Being flexible is useful. Being flexible allows you to move as independently as possible, and to have more access to strength and speed and endurance. It is also useful to have tools and strategies to enhance your flexibility as much as possible. However, flexibility alone does NOT matter. It does NOT matter if you can touch your toes. Coaches have always said their athletes need to stretch, but to what end? And what reference point to have to compare against? This is where the movement and mobility archetypes come into play. An archetype is simply a model or example to imitate. And there are several simple position that we use to say "This is full range of motion for such and such joint, and this is how far you need to be able to reach." Touching your toes does not matter. Yes, you should be able to do it, but really, what does matter is if you can perform work without putting yourself at risk of harm. Can you reach down to the ground to either pick something up or put something down. This is an example of the deadlift archetype.
All of these archetypes, with the exception of one, which we will talk about in a later blog (the abdominal vacuum) all display one arrangement of hip or shoulder flexion or extension, and either internal or external rotation in the hips or shoulders.
These models and their standards must always express full range of motion in their relevant joints, a neutral spine, creating torque in the correct direction, and it must transfer across to other skills and movements. These qualities are what make the following positions models to imitate for both daily life and athleticism.
Archetype #1: THE SQUAT:
The squat is a display of hip flexion and external rotation. Additionally, you also need full knee flexion, along with a decent amount of ankle flexion.
The squat is the gold standard for having general range of motion. Basically, if you cannot squat butt to ankles, you know you need help and that you can increase your defenses against chronic pain even further. The squat is a fundamental shape that all human beings start off being able to do perfectly, but, for many, stop being able to do simply because they never do it anymore. And rarely are you ever good at something you never practice. Your lack of ability to squat is never because of how old you are. It is because you never practice it.
Now, the squat is a movement that demands a few rules be followed in sequence i order to do optimize your health, sustainability, and power as you move through it.
1. Brace yourself. Squeeze your butt, squeeze your belly. Keep your belly tight while you relax your butt.
2. Screw your feet into the ground externally. This will create external rotation in your hips and engage your glutes for you. So without moving your feet, keep your feet parallel, and screw them into the ground. This will also cause you to display having your knees out.
3. Initiate the movement of the squat by first taking your hips back. Not taking your knees forward.
4. The hips will move back as they go down, so let your torso lean forward to counter balance. Leaning forward is not illegal, especially for a basic body squat.
5. Feet remain straight through the entire movement, and knees always remain shoved out to stabilize the hips through the entire movement, up and down. How hard you shove your knees out depends on how much weight you are moving up and down.
6. Maintain a neutral spine from the top to the bottom position. But understand that if you go all the way down to your ankles, your hips will naturally tuck in as you get into a rest position. Dont go that far down if you are lifting weights.
7. Follow the same rules in reverse for standing up out of the squat.
Archetype #2: THE LUNGE
The lunge is an expression of hip extension and internal rotation. And the couch stretch, seen above, is the ultimate expression of hip extension.
Lunging simply means one leg is trailing back behind the body. The classic lunge exercise is just an exaggeration of walking. Every time you take a step your back leg is lunging. In order to create stability in the hip while going through extension, you need to generate internal rotation. Think about how a boxer moves his back leg while he punches off of his back hip. They will always turn their back leg inward because that allows for maximum power output. Creating a full lunge position, however, is something we rarely do in our day-to-day life. There just simply aren't really any demands, anywhere, for creating so much hip extension. The gym is about the only place you are likely to see this. And because it is so rarely seen in daily life, even for fit and mobile people, hip extension is often missing. This is something that needs to specifically be trained, and to be trained often. The couch stretch is the opposite of sitting, and is important for being able to squat optimally.
An important note about getting into the couch stretch is that you need to be able to squeeze your glutes when you are fully extended. If you try to compensate and bend your lower back to reach your torso up , you will be in a bad position. Always be able to squeeze your butt.
Archetype #3: THE DEADLIFT
The deadlift is a display of hip flexion and external rotation.
The difference between a deadlift and a squat however is that during a squat, your hips move a little bit back and all the way down. During a deadlift, your hips move a little bit down, and all the way back.
Also known as a hip-hinge, deadlifting is how you position yourself to either pick something up or to put something down, although a squat can also be used to perform the same action. One of the most important factors of the deadlift position is maintaining a neutral lower back. Your glutes and hamstrings need to extend while you move through this position, however, if these tissues are stiff, they will pull on your lower back and pull your QL's (quadratus lumborum muscles, which help to hold your lumbar spine down to your hips) up and out. This is what those humps are in the lower back when an individual bends there.
Bonus archeytpe: THE PISTOL
The pistol is a demonstration of full ankle range of motion. There isn't really anything out there that demands more ankle flexibility. All it is is a one-legged squat. Even if you can perform a squat with flat feet, that doesn't mean you can perform a one-legged squat, which demands a little bit more ankle flexion. This position I consider necessary if you want to run. Having more than enough ankle flexibility is important for allowing your achilles tendon to safely extend through every step under that stress. I consider this a bonus archetype only because it is really just an extension of the squat, not an altogether different position.
Archetype #4: THE OVERHEAD
The overhead position displays Shoulder flexion and external rotation.
If your shoulders are tight, what will commonly happen when your raise your arms up is that they will pull on your chest because that's the only place they can find slack. This automatically places your spine into overextension, and now you are ignoring the first rule of movement. Having tight shoulders makes it difficult to do things such as pressing weights overhead, painting high up on a wall, or just taking off a shirt. Not only does it take less range of motion to set your spine into a bad position, but having tight shoulders also means your arms, shoulders, chest, and neck will be significantly weaker and at greater risk for chronic pain and injury.
The standards for this position include:
- The ribcage does not move. At all.
- Elbows remain locked out.
- The arms should basically be straight up and down relative to your head.
Archetype #5: THE FRONT RACK
The front rack position displays Shoulder flexion and external rotation. What sets it apart from the overhead position is that it also includes full elbow flexion, and wrist extension if you are holding something.
You need enough range of motion to be able to pull the back of your right knuckles to touch the top of your right shoulder. This is the position you use when you carry weights/loads on the front of your shoulders. Think about when you are getting ready to press weight overhead, holding a baby at eye level, or holding a bag over your shoulder. These are all examples of the front rack position. This is typically just a transition position and you usually do not just hang out here for any length of time.
Archetype #7: THE HANG
Shoulder extension and internal rotation. This is the lunge of the upper body.
The hang position is one that is rarely used, even in the gym. Dips are about the fullest expression that you are likely to see, though passing through a clean or snatch or sumo deadlift high pull will have you briefly pass through shoulder extension. This is a large component with understanding having an open chest and relaxed shoulders. Just like the lunge position is the opposite of sitting, the hang position is the opposite of slouching, and needs to be regularly exaggerated to maintain. You want to be able to bring your shoulders to about 90 degrees behind you, so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
Bonus archetype: THE PRESS
Full wrist range of motion.
The press position is like the pistol of the upper body. Although there is also the planche, which is just like a plank, except only your hands are touching the ground, the press displays full wrist range of motion, and is a skill that transfers into pushups, opening doors, and also pulling.
Tight, painful wrists are one of the biggest, most common complaints I hear in regards to chronic pain. And for good reason. The amount of stress we place on our hands throughout our entire life from the day we are born is staggering. All this accumulated stress can lead to massive amounts of arthritis, and pain throughout the entire arm and even neck. Pushups are often difficult for people not because their arms are weak, but because their wrists are so tight and painful. And this stiffness can prevent you from creating external rotation in the shoulders, and therefore stability. My opinion is that you should be able to pull each hand back to 90 degrees using only your forearm extensors. If you cannot do this, that is an indicator that your hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders are super tight, and that pushups will be needlessly painful. This will spread out to activities such as knitting, writing, typing, archery, and eating.