Starting a Discussion on Movement Prescribing Movement Training as a Coach

Part of me wanted to title this blog something sensational. Maybe something like:

“Training your breathing properly could be the secret to getting you ripped.”

“Proper movement training is guaranteed to put 20# on your Olympic lifts”

“Training your movement to be pain free”

“Put on ten pounds of muscle in six weeks with TTT movement training”

I’ve been told I need a "hook" to get you thinking about movement. Someone I trust told me “…no one gives a $h*t about movement so you have to make them care.” But, that’s not how I want to approach this article.

The Truth Should Be Obvious

The way we habitually move is one of the most important factors of long-term health, fitness, performance, and quality of life. If you don’t agree with that, this article is not an attempt to convince you, and I’m pretty sure you’ll come back to this idea at a time when you plateau, are injured, or are beginning to realize the impact your movement has on the aging process and how your body feels.

So, this article is being written with the assumption that we’re on the same page. We both believe we have only one body for the duration of our lives. Furthermore we agree the way we train has a major impact on how we age. I am going to attempt to give you a framework to think about movement training that is structured and systematic and were taken directly from the Training Think Tank Movement Course.

I think you’ll be able to use these concepts to improve as a coach, and ultimately create a broader scope of practice, which will help you find more success as a coach. I know this can be helpful because many coaches approach strength training, energy system training, and body composition with an organized process, but neglect to do the same with movement. I feel this is a mistake, and I hope to be able to illustrate how to make a change if you want to do so as a coach or athlete.

The Evolution of My Framework

In order to provide context for this structure, I would like to tell a little bit of a story about the evolution of my framework of movement. My understanding and application of movement training has dramatically changed over the years. That feels like a natural growth process, as our conceptual understanding of things changes as we grow.

My concept of movement was very basic and intensely emotional when I was a young athlete. Thinking about it now brings up memories of frustration and being in pain. I remember the times I was working through one of my sprains, broken bones, or torn tendon surgical repairs with a physical therapist. I can vividly recall the experience of hating the fact that I was doing basic, simple, and slow movements but still could not cope with the discomfort - or focus my mind to accomplish the task. I felt a bit emasculated by my feelings of inadequacy and wanted to return to my comfort zone, which was the wrestling mat, the gym, or the football field.

As I evolved past my athletic phase, I began my journey as a strength and conditioning coach. I was not academically trained, and I felt like I was missing out on vital knowledge about how to do things correctly. I didn’t want to train like a mindless meat-head and ignore what the movement ‘intellects’ were saying about training.

I researched explicitly and had a huge index of accessory work, but I wouldn’t know how or when to prescribe the movements. I reviewed old programs and it’s clear how much time and focus I dedicated to my strength and conditioning program, then as an afterthought I would write “20-30 min of mobility work.” This simple approach illustrated that my emotional view of movement training was changing. I was becoming a little less ignorant in that I had acknowledged that this was important enough to put in the design.

However, if I’m being real with myself, even in my own training, I would perform it when I felt like I had absolutely no energy left to give. So while I acknowledged that it was important enough to put in my designs, I was creating a culture that indicated this wasn’t really important in comparison to the rest of the structure.

In my current evolution as a coach, movement training has become one of the three foundational elements in the construction of my program designs. Movement training, energy system training, and strength training act synergistically to tailor a training program to each individuals’ needs. If you come to Training Think Tank HQ, look at a program written by a TTT coach, or go through an assessment with a TTT coach, you will see this philosophy permeating throughout the organization.

Movement training has enabled me to feel sincere gratitude for some of my past feelings of frustration as a coach and athlete. I think back to some of my younger times when I was frustrated with my pains, where I was struggling to make ends meet as a coach because I couldn’t get people to trust me, when I doubted that I was worthy of taking money from others to give them guidance on their bodies. Those insecure thoughts and feelings fueled a lot of my learning about movement. I feel in some ways I need to pay tribute to the concept of movement that has helped me build my business and reputation as a coach.

I’m at a stage now where I have organized my processes and would like to begin sharing my ideas. I am doing this in hopes I can help people find more success as coaches by encouraging them to take the first step on a long journey to find a greater sense of freedom and appreciation of the complexity of movement within people’s bodies. Below is a synopsis to help you understand what I mean when I say movement training.

Why is movement training important for most training goals?

Improve economy of motion through:

  • Better biomechanical leverages to hit strength pr’s
  • Improved energy cost of movement for endurance tasks
  • Better control, coordination, and awareness of musculature of the body

Improve gas exchange and therefore improve metabolic processes for:

  • Endurance training
  • Aesthetics

Improve length tension relationships in joints that are experiencing pain

Improve ability to control arousal levels and manage stress/pain sensation

The Tools I Use to Create Movement Change

Loaded Stretching and End Range Isometrics

Joint Rotations


Ground Based Movement

Movement Variation Training


Manual Therapy

Traditional Strength Training

Traditional Energy System Training

Technical Training with a Coach

My Current Movement Training Principles

1. Respect Individual Differences

You must understand that people all adapt and experience life differently. Some people will need to see the movement, others will need you to explain the movement, others will need time to practice to figure out the movement, and the rates of adaptation will be different in all people. A progression and a movement cue must be tailored specifically to the person you are working with. There is no one size fits all way to move or prescribe movement.

2. Cultivate a Mind-state of Progress

Many people have a mind-state focused on outcomes and testing things without a requisite level of development. I have found this leads to injury, disappointment, and burnout in many people. I have found that experts are always focused on getting better, even when they are already in the 99th percentile. Discovering how to make sure your athletes are focused on getting better every day seems to yield the best results.

3. Protect the Spine

Back and neck pain inhibit many people from exploring movement. The experience of pain is multi-faceted, having the ability to control motion of the spine, resist motion in the spine, and create tension in the midline from a variety of different positions is vital to be able to increase movement complexity and enjoyment of movement training. It should be the priority to ensure people are aware of this when they are approaching movement training. It becomes more and more important as the tasks become faster, more heavily loaded, or require more coordination and motion. Encouraging people to adopt the mind-state of valuing their spine and developing the ability to protect it with the core musculature is vital to long term success.

4. Set The ANS for The Task

The autonomic nervous system is the portion of our brain and nerves dedicated to regulating your body’s level of arousal. It is often described as the “fight or flight” system that ramps up internal processes or the “rest and digest” system which calms us down during the day. As a coach, I have found that the most practical use of this information is to teach athletes to have awareness of one’s level of arousal. Being able to use thoughts, warm ups and breathing strategies to manipulate intensity, tension, and arousal to match the task ensures more optimal training sessions. Being too relaxed for strength or explosive work can cause injury and underperformance, and being too ramped up or tight prior to endurance work can yield similarly negative experiences and poor sessions. As a result of this truth, this fourth principle allows people to mindfully approach a movement task with a mental strategy that matches the physical task.

5. View Pain as a Guide

In our training and medical cultures pain is often vilified. If you’re in pain, something is wrong. In some cases, this is probably a healthy way to look at things. If you have a growing tumor or a torn tendon, the association of pain being ‘bad’ makes sense, because something can be done to help you heal. However, being in pain after a tough training experience or having pain signals arise in your body does not necessarily have to be cause for concern all the time. There are positive aspects of pain, a natural level of pain may come as a result of a tough training session, and there is a gradient of the pain experience that changes as we evolve. I find that it is helpful to, in some experiences, use pain as a guide. Pain is a part of the human experience, and I find that cultivating a more welcoming relationship with pain is quite valuable.

My 4-Step Movement Assessment Process

1. The Dialogue

We must remember as coaches we are working with human beings. I think all movement programs need to begin with a discussion that helps you better understand the goals, ambitions, limitations, past strategies, lifestyle behaviors, and can be used to evaluate the awareness of your athlete. If you skip to a movement assessment prior to getting to know the person you are working with, you may have neglected to understand that a person is complex integration of their biological systems with their thoughts, emotions, sensations, and relationships.

2. Controlled Joint Rotations

Our current society does not demand much movement from people. Most people get out of bed, move around in a confined environment to get ready for work, sit down in chairs to eat food/read/watch tv before leaving, sit in cars or public transport to get to work, sit at desks all day, and then perhaps spend a couple hours exercising. As a result of this, many of the complex gross motor patterns commonly used in evaluation are unfortunately beyond the capabilities of trainees. Controlled joint rotations are a movement tool that have versatility in training and a broad range of applications, and I find it is important to start the assessment process to identify stuck areas, teach awareness, and identify gross asymmetries in the body.

3. Sport/Activity Observation

I made the mistake in my past of thinking of people’s movement as being something I could evaluate solely in the gym environment. Squats, lunges, pull ups, burpees, traditional balance tests, and other movements taught by experts comprised my evaluation of the way someone moved. But the real world does not provide that level of regimented structure. When someone is ducking down under a branch, twisting their body to look up, and then reaching to cut off a limb, their body is definitely not in the best biomechanical loading position. Similarly the ankle and hip stability and range of motion requirements for someone running, sprinting, and changing direction on grass as a field sport are difficult to assess on a flat surface in normal running shoes in a non-reactive gym environment. For this reason, I think it is always necessary to add to your assessment an evaluation of people in their element; playing sports or performing the movement tasks they do on a day-to-day basis.

4. Additional Movement Observations

The last step of a thorough movement assessment is adding other movements to the evaluation. This can include movements from screens such as FMS, movements that you use commonly in your facility program, or things you deem fundamental movements to the human system. This is an opportunity not only to continue your evaluation of their movement, but also an opportunity to teach, cue, and use some other movement tools as a way to begin adding to their movement vocabulary so they can better follow your programs.

My Guidelines for Movement Training Program Design

1. Take a holistic approach

I said earlier in this blog post that movement training is one of the three foundational elements to program construction along with strength and energy systems. When constructing a program you must be able to zoom out and take a big picture approach. This big picture will take into consideration not only these training categories, but also their nutrition, mind-state, emotions, total training volume, and anything else you can be aware of and influence in the program construction process.

2. Balance challenge and recovery

“Balance” is a difficult concept to articulate. For example, if one is balancing on a beam what you see with your eye is stillness. But upon closer evaluation that person’s center of mass is in a constant state of flux, moving from too far in one direction with sensitive and deliberate moves in the opposite direction to create the illusion of stillness. Over time as we work to improve our abilities, our deviation from the balance point gets tighter as we refine our ability to balance. I find this analogy similar to the program design process. We must get comfortable pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, but be careful not to push so far that we fall off the path, get injured, have set backs, or lose our metaphorical ‘balance’. So this requires constantly being sensitive to our perceived limitations and learning to push when required, and pull back equally as intensely when appropriate.

3. Be mindful of diaphragmatic fatigue

The diaphragm is a muscle that gets a lot of press for its role in breathing. But often ignored is the muscle’s role as a major spinal stabilizer. The diaphragm getting fatigued could lead to blood being cut off to the periphery, improper gas exchange, and a weakened ability to stabilize the spine. While some training in a fatigued setting is going to be required to stimulate adaptation, I think it is necessary to be aware of the stress you put on this major vital system of breathing because of its role in the nervous, metabolic, and musculoskeletal systems.

4. Strengthen newly expanded ranges

The ability to perform new skills is largely about expanding the ranges of motion your body is able to control. This is a cyclical process of expanding the range, and then learning to stabilize and control that range. You cannot create stability in a range you do not have, and you cannot create a brand new range and expect to be able to stabilize and control it instantly. As a result, I find it’s necessary to have this guideline at the forefront of your mind when constructing programs so that the athletes you coach can have a more balanced ability to lower tension, to create deeper ranges and higher tension to be strong in certain positions.

I chose the words in the title of this blog carefully.

I named it “starting a discussion on movement” because I meant that in a literal sense and want to get coaches talking about movement. In order for us to build a more robust fitness community, I feel like knowledge and experience must be more regularly shared and not hoarded.

We must be willing to expose our ideas so people can test, challenge, and verify our methods. This is my attempt to start that discussion. My hope is after reading this article and looking through our Movement Playlists (linked above in "The Tools I Use To Create Movement Change" section) you have a better mental framework for thinking about movement training, and as you begin thinking about that, I hope you develop questions and ideas you’d like to share.

As you begin to construct your own assessments and movement training programs I encourage you to use our forum to continue a two-way dialogue specific to movement. I hope we can brainstorm, find answers to your common questions, elaborate on these concepts, and ultimately continue to grow our community’s collective understanding of movement training together.

Created By
Max El-Hag

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