3 Exercises to Help You Move and Feel Better: Installment 1

For years, I've struggled with maintaining a pain-free lower back and keeping my hips from feeling as stiff as a board. While I wouldn't consider it chronic pain, both areas liked to flare up sporadically when they felt convenient. Between swinging a baseball bat (nowadays, a golf club)  year-round, and being unaware of my resting posture, it's no wonder I've dealt with discomfort and pain in both areas. Without getting too complicated, repetitive movement patterns in one direction could be problematic to joint health due to the muscular imbalances that are created.

Over the past two months here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), I've learned a ton of "corrective" exercises that have limited my discomfort and have helped me move more efficiently. Some of these drills look ridiculous, but when done properly, will have great carryover into your weight room success. Here's three that require nothing more than a wall and 10 feet of floor space in order to complete.

1.) All Fours Belly Lift

Prior to coming to CSP, I never really understood the importance of spinal flexion. Throughout the fitness industry, flexing the spine has been frowned upon by most for years now. I know for myself personally, I avoided all exercises that required bending at the spine, and only focused on trying to "stabilize" my spine. All I really did, however, was essentially lock my vertebrae in-place, and lose optimal motor control of both my thoracic and lumbar spine. I got so good and extending my thoracic spine, I lost all ability to flex when needed.

The all fours belly lift has been an absolute game-changer for myself, and is one of the go-to breathing drills that I would prescribe to my clients that present similar issues that I've faced. You're probably thinking to yourself right now, "how in the world is getting in that stupid position beneficial for me at all?"

I understand completely. While not the sexiest looking exercise out there, when done correctly, the all fours belly lift is great for anterior core and serratus activation, while getting the pelvis in a better position. For people that tend to present a heavy arch through their lower back, like yours truly, it's crucial to try to position the pelvis in a more neutral position. Better pelvic alignment will translate into better spinal alignment. Better spinal alignment means a much healthier lower back... sounds pretty good to me! Enough about why this positional breathing is beneficial for you, let's go over how to perform it.

  • Start with your hands stacked up under your shoulders, and hips under knees.
  • From here, create a dome through your upper back while tucking your pelvis. I cue this by telling people to push their hands away from the floor, and trying to pull their belt buckle towards their chin.
  • Once set in the dome position, perform a set of 5 full inhales and exhales, trying to push yourself away from the floor further on every exhale. It's important to not arch the back throughout the set in order to maintain abdominal and serratus engagement.

Because the all fours belly lift is a positional breathing drill, it should be one of the first drills completed in your warm-up. 2 sets of 5 breaths is a great starting point, don't overcomplicate this one.

2.) Bear Crawl

Bear crawls provide very similar benefits as the all fours belly lift. While the  belly lift is done in a static position, bear crawls are dynamic and require significant core and scapular stability for optimal execution. Crawling is great prior to pushing exercises, like push-ups, because they activate the serratus anterior. The serratus is one of the muscles responsible for allowing the shoulder blades to move efficiently along the rib cage. This is crucial for keeping your shoulders as functional and healthy as possible. Here's how you perform bear crawls properly:

  • Like the all fours belly lift, set up with your hands stacked over your shoulder, and hips under knees. In this position, lift your knees about an inch off the floor so the only points of contact with the ground are your hands and feet.
  • Initiate the movement by walking one hand forward slightly with the opposite foot. It shouldn't be a huge movement, as I'll tell people to take baby steps. Focus on keeping the hips as still as possible, trying not to let them rock side to side.
  • Continue to crawl, each step moving opposite arm with opposite leg. Bear crawls should be done slowly and under control. I like to tell people the floor is glass, so they land softly with both hand and foot.

Bear crawls could be programmed numerous ways. I like to use these either as a warm-up exercise, or superset with a push-up or bench press variation. Either one of these options works, so don't be afraid to experiment. 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 8 crawls on each side will get the job done. 

If these are too difficult at first, try to perform the bear crawl with your knees on the ground to make it a little easier. Check out the video below, the same cues still apply.

3.) Forearm Wall Slides with Lift Off

While we focused heavily on postural alignment with the first two drills, forearm wall slides put a heavy emphasis on proper scapular upward rotation. If the scaps cannot rotate upward properly, the shoulder cannot get overhead in the safest manner possible. Of course, the arm will still get overhead in this individual, because the brain is really good at getting us from point A to point B any way it possibly can. However, it's not the most efficient way, and could cause discomfort and injury over time.

To combat this, the forearm wall slide allows you to groove proper patterning of scapular movement, which allows for optimal overhead movement overtime. Positioning is critical to get the most out of all wall slide variations, so paying attention to detail is important with the setup.

  • Stagger your stance with the left leg positioned slightly behind the right. Pull your belt buckle towards your chin, the same way we do in the all fours belly lift and bear crawl. This is to make sure we don't arch our lower back, which would result in poor alignment.
  • Engage your anterior core and maintain this contraction while sliding your arms up and down the wall. Similar to the positioning of the hips, we want to make sure we don't extend our lower back once we begin the movement.
  • Slide your hands up the wall, thinking of reaching for the ceiling with straight arms. Once at the top of the movement, think of pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets to initiate the lift-off from the wall. Quite often, people just crank their shoulders off the wall and feel the lift-off on the front side of their shoulders. In reality, this should be felt in the lower traps, which attaches to the shoulder blades. When done correctly, the hands shouldn't come more than an inch or two off of the wall.

Similar to bear crawls, these could be programmed within a warm-up or as a superset with another upper body exercise. 1 to 3 sets of 8 reps is a great starting point to the forearm wall slide with lift-off.

While these might come off as foreign exercises to you, they are definitely worth a try. Yes, they're far from sexy and probably have you second guessing whether you would actually want to try them in public. The great thing about these three is that you only need a wall and a small area of real estate to perform your crawling. Try them in the privacy of your own home, get the right muscles firing, and start feeling better today!