Monday, January 10, 2011

Main Muscles in the Ottoman Pistol, Part 2: the butt

In the previous post, we considered the quads' role in the ottoman pistol. This post we'll take a wee look at the butt and hamstrings. Remember the quads are largely knee extensors and hip flexors. The vastus group stabilizes the knee, and particularly helps us as we stand up - contracting the quads locks the knee cap for instance. The butt and hamstrings work the back of the leg and knee and hip to flex the knee and extend the hip, as in the runner's leg going back in the sprint.

SO let's take a look at how this muscle combo works in the pistol. 

The Butt - the Glutius Maximus

We know that the knees HAVE to straighten for us to stand up in the pistol. But there's another big body part that changes, too, and that's the hip. The hip extends as we move from the squat position where the pelvis is flexed, to standing up, where it's extending.  But the movement in the squat not only has the hip extending but the leg externally rotating (turning out) and moving away from midline, or abducting.

The muscles that extend the hip include the biggest muscle in the body: the gluteus maximus. Hip extension (and external rotation of the leg, or the leg turning out) must take alot of work if it has such mass associated with it.

THis massive muscle is interesting in the way it connects to the body: it attaches to the back of the pelvis - that makes sense since it has to connect with the hip. It also connects along the sacrum - the lowest part of the back, if you will.

The muscle connects into the femur at the gluteal tuberosity and into the iliotibial tract (IT band). That tract connects into the top of the tibia - in other words the butt effectively connects over the hip and past the knee into the lower leg. So the butt also helps support the knee via the IT band when the knee is extended (when we're standing up.

The Hamstrings: Biceps Femoris, Semitendinous and Semimembranous Muscles
Manual of Structural Kinesiology
great kinesiology resource
Along the back of the the leg run the hamstrings or biceps femorous, semimembranous and semitendinous muscles. .

Origins. The semimembranous and semitendenous muscles along with the long head of the biceps femoris all connect into the ishial tuberosity of the pelvis (into the sitting bones if you will).  The short head of the biceps femoris however does not connect to the pelvis. Instead it connects into the femur.

glute max joining
IT band into Tibia
Insertions. The Semis connect into the tibia or the medial side of the knee. The biceps femoris, to the lateral side of the tibia (top of lower leg).

With the hamstrings, then, we have a set of muscles that connects to the pelvis to pull it into extension (to straighten it), and likewise connects with the knee to pull it into flexion (to bend). In the case of the pistol, where the foot is on the floor and stays there, the main action of the hamstrings will be on the hip.
(Aside: It's in running and kicking for instance where the knee is working that we'd see the hamstrings come in more with the knee, but when the leg stays nailed to the floor, or the knee is immobile, the hammies will work the hip).

Working the Pistol
Going Down. As we saw, the quads help the knee, trunk and flexed hip on the way down into the bottom position of the pistol (eccentric contraction). In going down, the glute max and the hamstrings are also on, also eccentrically contracting, actively helping to let the hips flex.  That's their main action in the descending leg: eccentric contraction to assist hip flexion.

Coming Back Up. Once down, the glute max will get active to extend the hip (concentric contraction) as we start to come up, and the hamstrings will contribute to pull the hip into extension (concentric contraction) as well.

A note on Eccentric Contraction:
Just to review the knee/hip part of this movement, the quad group (the thigh) on the way down is doing "eccentric contraction" (ec) - controlling the speed of the bend of the knee: it is contracting muscle fibers while the muscle still lengthens to allow the limbs to move. The butt is likewise doing eccentric contraction on the way down to help control the movement of the hip into flexion.

Imagine someone lowering something on a rope: to pay out the rope slowly, one is applying some tension somewhere to control the descent, else the rope will just slide through one's hands. If one is lowering a piano from a building, the important ropes - the ones taking the strain - are the lowering ropes; there may be folks on the ground gathering up rope on either side of the piano to guide it to make sure it doesn't hit a wall on the way down, but the heavy lifting as it were is in the lowering, the paying out of the rope.

Two other points about EC: we're also stronger in eccentric contraction than concentric contraction: it's easier to lower a piano to the ground than pick it up. And finally - a reminder that eccentric contraction kicks off DOMS more so than concentric contraction.

Wrap up of the Butt (really glute max) and Hamstrings
So the pistol is certainly working the legs and butt big time: a lot of eccentric conrtaction for controlling the movement of the hip into flexion on the way down and conversely a lot of concentric contraction to help the hip get back up to neutral.

Plainly this move does a LOT for the lower body - by using one leg, bodyweight becomes a significant challenge for that first rep or multiple reps. Many other stabiliser muscles come into play in these movements; there's also considerable vestibular challenge in this movement as we must add more balance control to succeed. But for now, let's get the biggies figured out.

Next time, in the last of this series, we'll look at the last major bit of the ottoman pistol, the ankles.

Pistol Resources:
- beast skills site
- Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior
- Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol

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