Gray Cook, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a strength and conditioning coach, said, “You can’t put fitness on dysfunction.” In our quest to look like Superman at all costs, we often stubbornly persist to acquire fitness qualities in the quickest time frame regardless of critically asking an important question — what problems are we going to solve by introducing these specific exercises? Or better, what problems could arise from selecting certain exercises, and are the consequences worth it? For example, the current state of fitness dogma leads the public to believe that squats are great for everybody because we all have to squat in daily living, so therefore we should all squat. While this isn’t far from the truth, attention must be placed on prioritizing the sequence of exercise selection in order to solve movement problems, and ultimately attain performance.
Cook is implying that people aren’t going to solve lower body strength problems by squatting if they can’t even get into the proper position to perform the squat in the first place. Yet we see this in gyms time and again — exercisers trying to move monster weights under extreme conditions of faulty movement quality. Injury is inevitable and performance suffers badly. For example, the central nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord integrates information it receives and coordinates and influences the activity of all parts of the body. Because of the vast arrangement of nerves and therefore signals sent out to the limbs for movement, the central nervous system and more specifically the spine are hot talking points in fitness performance.
POOR POSTURE IS HAZARDOUS
Your mother was right after all — it is hazardous to slouch over with poor posture at the dinner table. Poor posture is synonymous with taking a perfectly straight, pressurized garden hose and putting a kink in it. What happens to the water flow? The same thing happens to your strength when you squat if you put a “kink” in your posture. This is one of many examples on how poor posture can create a host of performance problems.
The first priority in any exercise program is to assess movement quality first, and then address mobility, stability and flexibility. Getting a proper movement assessment from a qualified instructor will allow for issues to be noted, and then proper exercise techniques can be used to improve postural and technical errors. Using the squat again as an example, often novice trainees experience knee pain during this movement and right it off as dangerous. After investigation, this trainee presents with poor ankle mobility; a common Band-Aid for squatting performance is to put a block under the heels. The block creates a false, leveraged posture at the ankles to spare the knees. The practical solution is to increase ankle mobility to properly align the trainee to optimize squat quality and enhance performance.
This example raises an interesting point worth noting. Generally, the joint above or below the injury complaint is the culprit, not the joint that is presenting with pain. For instance, often people who experience low back pain present with immobile and weak hips. If the hips don’t move properly something will, and often the next joint up in the chain (low back) will give way. In the presence of hip dysfunction, the low back takes up the slack and becomes unstable, disruptive and painful. Corrective drills can alter this dynamic to produce strong mobile hips, a stable lumbar spine and increased range of motion in the thoracic spine (mid back).
Easing into EXERCISE
From my experience, stretching and mobility exercises should be the cornerstone for the novice for several weeks before progressing to weighted exercises such as squats and bench presses. Depending on what movement flaws are noted, most of these mobility drills are quite basic that require minimal time and no equipment. Sometimes bands, tennis and lacrosse balls can be used, but these aren’t absolutely necessary.
Once the body is moving properly, this is the time to introduce more comprehensive strength training exercises to build specific fitness. If your body is moving properly, the fundamental exercises that are popular in mainstream fitness programs that often get labeled as dangerous become much more attractive for fitness development. So before you load up the bar, squat and try to develop those shiny new wheels to motor your bike up the pass this summer, get moving right first!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.