Are you piling fitness on top of your dysfunction?

I actually stole that title or concept from the man in the picture, or at least the way it’s worded. However we have observed this response or lack thereof many times over the years working with a wide range of clients.

So what do I mean when I say “piling fitness on top of your dysfunction”?

I’m talking about the inability to assume basic, innate positions like squatting to depth with your toes straight ahead, knees out and a vertical torso. Or being able to bend over to address an implement on the floor while maintaining your mid-line. Or being able to put both hands overhead, perpendicular to the floor without having to release your rib cage or drive your hips forward.

And then, in spite of these issues, these fundamental inabilities to meet the demands and requirements of proper movement, continuing to exercise harder, better, more, faster, stronger. Continuing to push the pace and often the intensity of the load.

Now that’s innate :) Why is it so hard to accomplish this as adults!?

Certainly within the context of “functional training” this is happening a lot. It’s a slow, insidious process of neglect that eventually is setting up a lot of people for disappointment, frustration and often times injury down the line as they continue to train and ask more and more of their performance without addressing their movement and positional issues.

Of course this is a deep rabbit hole once you start investigating the various, often compounded causes of an inability to move through range and/or create stability and structure in a position.

It has been my observation that the limitations for a given individual are usually one, some combination of or all of the following:

  1. A lack of motor control/neural pattering/control over one’s body. Many are simply not yet in touch with understanding what their bodies are doing in any given moment or how to get their bodies to do exactly what their brain is seeing or asking.
  2. A lack of strength to maintain the basic requirements of creating a sound position.
  3. Impediment or obstruction while moving through range or in assuming a position (tight tissues, poorly functioning joints or more rarely actual physical obstruction).

Actually learning how to move correctly is one of the most important skills you can acquire. In any endeavor right? Sure you can get it done and in a hurried fashion with a few quick cues but at what cost? Get yourself a good coach who understands the requirements of proper movement for your chosen sport, exercise or whatever. Whether it’s improving your running mechanics or learning how to create a strong squatting position with progressively heavier loads, the ability to make the basic shapes and refine your movement over time is critical.

Everyone wants a quick fix but it takes time and work to build these patterns and shapes. And if you’ve been doing them incorrectly or poorly it takes a lot of time and work to undo those bad habits. So make sure and start off with attention to detail and repetitive patterning of correct movement. When you do this it’s important that you are not under significant duress. If you are simultaneously trying to learn good mechanics and movement while exercising or training hard you are going to have a really shitty foundation! Sound movement first, then intensity.

Lack of strength can also be a limiting factor in creating good position. That’s why it’s good to have some sort of assessment done on the front end, to expose your shortcomings if you will. Then those weak spots and positions can be progressively made stronger over time. Both supplementary training of the constituent pieces (IE doing some glute and abductor work to make a stronger squat) and repetitive threshold work in the position you are working can help build the strength to create correct structure.

With issues around tight and bound up tissues and squeaky/sticky joints, again, assessment is useful. Get someone who has knowledge around screening (PT, FMS practioner etc.) for things like external and internal rotation around the femur and hip, ankle mobility etc. to run some diagnostics so that you can pointedly address YOUR issues. Work has to be done, often times a good amount of it on the front end, to restore smooth/normal operation to the problem areas. Then you can make progress and overcome the sticking points that perhaps unknown to you were a big piece of the puzzle that left you wondering why you can’t seem to bend your knees and your hips at the same time without your heels sucking together and arches collapsing no matter how many air squats you hammer out in a training session.

No matter how “hard” or often you are training or working out just remember it can be almost entirely unrelated to the actual quality of your movement. You’ve got to lay a strong foundation by learning and implementing correct movement patterns, refraining from repetitive heinous approximations of that movement, expose and address basic dysfunction and service that dysfunction regularly and thoughtfully. Then you can add intensity or progressively more demanding efforts. In doing so you will increase your potential (for all you performance nuts) while buffering against injuries that often arise from repetitive poor movement and weak positions (for the fearful and those with experience).

Ian Starr

Which body positions do you struggle in? Do you keep hammering away in that position or have you keyed in on it and begun to do some the work that’s necessary to simply MOVE BETTER?