Improve Movement then Fitness

It is great to find the inspiration to get into awesome shape. I love seeing the light bulb go off when people find the motivation to better their health and fitness. There are many reasons that people start, but don’t continue on. The reasons can range from lack of time, or lack of money, too much work, not seeing results, or injury. You can add many more reasons  to the list as you like. The one thing I have seen as a coach over the years is motivation falling off because of lack of progress. In order to see progress in strength or conditioning you must be able progressively overload your body with a certain amount of stress to change. The problem is many times the body gets to  certain point at which it can’t be pushed any harder or longer because it is moving inefficiently. You can only load so much weight or run so many miles on system that is moving poorly. Mentally you can push it, but if you override that system you get injured or are sore all the time.

Recently I started working with Michael who is no stranger to being physically active. He told me that lately he just feels restricted to what he could do and that his knees were starting to bug him while he trained. Knees hurt while squatting, and legs would get fatigued very quickly while riding a mountain bike.  I conducted a basic movement screen on him and started to find some culprits that were causing his movement issues. The picture at the top of this article was what happened when I asked him to squat as low as he could without pain. This was the bottom of his squat.  I then conducted a few other screens and we found that his ankle mobility was extremely restricted and his hips were very immobile. His knees were trapped between the 2 of them and taking a pretty bad beating.

Grey Cook and Mike Boyle have a great article called the Joint by Joint Approach where they break down a pretty cool theory on how the body is supposed to move. Michael’s squat and all of the screens fit this exact model. Ankles are supposed to be mobile, knees stable, and hips mobile. When an ankle is restricted it can put additional stress onto the next joint(the knee) causing it to move more than it should which will cause discomfort or pain, especially while squatting.

When I conducted the kneeling dorsiflexion screen, his knee was less than an inch in front of his toes (ideally 3-5″), When we did the Thomas Test(hip/quad screen), it also showed up as moderately “tight” hip flexors , but his quads were definitely a big culprit and they were  pulling his lower leg strait even while completely relaxed.

Thomas Test

The yellow lines would show and ideal leg position for the Thomas test.

Ankle Mobility for a better squat

The stick starts at the knee and should go down at 90º angle. Ideally it should be 3-5 inches in front of the knee with no hio rotation.


In many situations we see people trying to train through stiffness  by going  hard and adding strength  or high intensity conditioning onto  their  system that needs mobility over intensity. We spent a session working on ankle and hip mobility as well as many trunk stabilization drills. Within 2 sessions his squat progressed to what we see below, and most importantly without knee pain. He also said that he felt his glutes contract for the first time in a long while.  It could have been easy to put him through a workout on day 1 and throw some intensity in there so he could feel like he got his ass kicked, but as a coach it is crucial that I address things immediately that will hold him back from future progress. I don’t believe it is ok to just work around dysfunctional movement. This isn’t to say you can’t get a great training sessions in.  ANYONE can take you through a hard workout that hurts and can make you sore. That is the trend nowadays. Every gym bragging about transformations, HIIT, and being elite will work you hard, but can they work you smart for the long term.  If you are looking to train for the long haul for health and strength address the things now that will hold you back in the future! As Grey Cook says don’t build strength on a horrible foundation, it is like shooting a cannon out of a canoe.

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By | 2017-12-02T23:12:57+00:00 October 11th, 2017|Corrective Exercise, Strength Training, Training Philosophy|1 Comment

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  1. […] did a blog recently on how I helped someone squat pain free, and below parallel for the first time in many […]

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