Movement Patterning: The Why and How

Today's guest post comes to you courtesy of Charlie Badawy, strength coach at SAPT.

I love lifting weights.  Sometimes the very thought that people exist who actually don't enjoy the process of picking heavy objects up and putting them down again, keeps me up at night.  How could you not enjoy this...

That's 462 pounds!!  Insane!

BUT, before I was able to enjoy dropping down into a nice deep squat with heavy weights on my back, I had to learn how to actually perform a proper squat in the first place.  You can't be strong without first being proficient.  Words to live by.

As you may have gathered, today I want to talk about the importance of becoming proficient at a movement pattern PRIOR to becoming strong at a movement pattern.  

It may seem self-evident, but it's something that a lot of beginner lifters get wrong, and it's something that we hold in high regard when progressing our own athletes.  In my opinion, possessing the ability to teach a new movement to a new lifter, is just as valuable (if not more so) then the ability to progress a lifter's strength levels. This is what separates the good coaches from the great coaches, and our track record of teaching proper lifting mechanics speaks for itself.

The Why

It may seem crazy, but I've heard stories of coaches attempting to lower an athlete's squat depth by loading up the bar with more weight then they can handle and telling them to squat and hold it at the bottom, essentially using a large load to "push" the athlete into a deeper squat.  I hope it's clear to you how poor of a strategy this can be.  Unsafe, unreliable, and unacceptable, we prefer to use much safer and more effective methods at SAPT.

During the first 6-8 weeks of lifting, the "gains" that a beginning lifter experiences is mainly a result of increases in neuromuscular efficiency.  Let's take the squat for example... When you first start squatting, your body needs to adjust to the demands of the movement.  Rarely can a beginner drop down into a perfect bodyweight squat without falling backward, and even more rarely are they able to do it with a barbell on their back.  It's a completely new movement, and a completely new demand that we're asking our body to undertake.

Muscles are stupid.  They're "good soldiers" in that they simply accept commands and follow them through.  However, movement originates in our central nervous system.  The motor cortex of our brain is termed the "motor control center," and it's job is to send commands down our spinal cord, through our efferent nerve fibers, and into our muscles.  Our muscles then perform their role as "good soldiers" and provide a response in the form of movement.  Only once these motor patterns are cemented down as reliable, effective motor programs, should we begin loading these movement and training strength.  As Gray Cook likes to say, movement quality over movement quantity.

Movement - Gray Cook. A great read for all those interested in movement/rehabilitation science.

Movement - Gray Cook. A great read for all those interested in movement/rehabilitation science.

The How

Now how do we actually go about training movements and getting our athlete's proficient at them?  Drills.  

Sport coaches have their players perform drills in practice in order to reinforce positioning, technique, and proficiency.  So it wouldn't be off base to say that one may apply similar tactics to teaching someone a new skill such as deadlifting.  Let's take a look at a couple of exercises that we use at SAPT in order to teach our athletes proper deadlift technique.

The Dowel Rod Hip Hinge

This drill is our "go-to" exercise when it comes to teaching our beginner athletes proper deadlift technique.  By performing this drill properly, the athlete learns how to organize their spine in a nice, neutral fashion, and hinge at the hips instead of at the knees.  This is not only a great "intro" to deadlifting, but is also useful as an activation drill for more experienced lifters and acts as a good "grease the groove" movement.  We'll often include it in an athlete's warm-up, their A series, or throughout the session.  Below is an example of a deadlift day template where the hip hinge drill is used to groove the deadlift pattern.

Band-Resisted KB Deadlift ISO

We use this to teach our athletes how to set up properly and gain confidence in the bottom position. We've found it works very well to teach our clients how to properly engage their glutes, and we can then add a dynamic component to order to really get those suckers to fire during the lift.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of drills that we employ of SAPT, but they're a few effective and powerful tools for teaching proper mechanics.  For further reading, you can check out, 4 Drills to Clean Up a Hinge Pattern, a post by Jarrett Brumett, our Massage Therapist on staff.

I hope that this article helped you in some way, and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all.  Enjoy your Tuesday!