The Importance of Pillar Strength

Learn what pillar strength is and how it can help you improve athletic performance through this article from STACK expert Jennifer Noiles.

Calf Foam Roll
Athletes come in all forms—the professional hockey player, the runner who has an early start at the office and the high school starting pitcher, to name a few. Other than the fact that we are all human, what do we have in common? We all need pillar strength.

Pillar strength is a widely used term, but it is also widely misunderstood. Most commonly, it conjures up images and descriptions of static Front Planks and Side Planks held for time, or Crunches performed on a physioball. Pillar strength is much more than that.

What Is the Pillar?

The Pillar refers to the shoulders, torso and hips, so it is the center of all leg and arm movement. If you want to be a high-functioning athlete, you need a high-functioning pillar. A poor functioning pillar decreases your performance potential and increases your risk of injury.

For example, if I am a high school starting pitcher trying to throw a 80-mph fastball with just my arm, I limit the speed of the ball and put myself at risk for shoulder injury. If I am a runner with an early start at the office and I roll out of bed and straight onto the pavement, I limit my running potential and put myself at risk for leg and back injuries.

What Is Pillar Strength?

Pillar strength is what determines whether your pillar is high- or low-functioning. It allows you to walk, snatch, sprint and move with far less risk for injury and greater power.

How Do You Build Pillar Strength?

Pillar strength exercises are any movements aimed at improving the function of the pillar, including but not limited to: soft tissue work (foam rolling, massage sticking and trigger point therapy); mobility work (passive, active and dynamic stretching aimed at improving the range of motion of a joint and/or muscle); and stability work (movements aimed at improving the strength and activation of a muscle or joint).

The best time to do pillar strength work is at the beginning of your workout or activity. The goal is to prepare and prime the pillar for activity, while not fatiguing it before you even get started. Three to four movements performed for five to 10 minutes is more than sufficient.

Below is a step-by-step pillar strength session that improves tissue quality and mobility and activates your upper and lower body. Whether you are going out for a run or getting ready to do a strength workout, this session will ensure you are ready to perform your best, while reducing your risk for injury.

Soft Tissue Work

Chest Foam Roll

Objective: To open up the chest and improve posture and movement of the upper body

Steps:

  • Lie face down with a foam roller under one side of chest
  • Roll along one side of upper chest
  • Spend more time rolling on sore spots
  • Continue for specified time; perform on opposite side

Sets/Duration: 1-2 minutes each side

Coaching Points: Place as much weight on the foam roller as you can tolerate. You can use a lacrosse ball instead of a foam roller.

Feel It: Massaging your chest

Calf Foam Roll

Objective: To improve the tissue quality of the calves and thereby improve lower body locomotion

Steps:

  • Sit on ground with legs straight, one leg crossed over the other and foam roller under calf of bottom leg
  • Lift butt off ground so that weight is supported by hands and foam roller
  • Keeping hands still, move body back and forth, rolling lower leg over foam roller
  • Spend more time rolling on sore spots
  • Continue for specified time; perform on opposite side

Sets/Duration: 1-2 minutes each leg

Coaching Points: Place as much weight on the foam roller as you can tolerate

Feel It: As if you were getting a deep massage

Mobility Work

90/90 Stretch

Objective: To stretch and lengthen the chest and back in preparation for physical activity

Steps:

  • Lie on side with knees bent at 90 degrees, pad pinned between knees and arms straight in front, perpendicular to torso
  • Keeping pad pinned between knees, rotate chest and top arm, and try to place back on ground; exhale and hold for 2 seconds
  • Reverse directions to return to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps; perform on opposite side

Sets/Reps: 1x8 each side

Coaching Points: Rotate only as far as you can without lifting or separating your knees

Feel It: Stretching your torso, middle and upper back.

Straight-Leg Lowering With Support

Objective: To stretch and lengthen the hamstrings and activate the torso in preparation for physical activity

Steps:

  • Lie on back with arms at sides, one leg straight against a support and the other leg straight up in air over hips
  • Keeping the supported leg straight, slowly lower opposite leg to floor until slight stretch is felt; hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Lower leg to return to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps; perform on opposite side

Sets/Reps: 1x8 each side

Coaching Points: Keep both knees straight, toes pulled toward shins and back flat on floor

Feel It: Stretching your hamstrings and challenging your torso

Stability Work

Rolling Pattern

Objective: Once you have worked on the tissue quality and mobility of your upper and lower body, this movement helps to ensure that your pillar is engaged and primed for physical activity

Steps:

  • Lie with back on ground
  • Touch opposite elbow and knee
  • Extend other arm straight overhead and opposite leg straight on ground
  • Keeping elbow and knee together, roll body toward raised leg until lying on side
  • Roll back to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps; perform on opposite side

Sets/Reps: 2x8 each side with 1-2-minutes rest between sets

Coaching Points: Keep your opposite elbow and knee together throughout the movement.

Feel It: Working your torso

Learn more about Athletes' Performance and the professional and elite athletes they support on the Athletes' Performance page on STACK.

Photo: therunningpt.wordpress.com


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: WARM-UP | STRETCHING | CORE | CHEST | MOBILITY | INJURY | TISSUE | FOAM ROLLER | PHYSICAL ACTIVITY