Topics I have discussed briefly in previous blogs are mobility, stability, technical refinement, and Central Nervous System (CNS) activation. They comprise an area that I am ashamed to admit did not get its due respect or emphasis from me in the training programs I developed until just a few years ago. A part of this neglect was due to training session time constraints. Time is always at a premium for a coach, and as such you are always trying to develop programs that cover everything that you believe your athletes need in the most efficient manner possible. As a result, you wind up prioritizing your workout with the “must have” exercises at the top of the list, and then on down the line is where the “less important” exercises and movements reside. When you are finished writing the program, several of those “frivolous, less important” choices are removed because you simply run out of time in the training session to do everything you would like to do. For years, those listed above fell into this category and did not make the cut. In this blog series I will discuss their newfound value and where they sit in the exercise hierarchy today.
Although more sport coaches today realize the importance and value of a well-designed and efficiently run strength and conditioning program for their athletes’ and program success, time available for strength training is still in short supply. In previous years’ programs, time—although a major factor in the shortfall on the emphasis of these areas—was not the only reason they were not a priority. Just as great an element of deficiency was not fully understanding the benefits each component brings to the development and well-being of athletes. This, combined with a scarcity of information on the topics as they applied to strength and conditioning and the best way to practically apply them to the program, was my issue.
In the past decade, we have seen a philosophical shift in the field that has increased the knowledge and understanding of this area and has positively impacted athletic performance training more so than any other component since the introduction of Soviet and Eastern Bloc training methods to the West in the 1990s. This major change comes from blending information and techniques from multiple fields that in the past stood independently of one another. Instead of the disciplines of scientific research, athletic training, physical therapy, massage and mobility therapy, and strength and conditioning acting as independent entities serving only themselves, now ideas from each are being blended to create a more complete, smoothly transitioning program. This relatively new collaboration between disciplines is bringing positive change and advances to the field of strength and conditioning, as well as to coaches’ perspectives and philosophies on program design.
An example of this evolution would be the concept that was prevalent up until the late 1990s of using static stretching as the primary means of preparing the muscles for activity prior to a workout or competition. In the early 2000s, that concept evolved to say that dynamic movement is a more safe and effective way to warm up the muscles and that static stretching was better suited for a cooldown activity at the end of the workout when the muscles are already “hot.” This philosophy has continued its evolution over the last decade to include the latest concepts and buzz words: “functional movement screening and assessment, mobility, stability, and CNS activation.”
Mobility and Stability
Functional movement screening and assessment is a concept developed by physical therapist, strength coach, and author/lecturer Gray Cook and detailed in his book Movement: Functional Movement Systems—Screening, Assessment, and Corrective Strategies. In the book, Cook discusses how he and renowned strength coach Mike Boyle collaborated and developed the “Joint-by-Joint Approach” concept of stability and mobility. A simplification of this concept is that the major joints/areas of the body need to alternate their primary function between being stable or being mobile. An example would look like the following:
Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University describes mobility as “the ability of the joint complex to move freely in an unrestricted manner through a full range-of-motion. In basic terminology this is our ability to move at a certain segment.”
Horschig states that stability, referring to joint stability, describes “the ability of a joint complex to maintain position while motion takes place somewhere else. This is simply the ability to control the motion at a certain segment. Stability can also be synonymous with the term motor control.”
As an athlete who competed at the Division I level, and as a strength coach for over three decades, I was raised on the importance of having muscular balance to aid in the stabilization of joint structures. Consequently, joint stability has always been a primary focus of my programming since day 1. In the 1980s and 90s when I was getting my start in the field, most strength coaches’ programs were either “powerlifting” or Olympic weightlifting based; many strength coaches mocked and belittled the addition of body part or single-joint “bodybuilding” movements to programming as inefficient or a waste of time. Like most strength coaches, the core of my programming has always been built around the use of ground-based multi-joint movements; however, because of my focus on muscle balance and joint stability, I have always included specific body part and single-joint exercises to supplement the core lifts. The purpose of this supplementation is to aid building cross-sectional muscle mass and strength in the musculature surrounding the major joints that have shown to be at an increased risk of injury. The two joints that have received much of the focus are the knee and the shoulder.
Over the years the emphasis on developing the musculature surrounding joints has focused on the oft-neglected muscles of the posterior chain, which are in most cases significantly weaker than their anterior counterparts from the get-go. My approach to correcting these imbalances has continually been adjusted and modified over the years. In the beginning, for every exercise that emphasized muscles on the anterior side of the body (the “Show” muscles), I programmed one exercise that focused on the posterior chain (or “Go” muscles). However, as a result of the increased use of technology and social media in society over the past 20 years, the muscle imbalances and especially the posture of young athletes have worsened significantly, causing not only joint stability concerns, but mobility issues as well. Due to the worsening situation, I have continued to adjust the combinations of strength exercises, varying the volume as well as the adding band resistance movements to correct these issues.
In Part 2 of this blog series, we will look more closely at joint mobility and stability and the exercises I program to aid in the development of these characteristics in our athletes.