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Anthony Mychal will help you build the body of your dreams.

Anthony Mychal is a self-taught skinny-fat geek that built an athletic “X” physique
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January 2012

5 Randomly Awesome Things


1. Google+ Chats

I was one of the first people to join Google+ (because I’m a cool kid like that), but I knew I would never use it. What always interested me, however, was the ability to hold group face-to-face chats. So I’m dusting off my account to hold these live chats with those interested souls.

Now, I’ve never done this before, so I’m taking the next few days to solidify the details. But the process will go like this:

  1. Sign up for my newsletter (top of screen)
  2. Add me on Google+
  3. Await my newsletter service spamming your inbox for the times
  4. Reply with interest.

Getting a lot of replies may be problematic, but like I said, this is an experimental figure-it-out-as-you-go kind of thing, so expect some bumps and bruises. If you’re interested, get on it.


2. Mike Robertson on Knee Pain

In a recent blog post, 2 Keys to Less Knee Pain, Mike talked about an important part of the knee health equation. Fixing this problem, in my opinion, siphons down to having femoral control, as discussed in An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain. But unlike Mike, I don’t put too much emphasis on kneeling or unilateral work. Different strokes.


3. My Face Around Town

Every week, I’m honored to be included in Ben Bruno’s good reads. Sometimes Jon Goodman throws me in his. This past week, Tony Gentilcore did the same. Peer recognition is humbling, and it never gets old.

But I’m throwing a thanks to EVERYONE out there interested in what I have to say, not just the guys above. So thanks. It means the world to me. Side note: my first article up on Greatist about creatine is live.


4. IF and Breathing Squat Update

The experiment has begun. I keep a daily log on Precision Nutrition’s private member forums, and I update this one weekly. I’ve also debated entering this here contest for gits and shiggles, even though I anticipate contestants to be injecting unflattering substances. Besides, my failure couldn’t be because of me or my program because, well, both my program and I are rather awesome.


5. The Journey is the Reward

The other night, I was reading Scott Adams’s (the Dilbert comic artist) blog about eating breakfast, which made me question the nature of blogs. Adams’s blog isn’t his primary content. His comic is. The blog is a side quest — a unique look into Adams’s mind. And I think this is something the fitness industry doesn’t yet understand. Everyone, including myself, is blogging primary content. Adams says, “check out my comic, and then read my blog for some interesting things.” We say, “Check out my blog, and then…?”

As if the internet wasn’t crowded enough, this leads to over saturation — a compulsion and competition of producing primary content. This lessens the human element of blogging. Here’s an arbitrary example if you own a gym: stop blogging about the benefits of squats. It’s been done. Instead, blog about your actual gym. Blog about how it feels opening the doors. Blog about how you and your team communicate. Blog about how you learn. Blog about how you get people in the door, and what you do to keep them there.

I believe that this content shift is evident. Not to be egotistical, but I think that what you’re reading right now will pioneer it. People will stop blogging their comic strip, and start blogging about how they make their comic strip.

My comic strip is this: self venturing in online endeavors to somehow someway find a semblance of stability doing something I love — writing and talking about strength, health, and athletics. So, really, shouldn’t my blog be about that adventure? About how I am trying to weave my way to the top?

No one does it because they are afraid that others will steal a secret magical success formula, and use it against them. But I’m just going to throw it out there. I’m a freelancer writer and consultant that blogs about being a freelance writer and consultant. So I’ll still write for this blog. Not much will change. But I’m starting a microblog using Facebook Notes that is going to tell the story of this journey — what I like to call my masterpiece. And I think I am in the perfect starting spot as stated by Malcolm Gladwell in, What the Dog Saw:

You don’t start at the top if you want to find the story. You start in the middle, because it’s the people in the middle who do the actual work in the world….People at the top are self conscious about what they say (and rightfully so) because they have position and privilege to protect — and self-consciousness is the enemy of “interestingness.”

So until I re-do the web design here, check out my Facebook Notes. The pieces are small. Just one idea. Considering the attention span of most readers, it’s perfect. They’re meant to provoke thought and give a look of what life is like on my side of the fence. No self-consciousness. All interestingness. Another quote from Gladwell:

Nothing frustrates me more than someone who reads something of mine or anyone else’s and says, angrily, “I don’t buy it.” Why are they angry? Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade…It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head — even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be. I’ve called these pieces adventures, because that’s what they are intended to be.

So, for now, nothing will change around here. But if you’re interested in the other side, you don’t want to miss this little side project. I’m going to stop rambling because I redid my entire About page to reflect these changes. Check it out. I hope it inspires you to tell your own masterpiece.

Solutions for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph Part I – The Basics


Since writing 11 Training Tips for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph, I’ve been bombarded with questions that go something like this: “Hey man, what you said in that article describes me perfectly. What routine should I go on?”

Big news: escaping the skinny-fat fate is more than performing a sequence of exercises, it’s living a certain lifestyle. So to help my skinny-fat brethren, I’m introducing the “Solutions for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph” series. What you’re reading now is Part I – The Basics. It’s not flashy, but it’s a necessary first step in a long journey. There’s no “routine.” No “diet.” Those things come later. Right now you need to know the why behind the how.


Here are the defining skinny fat ectomorph traits:

  • Apparently thin in clothes, but bare skin reveals otherwise
  • Small wrists
  • Tall(er)
  • Weak and non-muscled arms
  • Love handles, lower stomach, and lower chest are main areas of fat accumulation

Before moving on, I have a confession: I was once a skinny fat ectomorph. (I’ll show pictures of my own journey soon enough.) I suffered through the talks of being “lanky.” And, by the way, the world should know the word “lanky” is a verbal knife for a tall and skinny person wanting to bulk up, even if it has complimentary intentions. “Bob’s not fat! He’s lanky!” Meanwhile, Bob is wallowing in sorrow, succumbing to syringes full of steroids. This is why life as a skinny-fat is tough. We’re at the mercy of lanky and the reality of chubby.

Most of my life, I ignored my unique body composition while questing for the holy grail of training programs. Anytime I saw a jacked dude I was hooked. I needed to know his routine because I thought a magical sequence of exercises was going to cure my problem. But during my expedition, I noticed something: most figureheads that undergo massive transformations are very lean beforehand. Here are some examples:

Now, I have tremendous respect for the people listed. What they did, regardless of the starting point, takes hard work and dedication. But their prior body composition can’t be ignored. They can follow normal “bulking” rules because they aren’t likely to store fat. So when these people load their plates with pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and see amazing results, it’s no wonder this advice gets passed down to those on the lower end of the genetic totem pole. Yet if we follow a similar plan, we end up looking like dirty bulk kid.


I’m going abstract here and saying that skinny fat ectomorphs aren’t hindered by a lack of training and nutrition knowledge; they are hindered by a lack of psychological togetherness. Skinny-fats carry large emotional baggage about themselves and their body composition. They don’t stand a chance.

From a nutritional standpoint, skinny fat ectomorphs are a wreck. They will do damn near anything to get rid of their “pouch.” A skinny-fat asked me for tips on Facebook the other day. He gave me his daily food intake:

My diet right now is:

Breakfast: 6 egg whites, 1/2 cup oatmeal

Snacks: 2 scoops protein

Lunch and Dinner: Shrimp and broccoli

Let’s break this down:

  • 6 egg whites ~ 120 kcals
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal ~ 300 kcals
  • 2 scoops of protein ~ 250 kcals
  • Shrmimp and broccoli x 2 ~ 300 kcals x 2 = 600 kcals

So we have a young, handsome lad eating a paltry 1000-or-so kcals per day and failing to lose weight. I’d guess this person is either very under muscled or obsessing over the tiniest bit of fat around their lower abs. Both showcase the dysfunctional mindset and damaging habits skinny-fats carry.


I don’t mean to go all Dr. Phil on you here, but understanding the stress response is an important part of understanding how to optimize physiology for muscle growth and fat loss. If you’re a constant subordinate filled with inadequate feelings, you’re losing out. This is troublesome, as skinny-fats often feel this way.

Worrying about the perfect routine. Worrying about losing weight. Worrying about gaining muscle. Worrying about what others are doing. Worrying about what others are saying. Worrying about their current body composition. Worrying about girlfriends. Worrying about gossip.

Sound familiar? Trust me, I get the e-mails. I know how you think. But this is a double whammy. Not only does it screw with your immediate physiology, but it also lessens your chances to follow through with, and dedicate yourself to, your training.

“I’ve been on this program for two weeks and nothing is happening!”

It takes longer than two weeks, Honey.

So on the lifestyle front, find a group of loving people to be around, whether it’s your family or friends (that don’t push you to get shitfaced three nights every week). De-stress yourself. Meditate. Take care of other people. Get a little cocky too. Don’t be an arrogant alpha-male. Just have a quiet confidence. Most of all trust in the process.

Do yourself a favor and pick up Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It’s one of the best training texts you can read, even though there’s no mention of training. It’s a book about stress and adaptation. And lifting weights, getting stronger, losing fat, and increasing performance—everything you want this article series to be about—is rooted in stress and adaptation. It’s important stuff.


In general, we get fat from eating more energy than what our body needs. (There are a lot of other things that affect this situation, but we’re simplifying.) The body is stingy. It won’t waste extra energy. So it stores the energy as fat just in case the rapture actually comes to pass. The body cares only cares about survival. If you want to be muscular with a low body fat, you have to live a lifestyle that trips the body into thinking, “the only way I can survive is if I have capable muscle with little excess weight.” Most people miss this.

Living a sedentary life tells the body that carrying around sacks of fat won’t damage its immediate ability to survive. But start running hill sprints—a reincarnation of primitive hauling ass from a chasing lion—and carrying those fat sacks suddenly hinder survival.

Excuse me while I go on a quick broscience rant:

<broscience rant>

Exercise, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t burn many calories. Most people can easily forego the Tastykakes and see the same net caloric reduction. So here’s the question: Does exercise cause fat loss because it burns calories? Or does it cause fat loss because the body recognizes that weighing less is better for survival? After all, we lift weights—which “burns” calories—and yet our muscles grow. So just because something has a metabolic cost doesn’t mean it’s all in the name of fat loss and catabolism. If our muscles grow to better survive the external stressor (weighted barbell), couldn’t our fat also “shrink” to better survive the external stressor? Let’s paint this.

Say you run ten hill sprints. Sure, you’re burning calories. But, to your body, what do the hill sprints mean? From a primitive standpoint, they probably mean you’re either escaping danger or trying to catch food—two things essential for survival. I doubt the Aztecs ran up and down mountains in the name of “hardcore” hill sprints and getting a visible six pack. So does fat loss come from the body’s attempt to better survive the stressor? Or from the calories it uses for energy?

The other side of the equation is nutrition. No matter how many sprints you run, the body isn’t going to lose weight if you’re consistently overstuffing yourself. From a primitive standpoint, overfeeding probably means a hibernation is near. So your body thinks you’re overfeeding for a reason—that it’s going to need the energy down the line because food won’t readily be available. The opposite of this—grossly underfeeding yourself—isn’t optimal either because the body assumes famine. It’s going to hold, and be efficient with, what energy it has for as long as possible, never knowing when proper nourishment will come. This is why very low calorie diets don’t often work for anyone but the morbidly obese.

Signed, Anthony Mychal M.D. Ph.D. Program Coordinator at Broscience University

</broscience rant>

Ahem, back to reality. Gaining muscle is also a survival mechanism. It doesn’t want to be squashed meat under a barbell, so it gets stronger. This adaptation can happen in two ways: improving the nervous system or improving the muscular system. If the right hormones are floating around, these adaptations happen simultaneously. Muscle, however, is metabolically expensive. The body won’t build it unless it knows it has the proper nutrient flow. But I’ll save this discussion for later.


Skinny fat ectomorphs need to help on three levels: mindset, nutrition, and training. Hopefully, after reading this article, you have better grasp on how to carry yourself and live your life. It’s about time to break through and recreate your hormone profile, as your current one gives Aunt Tilly a run for her money.

So control unnecessary stress, gain some confidence, have some faith in what you’re doing, and find a caring network. When you see the guys in Pumping Iron living the good life seemingly without stress, ordering 12 eggs and a pound of steak for lunch, lounging and relaxing by the beach, being idolized by women, and growing into a tightly connected group of friends, it’s no wonder they were successful (steroids aside).



 Other articles in the series:


Accompanying resource: The Skinny-Fat Solution

Intermittent Fasting and High Repetition Breathing Squats

toy squat

How would intermittent fasting and high repetition breathing squats effect body composition?

Well, it’s about time we found out.

Breathing squats have long been touted as a heavenly saint for gaining mass. Intermittent fasting à la Leangains supposedly facilitates mass gain without fat gain. Is it love at first sight?

Before I catch hell, let me say that I’m not an ideal candidate for this program. Since recovering from a broken foot, I gravitated towards minimalism. This past summer was nothing but deadlifts, dumbbell floor presses, chin-ups, push-ups, and assorted carries. I was perfect for me at the time.

But since venturing into heavy loading in November, the nerve pain in my foot has grown. I hold no interested in having 315+ on my back. So lowe(er) load high repetition squat work is ideal. Come March, I play many sports making it impossible to run this program then. So now is the perfect imperfect time.

A quick disclaimer: despite often spewing athletic nonsense, this quest has no athletic bearing. I’m in it solely for the guns y’all.


– Some weeks, I use John Romaniello’s Feast-Fast system. Others, Brad Pilon‘s Eat Stop Eat. Part of me enjoys prolonged fasts, so I tailor my lifestyle to them.

Sunday I usually eat whatever I want in unlimited quantity. Sometimes it’s as innocent as wine, spaghetti, meatballs, and calzones. Othertimes it’s as naughty as nachos and Newcastle Brown Ale. Following this “feast” day, I fast. The fast lasts either 24 or 40ish hours, depending on how terrible I feel.

All other days I follow a Leangains-esque intermittent fasting template. Wake up is at 6-7AM followed by a couple cups of coffee. Training goes down from 12PM – 2PM (round about). Following that is my first meal: a huge bowl of oats, chicken, sporadic vegetables, and my very own super special protein pudding (three scoops of protein and cinnamon mixed with a tiny bit of water). But there’s a universal law: an oatmeal volcano must be architected to house to protein pudding. Oatmeal volcano’s make me very happy.

I don’t normally measure servings, but curiosity got the better of me one day. My volcano was constructed upon 1000-or-so kcals worth of oats. The second bowl in the picture of above houses couscous, chicken, and vegetables.

Later on I eat more meat, vegetables, chicken, and mucho eggs—it’s very Precision Nutrition inspired. So I don’t 100% carb load on training days. Assuming successful oatmeal volcano creation and consumption, further carbs make me gassy. Sometimes, however, I’ll indulge and suffer (as with the couscous example above, or the wheat berry example below). On off days, it’s all meats, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables.

– My upper body lifts are pathetic. Just more proof that getting strong in barbell lifts isn’t always the only way to look semi-respectably muscled. Long live chin-ups and deadlifts.

– I’m not at the stage of training advancement I should be. Ideally, I would have already busted through linear progression with the rows and incline press. But, as mentioned, this will serve as that. And if there are hormonal benefits from 20 rep squats, it will make it more meaningful, as my lower body strength is “good” enough to benefit from the 20 reppers.

– Most traditional twenty rep squat programs call for three training session per week. Because I’m an idiot, asshole, and jackass, I will be training four days per week. But the program is rooted in a high-low central nervous system activation scheme. Therefore—outside of shoulder presses—recovery shouldn’t be much of an issue given my body’s current level of adaptation.

– Did I mention my upper body strength is pathetic?

– Warm ups start with dynamic stretching and transition to 6 round of: 10 jumping jacks, 5 pull-ups, 5 squats, and 5 push-ups with some hanging leg raises mixed in. It may seem excessive, but I’ve built tolerance for these movements.

– Some front squats are done before the breathing squats. Idiotic, I know, but it will serve future-me better because they are my primary squat lift.

– My journey will be chronicled on Twitter under the hashtag #20REPEXP. So if you search twitter for “20repexp,” you will find a sporadic log with pictures (I already posted before pictures). Detailed updates will be posted weekly on this here blog.


The program alternates two basic workouts, and is a modification of a program Aram Hamparian used to throw around.

Day One (Wednesday)

A1) Incline Press 2-3×12

A2) Romanian Deadlift 2×15

A3) Kip-Ups, Unilateral Shock Absorption Work

B) Barbell Row 2-3×15

C) Breathing Squats 1×20

D) Breathing Pullovers 1×20

Day Two (Thursday)

A1) Overhead Press 2×10

A2) Barbell Curl 2×10

B1) Dips 1 x as many

B2) Close Grip Chins 2 x as many

C1) Hanging Leg Raises 2 sets

C2) Calf Work 2 sets

D) Gymnastics and Tumbling Circuit

Day Three (Saturday)

Same as Wednesday

Day Four (Sunday)

Same as Thursday, except with Dumbbell Overhead Press


  • Incline presses, romanian deadlifts, and barbell rows work up to a max rep set. If the rep range is hit on one of the sets, five pounds is added the following workout.
  • Kip-ups and shock absorption work is for my foot (and because kip-ups are way cool).
  • Breathing squats are done with 2-5 breaths per rep. If the reps are hit, ten pounds is added for next workout.
  • Pullovers are done with twenty pounds, inhaling mega air and stretching the chest as much as possible.
  • Dips and chins are rep progressions unless thirty is hit in one set.
  • Gymnastics and tumbling: planche progression held for thirty seconds, some rolls, handstand progression held for thirty seconds, some rolls, front lever progression held for thirty seconds, and some rolls. This “circuit” is repeated twice, keeping the heart rate going.


Back to the original question: how would intermittent fasting and high repetition breathing squats effect body composition? Give me eight to ten weeks. I’ll let you know then.

An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain


The idea for An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain started when I played tons of basketball during my senior year of high school. My knees flared up and the doctors I visited just prescribed pain killers. So from 2004-2009, I submissively lived with this pain. Looking back, I don’t know I managed. I was an avid trickster from 2002-2011, and I loved doing squats, deadlifts and the likes. I was always jumping, running, or playing some kind of sport. During it all, my knees gave me issues.

In 2009, I posted a YouTube video of my knee sounding like virgin Rice Krispies floating in cold milk. As Jon Call, a good friend of mine put it: I was Googling for crumbs of information on chronic knee pain. I went to different forums and posted my video in hopes of aid. I returned empty handed.

So I decided that I had to fix the problem myself. I forced myself to forget the popular rehabilitation methods. I threw away terminal knee extensions, hamstring stretches, peterson step ups, leg curls, and leg extensions. I sat down with a pen and a notebook and asked myself the following questions:

“What could cause my patellar tendon to nearly shut down in pain?”

“How can so much discomfort nestle into such a simple structure?”

“Why is this problem so prominent?”

“Why aren’t popular rehabilitation methods working?”

I mapped my answers, devising a plan. Over the next year I experimented with my conclusions. The process wasn’t perfect but it was working: my knee pain was fading. I documented my journey. As I worked with more athletes and clients, I tested what worked for me. The results were similar.

I thought back to my basketball days, and how I longed for the very information I held in my hands. So I started typing, and I expanded on the program and rationale behind my method, eventually writing the book I wished I had back when I routinely blew $25 on medical co-pays.

From a business perspective, writing this book was a stupid idea. Sales gurus would tell me that I couldn’t compete with Mike Robertson’s comprehensive Bulletproof Knees. But I never did this to compete with anyone. I don’t doubt the quality and expansiveness of Bulletproof Knees. When I was withering in pain, however, I didn’t drop the money it because I didn’t have a meniscus injury as Mike did. I just had nagging chronic knee pain. Not quite as serious, and I was unsure of the transference.

When I thought back to 2004, I wanted a product that was written with athletic intentions that only dealt with nagging chronic issues and would, most of all, be affordable for a high school kid. And that’s what An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain is. So if you’re looking for a hugely comprehensive and anatomical resource for internal structural damage, you’re not going to find it in An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain.

To give you an idea of what An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain is about, I made a free preview of the book that’s easily downloadable on the main page.

I guess I’ve been rambling, so I’ll shut my fingers down. There’s tons more to read on the main page for the book, in addition to the the free preview, so I hope you take a look. Just click on the picture or link below to check it out. And if you’re one of those ambitious souls wondering how to put out your own eBook, don’t worry. That’s coming soon.


An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain: Theories and Solutions for Patellar Tendonitis, Jumpers Knee, and Patellar Tracking Problems


What A Rejected Article Looks Like, and Why Your Thoracic Extensions and Hip Flexor Stretches Are Wrong


In a few weeks, the culture of this website is going to change. I’m going to become less “end result” oriented, and more “process” oriented. I’m working on a fancy “about” page to explain just exactly what that means, but the shortened version is that the internet is filled with people that spout the end result. Internet ads say, “I made $1,000,000 in ten seconds. Click here to find out how!” That’s end result thinking. If the link said, “Click here to see how I’m trying to make $1,000,000 in ten seconds,” it becomes process thinking.

Most of my articles are end result articles. Here’s how to do X. Do this to accomplish Y. And that’s fine, as end result articles have their place and will always appear on this website. Of course, I’ll continue to find and expand on topics I feel aren’t covered enough, such as skinny fact ectomorph training. For those of you interested in that, you’ll be happy to know I’m in the midst of writing something huge for you. Starting today, I’m going to start being more process-oriented.


Some of my readers have aspirations to write for fitness, strength, and health magazines just as I once did before I broke through last October. One of the problems is that, as a beginner writer, you only see finished products. Not every idea that slips into the crevice of your brain’s neurons makes the cut. Behind the scenes, a lot goes on. Sometimes editors guide writing in directions against intention. Other times, the article is flat out rejected as magazines have certain criteria and brands they upkeep and abide by. So regardless of how well you think a piece is written, or how fitting you think a topic is, you might want to hold your breath.

I submitted this piece to a publisher months ago. It was rejected. Looking back, I know why. I’d do a lot of things differently, but I’ll save that critique and insight for another blog post (which, by the way, is a great process  oriented topic). Until then, why do you think it was rejected? Did I leave spelling errors in the draft? Is it a bad topic? Is it boring? Drop your comments at the bottom of the page.

Your Lumbar Spine and Its Effect on Mobility

By Anthony Mychal

I’m debating what’s worse: the process of getting whiplash, or driving home after getting whiplash. On one hand, getting your neck abused like a PEZ dispenser is traumatizing. But it’s over before you realize it started.

On the other hand, the drive home is brutal. You don’t change lanes because you can’t turn your head. Your life suddenly depends on peripheral vision. What are you? A horse? And then comes the dire times in which you actually need to see if you’re going to end your life by colliding into a passing car. You can’t trust your rearview mirror because of the blind spot. Since your neck is useless, your rotation comes from the spine, aided by your suicide grip on the steering wheel.

But this is all evidence. Evidence in favor of those that say: “the body doesn’t move in isolation.” No kidding. But it’s also a testament to the body’s resiliency. So your neck is broke. What are you going to do? Die? You’ll find a way to survive. Or, at the very least, try to.

Compensations like these are prevalent throughout your body, but they aren’t necessarily a “good thing.” Deep down, your motivation is survival. Your physiology doesn’t care about chronic pain or nagging injuries as long as the heart is still beating.

Most muscular problems stem from the center of your body because of how important it is. “As athletes advance,” Bret Contreras writes in a recent blog post, “they learn to incorporate their hip and leg musculature into their movements to a much higher degree.”

And for good reason. The pelvis has some of the strongest and largest muscles attaching on and originating from it. The hips control the lower limbs so to speak, just as the shoulders control the upper limbs. These two areas can tell you a lot about how a person functions.

But they aren’t mutually exclusive. As Eric Cressey has pointed out before, stiff hips can lead to a stiff thoracic spine, which can throw off the shoulders and neck. And if the shoulders and neck are struggling, how do you think the elbows and wrists will fare? It’s this crazy stuff that really shows just how far compensations can root.


Now I’m not one of those guys that blames discomfort in the pinky finger on the hip rotators. All I’m saying is that you need to keep the hips and shoulders clean because they have the most responsibility. They’re like babysitters in charge of ten newborns. If they can’t stop one baby from crying, then there’s a good chance all of the babies will start crying—and the babysitter won’t be too far behind.

Keeping the shoulders and hips clean sounds easy, and eager souls will rush into mobility drills. Since more is better, they’ll hit their furthest range of motion with no regard for the body as a system of moving parts. And in order to get the most out of our mobility drills we have to consider what’s in the middle of the shoulders and hips: the lumbar spine.

It’s well known—especially with the surge of pallof presses, planks, and their respective variations—that, in most situations, the lumbar spine is a transmitter and not a producer of force. And when transmitting, tighter is better.

What’s not well known is that the lumbar spine can also be a crux in your mobility work. You can be doing drill after drill, but unless you have control of your lumbar spine, their effects will be moot.

Aside from the shoulders and hips having a large list of responsibilities, they are also at the mercy of our bad habits like sitting too damn much and carrying ourselves with bad posture. We know this though, so we’re smart enough to stretch our hip flexors and get in our thoracic extensions. But any corrective exercise you can dream of will fall short if the lumbar spine is doing the mobilizing. So let’s take a look at both of these movements and see how we can make sure they’re actually doing what we want them to do.


If there’s one thing I have learned about thoracic extensions, it’s that everyone hinges from the lower back unless told otherwise. This happens for two reasons.

The first reason is because of the range of motion obsession, as stated earlier. When you get that foam roller under your shoulder blades, the only thing you care about is rounding over so that your head touches the ground. Wrong.


If you’re doing them “right” your head isn’t going to touch the ground because the thoracic spine doesn’t have much extension range of motion.

The second reason is because it “hurts” a little when you do it right, and most people are afraid of pushing comfort zones. Undoing years of hunching, sitting, and bad posture doesn’t feel normal, so don’t expect it to at first.

But the fix is easy, and it starts with your set up. Instead of arching your back in the start position, engage your abs a bit as if you were doing a crunch, and keep this contraction throughout the entire range of motion.

Next, instead of reaching for the ground, fold from the thoracic spine and “feel” the movement in the middle of your back.

Trying to teach this to a group of thirty teenagers at once leads to thirty teenagers doing it wrong. But it only takes a few punches to the stomach before they start to do it “right.” Then, with a little practice, something even crazier happens. They “feel” the lower traps and rhomboids contracting against the foam roller. And I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.


I blame the hip flexor misconceptions on the front splits. Everyone is obsessed with going as deep as possible, with no regard for actually, uh, feeling a stretch in the hip flexor. More range of motion is only better if you’re tapping into the right movement.

To me, a deep lunge doesn’t represent a flexible hip flexor, it represents a flexible lower back.  But to understand why, you have to understand pelvic positioning and the resultant angle of hip extension. (In the pictures, the yellow line represents the pelvic plane, and the red line represents angle of hip extension.)

When standing up, with your back in a neutral position, the angle of hip extension from the pelvic plane is 90°. Holding in neutral, you can only extend your hip 10° to 20°. This range of motion, however, is all hyperextension. So in order to qualify as hyper extension, the angle of hip extension from the pelvic plane has to be greater than 90°.

If you assume an anterior pelvic tilt, the initial angle closes to 70° to 80° (as oppsed to the 90° in neutral). Extending your hip from this position makes it appear as if you’re getting more hip extension, but you’re not. You’re getting the same amount, if not less, because you have to cover the 10° to 20° lost from the anterior pelvic tilt.


In theory, the fix looks similar to what was done at the thoracic spine—don’t care so much about range of motion and tighten the abs—but it’s more difficult to execute.

First, abandon your old hip flexor stretch that probably looks something like the picture below.


Although the deep lunge position makes it appear as if the hip flexor is being stretched, it really isn’t because the angle of hip extension from the pelvic plane is near 90°. Remember that hyperextension happens at an angle greater than 90°, so with the deep lunge you’re barely stretching the hip flexor beyond its length in a normal standing position.

To correct this, squeeze the glute of the rear leg and “push” the front of hip forward while tightening the abs a little. Cue yourself to rip the hip flexor from the bone. (It was a saying I learned from Buddy Morris, and it works well.)

If you’re having trouble tilting your pelvis, practice “nerd posture.” Stand up, squeeze the glutes, and then tilt your pelvis and body as if you did nothing but play Call of Duty all day.

Get back into the lunge position, squeeze the glute of the rear leg, and assume nerd posture at the hip. It’s challenging at first because the lead leg actually pulls on the ground with the hamstring, like a leg curl, for leverage when tilting the pelvis upward.

Once you settle into this position, you won’t be in nearly as deep of a lunge, but you will feel your hip flexor being stretched much more because you’re actually stretching into hip hyperextension.


While compensations can happen in many movements, muscles, and motor patterns, it’s important keep the shoulders and hips clean. The information here extends beyond thoracic extensions and lunging hip flexor stretches. During any mobility or flexibility drill be it scapular wall slides, shoulder dislocates, or fire hydrants, consider the role of the lumbar spine. See if you’re really mobilizing, or if you just think you’re mobilizing. It’s more than going through the motions.

Don’t be upset if you’ve been doing things wrong. Remember, it’s these compensations that enable us to survive. Or, at the least, prevent automobile accidents.



Contreras, B. (2011, Sept 11). Standing rotary training is whole body training! [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Cressey, E. (2011, March 29). Oblique strains in baseball: 2011 update [Web log message]. Retrieved from