The Weakest Link

“Why can’t I just have a well-designed program filled with a lot of the corrective exercises done as part of the warm-up, covering all the bases instead of screening and worrying about the weakest link?”

I recently responded to this question in an interview with Anthony Renna on Strength Coach Podcast and expanded on the conversation on Strength & Conditioning Webinars. Here are my thoughts.

1. You can! You are the pro.
2. I wouldn’t, because current data suggests that each group under your care will have unidentified health risks with movement patterns common to activity, exercise and athletics.

  • Movement-based pain—1 in 5 is usually a conservative distribution
  • Serious movement dysfunction—asymmetries and limitations within functional and fundamental movement patterns identified as indicators as risk factors even though they do not produce pain
  • These are the FMS scores of 0 or 1 and a score indicating asymmetry.

3. If, however, the FMS scores indicated a minimum of two on each test with no asymmetry, I would have no problem with a standard movement preparation for a group. But remember, movement preparation and corrective exercise are not the same thing. This means that although part of your group would receive a beneficial package of movement preparation, another part of your should not expect significant corrective benefit.

  • Individuals with 0s need a responsible musculoskeletal assessment.
  • Individuals with 1s and asymmetries should focus specifically on their dysfunction since evidence suggests that corrective exercises that focus on the most dysfunctional pattern actually provide positive influence on other patterns.
  • A general movement preparation session would not provide enough time, attention or effort to expect an efficient and effective change in dysfunction.
  • On page 245 in Movement, Functional Movement Systems, we discuss fundamental similarities and differences of each. These topics create some confusion, so we felt the need to outline and discuss each topic in detail. I would suggest reading Chapter 11 to understand our platform on the subject.

It is entirely possible to provide groups with a functional warm-up and movement preparation, but you should not assume all would receive efficient and effective benefits. Individuals in the group with minimum of 2 on all movement patterns and no asymmetries would do well with a general movement preparation warm-up based on the FMS. With this template you can expect it to provide a adequate review of functional and fundamental movement patterns. But you shouldn’t expect the general sampling of movement preparation to serve a corrective capacity for those individuals demonstrating screens below screening minimum standards—including 0s, 1s and asymmetries.

  • Movement preparation should prepare the body and mind for movement. It should be based on the needs required of the neuromuscular system and cardiovascular system, and explore the specific mobility and stability requirements of the task to be performed. Some tasks require more steady-state cardiovascular activity and less neuromuscular adaptation. In contrast, some activities require significant neuromuscular adaptation and sporadic cardiovascular loads. Some activates predominantly utilize certain movement patterns while others require transitions between multiple movement patterns. Movement preparation should be activity-specific and performed on individuals who meet minimum movement competency standards.
  • Corrective exercise is a form of exercise that targets movement-pattern dysfunction. It is specifically directed at mobility, stability and coordination problems. Corrective exercise should be dysfunction-specific and performed on an individual with a specific movement pattern deficiency.

As you can see, the delineation between movement preparation and corrective exercise requires some form of screening. Our experience with movement screening goes back to the late ’90s, and we have constantly observed situations in training groups where standardized programming is questionable for about one-third to one-half of any group regardless of activity. Some have actual health problems (0s) and some higher risks factors associated with movement (1s and asymmetries). Conventional fitness wisdom looks at this group as a single unit. Movement screening separates the single unit into three groups, potential health problems, dysfunctions with a priority of corrective exercise to reduce risk during training, and those ready to train.

  • Unfortunately, fitness and conditioning groups are categorized mostly by activity, not by equal levels of movement competency and physical capacity. The common activity is the focus and binds the group, but they are scattered across a wide spectrum when we consider ability and capacity.
  • The solution is to separate the group into platoons or pods. The subgroups are initially based on movement competency. Once minimum movement competency has been established, they can be grouped by physical capacity.
  • This does not mean groups cannot train together or do certain activities as a single large unit. It simply suggests that the most efficient and effective forms of corrective exercise can be dispensed to sub-groups with like problems. The subgroup can then rally around a common corrective goal so they can advance forward to join a more advanced subgroup.

My intent with this information is to offer options that will improve safety and responsibility, as well as improve outcomes. I’m not trying to kill group programming or make everything individualized. There is a middle path.

Subgroups have always been the best way to manage large groups. The FMS provides an initial grouping system that promotes safety, specific corrective solutions, and can be used to test and retest credibility. It may cause you to rewrite parts of your training program, but don’t consider it a different operating system—it’s just a newer piece of software.

Don’t be put off by the idea of the initial screening time factor. The time costs on the front of programming are repaid the backend. The group will arrive at their common goals faster. It should not bother you that some will start on slightly different paths to arrive at the correct place and on time.

Remember the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare. It’s about how you finish— no one remembers how you start!


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