The Relationship Between the Rib Cage, Pelvis, and Ankles

The Relationship Between the Rib Cage, Pelvis, and Ankles

Since my story post of this topic yesterday got so much positive feedback, I figured I’d make a more formal and detailed post regarding the reasoning for the vast improvement in just 1 week in Payton’s squat. (CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO)

There really is just one main difference between the two videos, and that is on the right Payton has some thin 2.5lb plates under his heels to simulate a heeled shoe. The idea of elevating the heel is nothing special, its more so why this worked so well. Payton has been powerlifting over 7 years now, and even though he knows better, the idea of maintaining neutrality at the rib cage, lower back, and pelvis alluded him. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what to do, its that there was some restriction that just was not allowing him to achieve that position. And for those 7 years, all he had ever used was a flat soled shoe to squat in.

To understand fully what was going on here, we must understand the relationship between the rib cage, pelvis, and ankle. They cohesively work together, and when one of these struggles with proper orientation, the others follow. For example, if someone does the typical “booty pop” and anterior rotates on their squat, it will cause the rib cage to flare, the femurs to internally rotate, and the ankles to pronate. As well as the fact that an anterior tilt lengthens the hamstring, which then places greater tension on the calf muscle as it tries to lengthen and allow the ankle into dorsiflexion. Or if we puff up chest up in the squat and elevate the rib cage, that will cause the pelvis to anteriorly rotate, the femurs to internally rotate, and the ankles to pronate. Hopefully you get the picture now. One weak link in this chain then causes compensation throughout. And this weak link can be due to either improper movement and bracing patterns, or some type of actual restriction.

In the case of Payton, the tell for me that the issue stemmed from his ankles is that even while doing a safety bar squat or Goblet squat, which naturally pulls you into a more neutral position, he still could not orientate his rib cage and pelvis correctly. At surface level, he didn’t appear to have some issue with ankle flexion, as his foot actually remained in a decent position and resisted pronation. But as can be seen, as soon as he slightly elevated that heel he was able to drastically change the orientation of his rib cage and pelvis. My thought here is that Payton was actually doing a good thing, in that he would stop forcing more ankle flexion when he knew it would cause pronation and a loss of foot position. I say this is good, because too often people rely on pronation to achieve depth, rather than addressing the issue at hand. Because of this though, he then would have to compensate by flaring the rib cage and anteriorly rotating the pelvis. And with that, he didn’t have a mobility issue either. We only genetically have so much ankle dorsiflexion, some more than others, so just constantly forcing stretches isn’t always the answer. For Payton, he just needed that slight assistance with the heel elevation to gave him an added effective range of motion, which then allowed the other two links in this chain to position properly.

Athletes – Take Control Of Your Training

Athletes – Take Control Of Your Training

Two PRs on two un-programmed attempts for Abbee and Brandi (CLICK HERE). Abbee was programmed to retake a 365lb. single that the week prior did not move so great, but instead went up to 380lbs. and smoked it. Brandi was on her secondary deadlift day with some light conventional singles planned, and instead hit a sumo deadlift PR of 303lbs. Neither of these attempts were programmed, but both are coached approved.

Online coaching is an imperfect format, with the obvious downside being that as an online coach I am not there in person with the athlete. Therefore, athletes at times need to take control of their own program. Am I stating that athlete’s should be going off program all the time? No, 99% of the time they should probably stick to the plan. But I am saying that at times they should feel like they have the confidence and ability to make judgement calls. I would rather have an athlete who feels empowered to make decisions rather than one who feels they can’t do anything without my approval.

In the case of Abbee, 380lbs. has been in her head for a while. She has missed it in competition and she has missed it in training. She has had the strength, we just needed her mind and confidence to catch up. She made the decision going into this session that she was going to overcome this hurdle and went in and made her previous mental block now her new squat PR. Even if for some reason she missed it, I appreciate the attitude and empowerment she had within her training, and wanting to take control of her destiny.

Brandi has been struggling with conventional deadlift. Leading up to her meet last April we experienced some massive progress with conventional that we just haven’t been able to replicate again. On Saturday, she grinded out 303lbs., 30lbs. under her best. She came in Monday with a chip and something within her said to try sumo. It felt so good that she just kept going up, eventually to the point that she came back around just 2 days later to that same 303lbs. and smoked it for a new sumo PR. She is just under 3 weeks out from her next meet. As a coach, I am probably not making that call to switch to sumo out of nowhere unless Brandi finds some evidence herself that shows otherwise. Which is exactly what she did. She felt empowered to take control and followed what felt good, and 3 weeks out we are making a drastic switch to sumo.

Bench Press Touch Point – Creating The Optimal Bar Path

Bench Press Touch Point – Creating The Optimal Bar Path

Kyle has made a big leap on his bench press lately, as his current meet best is 314lb., but you can see on the right Kyle absolutely smoking 303lbs. (CLICK HERE). Things started to come together when he was able to nail down a more efficient bar path during his eccentric. As can be seen on the left, Kyle had a lot of horizontal movement during the eccentric and a fairly low touch point, which then created a lot of work for him to drive that bar back and up over his shoulders to lock out. You can even see that it was to the extent that the bar actually moved back past his shoulders due to the amount of horizontal force he was having to create.

The answer to what is your optimal touch point is a tough one, as its very lifter dependent and grip width dependent. But what I can say is that for most, the higher you can touch while still maintaining shoulder depression and a stacked elbow under the wrist, the less overall work you will then have during the concentric.

A stereotypical answer to this question is your touch point is the highest point of your body, but thats a dangerous example to use depending on where that point is. We want to elevate the ribcage to cause the upper sternum and lower chest to be that highest point, but more often than not I see most lifters having their lower sternum or top of their stomach being that high point.

Payton is a good example of a high ribcage and high touch point lifter (CLICK HERE). You can see for the most part his eccentric bar path is fairly vertical. This is in large part due to the fact that he is creating enough elevation and depression to start the bar over his touch point, rather than having to create horizontal movement during the eccentric to find it. And then as he presses off his chest, his bar path is extremely efficient to lockout.

Many probably have heard of the “J-Curve” style bench press, where during the concentric the bar moves back and up. I am not disagreeing against the J-Curve or the typical instruction that the bar should travel back, as many of the top level lifters do so. But the less “J” we can have the better, as it creates less need for horizontal movement and allows us to focus more on vertical pressing, which is a bench press at its core. If you look at both Kyle and Payton, they have a slight “J”, but rather than an extreme hook at the bottom, notating a high degree of horizontal movement, its more of a half J. This is what you should be shooting for.

Don’t Make This Setup Mistake on Sumo

Don’t Make This Setup Mistake on Sumo

This may be the simplest form change you could ever make with your sumo deadlift that will make a dramatic difference. I have seen this issue countless times, and its like a lightbulb goes off once the athlete realizes what they were doing. Notice on the left (CLICK HERE) how when Abbee approaches the bar, she does so with her knees bent and one leg at a time. When you see this, you probably initially see nothing wrong with it, as it looks like a typical sumo deadlift setup. But notice one big thing…..once she straightens her legs, that bar is about 3 inches out in front of her shins. With the sumo deadlift, for the most part we want that bar to be in line with our shins. Since our feet are angled out, the front to back distance of the foot is less than a conventional deadlift, so the actual position of the mid-foot is directly in front of the shin, or at most an inch out in front. With this style of setup, it gave Abbee a false sense that she was lining up the bar over her mid-foot. The simple change for her was to line up with her legs straight, as can be seen on the right (CLICK HERE).

I’ve had countless times when I told an athlete to line up closer to the bar, and they just never could, but once I asked to see their full setup it was immediately noticeable that they had fallen for this same issue. They continually thought they were setting up close to the bar, but time and time again, once they actually got into their tensioning setup the bar was floating out in front of their center of gravity. So the simple fix is to set up with your legs straight, and make sure when standing erect that the bar is in the correct position in relation to your mid-foot and your shins.

1 Cue To Fix Your Deadlift Tensioning

1 Cue To Fix Your Deadlift Tensioning

Some cues that have been very popular lately on the deadlift are “ribcage down” and to “open up the scapula” to create long arms. And while I get the notion, I’ve seen that lead too often to people being stuck in thoracic flexion. It’s more well known to not let the lower back round and pelvis tuck under, or else that leads the the lifter overly relying on lumbar extension to finish the lift. But the same thing happens when we over compensate with our thoracic setup on deadlift as well. As can be seen above in the video on the left (CLICK HERE), Lorenzo is setting his “ribcage down” and “opening up the scapula” as he tensions on his sumo deadlift. But he never recovers from this position, and even if he did, there was a lot of thoracic movement needed to regain that neutral position, which either has to occur as he pulls the hips in or at lockout. So I instead cued Lorenzo to keep a more neutral thoracic spine and to tension from his “upper traps through his arms”, as can be seen in the video on the right (CLICK HERE). Especially in the sumo deadlift, we are trying to maintain a fairly upright position, so the actual vertical force is more of the shoulders depressing and lengthening the upper traps to allow the “long arm” position. Based on your torso angle this vertical tension will change due to each individuals mechanics, but the key here is to set the tension in the area that is going to promote the most upright and neutral position possible. And like any cue, it’s not always meant to be literal, but rather a guiding force to get you into the right position. In reality, Lorenzo is tensioning more into his mid to upper traps. But cueing “upper traps through the arms” helped him to guide him into a better tensioned position. What this tends to fix as well is bar position. When Lorenzo was tensioning more in his mid back, notice how as he brought the hips down, that arms had to move back as well. Versus on the right, the arms never move, and stay in the same spot throughout. That is because before there was a slight horizontal tension being created as well. I’ve seen this at times cause the bar to roll forward, or give the lifter a false sense that the bar is in the right place when it is actually too far away from them. Rather, tensioning through the upper traps allowed Lorenzo to create a direct vertical pull on the bar without promoting any horizontal tension that created unneeded movement.