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Implementing a Movement Based Program

One reason I love training athletes is the entirety of the training. When training athletes, there is more to it than putting as much weight as possible on the bar. I am passionate about making sure my programs have as few holes as possible, making it as complete as it can be. Yes, when training athletes getting stronger is obviously an enormous goal, but along with that an effective program should cover many different facets of training.

One of those “holes” that I take pride in covering is restoring natural human movement to my athletes. Yes, as a high school strength and conditioning coach I work specifically with high school athletes by restoring natural human movement patterns, which should be a part of every athletes program no matter their age or skill level. You may ask “If these movements come natural then why must we train them?” The answer is a simple, “If you don’t use it you lose it.”

Even great athletes find most of the natural movements surprisingly difficult at first because they likely haven’t done it in years. Exercises that they are more accustomed to, such as bench pressing and box squatting, will no doubt make them strong as hell, and if that is their sole purpose then great. However, athletes are in the weight room as a way to help them reach their full potential as an athlete on the field, court, etc. Getting strong in lifts like the bench press or box squat is certainly important but those are simply a means to an end and not their sole purpose.

Why is restoring these movement patterns important?

Think of the natural movement patterns in terms of nutrition. Without having any formal education or background in nutrition, most people generally know what is good to eat and what isn’t. I would hope most people can look at an apple and a doughnut and choose which one is better for them. Moving naturally is good “nutrition” for the human body. After all, it is natural for a reason. By restoring movement patterns that should come natural to us we can ensure that the foundation we are building on is as safe and efficient as it can be.

Natural movement creates a healthy foundation for athletes and is important because not everything athletes do is naturally healthy for their bodies. There is nothing natural about running into another human being for three hours a night on a football field or throwing thousands of baseballs on a baseball diamond. These movements are a lot like the doughnuts. They are fun to do but not too healthy for our bodies going forward. An athlete’s life being the way that it is with the doughnuts being necessary we need to make sure we are countering those doughnuts as much as possible by taking in as many apples as possible. Moving naturally would be the apple in this scenario.  

This is where my job as strength and conditioning coach comes in. I include as many natural movements or “apples” in my programming as possible. The idea is to use these natural movements to create a solid foundation on which the athletes can build upon with strength training and other forms of sports performance. Otherwise, if we jump straight into strength training and speed and agility work, along with other aspects of training without building a solid foundation of movement we are simply adding to the problem and bringing more “doughnuts” to the table.

How do I implement a movement based program?
  • Implement natural human movements into the program.
    • Crawling
    • Hanging
    • Rolling
  • Full range or it simply does not count. For example, when we perform pull-ups they are full hang strict pull ups, when we squat we always go full depth.
  • Perform conventional exercises on an unstable surface (I.e. gymnastic rings)
    • Push-ups
    • Inverted rows
    • Pull-ups
  • Include all the planes of movement each workout.
    • Horizontal Press/Vertical Pull
  • Implement unilateral (one side at a time) exercises for every bilateral (both sides at time) exercise we do.

Injuries are bound to happen in sports, its part of the game. What I can say though through my three years as a strength coach at the high school level and a couple more at the collegiate level is that by restoring natural movement patterns I have not only seen a decrease in soft tissue, non-contact injuries, and overuse injuries, but I have also seen improvement in the ways my athletes move in the weight room. Who would have thought that by improving an athlete’s body weight squat and goblet squat their back squat would improve? I just had to throw some sarcasm in their somewhere didn’t I?

Here is a list of natural human movement patterns and examples of how we do them in my program no matter what sport I am training.

Crawling
  • Bear crawl forwards
  • Bear crawl backwards
  • Crab crawl forwards
  • Crab crawl backwards
Benefits:
  • Shoulder stability (Compression)
  • Hip mobility
  • Coordination
  • Movement of synovial fluid
Bear Crawl


Can’t play video? Click here: Bear Crawl

Crab Crawl


Can’t play video? Click here: Crab Crawl
Hanging
  • Dead hangs
  • Knees to elbows (On rings)
  • Flips (On rings)
Benefits:
  • Grip strength
  • Shoulder strength
  • Decompression of axial skeleton
  • Upper body stretch
Knees to Elbows


Can’t play video? Click here: Knee to Elbows

Flips


Can’t play video? Click here: Flips
Rolling
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Front rolls
  • Hollow throws
Benefits:
  • Body awareness
  • Mobility
  • Learning how to fall
Shoulder Rolls


Can’t play video? Click here: Shoulder Rolls

Hollow Throws


Can’t play video? Click here: Hollow Throws
Carrying
Press/Push
  • Vertical Presses
    • Barbell strict press
    • Barbell push press
    • Kettlebell press (unilateral)
    Horizontal Presses
    • Bench press
    • Sled push
    • Push-ups (conventional or rings)
Pull
  • Vertical Pulls
    • Pull-ups/Chin-ups
    • Rope climbs
  • Horizontal Pulls
    • Inverted rows (bar or rings)
    • Single arm inverted rows (unilateral)
    • Sled pulls
Squat
(All Full Depth)
  • Goblet Squat
  • Back Squat
  • Font Squat
  • Zercher
  • Pistol Squat (unilateral)
Hinge
  • Barbell deadlifts
  • Barbell RDL’s
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • One leg RDL’s (unilateral)

Its a Kettlebell, Not CrossFit

It’s a Kettlebell

One of the most underutilized tools in training is the kettlebell. I love using kettlebells in my own training, and it and the barbell are my favorite tools to use with my clients. Over the last decade or so kettlebells have become synonymous with CrossFit. Few things get under my skin as bad as when I show someone a kettlebell and their response is, “oh, CrossFit.” The kettlebell has been around since the 1700s and CrossFit has been around since the year 2000.

Many people see the kettlebell as something CrossFit uses and nothing else. People do not realize the benefits the kettlebell offers to people no matter their reason for training. I use kettlebells when training athletes, people rehabbing injuries, and the general population just looking to get healthier. I hope that this article will shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and why people with all types of goals should consider adding kettlebell training to their regimen.

Strength

Kettlebells are great way to build strength. With kettlebells, you can become stronger in the squat, pressing, and hinging movements in a variety of ways. This variation allows you to test movements in a way that is hard to do with other tools, including barbells. By testing these movements in different ways, you can find weak points that could be holding you back from making strength gains. For example, you can perform the squat by holding a kettlebell in a goblet position (as pictured below), a single rack position, and a double rack position. Each of these offer different benefits that help improve your squat overall. The same can be said for presses by pressing kettlebells overhead in a strict, push press, or bottoms up position as pictured below.

Lastly, two great exercises for the hip hinge using kettlebells are the deadlift and the swing. Using a kettlebell for the deadlift can be a strength exercise for novice lifters or for rehabbing injuries and is also a great way to teach the hip hinge in a safe manner. The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that offers a lot of different benefits such as flexibility, power, and conditioning. You will read more about the swing in the following paragraphs. What is important to remember is that you can do these movements with very heavy kettlebells. This will obviously make you stronger directly but it will also carry over to heavier barbell lifts. Training with kettlebells enables you to use heavy weight unilaterally, meaning one arm at a time, and this will help with any strength imbalances that may be holding you back.

 

Pictured above is the Goblet Squat (Left) and the Bottoms up Position (Right)

Conditioning

I hate conditioning. It’s no secret to those close to me that I don’t do a lot, if any, conditioning in the traditional sense. You probably won’t see me out jogging around town anytime soon. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I know conditioning is a necessary evil. I try my best to avoid it as much as possible, at least traditional conditioning anyhow. So, I find different ways to implement conditioning into my training. Kettlebells are one of my favorite ways to do this. The previously mentioned kettlebell swings will get you huffing and puffing like few exercises can. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and do twenty-five of them in a row. Then after you catch your breath come back and tell me that didn’t get your heart rate up.

Carries are also a great conditioning tool. I could have put carries in the strength section also. This exercises is exactly how it sounds. You carry heavy weight for either distance or time. This will challenge you in more way than one. Heavy carries will build grip strength, build a bigger upper back, and keep your shoulders healthy, but you may be surprised how out of breath you are when you finally set the weight down. I’d much rather go for a walk carrying kettlebells then go for a run around my neighborhood. In fact, to this day the most humbling feat I’ve ever attempted was carrying two heavy kettlebells through town and back. It took roughly an hour to complete and I was surprised and embarrassed about how exhausted and out of breath I was. Now, before you go telling everyone you know that I said all you have to do is swing and carry a kettlebell and you will be able to run a marathon, conditioning in this section referrers to general conditioning. If you want to be able to run a 5k, you still must go out and run.

Flexibility

The flexibility you can gain from training with kettlebells is probably my favorite reason for using them. The way the kettlebell fits around your hand and rests against your arm in what is called the rack position (as pictured below) allows for freedom of movement that you can’t get with a dumbbell. The kettlebell becomes an extension of your arm, it becomes a part of your body, allowing for natural movement to occur. This freedom of movement that a kettlebell allows is why it is a great tool for improving flexibility. You can move naturally and improve flexibility while performing “strength” movements. For example, by holding the kettlebell in the rack position and pressing it overhead, your shoulder can move freely and naturally as the weight travels overhead. At the top of the movement you can focus on placing your extended arm over your head utilizing its full range of motion instead of the arm being too far forward and sacrificing the end range of movement which is commonly seen. The previously mentioned goblet squat is also a great example as it is an easier and safer way to teach the squat than with the bar. It allows you to practice achieving great depth in the squat, gaining flexibility in your hips. Also, there are many corrective type exercises that are great for rehabbing or preventing injuries. There will be an article coming soon on how to use kettlebells for injury prevention.

Pictured above is the Rack Position

Not CrossFit

The strength, conditioning, and flexibility benefits of kettlebells are priceless. All three are a great reason to include kettlebells into your programs. This article didn’t even go into detail about the corrective exercise benefits or the teaching benefits of kettlebells. Rehab or injury prevention for any type of person could have also been a section in this article and will be an article in the future. I touched a little on the teaching benefits of kettlebells when discussing the deadlift and squat and it really is a great tool for teaching the basic movements in a safe manner. I hope that this article shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and maybe next time you see one you won’t automatically think CrossFit! Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can continue to reach more people.