Master Your Body Mechanics, Muscle Function, and Lifting Technique With The Slide Board
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Perfecting body mechanics, improving muscle function, and eliminating dysfunctional activation patterns are all part of movement mastery. Unfortunately, this is oftentimes easier said than done as every individual has a number of unique movement aberrations that he or she struggles with. Techniques such as eccentric isometrics, bottoms up training, hanging band technique, eyes closed movements, and offset training are a few of many methods I use to help clean up body mechanics and teach proper technique.
However, one protocol I’ve recently been using with great success in my athletes and clients is the slideboard. Although it’s traditionally used for sliding exercises such as leg curls, body-saws, skater lunges, and sliding lunges, I’ve found that applying the “anti-sliding” effect to many of the foundational movement patterns (squat, pushups, lunges, glute bridges, hip thrusters, hinges, side lunges, and more) does wonders for enhancing mechanics and teaching proper form. That’s because in order to resist the sliding effect the lifter’s form has to be spot on.
Any aberrations or dysfunction will immediately be exposed primarily because faulty mechanics produce wasted force vectors with varying amounts of force being transmitted horizontally, laterally, and diagonally instead of perfectly vertically into the floor. Until the lifter can produce perfectly vertical force vectors with no wasted force and energy leaks, he or she will continue to struggle to maintain a firm base without sliding and slipping. In essence the slide board amplifies any technique flaws and neuromuscular aberrations. Here are a few of my favorite methods for applying the anti-sliding protocol to my training.
These movements have the potential to be dangerous if a reckless approach, careless methods, excessive loads, extreme muscular dysfunction, lack of attention to detail, and poor coaching are implemented. These should be used in a very systematic and controlled scenario progressing from very light to moderate loads.
If, in fact, these seem dangerous to you and your clients then it's most likely because you have various forms of dysfunction and flawed mechanics that need to be remedied which is why you are perceiving these as such difficult movements to control. Your mind is simply telling your body that you're not properly prepared for these movements. With this in mind it may be ideal to dial in your form on standard variations first before attempting these, or simply start with very light loads on the slide-board variations as shown here. Either way, care, caution, and common sense should be employed as is the case with all training methods.
The slide board is one of the single most effective tools I’ve ever used for improving squat mechanics. Here are several of my clients including Ben Lai, Erin English, and Mitch Ellis, showing a few variations.
One of the many benefits of these is that it usually takes less than 30 seconds to see marked improvements in technique as the lifter will have no choice but to eliminate movement aberrations in order to perform the movements without sliding. With that said, there are 8 reasons why performing squats on the slide board are so effective.
1. Eliminates excessive toe flare and promotes proper foot activation. Most individuals over-flare their toes when squatting, oftentimes as a result of poor foot and ankle activation. A proper squat requires the feet to be relatively straight with only a very slight degree of toe flare (2-5 degrees). Unfortunately when most lifters attempt to screw their feet into the floor they either end up using their shoes as artificial support (thereby reinforcing faulty intramuscular activation) or their feet gradually rotate outwards via a number of possible compensation patterns. Excessive toe flare when squatting on the slide board will result in the feet continuing to slide out further as the sliding effect immediately exposes foot and ankle deficiencies. Learn to screw your feet into the floor by gripping in with your feet not by relying on rubber sticking to rubber (as is the case with shoes on a traditional surface) and watch your squat mechanics immediately improve.
2. Reinforces a proper 90 degree/parallel squat. If you routinely follow my posts you’ll know I’m not a fan of squatting below parallel (read more about proper squat mechanics here). The slide board makes it nearly impossible to perform squats in excess of the 90 degree or parallel position as the feet will continue to slide out more and more until it feels as though the lifter is going to do splits. Proper depth, incorporating ideal hip hinge mechanics on the squat, is rewarded on the slide board as the individual is able to channel every bit of force and weight completely vertically into the floor with no wasted lateral or diagonal force vectors.
3. Teaches a neutral spine. Anything but a neutral spine when squatting on the slide board quickly results in faulty positioning of the hips resulting in continuous slipping and sliding.
4. Eliminates valgus collapse. If you have even the slightest degree of valgus collapse in the ankles or knees, it will be immediately exposed on the slideboard
5. Teaches incredibly tight core activation and rigid body mechanics. If you have trouble understanding how to brace your abs on squats and maintain fully body tension, performing squats on a slide board is exactly what you need.
6. Eliminates excessive knee spread. Although it’s better to overspread the knees and hips instead of allowing them to cave inward, many advanced lifters tend to take this cue to the extreme and actually overspread their knees and hips. Although this is the lesser of two evils when compared to valgus collapse, it still represents faulty mechanics that can result in decreased force production not to mention hip and low back issues.
7. Teaches proper weight distribution throughout the foot. Many lifters place too much weight on the front of their feet when squatting. In contrast, you’ll periodically see lifters who place too much weight on the heels with little or no weight on the front of the foot. Although a proper squat involves more load placed towards the heels, the front of the foot still needs to be loaded in order to use ideal weight distribution. The slide board is the perfect tool for teaching this as anything less than proper weight distribution will be punished with excessive sliding and lack of firm foot positioning.
8. Eliminates momentum and bouncing out of the bottom. If you use excessive momentum and bounce out of the bottom of the squat you’re actually placing yourself in a dangerous scenario as it’s quite possible you’ll lose control of the load and do some major damage to the equipment and your body.
Pushups are some of the most butchered bodyweight exercises I see as most individuals including many “expert coaches” and “performance specialists” often perform them incorrectly. However, performing pushups on the slide-board requires pushup mechanics to be dialed in and near perfect as anything less will make it impossible to perform.
Here’s one of my awesome clients Mitch Ellis, who happens to be one of the fittest 60-year old individuals I’ve ever seen, showing how it’s done.
There are 3 specific reasons why anti-sliding pushups are so effective
1. Teaches proper elbow tuck and lat activation. Excessive elbow flare, as well as elevated and protracted shoulders, lack of lat activation, and cervical flexion will immediately cause the hands to slide out laterally. As previously stated, it all comes down to producing perfectly vertical force vectors with no wasted force or energy leaks in the horizontal, lateral, or diagonal directions.
2. Teaches tall hips and activation of hip flexors not hip extensors. This is something I’ve been advocating for years. Contracting the glutes when performing pushups, planks, or any other anti-extension movement is plain wrong as your body is resisting hip extension (read more about proper pushup form and hip positioning here). If you’re resisting hip extension and lumbar extension (aka sagging hips syndrome so commonly witnessed in many lifters) then you’ll want to fire the hip flexors and lumbar flexors (abs and core). It’s basic physics and anatomy, nothing fancy. And if you’re still not sold just trying performing pushups on the slide-board as demonstrated by my awesome 60 year old client Mitch Ellis. If you squeeze your glutes your feet and hips will immediately slide out backwards. In order to resist sliding you’ll be forced to fire your hip flexors and core (the core and hip flexors work together just like a leg raise or pike-up) as the slide-board simply magnifies the various force vectors your body must resist during pushups.
3. Teaches tall foot positioning. Another common mistake on pushups is allowing the feet particularly the heels to sag towards the ground during a pushup. This disrupts nearly every aspect of the pushup. To dial in your pushup mechanics you’ll need to stay as tall on your toes as possible particularly throughout the bottom as this is what allows the lifter to stay over their hands rather than behind them. Fortunately the slide board immediately remedies this as anything but tall foot positioning results in backward sliding of the feet.
If having both the lower and upper extremities on the slide board at once seems a bit too intense, you can regress the exercise by simply focusing on isolating the upper or lower portions individually. If the goal is simply to hone in on upper body mechanics, then placing only the hands on the slide-board will suffice. If core activation and hip positioning are more of the emphasis then having the feet on the slideboard with the hands on a traditional surface may me best.
However, placing both the hands and feet on the slide board simultaneously presents the ultimate challenge that forces the lifter to dial in every facet of their pushup mechanics from head to toe.
Lunges and Split Squats
Here are two of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn and Jake Banta performing an anti-sliding goblet lunge. There are 5 reasons why this anti-sliding lunge protocol is so effective.
1. It forces the lifter to maintain a forward torso lean rather than an upright position which is a very common lunge mistake (read more about proper lunge mechanics here). Anything less during this specific variation and your back foot will start to slide backwards and out of control on the slide board. This forces the lifter to lean onto the front hip and lean over slightly which is ideal as the force vector produced from your back leg is perfectly vertical into the ground (rather than horizontal which causes it to slide).
Most people think a lunge or split squat is an upright movement with the torso perpendicular (or close to perpendicular) to the ground throughout. However this represents flawed mechanics. Maintaining a forward torso lean onto the heel of the front leg is essential for proper lunge technique. In fact if I had to recommend just one cue for the lunge this may be the most critical as it ensures the hips are pushed back posteriorly and actively engaged throughout the movement.
Simply put, a proper lunge involves solid hip hinge mechanics. An overly upright torso position places greater stress on the knees and low back while minimizing stress to the glutes and upper thighs. Achieving a hip hinge position necessitates a slight forward lean in the torso similar to the beginning phase of a Romanian deadlift or proper squat. Start the lunge with a solid torso lean and keep that same position throughout. If you have trouble feeling your glutes on lunges or tend to experience knee pain while performing them, you’ll want to emphasize this cue. The beauty of using the slide board is that it begins to immediately correct this.
2. The anti-sliding lunge also helps optimize weight distribution between the front and back leg. Although it will vary slightly from individual to individual as well as from variation to variation, a significant portion of the weight during a lunge will be placed on the front leg. After doing some basic pilot investigation on a force platform I found that the common weight distribution was approximately a “70-75/25-30” split with 70-75% of the weight on the front/plant leg and 25-30% on the rear/support leg. Faulty lunge and hip mechanics will alter these numbers significantly often times placing too little or too much stress on one extremity. However the most common error is placing too much weight on the back leg as a result of staying overly upright. Using the slide-board while trying to resist the sliding effect forces the lifter to use optimal weight distribution with a majority of the weight on the front leg. Simply put, too much weight on the back leg will cause the back foot to slide backward.
3. Performing anti-sliding lunges on a slideboard teaches the lifter to avoid the all-too-common mistake of trying to squeeze the glutes. If you want to work the glutes during the lunge the single worst thing you can do when lunging is to squeeze the glutes. Yes that sounds completely contradictory but it isn’t. Here’s why. As previously mentioned a proper lunge requires strong hip hinge mechanics particularly during the eccentric phase of the movement. In order to tax the glute muscles they must be eccentrically elongated during the negative phase of the movement. That means the hips have to sit back posteriorly rather than allowing them to drift forward.
Squeezing the glutes during a lunge facilitates an overly-upright body position that eliminates the all important hip hinge. In addition it minimizes the degree of eccentric elongation of the glute muscles. As a result squeezing the glutes during a lunge not only degrades optimal body mechanics and destroys the knees but eliminates the ability to fully tax the posterior chain. You’ll also find yourself sliding backward on the slide board due to faulty force vectors created by dysfunctional positions.
A proper lunges is one of the single most effective exercises you can do to tax the glutes but it requires the technique adjustments presented in this article. In essence, when performing a lunge, think about sticking your butt out (without letting the chest drop). Just be prepared for extreme muscle soreness in your glutes.
On a side note many lifters believe that it’s necessary to squeeze the glutes as they drive up away from the floor on the concentric phase of the lunge. This is unnecessary and oftentimes counterproductive as proper eccentric positioning will result in optimal muscle recruitment on the subsequent concentric phase of the lift. Squeezing the glutes on any portion of the lunge including the concentric phase will pull the body out of its ideal alignment.
4. The anti-sliding lunge on the slide board forces the lifter to move in a perfectly vertical motion. When performing a stationary lunge or split squat, the torso should move straight up and down while maintaining a continuous forward lean. Any horizontal displacement of the torso indicates faulty hip mechanics and lack of spinal rigidity. In other words if you were to take a snap shot of the top of a lunge and the bottom, the torso should remain at the same angle (constant forward lean) with the only difference being the movement in the lower extremities.
Another way to think of this is once you set your starting position, the hips should move straight up and down not forward or back. This also helps to reinforce optimal balance and stability as your center of mass is ideally positioned relative to the rest of your body. For athletes this can have tremendous transfer to quality of movement on the playing field particularly when it comes acceleration, deceleration, and agility.
5. This variation teaches the lifter to maintain constant tension on the legs by avoiding an overly upright finishing position at the top of the movement. In essence if you become overly upright, the back leg will slide out. One of the most effective cues I use with my athletes on lunges is telling them to only come up ¾'s of the way and pause at the top before the front leg fully straightens. Besides placing constant tension on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. which produces incredible functional strength and hypertrophy, this also reinforces proper forward lean and hip hinge mechanics. That’s because the lifter can simply maintain the same amount of lean without ever having to re-set throughout the entire set. Moving to an overly upright position at the top of the lunge forces the lifter to have to reset their hips each rep not to mention it can place undue stress on the low back due to excessive lumbar extension. Simply put, come up to the highest point on a lunge (during the concentric phase) until it feels like your forward torso lean begins to diminish.
Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusters
Although glute bridges and hip thrusters appear to be relatively simple movements with little room for technical breakdown there are actually a number of technique and activation mishaps that frequently occur. With this in mind the slideboard is one of the best tools for correcting these as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients and national figure competitor Leslie Petch.
Here are 4 reasons why performing hip thrusters and glute bridges on the slide-board are so effective.
1. The slide board requires intense foot, ankle, and shin muscle activation to keep the feet/foot from sliding. When you examine the way most lifters perform glute bridges and hip thrusters they typically have poor foot and ankle alignment and oftentimes rely on their shoes for support as they lean into the artificial structure. In addition, you’ll often notice one or both toes flaring with very little motor control of their lower extremities. With the anti-sliding glute bridge and hip thruster variations you’ll be forced to activate the muscles around the feet, ankles, and shins in order to achieve proper alignment through the foot and ankle complex. Anything less will result in the feet sliding out in random directions. In addition, dorsiflexing the feet and ankles throughout, helps place grater tension on the posterior chain while simultaneously strengthening the anterior tibialis which are critical for performance and function. To really hone in on foot and ankle mechanics, single leg variations are also particularly useful.
2. Using the slide-board to perform glute bridges creates significant extension forces on the knee that the lifter must resist throughout to keep the feet/foot from sliding out. Most glute bridges involve predominately the glute muscles with less emphasis on the hamstrings. However with this specific variation not only are your glutes getting crushed as you drive into hip extension but your hamstrings get absolutely pulverized as you resist the extension forces on your knee.
3. Besides crushing the hamstrings, this variation eliminates momentum commonly used during glute bridges. Unfortunately most people use excessive momentum on glute bridges rather than incorporating smooth and crisp powerful contractions. With anti-sliding variations, if you jerk your body and don’t incorporate controlled contractions, your foot will slide in an uncontrollable fashion on the slide board making these feel almost impossible to lock in.
4. Another common mistake on glute bridges and hip thrusters is to extend too high to the point that either lumbar extension occurs or there is excessive posterior pelvic tilt. Either way, the slide-board forces the lifter to terminate hip extension before either of these issues occurs as excessive extension will result in the feet sliding out.
Similar to the pushups, planks also require tall hips through intense core activation and hip flexor recruitment. Performing planks on the slideboard acts as a quick fix for teaching proper planking mechanics as faulty positioning will make it frustratingly difficult to maintain your position. When performed in a single arm or single leg fashion it also promotes improved rotary stability as it ensures the lifter maintains proper weight distribution between the various limbs and joint segments. Besides teaching incredible levels of intramuscular tension, spinal rigidity, and full body tightness few exercises will blast the core and abdominal muscles like plank variations on the slide-board.
If you’re looking for one of the most difficult yet effective full body stabilization planks you can perform, try incorporating this anti-sliding quadruped pushup plank as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients Matt Jordan.
This requires proper alignment, recruitment, and positioning from head to toe as even the slightest dysfunctional position and faulty activation pattern will be immediately exposed with loss of balance and inability to hold the position. It’s also an excellent shoulder stabilization exercises as it requires near perfect shoulder packing and centration of the glenohumeral joint.
Side and Lateral Lunges
Lateral or side lunges are incredible movements that have direct transfer to many athletic and functional tasks. Unfortunately many lifters have a tendency to collapse and go excessively deep on these. And yes that means the Cossack squat is in fact reinforcing faulty mechanics and dysfunctional body positioning. That’s because they emphasize contortionist mechanics for the lower body that can lead to injury and inflammation.
And no they don’t enhance mobility or quality of movement like many coaches and lifters erroneously believe. Instead they oftentimes degrade mobility due to inflammation and aggravation of joints/connective tissue produced by excessive range of motion and hanging out on the tendons and ligaments. Just like the squat or any other movement pattern we want an ideal and natural range of motion not excessive or maximal range of motion.
In essence the lateral or side lunge holds to the same principles and biomechanical concepts as a traditional squats (read more here). Aim for (approximately) 90-degree joint angles, parallel positions, and perpendicular joint segments. Fortunately the slideboard helps to reinforce this notion as using excessive depth and collapsed mechanics will cause unnecessary strain on the hips making it feel nearly impossible to perform without injury.
To control the lateral lunge the lifter will be required to use crisp and rigid mechanics (including the hip hinge) with ideal range of motion as demonstrated by my awesome client and NPC Figure champion Leslie Petch.
Even if the individual is capable of performing deep collapsing-style Cossack squats without any apparent aberrations in body mechanics, it still has a long-term detrimental impact on performance. That's because it promotes excessive mobility or extreme range of motion which for most sports is not ideal as this negatively alters the natural length tension relationship the muscles are meant to function at.
The lateral lunge is a highly functional task that can be witnessed in a variety of sports. However, you'll rarely if ever see the deep Cossack version incorporated into natural movement on the playing field as they serve no functional purpose for most athletes or general populations. In fact, moving on the playing field with the extreme positions reinforced by the traditional Cossack squat (or any deep squat for the matter) not only reduces force and torque-producing capabilities but it creates exponentially greater risk of injury due to the structurally and biomechanically disadvantageous position. Just remember, movement transfers. How we move in the weight room seeps into our body mechanics on the playing field. If we ingrain faulty mechanics in the weight room or during training this negatively transfers to the playing field. With this in mind, it's critical to eliminate any and all movements that degrade optimal mechanics and instead only practice movements that enhance muscle function and performance.
Side Planks and Side Windmill Planks
Side planks and windmill planks are some of my favorite core and hip exercises not only for improving full body coordination but for reinforcing intramuscular tension and spinal rigidity. Unfortunately many lifters lack full body tension/tightness and oftentimes allow their hips to sag and drop. Performing side planks and windmills on a slide-board literally forces textbook mechanics as anything less will result in the feet and hips sliding out from the body.
Additional Notes and Exercise Variations
If you don’t have access to a slide board you can create a similar effect with Valslide discs, sliders, or any other slick surface (e.g. towel on a slick wood floor) that creates a sliding effect. Banana peels also work exceptionally well (not really). In addition the exercise variations shown in this article represent a fraction of the potential variations you can use on the slideboard to implement the anti-sliding effect. I periodically incorporate the anti-sliding effect with athletes on RDL’s, bent over rows, overhead press, standing bicep curls, push press, jumps, and other standing movements that require the lifter to maximize motor control and produce perfectly executed movement patterns.
With that in mind I typically recommend using 25-80% of the load you would typically handle on an exercise. The more you master your mechanics the higher the percentage of your 1RM you can employ on these variations.
To learn how to program and implement these and other unique exercises into your training routines check out my Complete Training Templates here.