I have been in this profession in some manner since the fall of 2005. Over time it is safe to say I have learned a few things. The more that I learn, the less I feel I know. I have made mistakes in the past and I have drastically changed how I do things over time as well.
I learned that It Is OK To Be Wrong
When I was younger, with less experience in this field, I thought I knew everything. I was so sure of myself and what I was doing. I could come up with logical arguments to defend my positions and make it all sound good to a client.
Since that point in time I have matured, got a graduate degree in kinesiology, and have accumulated quite a bit of experience. The learning never stops though. I used to look at my graduate degree as an unnecessary piece of paper that I paid too much for.
I know realize it has given me the ability to analyze my current biases and make sure that they stand up, to not only anecdotal evidence, but also scientific fact. Many in this field scoff at science and only care about experience. However, a healthy dose of both is needed.
Upon challenging many of my biases, I have come to realize that some of them have not held up when challenged by research. I am going to share a few of these. This article is basically going to be a summary of the things that I was wrong about in the last couple of years.
I used to assess everyone. I followed the mantra that “if you are not assessing, you are guessing.” I was trying to identify movement dysfunction that would decrease performance and increase risk of injury. I could explain these reasons to any client and peer in a way that made me sound pretty smart.
The problem with this thinking is it did not hold up to scientific scrutiny. There was a study that showed that runners with a higher FMS score were actually more likely to be injured than ones with lower scores. The problem with this is that the higher the score, the “better” the movement. Other studies showed that lower scores were at higher risk of injury.
A meta-analysis published in Sports Health in 2015 concluded that the FMS is not a good predictor of injury risk. This proved my bias to be incorrect in terms of movement quality predicting injury risk. Plus the fact that athletes are constantly in what we would describe as less than optimal positions and do not always get hurt. Also, there are plenty of powerlifters that lift with poor form that do not get hurt.
If the assessments cannot predict injury risk, can it still predict performance?
One major issue was addressed above. Athletes are constantly in compromising positions. An article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2011 showed that the FMS scores were poor at predicting sprint performance, vertical jump height, and T-test times.
Science has proven my entire bias towards assessments to be incorrect. It does not predict injury risk or athletic performance. I am not saying that assessments do not have a place, as they most certainly do. However, for what I am looking for they are not giving me the correct information.
I determined to completely remove them from what I do as a strength coach because telling someone that they failed a test can actually increase injury risk. A person’s perceptions of pain and injury risk actually increases the stimulus that they receive through various neural pathways. The information here is too much to get into in this article, but there is a lot of information out there on this.
Instead of assessing I coach. The majority of my clients are lifters and the ones that are not come into TPS to squat, press, and deadlift. Some of these people are in pain currently. For those in pain we work backwards. We find a position that is relatively pain free and we begin there with lower volumes. From there we gradually increase volume and ROM.
This has worked far faster than when I would assess the same client and begin with ground based exercises. It could be 4 to 8 weeks before this person grabbed a barbell when they were capable of deadlifting off locks. Starting off blocks (as long as it is relatively pain free) gets the same client deadlifting from the floor in 4 weeks by reducing the blocks each week as long as pain allows.
For lifters, I analyze training age, gender, bodyweight, total, and technique. From there we draw up a plan to increase performance. This is pretty simple.
There was a point in time, where I would breakout bands, lacrosse balls, foam rollers, and everything else to help people clear up their mobility issues. We had to breakup that scar tissue and those adhesions to free up the muscles to move the joints through their full range of motion.
Again, the problem with this is that it does not hold up under scientific scrutiny. No scar tissue or adhesions are being broken up. In fact, there are no structural changes that are taking place when we use any of these mobility devices, including bands. All that is happening here, is the nervous system is getting an input it needs to process. This can decrease the pain that someone is feeling, or help increase ROM, briefly.
I have not used a mobility device with myself or clients in quite some time. Instead we spend the time strength training. For example, a member came to me because he felt his hips were not mobile enough to squat to depth. Instead of putting him on a foam roller or lacrosse ball, we worked on increasing neuromuscular coordination, or technique, of the desired movement.
To do this we did lots of pause squats and lots of repetitions with light weight. In no time, he was able to squat to depth easily. In other cases where people feel they experience pain or discomfort in positions in the lift, we just alter mechanics in a way that allow them to train pain free.
Something as simple as altering foot position on the squat can help alleviate pain. This allows them to continue to train and get stronger. In most cases they never experience that pain or discomfort again. This is far more beneficial than spending 10 minutes on a foam roller, for both competitive athletes and the general population.
I used to also believe that everything starts with breathing. Everyone would perform a 90/90 breathing drill in their warmups first. I also believed it was the first key to correcting everyone’s movement dysfunction.
I would also utilize minimally loaded movements in positions such as kneeling and ½ kneeling to help correct movement dysfunction. This was of course due to the movement dysfunction leading to an increase in injury risk and a decrease in performance due to a popular coined term of “energy leaks.”
Basically an energy leak means that if the athlete cannot control the hips and spine there will be decreased force due to the transfer between lower extremities and upper extremities. Problem is that core stability is not a good predictor of performance. It did not hold up under scientific scrutiny.
You know what is good at increasing core stability?
Squats and deadlifts. This is without any mention of breathing and bracing. Core stability is much more than rib position and breathing. It is instead an inclusive process of active and passive systems being appropriately controlled by the nervous system.
The joint angles, forces applied, and speeds of the movements need to be similar to those that the athlete is going to encounter in their sport. A bamboo bar bench press or bottoms up overhead kettlebell carry will not transfer to a competition bench press due to the movements being so different.
The bamboo bar bench press requires global muscles to engage in stabilization which decreases power output well below the competition bench press. The load of the movement is also too low for it to have a carryover to the competition movement.
The overhead kettlebell carry does not have similar joint angles or forces that the athlete will encounter on the bench press. If increased stabilization is desired on the bench press, a dumbbell bench press would be a better option.
All of these areas, that I have changed the way I do things in, all have one thing in common.
They all got away from doing minimally loaded exercises and focused more on appropriate strength training.
I used to think that rehab and performance were basically the same thing.
They are not.
They are very different and have very different places.
It is OK to be wrong. I was wrong in a number of ways. Challenging my biases to be sure that they hold up has taught me some valuable lessons and has allowed me to grow as a coach. I am able to get the same or better results than I was getting before, but much faster.
Written By: Kevin Cann