Many people live in a constant state of stiffness.
We've all seen stiff people at the gym, and we've all experienced stiffness ourselves. Most often, it's worse after a hard training session. Our joints ache, our backs hurt, and we just feel generally immobile.
A big contributing factor to this is stiffness of the ribcage. In fact, that's where it all usually starts.
How many people do you really see doing single-arm or leg work inside a commercial gym?
Not many. Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Bilateral Squats, Chin-Ups, etc., are not inherently bad movements. In fact, they're quite effective at hitting many muscle groups at once.
However, too much bilateral work is a recipe for stiffness. If we are training our ribcages and bodies to be stiff in training, we can expect that to be the case in life and in sport. Practice makes permanent. This is where we get into the concept of alternation.
What is Alternation?
Hardly anyone trains the natural human movement of alternation. It's an essential component to life. Walking and running is alternating movement. Every sport (aside from perhaps rowing) includes alternating movement.
Take walking, for example: Every step should have alternation. Your left foot goes forward with your right arm, and vice versa. Our ribcages turn to the forward foot as we take a step. If we want to stay healthy and mobile, why wouldn't we train a quality that is so present in everyday life?
If an athlete cannot find mobility through their ribcage, the body can and will find it somewhere else. The body does not know what "good movement" is. It takes the path of least resistance to accomplish the task at hand. An immobile ribcage makes it tough for the right stabilizing posture muscles to do their job, and other areas not designed for that role must pick up the slack.
This is where training alternation comes into play. Not only will it free up your ribcage, it will promote facilitation of the correct muscles athletes need to function well in training and in competition.
While most traditional resistance training methods include little to no alternation, integrating it is actually quite simple.
A big note: keep the weight relatively light for these exercises. Trust me, you won't need much to feel your abs, hamstrings and glutes light up. It's easy to have our egos get in the way and want to use a lot of heavy weight, but a few sets of training with alternation can do wonders for offsetting the potential negative effects of constant bilateral training.
The first alternation exercise I recommend is a Single-Arm Landmine Row with a barbell. Notice how I turn my pelvis to the front foot and tuck my tailbone underneath me (posteriorly rotating the pelvis). This engages my abdominals, inner thigh and outside hip muscles, which are essential for control of the pelvis in single-leg activities. I then maintain that position while I pull the barbell and alternate my arm movements. Notice how freely my ribcage moves during this exercise. That is the goal!
The second exercise is another rowing variation, but this one utilizes two kettlebells. I maintain a neutral spine while I actively reach one kettlebell for the floor and pull the other one towards my ribcage. The reach will facilitate activation of my abdominals while my upper back muscles work to row the kettlebell on the opposite side. This is a great exercise for loosening up a stiff ribcage.
Try these out for 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions at the end of your training sessions. They can be considered "assistance" or "hypertrophy" exercises, as they're also highly effective at recruiting a lot of muscle, assuming you're doing them correctly.
Photo Credit: BERKO85/iStock
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