A couple of months ago an article popped up on Juggernaut Training Systems that got the internet, specifically the rehab/medical community all up in a tizzy. It was an article by a strength coach essentially bragging about he performed manual therapy on his clients without any sort of license or formal training. The article was quickly removed and the internet crisis was averted, however, the fact is that I know this sort of thing is happening in gyms all over the whole country.
I had already been doing quite a bit of thinking on the scope of the strength coach, and this sparked it up a little more. For the past several years, I have studied what physical therapists study. I have traveled to learn from physical therapists. I have worked along side a physical therapist. However, I am not a physical therapist. There have been couple times that I feel like I was starting to toe the line a bit.
I was a big fan of the saying “bridge the gap between training and rehab”. However, what I found was that I wasn’t interested in bridging any gaps. I actually didn’t give a shit about bridging gaps. I was searching for solutions for the problems that I was having in my gym. You can’t teach people to lift weights if you can’t teach them to move. You can’t teach them to move if you don’t understand how or why they move the way that they do.
The line has really started to become blurred in past couple of years as the popularity of certain self mobilizing techniques and “superfriend” mobilizing techniques became increasingly popular. I was also stooged for a time. When something gains a ton of popularity, it is easy to fall for the hype.
At the time, I was a CrossFit coach teaching anywhere from 6-10 classes per day. I always prided myself on teaching my client/athletes to do thing “RIGHT”, even before I knew what that was. I took the information I had and coached the shit out of it. (If I had written this 3 years ago it would be totally different, hopefully, if I write it again in 3 more years. It will be totally different.) I had no answers why I couldn’t get some people into an adequate squat. When I looked on the internet I found solutions and I began to implement them.
“Mobilize at the point of restriction” seems elementary enough that it just may be effective. Often the most effective solution is the simplest.
After watching tons of the YouTubes, we finally hosted the CrossFit Mobility Certification at my gym. I loved Kelly. He was a great guy. We sipped Lillies at the Kentucky Oaks, then Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby. Had a ton of fun, then, woke up early and did an all day seminar.
After the seminar I kicked into high gear. I was mobilizing the shit out of everybody all the damn time, even myself. I found that in the short term, people would “FEEL” (whatever the hell that means) better for a short time, but often would return to me with the same problem, or with a new problem.
The worst part about this was that everyday when I came into the gym, people were wanting me to help them stretch out, asking me why this hurt, what they should do about this or that…. it was horrible, and eventually I probably started to toe that line I mentioned earlier. As a STRENGTH coach, your job is to make people stronger, not be hounded by people wanting you to stretch them out all damn day. You need to know some stretches to prescribe as you deem appropriate, but it should only be a tool in your tool box, not the main event.
I found the shotgun approach to mobility to be ineffective. The mantra “mobilize at the point of restriction” led me down a path that never seemed to end. I went looking for ways to hone in my technique. I studied the FMS and began to implement it with new members coming to the gym. The FMS is a great tool to give you a quick snapshot of someone’s movement and to give you a quantifiable number to explain and discuss with the client or athlete. I wanted go even deeper. The next step for me was to do the Diagnosis Fitness course with Dr. Bill Hartman. The course teaches the assessment protocol used by Dr. Hartman and Mike Robertson at IFAST. I had already traveled to Indy twice and had the assessment performed on me.
The IFAST assessment is incredibly thorough. It takes about an hour to get through the whole thing and gives you a ton of great information about how and why people are moving the way that they are. The level of detail was intense and I left with a far deeper understanding of movement that I had gained from all of the books I had read before.
The level of detail and new understanding that I had was probably the factor that led me to start toeing that line again. I went back to my gym and started doing full assessments on everyone. Activating the shit out of everything, all the time. I was pumping out personalized corrective programs like Henry Ford. I don’t think that the assessment or activation exercises breach the scope of the strength coach. Every good strength coach MUST have some assessment protocol and must have some “activation” exercises in the tool box, the problem for me was that the level of detail that I was going into had my head all wrapped up in the wrong stuff.
I like to consider myself an amateur neuroscientist. I find the brain utterly fascinating. I started down this road when I became frustrated as to why some people would still complain of pain even after their movement had improved. I also couldn’t understand why changes would occur more quickly in some people than others, or why we could effect change, and then it would go right back to being “tight”.
This aspect of training is very important for the strength coach to understand. Neural control of muscle tone, current theories in pain science, and how stress effects the brain… which in turn effects movement are all things that are going to effect your success as a coach.
As Chad can attest (from our 2am bourbon conversations about people’s emotional connection to pain) it is easy to head further down this road than will really benefit you as a strength coach as well. The last thing that you want to do, is to have to start listening to people’s emotional problems all the time. Vomit.
All three of these domains are important to develop within your craft. You must have some knowledge of stretching. People love stretching, whether they need to do it or not, they are going to want to. Much of your success with a client is going to be based on their belief that what you are doing is going to work. Often people have prior belief that stretching is important and that it is good. It is fine to give them a little, just leave the realm of mobilizing to the PTs. You will find that as long as you don’t ignore the other two aspects of the movement game, you won’t need much stretching and mobilizing after all.
Don’t go overboard on the correction or on the cueing. It is easy to become stuck in the corrective loop. One of the biggest mistakes that I made was ever telling anyone everything that was wrong with them. You gain all this knowledge and learn the way that everything is supposed to work… keep that shit to yourself. We are always striving to make improvement, but the last thing that you want is to become so concerned with corrective shit that you aren’t making any other progress. Don’t be afraid to let people make mistakes, they aren’t made of glass and aren’t going to die…. probably.