On Movement Skills (Part 4)

Digest Version: Trainers must understand how, and when to progress or regress a client. Occasionally a regression may only be a single session or even a few minutes. There will be other occasions where a client will remain at a lower level for an extended period of time.

Remember, this is a client-centric art and science dealing that deals with individually defined limitations.  We get to work with what they bring us.

I train on my own. I have no problems focusing on what I’m doing and do my best to stay on point with the task at hand. What I do is specific and my training intentionally undulates intensities and loads.

I have three exercises in my current program in early stages of learning.  The Handstand, The One Arm-One Leg Plank and the Bodyweight Pistol Squat.

In the Handstand I am leaning against a wall developing my ability to hold the position and entering and exiting it safely and with control. I have the mobility/strength needed to invert myself and can perform cartwheels,pike push-ups and ring inversions.

In the One Arm-One Leg Plank I am working to own the plank position on both sides. I can do assisted OAOL Push Ups with my right hand only and decently well when assisted.

In the pistol squat (a one leg squat to a depth of 90 degrees or lower) I have some mobility and flexibility issues that need to be addressed. There are also some structural issues that I cannot change regardless of corrective exercise intervention, I have to work with what I have.

The other exercises in my program are in stages of overload by adding repetitions or increasing load regularly to improve strength or skill by improving my efficiency in the lift.

Despite my training focus, I often find myself watching other trainers do what they do. Sometimes I dig what I see, usually I don’t.

I’ve had to bite my lips too many times after seeing trainers put clients through exercises they clearly aren’t ready for, or using methods in which the trainer themselves never received any formal education.

I always want to yell “What the f-ck are you thinking?”

…or in a nicer way

“What is the reason you’re having this client perform that exercise?”

… or even nicer still

“Why have you progressed this person when a regression is needed?”

What is progression?
Progression is a training principle that co-exists with Overload and Specificity. Progression can defined as the logical sophistication of a movement or exercise from simple to sophisticated.

Neither simple or sophisticated is synonymous with “easy.”  There are probably around 10-12 (or possibly more) coaching points in the Deadlift before the bar leaves the floor and the high-end Kettlebell certifications spend a near half-day on the swing.  A higher level coach can simplify the coaching process, but they can adjust on the fly to address a client need on the spot.

In language we begin by learning the Alphabet. Usually in small chunks until all letters are learned in the proper sequence.   A,B,C,D….

After memorizing the Alphabet learning how to spell simple words and ones name can be formed.

Words can now be linked to form a sentence.
My dog is big.

Simple sentences form paragraphs. Paragraphs become stories.

Simple words can be replaced with sophisticated words.

Exercise progression follows a similar pattern. The initial screen and individual training history helps determine where the individual starts on the progression scale.



Who are you training, and where are they starting from? A medically cleared 46yo obese sedentary client with no training history with the inability to squat or touch his toes and limited shoulder mobility is not the same as a 46yo obese active athlete that can squat,touch his toes and has full shoulder range of motion.

They’re both 46 year old obese guys, that ends the similarities. They have totally different start points.

Why are you doing what you’re doing, and is this the best choice for this client? Too many trainers seem to skip past the early stages when it would be the best course of action. Sometimes the client wants this, as everyone seems to want to flip tires and hit them with sledgehammers and the trainer is giving to the clients wants.

Realize the clients WANTS vs their NEEDS.  I am OK with giving the client 10% of what they WANT because if I don’t give them 10% somebody else will give them 100%, and that might not be the best course.  As the client improves on the 90% they NEED, the get to have more of what they WANT.

It can get ugly, real quickly. A particularly scary example of progression too soon was when I witnessed a trainer have a petite beginner older lady perform overhead squats with a 20kg/45lb barbell.  Although pure speculation on my part, I can confidently say this lady didn’t request to learn Olympic lifting skills and I know for a fact the trainer had no background in the O Lifts.


The Overhead Squat is not a simple movement.

The overhead squat is a particularly sophisticated movement and in my opinion is one of the tougher bilateral barbell squat variations.  The mobility,stability,strength,speed and power needs alone are high and the technique is practiced using lighter loads. I’ve actually removed the overhead squat assessment test as I’ve found most general clients lack the skill to perform it.

The lady had terrible squat mechanics, low limit strength relative her age/size and lacked the abdominal strength and shoulder mobility needed to perform the task even with a lighter weight.

Short answer: She was too tight,weak and new to be attempting this movement. Realistically she would have been on the simple words end of the Alphabet.

There’s still the question of “why would you have this client perform this exercise?”
Load=Too Heavy
Specificity=She’s not an Olympic lifter,StrongMaam or CrossFit athlete.
Progression=She couldn’t squat or press well, why would her do both at the same time? My thoughts are the trainer was either showing off or completely ignorant of what she should be doing. Possibly both.

Not everyone of my clients started barbell squatting right away. Where the students education starts, and the tool I use depends on what they initially bring me. My lower regressions include assisted partial squats to earn a 90 degree depth minimum and using the least amount of assistance possible.
Sit to Stand,Stand to Sit.
Rocks (From Original Strength)                                                                                                                       I may use all of these or only one. It’s client defined.  There are degrees of sophistication found even within these “ABC moves.”

This progresses to Bodyweight Squats, Sandbag,Kettlebell Goblet or Dumbbell Squats.
My Sandbag is set at 25lbs and my big bag “Vic” weighs 85lbs, capable of bulking up to 120lbs. With Kettlebells I can go as low as 10lbs, but normally start at 18lbs.

In some cases this might be as far I go with some people. I can always change training variables to produce overload…plus nobody that I’m aware of ever got hurt doing Goblet Squats.

Growing in sophistication is the Barbell front squat. Back squat position is taught according to the client defined needs. It could be high/low bar position or involve the safety of buffalo bars instead of the standard bar.  Overtime I’ve found that once a particular movement skill is learned and properly ingrained the learning curve for a similar but different movement is shortened.


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