Throughout the years I’ve worked as a coach/trainer and nutritionist, I’ve serviced a diverse assortment of clients, both via the web and in real life. Whereas some of these clients were very sick when they initially approached me and needed help overcoming one or more serious health problems, others were quite healthy and were just looking for that little extra that could take their health or physical fitness condition to the next level. The client – Anders – I plan to talk about in this post fits into the latter category
I don’t have a habit of talking about my work with clients here on the site; however, every now and then, I make an exception. I’ve shared a couple of videos in the past that feature some of the exercises Anders did while he was working with me; however, until now, I haven’t put up a post in which I talk about our work together. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time, in large part because I worked with him for a very long time and because he is among the most enthusiastic and hard-working individuals I’ve ever trained. Moreover, he has some remarkable physical attributes and was able to execute complex exercises that most people aren’t able to perform.
In this post, I obviously won’t reveal any personal information or intimate details related to my work with Anders. Rather, I thought I’d focus on why he was able to perform certain exercises, in particular the dragon flag, that most people aren’t able to perform.
Lower body posture & strength: A key determinant of musculoskeletal health and physical performance
Anders initially approached me many years back because he was looking for a trainer that could help him structure his workouts and help him safely and effectively build a strong, robust body. He quickly turned into one of my favorite clients. Not only did he work extremely hard when he was in the gym, but he carefully listened to and implemented the advice I was giving him and followed my every instruction. Moreover, I have to admit that part of the reason why I greatly enjoyed working with him is that he was quite strong and in-tune with his musculoskeletal system. I enjoy working with beginners as well; however, seeing as that is what I’ve mostly been doing, it’s always interesting to get to work with someone who’s on a more advanced level, fitness wise.
Anders primarily wanted to build muscle and strength, improve his athletic performance, and lose a little fat here and there. He didn’t want to look like a bodybuilder; however, he did want to become stronger and more muscular, particularly working on the muscles that one uses in cross country skiing and sailing, such as the triceps and latissimus dorsi. Early on, we decided that he would do aerobic activities on his own, while he would perform strength training when he was with me.
One of the things I noticed quite early on was that Anders had very strong abs and glutes and good lower body posture. That allowed him to perform many complex exercises in a safe and effective manner. He didn’t arch his back or shift the weight away from his posterior chain, onto his lower back and/or quads, which is something a lot of people have a habit of doing, for example in the squat. Over time, as his glutes and core muscles grew even stronger, he became even better at stabilizing his spine under load and effectively activating and using his posterior chain. His case really highlights the vital role that the glutes and core musculature play in solidifying and controlling the lower part of the body. It also highlights the fact that strength training may initiate or fuel a virtuous or vicious cycle.
Many gym goers stumble into a vicious cycle because they perform one or more exercises with poor form. Part of the reason why this is a common occurrence is that a lot of modern humans suffer from a muscle imbalance syndrome of some sort (e.g., lower crossed syndrome, upper crossed syndrome). Often, the glutes, abdominals, and/or upper back muscles are weak, whereas the hip flexors, lower back muscles, and/or pectorals are strong & tight. Such problems are aggravated by improper strength training.
Conversely, proper strength training can initiate and/or fuel a virtuous cycle. That’s what happened in Anders’ case. He wasn’t able to fully correct his shoulder posture while working with me, which was somewhat misaligned; however, over time, he became increasingly better at controlling and activating his glutes and abdominals, which became stronger and stronger. In my experience, that allows one to perform a wide range of exercises in a safer and more effective manner, due to the fact that one is able to better stabilize the spine under load and activate the posterior chain.
Organic resistance training
Resistance exercise is an important part of the organic fitness pyramid. One doesn’t have to perform resistance exercises to be healthy and fit; however, dips, pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and the like are certainly a nice addition to an organic fitness program. There are many different ways to perform these exercises. Some versions are appropriate for beginners and people who aren’t that strong, whereas others work well for those who are on a more advanced level, fitness wise.
Anders belongs in the latter category; hence, he did fairly challenging versions of the exercises I prescribed. Despite the fact that he only did resistance training two times per week (sometimes just one), he progressed nicely on a program centered around the following multi-joint exercises:
- The press
A great exercise that I use frequently with clients
- Weighed push-ups with hands and feet elevated
This is an exercise I would strongly recommend to people who are on a fairly advanced level, fitness wise. By adding weight plates to one’s upper back and elevating one’s feet and hands via the use of boxes, one can turn the regular push-up into a very demanding exercise.
- The pull-up
- The deadlift
- The squat
- Plank with glute squeeze
- And eventually… the dragon flag
As you can see, there aren’t many “ab exercises” in this program. What’s important to point out though is that almost all of the exercises above can be performed in such a way that they stimulate the glutes and core musculature. For example, I typically tell clients to contract the glutes when they perform push-ups and the press, thereby ensuring that they don’t anteriorly tilt their pelvis and arch their back.
Below are two videos that show Anders doing weighted pull ups and the dragon flag…
The dragon flag
His technique in the dragon flag is pretty damn good. It could be argued that it’s not 100% perfect though, seeing as he uses his legs somewhat at the bottom of the movement in order to propel his body upwards.
It’s important to point out that Anders was already quite strong when he started working with me; hence, he was able to perform difficult exercises such as the dragon flag fairly quickly. Moreover, it should be noted that he has the build for it. He’s not taller than normal, nor does he have wide hips. Very tall people, such as myself, as well as people who carry a lot of weight in their lower body, such as women with broad hips, will find it a lot more difficult to perform the dragon flag.
Key takeaway point
The abdominals and the glutes stabilize the lower back and pelvis and are involved in many bodily movements. If the glutes and abs are weak & inactive, then postural problems are likely to develop and it’s difficult to perform exercises such as the squat and deadlift with good form. It’s also impossible to perform very challenging exercises like the dragon flag, which one needs a stable, strong core to execute. Unfortunately, a lot of modern humans have weak glutes and core muscles, in large part because it’s very common these days to spend the majority of one’s wakeful hours sitting on a chair.