Over the past year I have been on a journey to fix poor movement patterns that stem from several football injuries, which I never properly rehabbed. The lack of tibial rotation and dorsi-flexion in my left ankle has created a squat pattern that looks more like a dog pooping in the woods than that of Rich Froning in the bottom of an air squat. Through countless hours of movement work, plenty of trial and error, and the help of the TTT coaches I have slowly been able to acquire new positions that have helped alleviate pain and unlock a new ability to express greater work output in a mixed modal environment. I have always preached to my clients how important quality movement patterns are to their performance, but now after journeying down this path for myself I have an even greater belief that movement quality is essential to maximizing performance in any sport.
*NOTE: It is important to note that I use the term “movement” somewhat vaguely in this blog, but, for the most part, what I mean is the ability to control full and healthy ranges of motion while expressing skill in your desired sport. Quality movement requires proper joint function (healthy ligaments and tendons), strong muscles crossing the joint and a well functioning nervous system (appropriate motor control).
This blog topic came about after finding that many of my clients (you know who you are) neglect the movement work that is prescribed to them so they can spend more time focusing on the actual ‘workout’ for the day. The common misconception is that if they work harder on the strength or conditioning pieces that it will automatically make them better at their sport. The problem, though, is that by continuing to work on the skills of their sport while moving poorly, they are only reinforcing those faulty movement patterns that will increase the risk of injury and never allow them to maximize their potential in the sport.
Side Story: In college I had my own lawn care business. During the summers, in between football practices, I would drive around town and mow all of my lawns. It was a great gig. One day a gentleman called me and asked if he could hire me to mow his lawn. Being the poor college student I was, I jumped on the opportunity and headed to his house right away. Upon arriving I realized that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. Mr. Guthrie lived on 3 acres of land and I only had a tiny craftsman push mower. As I pulled into the driveway I noticed this beautiful zero-turn Husqvarna tractor sitting on the side of his house. After talking with Mr. Guthrie he told me he was happy to let me use the tractor to cut the grass. It was a huge relief. It would have taken me an entire day to cut the lawn with my tiny push mower, but with his tractor I was able to do the entire thing in less than 30 minutes. I would have had to work much harder to cut Mr. Guthrie’s lawn with the smaller mower, but it would have wasted my time and I would not have made a dime doing it. I was in the lawn care business to make money, and as we all know, time is money. Using his tractor was not only faster, but it was more effective AND much easier to use.
The point of the story is this: working hard only gets you so far if you don’t have the right tools to get the job done. In this case, the tools are quality movement patterns that allow you to produce the most amount of work (or skill) with the least amount of fatigue.
In CrossFit™, this couldn’t be “more true”. Countless times I have seen athletes with incredible scores on cyclical energy system tests (200+ Cal 10min Assault, 8000m+ 30min Row, Sub 6:40 2k Row) but poor performance in Mixed Modal testing, that I question the accuracy of their cyclical tests. While reviewing video of the Mixed Modal testing it is clear that poor squat positions, faulty overhead mechanics, and other movement discrepancies make them have to work twice as hard as others who can do all of those things well. Essentially those who can’t get into quality positions are using the tiny push lawn mower (and working much harder) while those who move well are riding the tractor - more work, less time. It is quite simple, those who can move well and can get into quality positions, without restrictions, do not have to work as hard in a mixed modal environment. Rich Froning is an excellent example of someone whose movement quality separates him from the field. Rich not only has an absurd capacity, but also moves incredibly well. Because of this, he has been able to dominate the sport for many years without any serious injuries or drop-off in production. While CrossFit™ is still a young sport and many at the top still do not move perfectly, over time, quality movement patterns will be a requirement to do well in the sport. If we take a look at the evolution of other major sports we will find that proper movement patterns - which are specific to each sport - are a necessity to be a champion in that sport. Let me give you a few examples:
*Another Note: Like the English language, there are exceptions to almost every rule (I before E except after C?). Sure, there are athletes who move poorly but are still excellent at what they do, but they are OUTLIERS, and since you are taking the time to read this blog, most likely you are not. So, to become better at what you do, you need to learn to improve your movement to optimize your performance. Read on.
Steph Curry is good. Like really good. If you haven’t seen this guy in action you need to check out a compilation of all 402 3-pointers he hit in the 2016 season - link HERE. To give you an idea of how good 402 3-pointers is in one season, the next closest person to his record is 126 behind him - ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX. Oh, and by the way, he also holds the second best record for most 3’s in a season as well - no big deal. Steph has already established himself as one of the best shooters of all time and this is only his 7th year in the NBA. There are hundreds of variables that go into making him into the player that he is today, but what stands out most is his perfect shot mechanics. No matter where Steph shoots the ball from, each shot always looks the same. He has spent countless hours, thousands most likely, perfecting his arm position, release point, knee bend, wrist release and so on. So why do I bring this up? Look at the picture above. Now, try to replicate that position. Most likely you found it hard to get your elbow into the same position that Steph’s is in the picture. To be able to get your humerus parallel to the ground and elbow facing directly in front of you, like Steph in the picture above, requires a tremendous about of external rotation of the shoulder and good control of the scapula, among other things. Shooters that lack shoulder external rotation will most likely be inconsistent in their shooting mechanics and often push the ball out to the right because of their release point. Good shooters almost always have excellent shoulder mechanics and good scapular control. While it is a different skill than that of someone competing in the sport of fitness, the necessity for quality range of motion and good movements patterns remains the same. If Steph didn’t have proper external rotation of the shoulder and good scapular control he would not be the same shooter that he is today. Proper shooting mechanics allow him to be the best pure shooter in the game.
While the skill may be different, the need for excellent shoulder range of motion and scapular control are just as important in the sport of fitness. In 5 out of 7 events at the 2016 CrossFit Games Regionals, athletes will be asked to have something over their head. As the field has continued to improve the margin of error in these events has shrunk dramatically. The difference between first and tenth in most of these events will be within seconds. Those that can easily get into quality positions overhead will be more likely to succeed in these events across the weekend, all while doing less actual work. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Look at that swing. No really, look at it. That is Jordan Spieth, one of the best golfers in the world. By looking at the picture you can tell the golf swing requires a tremendous amount of rotational capacity across multiple joints and muscular chains. For example, Good separation between the upper and lower body is important to help generate speed and maintain a stable posture during the golf swing. While the lumbar spine has little to no rotational ability (8-13 degrees), your thoracic spine is made to rotate and is much needed in the golf swing, which requires great rotational mobility to develop and transfer energy to the club. The same is true of hip internal rotation, especially of the front leg. Lack of hip internal rotation in the golf swing can limit range of motion in the swing and minimize speed/force production. The lead leg/hip in the downswing must be able to properly internally rotate to have a smooth and effective swing without having compensatory patterns that cause the hips and torso to “slide” forward during the downswing, which often causes amateur golfers to send the ball flying into the woods. In this picture you can see how much hip rotation Spieth has at the finish of his swing. In fact, according to Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute, the average PGA golfer has over 45 degrees of internal hip rotation on both sides. To put that into perspective, the average person has around 30 degrees of internal hip rotation and I have seen many clients with far less than that.
So what does this tell us about Spieth? The foundation to a quality golf swing is having the proper ranges of motion to get into the optimal swing mechanics, just like with Steph Curry and his shot. Those who have become good at the sport of golf have first created ranges of motion that will allow them to maximize their full potential at the skill they desire. For those who lack range of motion in certain areas, chances are slim that swing lessons will produce a long term fix to their problems. With limited range of motion the body will find ways to compensate causing new, faulty patterns in the swing. This means many hours spent grooving faulty movement patterns (and risking injury). The body remembers movement patterns, but cannot distinguish between good or bad ones. So practicing faulty patterns with hundreds of swings a week, the golfer is only increasing their risk of injury and reducing their ability to ever play in a consistent manner. This is also true in the sport of fitness - those that constantly groove faulty movement patterns (poor squats, nasty overhead mechanics, and so on) are only setting themselves up for a great injury risk, and ultimately will never be able to truly express their full capacity because of their limited ranges.
During our initial consultations I often have clients who come in upset because they have the same power and squat snatch. Frustrated, they often tell me, “if I can just get my legs stronger I will be able to squat snatch more, I mean, I squat snatch 3-4 times a week now, but it stays the same. I have even been on two strength cycles, but nothing gives.” I often stop the conversation there and ask them to grab a PVC pipe and perform a few OHS for me. More often than not, we find the reason their numbers are the same has more to do with poor movement patterns and mobility restrictions and less to do with their overall strength numbers. By addressing the movement restrictions head on we often see huge jumps in their snatch numbers without even taking them through an oly lifting cycle.
This is true across the board. By addressing faulty movement patterns, we can almost always help the athlete express more capacity even without having to do “strength” or “energy system” work. The opposite is not always true. Those who continue to train hard with mobility restrictions, poor movement patterns, and limited ranges almost always end up injuring themselves by finding sloppy compensatory patterns to get the work done and ultimately dampen their capacity so much that they can no longer compete at a high level.
Evaluate your training design. Are you hitting your head against the wall by working “as hard as you can” each day, but not getting any better because your movement patterns have stayed the same? Are you constantly dealing with tweaks, strains and other aches and pains because of deficiencies in movement? Stop feeling sorry for yourself each time you see movement and mobility work in your design. Take ownership of your goals and attack the weaknesses that you have head on. Build a foundation for yourself by focusing on QUALITY movement patterns so that you can reach your full potential in your sport. Move better, perform better.