So, we’ve completed our movement assessment, but now what?
The intuitive answer to this is obvious- we hit the floor and go train. But I feel like there is a ton of detail that slips between the cracks in the time between the assessment and the training itself. A lot of coaches do a great job of executing comprehensive, thorough assessments, but then fail to implement specific work in the subsequent training to address these items of interest. I feel this is in part due to the lack of attention this “time in-between window” receives in conventional academia/certifications. But, as we all know, once we get past the textbook phase of our development, it’s on us to exercise good judgement and practice.
I have a pretty unique situation at work. There is a consistent, rapid turnover which allows me to start up with new athletes every couple of weeks. Not only have I been conducting a ton of assessments over the last few years, but I am constantly being introduced to new movement patterns, dysfunctions, and injuries/surgeries. It feels like every month I’ll start up with someone and as consistent as gravity- something else that I’ve never seen or don’t know shit about. This is honestly my favorite part of this job though, being presented with new challenges that I have to figure out how to approach and hopefully make improvements on in 4-6 weeks. It’s always refreshing to be reminded of how much you don’t know, sometimes.
In this- which is obviously a follow-up to the article I recently posted on my approach for assessing athletes, we’ll shift our focus towards how to transpose the assessment findings into the training itself. A primary goal of mine is always looking to create density to the training. No matter your background or setting, we all feel like we never have quite enough time. Consider this the “putting the pieces together” phase of working with your athletes. This is where we collect main ingredients for planning our approach to training with particular interest in areas of weakness/deficiencies. Nevertheless, ask yourself the following questions honestly:
-How often do you go back and look at the notes you took during your assessment when working with a particular athlete?
-How often do you follow through on looking up info that you weren’t too sure on?
-How often do you discuss the findings outlined in the assessment while out on the training floor with the athlete?
-How often are you cross referencing with your other coaches or outside sources on items you’re unsure of?
I’m not trying to disguise this as some self-accountability checklist or anything. But what’s the point of even doing an assessment if the findings/observations you jotted down never get looked at or addressed? Moreover, following through on doing your homework for things you don’t recognize or aren’t confident on. This field is as perpetually dynamic as any I can think of. It’s vital we stay sharp with past methods yet are equally aware of present findings in research and application.
When we’re doing our assessment, it’s extremely important that we are as dialed in as ever. This is far from the time or place as a coach that you want to go into autopilot mode. When I’m conducting my assessments now, I’m almost looking for things that don’t make sense or aren’t familiar to me. Please don’t misconstrue that for “creating problems that aren’t there”, but yea, you get my point. In addition, I am constantly cross referencing with my other coaches on things I see that I’m unsure of, even if sometimes it’s just to create some discourse. I rely so heavily on Vern especially to help make sense of particular findings and aberrant movement patterns. The added bonus is, this normally leads to us hitting the whiteboard and having a nice back and forth exchange on said observation. Take away point being- you’re bound to come across things you’ve never seen or worked with… don’t run from it. Embrace it, learn it, and improve it.
Another key operative of this is making sure you transfer notes for items that often slip through the cracks. Using the example above, things like weak grip strength due to hand numbness, or sensitivity to bright lights because of concussion history are easy things to forget about. When we have major issues like a SLAP tear and lumbar compression, we aren’t going to be absent minded on the considerations that come with those items. But some of the lesser things, although important, can get pushed to the back burner easily. So, with things like this, I’ll be sure to transpose those notes onto my training sheets with little simple reminders like “LIGHTS” or “HANDS” on their training clipboards.
This is also a way that I try to catch things that are important but may not be directly training related. Remember, yes, our primary goal is to improve athletic performance and function, but we are still in the business of PEOPLE. So we can’t neglect things that go beyond sets, reps, and injury histories. Some of the more miscellaneous items I’ve carried over onto notes:
-Conflicting/competing personal endeavors (i.e. “does 25-mile group cycling on Tues/Thurs… plan heavy leg day accordingly”)
-Personal preferences (i.e. “does not like rap music, prefers 80s rock”)
-Individualizing our training based on equipment availability (i.e. “will only have access to TRX, kettlebells, and battle ropes when training on their own after we finish”)
-What type of learning style or personality behaviors they address (i.e. “learns best by kinesthetic methods, does not comprehend multi-step directions”)
-Personal events or occurrences (i.e. “Don’t forget wife, Karen, is having minor surgery on Thursday”)
Although I find this to be not only a necessary inclusion, but it also just makes you more qualified to consider yourself a professional. Amateurs can do the job, professionals do the job the right way.
Once we’ve reviewed our notes, done our homework, and cross-referenced with coaches/sources we confide in, it’s time to connect some dots. Connecting the dots, in my view, is taking what we have in front of us presently and aligning it to the ultimate goal or desired outcome(s). The training itself is nothing more than a medium to bring those two ends together. And your job as the coach, is to bring those two points together as safely, efficiently, and effectively as you know how. For this section, I’ll go off of the hypothetical athlete presented above to illustrate how we make this happen. Bear in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list, really just touching on major points and strategies.
Planning the Approach
I generally categorize my athletes into 1 of 3 classifications:
Although I do my best to not generalize or lump athletes into watered down clusters, we all have to have some kind of starting point, right? Nevertheless, that is literally all this is, a preliminary step just to help me self-organize when planning their training. The goal then becomes simple- take ‘reds’ to ‘blues’, blues to greens, and keep greens green. I encourage you have a similar approach that is conducive to your population and makes sense to you.
Irrespective of classification, all of my athletes will squat/pull/push/carry/hinge/etc. But where the green athlete may start right from the jump with a barbell back squat, my red athletes may start with a DB goblet squat with a heel elevation. From there, some of my red athletes may actually progress all the way to a BB back squat by week 4, while others may only progress to the same DB goblet squat just without the heel elevation. This is precisely how specificity applies in my world- find the weak links, apply the means to correct. All of my athletes have similar backgrounds, most have similar injury histories/movement limitations, and most have similar training goals/demands moving forward. But despite the carryover and similarities, we need to be highly cognizant of the independent traits of each individual athlete. From there, we strategize the safest, most effective and efficient way to get them from A to B. Much of it will be the same, but some things WILL need to be different, so don’t be lazy or negligent in getting them there.
In this final step of putting together the training plan (still using our hypothetical athlete), be sure to put things into your own context and how they pertain to your world. Remember, this is just my approach, and what I’ve done that’s been successful for me. This isn't a right or wrong process, it’s a “continue to figure your shit out & make it better” process.
A lot of individual movement deficiencies/dysfunctions can be addressed in the warm-up. This, again, is where specificity and individualized training really comes into focus. Rather than having a generic warm-up that we throw at every athlete irrespective of assessment findings, utilize this time to introduce some specific concepts they can begin to work on. For instance, those with SLAP repairs are going to have compromised OH flexion ROM, generally destabilized shoulder girdles, and often short/tight lats and/or biceps. Considering this, I’ll have them work in some supine OH flexion with a mini-band around wrists as a part of their warm-up menu. We can also have them do something like a side-lying arm bar to address the destabilized shoulder girdle. The options are endless, and it really doesn’t matter what the specific exercise is, as long as it safely and effectively addresses the item in question.
For my lumbar compression athletes, I want to concentrate primarily on strengthening the surrounding structures. Remember, when dealing with disk compressions, we aren’t going to reverse course and create more space. This is one of those where it essentially “is what it is”. However, we can work to preserve whatever space is still there. So, for this I will do banded glute walks (which serve as a 2-for-1 special as they address the gait disruptions as well), lateral steps w/ band, tempo glute bridges, and 3-way planks to work on strengthening the surrounding structures.
Plantar fasciitis, which is as common as just about anything we see in the gym, is something I rely mostly on indirect methods to address. I’ve honestly had the most success just having them train ~75% of the time out of their shoes, do a shit ton of single-leg work and it just cleans up. However, one thing I have found particular success with is simple battle rope walks. Truth be told I felt this would be contraindicating for plantar fasciitis at first, but I’ve come to find that this has helped tremendously with not only alleviating the foot pain, but also cleaning the plantar muscles up as well.
Additional items such as cognitive-based tasks, motor control tasks, and balance/coordination drills are all of course fair game too. Again, the possibilities are endless, there is no “this must be included” or vice versa in my world. We just rely on intuition and outcome objectives to pick and choose. That being said, there are a few important points to consider with assigning movements during the warm-up period, and this also applies equally for ‘homework’ items. First thing is be sure to coach the movements heavily when you’re introducing them. Use touch, use more illustrative language, more analogies, etc. Always supervise the first few times they go through the movements, these are the type of movement patterns most athletes have little-to-no experience doing. They likely know how to do a farmers carry, but a serratus wall glide isn’t exactly en vogue at your local Golds. Another good example is a band pull-apart (which looks very simple), but is commonly performed with excessive wrist extension, lack of elbow extension, inadequate degree of arm flexion, and a hyper-extended low back. Just because it’s “simple” doesn’t mean it will automatically be performed without flaw. Thus, we want to pick exercises/movements that are relatively basic and introduced thoroughly so we get damn near perfect execution when the athlete does them without supervision.
A semi-tangent I feel is important is to emphasize the importance of consciousness. I think this is a two-fold point. First thing being I hate mindlessness… training is not a mindless endeavor, “working out” is. At the end of the day, this is all for them to improve their performance on the field, so I want them dialed in with me as they are out there. Second thing being, I’m a huge believer in the “mind-body, body-mind” continuum. When you deliberately and actively think about firing your anterior core muscles in a plank, I promise you will get more out of the movement. Help assist them in truly learning and feeling their bodies, this will go a long way and have tremendous carryover to training.
Finally, we want to inform the athlete specifically why we’re having them perform these particular movements, what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing or feeling, and what the expected outcome should be. I know there’s a large population in our industry that follow the school of thought that “the athlete doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” or whatever, but I just don’t understand that thinking. Nevertheless, I believe the more they know, the more empowered they feel. My goal is to make them as autonomous with training as I can by the time we part ways. So a part of this is educating them on both their body and also the movements we employ. Call me crazy, but autonomy is true reflection of high caliber coaching in my mind.
All of my athletes (irrespective of color classification) will follow the same basic training split throughout the week:
Mon: Upper-Body Strength
Tues: Dynamic Strength
Wed: Aerobic Strength/Capacity (Circuit)
Thurs: Dynamic Strength
Fri: Lower-Body Strength
Additionally, the bulk items will all be the same as well, just slight differences in the specific exercise selection based on ability and demand. Where the differences really start to show are in the intraset work (which I pair with my primary movements in each training session), and block 2 & 3 work. Here’s a broad overview of how programming would look across my color spectrum:
As for the aerobic strength circuit on Wednesdays, although kind of a caveat to what’s being discussed here is another opportunity to address specific needs. For instance, programming specific core-based exercises for each individual athlete, more or less emphasis on single-leg variations, hinge patterns, etc. So using our hypothetical, exercises such as tempo push-ups (strength shoulder globally/improve scapulohumeral rhythm), bear crawl variations (lumbo-pelvic control), and a host of farmers carry variations (addressing multiple areas of interest) will all be in play here.
Hopefully that all makes sense, but just to be clear, the 1A exercises are our primary movements for the day. Those will be pretty consistent in terms of movement patterns across the board, but again the appropriate variation for the individual at hand. The 1B items are where more variability between athletes can be found. Just as the degree of difficulty is modified across the spectrum, so is the specific work. Someone with SLAP history will have a different 1B focus than someone else with a thoracic vertebrae fracture, which should speak for itself.
The variability between my block 2 & 3 between athletes is normally pretty high. This is where I want to (again) concentrate on those specific weaknesses we exploited in the assessment. One athlete may perform great during passive and active range of motion testing but struggle mightily with manual muscle testing and fascial sling testing. And then of course we could also have athletes with the exact opposite of that. So for those who have good range of motion but lack end-range control or strength, we want to emphasize the strength work in our secondary and tertiary training blocks and may not need to include much isolated mobility work. For those with good muscle testing and poor active/passive ROM testing, we may need to de-emphasize strength work in our ancillary blocks, while rather working to improve quality movement ROM and control. Think of it like this- athlete’s need about 75% of the exact same shit, but the remaining 25% needs to be individualized to them. The 75% is what makes good athletes, the remaining 25% is what separates great athletes. Don’t ignore that 25%.
Bringing it All Together
-Conducting a thorough assessment is step 1, but the assessment is only as valuable as how it is applied and addressed in training thereafter.
-Do your homework. Don’t be intimidated by things you don’t understand. The internet is free- when in doubt, go figure it out.
-Utilize your co-workers, utilize outside coaches/sources to help solve your problems. This is extremely important, sometimes just a different perspective on something you already knew well can be a game changer.
-Once you’ve collected your information, connect the dots by aligning the starting and theoretical end points. Safety | effectiveness | efficiency.
-Be transparent with your athletes, don’t be afraid to educate them when appropriate.
-Fill the gaps in training based on need and demand. Very little if any part of your training should be done “just because”. Create validity in your training by applying intent and purposefulness.
-Progression-regression pathways should be utilized based on what the athlete presents. If they can start with a more advanced variation, don’t hold them back just because “that’s how you do things”. Opposite situation obviously applies as well.
-That which gets measured gets managed, be forthright in acknowledging their improvements. Especially athlete’s coming off of injury, small victories can go a long way with athletes. They also want to know and see tangible progress (think about “buy in”).