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Vail Daily column: Correct movement leads to good outcomes

What’s really the root of the problem in our fitness landscape with regards to movement dysfunction, pain and diminishing vitality? Do we suffer pain and dysfunction because we truly have underlying orthopedic medical conditions that limit movement ability, or do we have underlying orthopedic medical conditions because we don’t move well, and this limitation reinforces dysfunction? I’m not going to overly theorize the chicken or the egg analogy as it parallels physical suffering in the world and the relationship with fitness culture or a lack thereof. I want to consider how we define fitness, and what we can do with this definition to support vitality and its connection to pain response and quality of life.

As I’ve said many times before as a fitness professional, dealing with pain is not within the context of my practice and is foolhardy to consider pain management and recommendations for treatment. However, all worthy fitness professionals must learn to ask tough questions about pain because we regularly deal with trainees who experience chronic pain. Particularly in our valley, many recreational athletes have endured many hard miles and the years haven’t always been kind. The following is my take on this subject.

Poor Movement Skills

The vast majority of people I have trained who experience chronic pain have sustained poor movement skills that predated pain symptoms. When thoroughly investigating a trainee initially, there are several clues that allude to how well or poorly the individual has moved in years leading up to pain. From my experience, I rarely if ever analyze a student who experiences significant pain and moves extremely well. An individual who moves well and experiences chronic pain is as rare as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Conversely, it is uncommon to observe an individual who moves poorly and doesn’t experience pain.

First of all, let’s get a good working definition of what good movement skills are. Can the trainee perform natural movements within optimal range of motion under control? Can the individual maintain postural integrity and joint stability during these executions? There are several ways to grade movement health, but in general, good movement skills highlight postures that are innate to human beings; archetypal skills that all humans should be able to demonstrate. A classic example is squatting down deep into a seated position. Regardless of age and gender, people ought to be able to sit low enough that their upper thighs descend below parallel to the ground, while maintaining full foot contact with the floor.

What is Fitness?

Second, what is fitness within the context of good movement skills? General fitness is the ability to perform high levels of work using the fundamental human movements under duress, while maintaining postural integrity, breathe control,and execution of skill. Specific fitness is the ability to perform a precise task regardless of whether or not the movement is necessarily natural. Running a marathon successfully is a specific task that necessitates specific fitness; the marathon participant must be able to run. Riding a bike or lifting a barbell has very little to do with it. What is interesting is that good general fitness must be developed before specificity if you want the best chances of reducing pain and injury. Here’s why — you can ride a bike all day and run miles on the pavement without good movement skills that can ultimately lead to pain and dysfunction.

However, you cannot develop general fitness skills unless you are able to demonstrate the general movements first before introducing load and intensity. In other words, if you can’t perform a deep squat which is fundamental, then forget trying to demonstrate general fitness within this movement. You must re-establish the squat pattern before considering general fitness ability using this movement. If you can’t squat unloaded in a natural demonstration, then how are you going to be able to do it with external load and intensity? On the other hand, you can have very poor movement skills and ride a bike all day long because of the bike’s design; it can stabilize your body if you lack stability because of the nature of the frame design and ground contact with the wheels. I’m not knocking running or cycling by the way — these are just two very clear examples of activities that are very prevalent in our valley and don’t require general fitness beforehand. This potentially leads to problems, though.

Effects of Playing Hard

Time and again, I have observed people who experience pain, and they never moved right to begin with and played hard on a suboptimal platform. Conversely, most people I’ve observed who perform well and don’t experience significant pain, have experienced a lifetime of movement variety, played many sports and have a good understanding of movement competency because they have enriched their bodies with many general skills. Moreover, I have found that after a trainee who experiences pain has been cleared by a medical professional, redeveloping the correct natural movements of the human archetype often reduces symptoms, regardless of the orthopedic ailment.

The good news and take home message is to seek correct movement competency while managing symptoms. Often this leads to very good outcomes in the process. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards has a bachelor’s of science 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 r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.


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