Monthly Archives: April 2016

On Movement Skills (Part 3)

Efficiency: The connection between the brain and the body in performing a given movement. The ability to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort, competency in performance.

Focusing on efficient movement forms the foundation of a strength and conditioning program. This requires a combination of motor control, stability, flexibility and joint range  of motion/joint integrity.

The recent introduction of maces and Indian clubs in my training proved these points in unexpected ways. They also served as a reminder that even with nearly thirty years of training that I very much a student and far from being a kinesthetic genius.  

When learning a new exercise the first changes to occur are internal at the neural and cellular level along with relatively tiny muscle structures that cannot be seen in the mirror.  When my 15lb steel mace arrived from I was able to competently perform clockwise 360 spins immediately, however my counter clockwise movement was decidedly different in both quality and speed.  The purchase of a 7lb steel mace and training material was promptly made.

After the lighter mace and training material arrived I began to improve. My left shoulder,thoracic mobility and postural control needed to be addressed and there were some small details overlooked in my technique. From a technical standpoint I actually wasn’t very off and by strength standards I was able to move 15lbs,just not very well.  Moving to a lighter mace, improving my mobility and building quality repetition volume following a quality education was needed.

The 15b mace was temporarily shelved and only brought out for special grip training work.

Although I had interest in Indian Clubs, my initial purchase was accidental (or maybe it wasn’t and the universe sent me the bill.)

Somehow I managed to “Buy with 1 click” a Steel 5lb club while surfing and didn’t realize it until the next morning.  When the club arrived I did what probably most people probably do and started playing with it even though I had little concept of how to use it,much less any particular skill other than grip strength and a sense of space.

The one thing I was immediately aware of was that it was too heavy (yes, too heavy) for any current client to use.

Thinking that clubs are normally used in pairs I purchased a second 5lb club and also a pair of 2lb polypropylene clubs with a training DVD presented by Dr. Ed Thomas who is a subject matter expert in the use of the Indian Clubs.  After review of the material and gaining a degree of competence with the 2lb clubs I followed Dr.Thomas’s advice and purchased a pair of 1lb wooden clubs from Revolution Clubs and will soon be purchasing further instruction presented by Dr. Gray Cook, Dr. Thomas and Brett Jones.

For the better part of the past month I haven’t touched my maces at all and focused largely on developing my skill with a 1lb single club and occasional work with paired clubs. The other day was nice enough that I decided to train outdoors with a mace after a five minute 1 and 2lb club warm up where I focus on flowing my moves. To my surprise my mace skill is now near even on both sides and I have better physical connection and postural control especially with the 15b mace.

Note the trends,Learn from my mistakes.

Whether by accident or not, I jumped in with too much too soon. Although I had the strength I didn’t have the education, mobility or efficiency for the new movement patterns.

Although relatively light, manipulating these objects requires a degree of skill. Just because its relatively light doesn’t mean it should be under-estimated.

I admitted I was a beginner and stepped back in training. This is what kills me when I see someone thinking they’ve “got it” simply from watching YouTube.  They don’t have it, they never had it. This is also why I believe trainers need trainers.

I feel that Maces and Indian Clubs compliment Kettlebell training and serve as a form of loaded mobility training.  To engage in loaded mobility training one must have competence in unloaded mobility training.

I became stronger by allowing myself to become weaker.



On Movement Skills (Part 2)

Mobility is defined as how a joint moves, or the ability to produce a given movement. It exists on the opposite side of the continuum as Stability, which is the ability to resist an unwanted movement.

Flexibility is defined by the length of a muscle.  It exists on the opposite side of Stiffness.

The two are often confused. In fact some believe if they are flexible, they also possess great joint mobility. This is not the case.

Stretching your calf or pectoral muscles does not always improve the mobility restrictions of the ankle or shoulder joint and in some cases mobility is structurally limited with no amount of Corrective Exercise or Stretching being able to improve it.

As a component of a fitness screen, both mobility/stability and flexibility/stiffness should be checked.  The outcome of the screen is what you get to work with.

The screen is the foundation that the coaching of movement lays atop and holds true whether you subscribe to the train movements before muscles, or muscles before movement tribes.

During the initial screen I take the client through several simple tests to see how they move. The purpose of each screen is given as well as the coaching cues. Some screens require less coaching than others due to simplicity. If the client runs into issues performing certain moves I keep going through the screen and re-visit the problem technique using finer approaches.  This is the value of having more than one source of education in screening and corrective exercise approaches.

It still surprises me when I’m told “this is the first time a trainer has done any sorts of test with me.”

During the screen I note the clients relative tightness (flexibility) and asymmetry (mobility),figuring out their learning methods and determining if we will get along. If a person is complaining and whining throughout the screen I know I’m not the coach for them.

I follow the “Joint by Joint” approach first introduced by Coach Mike Boyle.  My approach being from the ground up and involves the major movement patterns found in exercise. The results of the screen drive the warm-up (the what and why of things) and sets the stage for how training is presented and progressed (the how of things.)

Multi-faceted client needs are dealt with via a multi-faceted approach and no two clients share the same warm up or program. Daily homework is assigned and kept to three moves at most.

A few personal notes on Mobility training.

Chronic pain in a given range is an automatic referral. If the pain has been medically cleared then work within the pain free range. This may involve exercise modifications or complete changes of exercises.  The ability to adapt on the fly is key.

In the case of frozen shoulders, going into the pain range may be a necessity in order to break up scar tissue. These cases can be stressful to both the client and trainer and I highly recommend against inexperienced trainers taking on these clients.

Range of Motion is client defined. Achieving 90 degree squats may not initially happen and progress is measured one inch at a time. This is OK.

Keep homework simple and accessible. “Grease the Groove” (frequent,irregular sets not performed to failure) works quite well here. Like many things volume and consistency are key. The client may be totally new to exercise and not have a great deal of fitness equipment lying around the home.

Loaded and Unloaded Mobility training have their places. Get your mind off the weight listed on the stack, the size of the Kettlebell or the number of plates on the bar.  This is about competency before intensity and even low loads can be performed with client appropriate levels of intensity. Load is not the only variable you can adjust.


On Movement Skills

As my skills and abilities as a coach evolve I find that things simplify over time.  Further, I wind up viewing things through a new set of eyes and compare what is seen,felt and learned to what I previously believed true.  On movement skills, I have broken things down to the following:

Joint Integrity: (Being aware of) How one carries themselves in a position or movement.

Mobility: The ability to move a joint through its full range of motion.

Efficiency: The connection between the brain and the body/tool in performing a given movement.

Progression: Owning a movement, starting with the simple before moving to the sophisticated.

Variety: The ability to apply the movement though various positions or with different instruments in a “same but different” manner.

Precision: The ability to put quality before quantity.

Today I will offer my short thoughts on joint integrity,although all points touch upon each other. I will admit that I am stickler on technique.  I believe much of this stems from a lengthy and sometimes painful upbringing under very strict Karate instructors, having made a ton of mistakes in the gym and a career in the military.  I am not so strict that every client must be perfect day one.  I simply aspire to make them better each set and session. That to me is progression.

Joint integrity has always been a key point of my instruction, even before I knew it. Over the years this has increased since my education in Corrective Exercise, StrongFirst Kettlebell, Breathe! II under Russ Moon and presently through early use of Indian Clubs.

“Squats don’t hurt your knees.  Whatever you are doing there is hurts your knees” Dan John

The Deadlift, The Pull-Up, The Kettlebell Swing and the Squat are all great exercises. They are also totally awful exercises if performed without proper joint integrity and loading. The value of an exercise depends on the person and the manner in which things are being performed.

The other day I witnessed a trainer having a client perform seated machine rear deltoid flies.  The range of motion being performed was well beyond the lateral point which can invite shoulder hyperextension.  No attempts to correct even the broad strokes of the clients form were given. This served as an example of an otherwise fine exercise being made potentially injurious and inefficient by lack of quality coaching and joint integrity.

Not to minimize things, but this was a machine with a pre-determined path of movement targeting a relatively small muscle area.  I can only imagine what happens when a free-weight compound movement is introduced.

The advice and instruction of expert coaching, video feedback of performance and a developed sense of kinesthetic awareness can assist a person in developing joint integrity. For the coach, the act of of properly cueing and aligning the human body into an optimum position based on individual anthropometry and structural limitations in the performance of a given exercise is an art onto itself.

An individuals ability to listen to the messages sent by the body before, during and after a movement is key, this is an advantage of not always relying on mirrors while training as the reflected image gives a distorted representation only to what is visible. The use of the mirror is not without value, but in my opinion lends itself to some exercises more than others.

Be mindful of your movement. If in doubt, seek assistance from experts that can help you. Sometimes very small adjustments in joint integrity completely change things for the better.


The Why and The How

Training, exercise prescription and to a degree exercise technical execution are client defined.

Programming is a tailored process designed to lead to specific objectives and physical adaptations.                                                                                                                                                                   

The value of a specific exercise depends on the person in front of you. 

I believe some trainers have either forgotten, never learned or ignore these facts.

Too many times I have been told of trainers making up the days exercises on the spot and applying it to all clients for the day. The facts that the clients are completely different people,that the exercises may or may not build on previously performed work or are even appropriate for the individual and their goals beyond converting oxygen and raising core temperature notwithstanding.

Why am I doing this exercise?  How will this exercise help me? Why is this detail important? How will this help me towards my goal?      

I have stated that for every exercise being prescribed the coach MUST be able to answer the question “WHY IS THIS THE BEST CHOICE?”  If I program Push Ups, Swings, Deadlifts, Overhead Press and Loaded Carry for a client, Why am I doing so, and are these the best choices for this persons goal(s).

Both the Why and the How relate to the Who.  Depending on whom you’re speaking with dictates which take priority, although I put more weight on the Why.

With a beginner client that has never stepped foot in a gym, much less a strength focused gym. I start with WHY.  The fact that my gym offers Mono-Lifts, competition benches, lift platforms and weights in bumper,iron and calibrated kilograms provides nothing in answering “Why.”  They just know my gym has a lot of stuff that sounds heavy.

They want to know if I can help them and have the means to do so.  A well-equipped gym helps, but is secondary to a coach with the skills needed for the task at hand. What experience and skills do I have that can help them?

How I do things, provided it is safe is often secondary in the clients mind unless they’ve had the unenviable, and unfortunately too common experience of previously hiring a crap trainer or was injured by one.

With clients beyond the novice stage, or in my case as a coach and trainer of other trainers  the HOW becomes more important.  Unless the tool or exercise is something they’ve never dealt with before they often have a degree of existing level of knowledge in the why.

They will know how the leg press differs from the free weight squats, but may not know when, or why its use would be the preferred way to go.  They may or may not know the effects of varying the relative foot position or adding resistance bands into the leg press.

With the unconventional tools; Kettlebells,Sandbags,Maces,Clubs,Strongman and to an extent some bodyweight exercises things get even more interesting.  Even previously known movement patterns take on new characteristics and challenges once a new tool is introduced.  With time and appropriate volume, competence and confidence improve. The Why and The How both apply.

Ironically, its the unconventional tools that the beginners often want to jump right into using. My guess being because they saw it some TV spot and it looks far more awesome than the seated leg extension.  The fact that they can be completely ill-prepared for some of the physically demanding and complex movements is not an initial consideration.

The good news is unconventional tools can be taught safely, and some tools on a client defined basis have a better “Why” than others.

On the other side of things,the experienced exerciser sometimes wants to stick with stuff they know such as free-weights, resistance machines and cardio equipment. My guess being is they don’t want to look like a beginner again.  I used the word “exerciser” as the person may have lots of experience moving around and doing things in the gym, but ZERO experience in TRAINING.  I make the difference between the two clear during the initial consult and the fact that I deal in the latter.

Going slightly off-topic and based purely on personal experience, which I know does not make for the best evidence, but is the same self-evidence they use, the MLM supplement pushers that have approached me HAVE NEVER been able to answer the WHY (as in Why I need their product) or the HOW (as in How does it work.)  I would think if you’re trying to sell me something, or in this case get me interested in the idea of selling the stuff you’d be REALLY GOOD at providing the Why and How.

I know I have to give the Why or How talk each time I teach a new exercise or make program changes.