‘Don’t do what I do, do as I say’ is the theme of this story.
February 2015 I was having a great time training. The programs were delivering the results and I was happy to say that as a 42 year old, my target lifts were rising. However, maybe it was the former years catching up on me or all those silly things boys do, the many bike crashes or just wear and tear but…
… I hate admitting that I got hurt, but I did get hurt. It wasn’t a broken heart or stubbing my toe (although I’ve done that and it hurt more than my subject today but anyhow).
Like any good trainer, I was doing a demonstration of a simple barbell squat, something I’ve done many times with up to 200kg – go me – but this occasion was with just the empty 20kg bar. I did my set up bla bla bla and on the 3rd rep we heard a big ‘clunk’! We heard because the client behind me heard it just as clearly as I did. The clunk was in my left hip. It didn’t hurt at all but I did check myself out. Nothing like looking down your own shorts in a busy gym and proclaiming, ‘it looks ok, no bruising or anything’!
Two days later was a different story however. Still no bruising but quite a bit of stiffness had developed. Just like a dope I shrugged it off with the impression it would go away in another few days or so. The body can heal itself after all.
Now, I wasn’t a total jerk to myself. I knew something had happened to something and believed the acute stiffness would go. I kept telling myself that I just tweaked something. I was just doing a demo so couldn’t have possibly done anything major.
I dropped the program I was following and immediately turned to doing mobility ‘stuff’. Crawling, stretching and all the things I was using in warming up. I used lunges instead of squats and tried single leg bridges to keep the glutes working. Pressing and pulling weren’t affected so I kept the rows and military presses as normal. Yay!
A couple of months passed and finally the hip pain was lessening, however!
Living in Australia can present a mixed bag of events, especially mother nature and the weather. May 2015 Brisbane got hit hard by a storm not experienced in Brisbane for 175 years.
We learned very quickly that our house wasn’t flood proof and cutting a longer story short, I had to spend 4 hours vigorously sweeping water out of the downstairs of our home – non-stop. After 30 mins I could feel the pain in my hip worsen and at the of the evening I was in agony. Whatever my hip musculature had done to protect itself after the previous injury was evident after this exertion.
My right glute and piriformis was rock hard tight, my right ITB and quadratus lumborum was in agony and tight and a week later we were due to go away for my wifes birthday…eek! (I ended up sleeping on the floor during the break – not very romantic!)
So, in the couple of months since the labrum tear, my body had compensated by over-protecting itself against further harm and I’m pretty sure I had changed my standing posture during this time, just making things all the more crappy!
Something had to change. At this point I didn’t go to physio or book some massages and in retrospect I probably should have but I wanted to fix this myself. Stubborn git that I am!
I had been reading about all my kettlebell friends doing this OS thing! It had a tag line, ‘pressing reset’ and up until then I foolishly assumed it was some kind kettlebell pressing preparation routine or drill. I can’t be blamed too much for this assumption due to the fact that most of my peers are crazy about pressing kettlebells over their heads haha.
On examination I learned that OS or Original Strength was a restorative movement system. It used the movement patterns that babies and toddlers used to build their original strength to progress onto walking with correct gait, head control, proper breathing, coordination and all the things that allow children to do the fantastic array of moving they can do. Yeah I know, its exhausting having kids but, enjoy the fact they move so well. On that note, I wanted to move better, get out of pain and get back to training properly. OS was used with adults to help them ‘press reset’ on their bodies, to reclaim their child like abilities, or as close to it as possible. I put my faith in this system and it’s provided a paradigm shift in our gym towards training preparation.
They use a progression from head nods, rolling from our belly to our back, rocking and then crawling as the baseline for programs. I won’t go into details here but after a few sessions (that lasted around 10-15mins) I felt a bit looser, albeit maybe only for a while, but it allowed me to get down to the business addressing the strength imbalances in my hips, hamstrings.
When I say strength, I don’t mean I was starting a program building up to achieve a new personal best in something. I was simply looking to develop a balance between my left and right hip (glutes, hip flexors) and hamstrings and I’ll include obliques in that too. Generally, I was a mess and needed a reset! I really wanted to tie everything together.
Anyway, through a very simplistic approach I added a few single leg, unilateral components to my (limited) strength plan in addition to the OS preparation movements.
Here’s a simple run down of weekly movements I arranged in a variety of manners week by week.
- OS warm up #1: head nods, segmented rolls, rocks (with feet in different positions), single leg rocks, windshield wipers
- OS warm up #2: birddogs, leopard crawling, spiderman crawling and later incorporating more advanced rolls and a wonderful move called the lego rock.
- Strength movements: SLDLs, 1 arm Farmers Walks, Lunges, step ups.
- Progressions: Progressively higher step ups aiming for more control and the lego Squat and even started to add some regressions to a pistol squat which I later (November 2016) achieved for the first time ever, pain free!
- Other strength moves: Suspension rows, kettlebell presses, abdominal hollow and L-sits.
There’s not a huge variation in this plan but I waved through the loading on these key strength moves from no loading, just body weight, to working up to hard 5 rep sets holding onto a single or two kettlebells.
The SLDL and the Lego squat however were the game changers. The requirements of the single leg movements really helped to address the mobility / stability of my left and right hip separately. Of course, that was the aim.
To be honest, I just played with these movements for a very long time. Whilst I added in some extra flavour from time to time, I always included 2 to 3 sessions of single leg deadlifts accompanied by either lunges, step ups or lego squats.
For a long time there was always a noticeable difference in balance and control of the left leg, especially at the hip. Training bare feet helped a lot with control from the ground up but it took a while for the glutes to fire and stabilise me.
This year, February, an odd thing happened though. My left hip outgrew my right hip! All of a sudden I just got stronger in my left hip. It had taken 2 years to the month but, I had balanced things out to the point of no real pain. Now, I’d be lying if i said the hip doesn’t give me some grief sometimes but no where near as sore as before. I used to pop pain pills on a daily basis just to mask the pain a little. Sleeping was agony and sitting for prolonged periods was very difficult and still is on occasions.
Well, I have reintroduced goblet squats and have just completed a 4 week program which saw me finish off with a 56kg kettlebell Goblet Squat for 3 reps along with getting back to kettlebell swings. I do still warm up with 3 sets of 5 SLDL on each leg and still play with single leg activities.
My intention is to maintain a majority volume of single leg work with occasional play with bilateral leg movements, like squats and swings.
The message to take away though it this. We are bipedal animals, but we don’t live in a bilateral life. We walk, run, play in a single leg world. We’re not kangaroos! Whilst fine to include squats and deadlifts, I sincerely advocate training the bulk of our strength training in a unilateral stance.
Go explore some of those movements if you get hip, back, knee aches and pains. Seriously, lego squats, 1 leg box squats, pistol squats, they are fun along with the fact they’ll address any lacking qualities in your hips. Of course, you should probably go see a physio first of all! Don’t be like me haha.
Sorry for the long post. I think I was mostly chronicling my last two years of training!
Train smart, have fun and don’t chase pain.