Coach Caleb’s Corner
Moving Well is Living Well
Remember the 80’s? I sure do. Nostalgia for some aspects of this fascinating era has become quite palpable for many of us lately. With shows like Stranger Things, novels like Ready Player One and even a new Rambo movie coming out (40 years after the first one!) it would seem that pop culture has decided that the good people of the 80’s were doing something right, at least as far as entertainment was concerned. Fitness, on the other hand… Ugh. That’s not to say there weren’t many brilliant developments being made in the fitness industry during that decade, but unfortunately those advances were outshone in the zeitgeist which favored body part training protocols, neon tights and promoting the “pornographication” of fitness. As a reminder of what this was like, I like to occasionally google the trailer for the John Travolta / Jamie Lee Curtis Hollywood classic, “Perfect.”
With all that going on in the popular media, it was difficult for anyone to see physical training as a key component of preventative healthcare because it was constantly being marketed as a sexy recreational activity (mostly suited to people who found themselves to be quite sexy already). Perhaps worst of all, the size and appearance of one’s body was the primary focus and the quality of movement wasn’t of any particular importance to many fitness industry professionals or their clients which led to many hard working people becoming broken down collections of body parts!
So what changed?
What’s old became new again. Ancient training methods merged with modern medical science. With pioneers like Pavel Tstatsouline, Grey Cook, Lee Burton, Stuart McGill, Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, and many others, some of the old school “tough guys” of training found common ground with the foremost experts in rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy, and the so-called “Functional Training” era was born. This style of training eschews the body parts approach in favor of promoting the quality of our movement patterns, and developing athletic attributes like strength, and explosiveness without compromising mobility, and stability. These ideas radically transformed the conversation in training centers across the fruited plain. No longer does one ask, “If I want huge delts should I just smash more incline bench presses, bro?” Instead the question is more like “Do I have the requisite shoulder mobility to safely push that much weight overhead?” (Sigh… Or at least that’s how I imagine it might be someday if we just keep spreading the good word!)
So what are these movement patterns?
Although we are all different, we are equal. The human body basically does this:
Hinge – You might be familiar with a little favorite of ours called the deadlift?
Squat – You know… squats. It is what it is.
Push – Upper body pushing (which we know really uses the whole body if we’re really doing it right, right?)
Pull – See “Push” above, but the other direction
Lunge / Single Leg Stance – It’s how we get around.
And to perform many of these activities safely we need:
Tunk and Rotary Stability – Also known as “core strength” but it’s really more involved than that. More like core strength and core “skill.”
Let’s briefly look at why each pattern is important:
The Hip Hinge is a fundamental human movement pattern used for picking up heavy things. We train this pattern with exercises like deadlifts and kettlebell swings. Proper hinge mechanics, core stability and posterior chain mobility are essential to performing these activities safely. Training the body to hinge while keeping the core braced, the shoulders packed and without flexing the spine will save the small muscles of the lower back from being overloaded and reduce the risk of injury.
The Squat is also a fundamental human movement pattern that we use everyday just to sit down and stand back up again. We use it to lift objects as well and to eccentrically load the body for explosive jumps. Training this pattern can help us to reach more squat depth without compromising posture. Learning proper squat mechanics and breathing is essential for most load-bearing exercises such as barbell squats or KB Goblet Squats. Training the requisite hip and spine mobility for deep squats, and the core, hip and shoulder stability to squat safely under load helps to reduce the risk of injury to the knees and back both in the gym and in day to day life.
Upper body pushing and pulling movement patterns help us open doors and move objects around. In sport, they are used for everything from passing a basketball to throwing an opponent to the ground in judo. They are also used in the gym for many load bearing exercises to train strength like pushups, pull-ups, bench presses and rows. Working to achieve and maintain adequate shoulder mobility, stability and proper body mechanics will increase our resilience in sports and any of our load-bearing pushing and pulling activities.
The lunge movement is a component part of deceleration and changes in direction for many sporting activities and exercises in the gym. Training the lunge pattern helps to focus on improving the body’s ability to respond appropriately to the stresses associated with rotation, lateral movement and the dynamic stability requirements to control the pelvis and core in an asymmetrical hip position. Running, jumping, heavy lifting, and rotational work all benefit from improving the skills in this movement pattern. Working on single leg stances and lunges can also help us avoid injuries from falling and make it safer for us to simply get around.
The ability to reflexively stabilize the core is an important skill in that the muscles of the abdomen are able to prevent dangerous extension of the lower back. We sometimes see this dysfunction appear in upper body pushing activities like pushups or planks where the back can be seen to “sag.” Rotary stabilization mechanics are some of the most primitive human movement patterns that we develop as children when we learn to roll and crawl. These movements teach us the basics for walking, climbing and jumping as we mature. Practicing dynamic core stabilization mechanics, and the breathing used to safely train the abdominal muscles will benefit just about any other activity.
Effective functional training takes into account an individual’s safe ranges of motion, balance, and medical history and prescribes progressive resistance at appropriate levels to challenge and improve strengths and skills in these movement patterns. Training in this manner helps to build us up more than it breaks us down. If we are always working to improve the quality of our movement patterns while also training them for strength and endurance, we are simply improving our quality of life!