Picture Super Bowl-winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes launching a deep ball. Before the release, he steps forward with his left foot, arches his spine, and rotates his hips back to the left. The force then travels through his hips and core into his right shoulder. Amateurs laud Mahomes’s great arm strength. But movement experts know the truth: Mahomes most accurately has an efficient anterior oblique sling.
“A throw is not a single muscle working,” says Arizona-based trainer Josh Henkin, C.S.C.S. “It’s a series of muscles working together called a sling.”
This sling subsystem is a set of muscles that runs from your feet to your hips to your core to your arms. Your body has several slings, and learning the exercises that train them can help you build real-world strength and athleticism. Working slings (instead of muscle groups) alleviates stress on individual muscles and challenges your body to move with greater efficiency and coordination. That’s why a growing number of trainers are building slings into workout programs. “We’re tying the kinetic chain together,” says Henkin. “That’s a step beyond functional fitness and way beyond muscle isolation.”
Sling science reveals that muscles, once viewed as discrete motion-producing units, work together in long chains, linked by fascia, the weblike substance surrounding muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. These slings control your body like a system of pulleys, passing through your torso and creating movement at key joints. Training while focusing on slings optimizes athletic performance and makes every exercise both a core burner and a full-body challenge.
The History Of Sling Training
The concept of slings has its roots in research from the 1980s, when Canadian physiologist Serge Gracovetsky, Ph.D., observed quadruple amputees “walking” on their hip sockets by rocking their torsos backward, then swinging their torsos forward. Gracovetsky posited that the basis of human movement lies in rotational actions in the spine, lower back, and hips. Arm and leg muscle movements, he wrote in his book The Spinal Engine, begin in the spine. That led movement experts Diane Lee and Thomas Myers to separately develop similar theories that the muscles that drive those movements are organized into slings. Their approach was adopted by innovative physical therapists working with elite athletes in the late ’90s.
About five years ago, the rise of functional fitness caught the attention of Henkin and other trainers—but they wanted more. They looked to physical therapists for smarter movements. Back squats are great, and sure, they’re functional. But they don’t replicate total-body athletic movements. Slings could.
Not all gyms embrace sling exercises, and they’ve taken so long to catch on because they’re complicated. Just try the Hero Clean and Press (the move on the previous page). You have to rotate your hips to the left—like a boxer throwing a cross—while bending to…