about PRs inside the gym. As a powerlifter, maintaining my sagittal-plane strength — where I squat, bench, and deadlift — in off-season training, is important to me. Will increasing my 3-D strength carry over to these movements, too?
Erika: Absolutely! Exercises that increase your lateral and rotational stability and mobility make it easier to get into a good position to safely move heavier weights.
I’m sold, and I hope you are too! Here are three movements to improve your three-dimensional strength and mobility that you canincorporate into your exercise routine right now.
Kettlebell Arm Bar
Why you want to do it: this drill improves your shoulder strength and thoracic spine (your mid-back) mobility. Not only that, it will help bust up stiffness gathered from too much sitting.
When to do it: Tack this drill on the the end of your warm-up on every training day. (I find it particularly helpful on squat and upper body days.) Start with a light, easy-to-handle kettlebell and once you are square with the movement, increase the weight to help generate a bigger stretch.
Barbell or Double Kettlebell Jefferson Deadlift
Why you want to do it: This big bang-for-your-3D-strength-buck is the perfect complement to it’s strictly sagittal-plane counterparts, the conventional and sumo deadlifts and bilateral squats. Combining an asymmetrical stance and anti-rotation will majorly target your core, quads, and glutes.
- This exercise is new-lifter-friendlier when done with two kettlebells. Because you don’t have a barbell holding your torso in place, avoid allowing your shoulders to align with your hips by keeping your shoulders square to the wall in front of you.
- When you’re ready to Jefferson with a barbell, start with lighter plates while you get familiar with the movement. If you don’t have bumper plates that are all the same diameter, elevate your bar loaded with iron plates on boxes or stacked plates high enough for you to keep your back flat.
Suspension Trainer Rotational Pull
Why you want to do it: This rotational exercise hits the muscles of your upper back (read: the ones that when strong help give you great posture) and your obliques. Core training at it’s best!
Do it well: pull your fists towards your bottom ribs and rotate your hips, shoulders, and head in one smooth motion. Keep your glutes tight to prevent your hips from sagging and lean back to keep tension on the suspension trainer straps.
Ready to build your own three-dimensional strength?
If you’re a new lifter interested in getting strong, or someone who wants to build more balanced strength, we’ve put together a brand-new 12-week strength training program for you called Bedrock Strength. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of every single exercise in the program and user manual that guides you through every step of the program from A to Z, Jen Sinkler and I have combined our years of coaching and training to design the program we wish we would have had a beginners ourselves. This is a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that will build a foundation of strength to last a lifetime.
Bedrock Strength is available now: Check it out here!