If you think for a second reading this “Ugh, how are these exercises doing to make me stronger they’re dumb and simple” you deserve every injury you get. If however, you decide that you want a body that functions well and gives you the capacity to actually do squats, deadlifts and strength programs without causing imbalances and pain? Then keep on reading.
Let’s build a common scenario that I get all of the time:
Athlete A is strong as anything, can move mountains but is plagued with constant back pain when not training or even having to take time off regularly with constant injuries. I give them a few simple coordination drills to do, they can’t do them, become frustrated and then refuse to practice them because the drills are “stupid”. They then fall into the “train, pain, rest, foam roll” cycle.
Athlete B is also strong as anything, gets no pain when not training and gets niggles very rarely – if they do it’s usually due to training too much. I give them the same list of exercises and they don’t struggle with any of them.
What does that tell us?
People that move well are generally better at avoiding injury, regardless of strength.
So what things do I test? Is it how fast someone can sprint? What someone’s 1 rep max percentages are based on 6 reps? How fast they can throw a ball? What their vertical jump is?
No, too fancy.
I want to know: can you differentiate left and right, do you have spine to hip connection awareness, can you create tension in your body and can you balance.
In a lot of cases, people with agonising back pain will fail some of these when testing. Using careful exercise selection, fixing those issues relieves pain without having to go through a muscle by muscle stretching and rolling routine, plus much less chance of aggravating things further.
Here are two examples of testing left and right with balance, I highly recommend that you video yourself doing them, as you will not look how you think you do when you try them, especially the marching drill:
Missing any of the above elements is just a recipe for disaster especially when you start talking long term. You are building a body your entire life, yes you may get fat or lose weight, squat more, bench less and all that, but how it moves should always be a primary concern of yours. If you don’t do something correctly for long periods of time you’re going to start breaking things down. How do I know this? It happened to me and many other people I know. Normal people? No, people at the top of their game.
I have done a good few articles on my own back injury and dealing with it after it happened, but how about why it happened? This is more important for people to take heed of: I did that shit so you DON’T have to experience it! As much as I’ll say experience is a great learning tool, it’s not very enjoyable at the time. I have written a ebook on my journey leading up to my back injury, what I did wrong and how I ended up fixing myself when no one else could, if you’d like to check it out, it’s in my online store here.
In my book you’ll see that I had the hinge mastered, I could deadlift till your face came off, every week was PR or near PR. When I decided to start working on my heavy back squat I just decided I had that nailed straight away, after all, deadlifting never hurt me… the problem was I just didn’t like squatting right?
Although I did have the hip capacity to hinge correctly, I did not have the capacity to squat correctly. I had severe hip and ankle range of motion issues, my squat was “better” with weight than it was without weight – I had no idea how to brace properly without weight, and this is something I see with people on a weekly basis.
What this lack of control caused, was the famous “butt wink” term that gets thrown around; a small amount of lumbar flexion at the bottom of every squat. I got zero pain whatsoever when squatting heavy, I’d say for around 2 years. My numbers were going up fine, as they should when doing any strength program. Little did I know I was stressing my spine every session and eventually it gave up during a 3 rep max test. This was not an unlucky injury, or a whoopsie, it was years in the making.
How does all this relate to warm ups? I could clean and jerk over 100kg at that time but I could not even hold my own chest up: I could not do a bodyweight squat! Every day that I didn’t work on that I was shooting myself in the foot.
I am such a party pooper these days; the people that I train will tell you. Even when they hit a PR or get a new movement, yes I congratulate them but they are also rewarded with a list of what could have been better and what they need to work on next before testing again. Sorry, but that is the job of a coach in my opinion. Yes I encourage people and I get damn proud, but my first and foremost interest is your long term health and making you better at whatever you want to do, not stroke your ego.
Bear crawls, bird dogs, crab walks, duck walks, footwork drills, standing marches, hopping and planks should be mandatory warm ups. Then we want to involve your hamstrings and lats. Do you know how to create tension and stable positions without weight? Do you know how to prime yourself with anything other than a foam roller? (Yeah, mash those tissues…)
This is the foundation to The Simplistic Mobility Method knowing all of this stuff is like your phones factory operating system, as long as it is there running in the background – your new apps and games all work fine, delete that essential software though? Well nothing will work, you’ll be lucky if it even turns on.
Get better at the simple things and then you can enjoy shifting weight and getting crazy strong.