Gaining Your Independence
By Bill Bolster / September 12, 2016
If you have been around the fitness or health industry in the last couple of years, it is likely you have repeatedly heard about movement screens or functional movements. Unfortunately, though, many of whom that are screening for movement, don’t understand movement basics. Do know this: a joint that doesn’t move properly is an unhealthy joint, and unhealthy joints make movements impossible to perform properly.
In order to complete a movement, any movement, the joints comprising that particular movement must function properly. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is commonly overlooked, and it is what brings me to my point of joint independence. The joints associated with a particular movement must function properly on their own (independently), before they can coordinate with one another in the form of a multi-joint movement. Duh.
When it comes to movements and movement patterns, I consistently hear that a poorly executed squat can be corrected by “training the squat pattern”. (Note: I only choose to reference a squat in this example because I see it most often, but any type of movement is applicable, e.g., lunge, deadlift, bench press, clean, etc.). Unlike what you’ve been lead to believe, the theory of “practice makes perfect” doesn’t apply to movement. In fact, all you are doing is practicing your poor technique, which will most likely lead to subsequent injury.
Although there are plenty of movements to look at, let’s continue with the squat example. Correct back squatting technique (high bar) is dependent upon movement from the coxofemoral (hip) joint, tibiofemoral (knee) joint, and talocrural (ankle) joint. The thoracic spine and glenohumeral joint play a role as well, but more so with the front squat and overhead squat techniques. To put it simply, if these joints do not function properly by themselves (independently), what makes you think a movement comprising all three of these joints will be done correctly? Your squat will NEVER be correct.
The casual fitness enthusiasts, and even experienced weightlifters, can easily be misled to believe the “train the squat pattern” philosophy. Following this approach, people often use heel shims to offset poor hip flexion or ankle dorsiflexion, or bands to pull the trunk forward in order to offset a posterior weight shift, just to name a few. Although this may clean up your squat, you have simply just put a Band-Aid over the joint dysfunction. You can “practice” your squat technique for months using these methods, but your squat will likely remain exactly the same as it was before.
Without getting into too great of detail, know that the squat is a flexion dependent movement. The hip and knee must flex, and the ankle must dorsiflex adequately in order to perform a squat correctly. Without the proper joint mechanics, any number of movement flaws are likely, such as:
- a collapse in the arch of the foot
- involuntary external rotation of the feet
- valgus collapse of the knee
- lumbar flexion
- counter nutation of the pelvis (pelvic wink)
- knees drifting over the toes
Don’t get me wrong, even with these movement flaws you will be able to squat, but it will be incorrect. Every time.
OK, so how do we fix it?
There seems to be advice around every corner on how to do better, so here’s mine: keep it simple. It’s very easy to get pulled in different directions. “Your IT band is too tight, your hip stabilizers aren’t functioning, you don’t breathe properly, it’s your lateral chain, blah, blah, blah…” . It seems everyone has decided they are an Instagram “fitness model” with the next great move for you to try. Save it.
Think of the movement you are trying to achieve, and what joints comprise that movement. Are those joints moving well enough to accomplish said movement? No? Then that’s probably a good place to start. If those joints function properly, your odds of success at a movement are much greater, and your likelihood of injury is much less.
Stay tuned for my next post, I’ll be giving specific examples on how to improve the joint restrictions that are likely a detriment to your squat.
Thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to comment or leave a note in the “Contact” section with topics you’d like to hear about!