Category Archives: Training Philosophy

Enough With the Coaching Cues! (But Here are Some of My Favorites)

Today’s article is a guest-blog from Derrick Blanton. Derrick is a big thinker and I love learning about his thought-process. It’s very important for coaches to understand that many of our clients don’t process the cues the way that we intend them to. Here are some of Derrick’s thoughts pertaining to coaching cues.

Enough With the Coaching Cues! (But Here are Some of My Favorites)
By Derrick Blanton

Lately I’ve noticed that the times, they are a changin’. Perhaps fueled by the emergence of Crossfit, as well as the growing internet strength training community, untrained civilians are getting off the treadmill, and wandering over to the weight room. This is a good thing!

Many will be seeking knowledgeable instruction on proper techniques of the various strength training movements. These unsuspecting folks are about to enter the Twilight Zone of well-intentioned coaching cues. And after many years of lifting stuff, and pondering countless versions of these cues, I have come to the conclusion that we should ditch them altogether.

Because they suck.

I kid because I love, yet consider a few reasons why coaching cues can be a double edged sword:

  1. They possibly don’t mean to your trainee what you think they mean. Different people process movement using different language.
  2. This is totally OK, though, because the recognized experts are going to change their mind about the wisdom of your cue in a few years anyways.
  3. Information gets passed along and distorted. Often it is just plain wrong, or at the very least, short-sighted. Cues like “draw in your gut to brace your spine”, or the latest, “don’t hollow your glutes when extending the hip”, are not particularly useful once you actually load the bar. In reality, once grooved, they will just be bad habits that are difficult to break later.
  4. They confuse and derail lifters who already possess a decent movement pattern straight out of the gate. As the great Rob Panariello says, (and I paraphrase): “Often, form already follows function”.
  5. Cues tend to promote a concentric muscular action. This is great if we are cueing the agonist (“drive your feet through the floor”). But it can get confusing and downright risky when we are cueing stabilizers, and inadvertently promote a concentric action, rather than our intended isometric action. We’ll see a couple of prime examples of this down below discussing “break the bar”, and “brace the abs”.

The upshot is that cueing is an imperfect, but necessary, learning methodology, so let’s try to get better at it by using an individualized, case by case approach. Along those lines, I’d like to hand out a few “Cueys”, a prestigious, and utterly made up award, to a few of the concepts, cues, and methods that have helped me personally learn and groove effective movement patterns.

Please keep in mind that your list of “Cueys” will likely be totally different, and therein lies the point: These helpful cues are specific to my personal movement process. Which is why they will totally suck…for somebody reading this.

The Shoulder, Pt. 1: Overhead movements

Some of you may remember my lengthy account of trying to learn to “pack my shoulders”. That painful and futile process culminated in two wrecked shoulders, and me giving the cue a retirement party with a one way ticket to Nowhere.

A nice outcome of that article was that it generated some very insightful discussion on scapular stability, and I learned a lot while considering various ideas on the matter. One of those with a different point of view than mine was RKC instructor Brett Jones.

Brett is a super smart, thoughtful guy, and came up with another way to describe this process of “shoulder packing”. He called it a “sticky scapula”. I thought that was pretty brilliant. A “sticky scapula”? Yes, I see it more clearly now! Now here is a concept that I can wrap my mind around. Thus began my “sticky scapula” experiment.

Great hammer of Zeus, it works!

See how fickle this cueing game is? Merely replace the word “packed”, with the word “sticky”, and instantly unlock the inscrutable mystery of overhead movement. It all starts to come together. The scap is sticky, (i.e. moving under tight CNS muscular control); it is not stuck (isometrically packed).

It is nothing more than imagery, and it works.

So now, in some kind of weird synergy, I perform my overhead lifts with an active shoulder AND a sticky 

scapula! I know, I know. This is crazy talk. Cats and dogs playing together. Thank you, Mark Rippetoe, and thank you, Brett Jones! Between the two of you, I am now bulletproof.


“Pardon me, sir, but are you aware that your left scapula is in danger of losing its stickiness?”

Co-winners: “Active shoulder”, Mark Rippetoe
“Sticky scapula”, Brett Jones

Incidentally, how do we feel about this possible hybrid cue: active sticky scapula? Anyone? Mmmkay. Let’s move on.

The Shoulder, Pt. 2: The Bench Press

Break the bar.” Aaaaghhh!! Excuse me while I go throw a dumbbell on my foot. I am so not a fan of this one, even as I understand that this cue is very popular and useful for others.

Let me explain. It’s totally my fault. See, when you told me to break the bar, I went ahead and tried to break the bar. I know, right? What the heck was I thinking?

Now, if you didn’t want me to break the bar, uh…why did you tell me to break the bar?! I tried to break the bar, and it almost destroyed my elbows!

You ever try to break a stick or a branch? As you valiantly strain to tear the stick in two, do not your elbows MOVE? Do they not move far inwards of the stick as you apply the force? Can we agree when holding a large amount of weight over your neck and face, that all things being equal, we would prefer to have our elbows stably under the bar, and not actively twisting somewhere down around your navel in some misguided attempt to bend a barbell in two?

What we are really trying to do is create an externally rotating torque (essentially isometric) at the shoulder to counter the internally rotating pecs and lats, right? And this is happening while you are concurrently driving the weight up directly through the elbows.

We need an isometric muscular action, but we are cueing a concentric action.

Enter the evil Russian, Pavel Tsatsouline with his bullet analogy. The bullet spirals out of the chamber; this increases its velocity. This is analogous to the force emerging from the torqued shoulder socket. Note that the bullet doesn’t go floating around trying to bend steel as it spirals out of the barrel. It aims straight ahead.

Consider that this is not even really a cue, but rather an idea, a comparison, an understanding. And this spiral idea fits nicely with my other favorite cue: “Push yourself through the bench”. For some reason, visualizing an open chain movement as a closed chain movement enhances stability, and thus expression of force. The body “gets it”.

Co-Winners: Pavel’s bullet analogy
“Push Yourself through the Bench”, Anonymous

Next Category: The Olympic Squat and Front Squat

Ah, my eternal nemesis, the squat.

When I first started learning the squat, I had a dreadful case of patellar tendinosis. I actually didn’t walk without pain for over a year. At that time, the only SQ that I could perform without crumbling to the ground was the box squat. So I learned to box squat.

As my patellar tendon healed, I started moving the box lower and lower. Eventually I got to where I could squat ATG (ass to grass), but the problem was that I was still using a “sit back” box squat approach to ATG free squatting.

Yeah, it was an ugly mess.

Solution: learn the Olympic style squat. Except I apparently had no available motor program to squat in this upright fashion. Even my front squats were essentially “squat mornings”. Ridiculous.

Fortunately there exists a cue precisely for this dilemma. “Sit down, not back”.

Unfortunately, I could not seem to execute the “sit down” technique.

It sounds silly, but I had lost my ability to load my knee first, probably due to the injury; which though now healed, was still “phantom pain” present on my CNS hard drive. Over the years, I had prioritized the hip break to the extent that the program had become locked.

Nick Horton to the rescue! In this 21-minute bundle of awesome entitled, “How to Squat Like an Olympic Weightlifter”, Nick solved my motor program mystery with this gem: “Put your hip bones right on top of your ankles.”

Alrighty then! That sounded pretty darn doable. Almost immediately, I’m squatting to the floor in an organized fashion. One thing kept nagging at me, though. I’m breaking at the knee first. Now, I’ve been instructed by all of the knowledgeable experts to “break at the hip first”. Conflict. Dilemma. Scary!

Once I really experienced what keeping a more vertical torso feels like (in a nutshell: good!), the choice on which cue to follow was pretty easy. So in my brave new OLY squatting world, even though I am not consciously thinking about it, as I attempt to “put my hip bones on my ankles”, I find that I am breaking at the knees first before loading the hip.

This is what might be referred to as a “load sequencing error”, per mobility expert, Kelly Starrett, possibly Rippetoe would frown on this technique as it takes away an element of “hip drive”. Oh well, this is working pretty well for me. Your mileage may vary, and that goes back to my reservations about tossing cues out like candy to begin with!

And please don’t think I’m dissing Kelly Starrett. The man knows his stuff, and his work has helped me immensely. In fact, he is the co-winner in this category, for this one: “Knees outtie”.

Again, not so much of a cue, as an excellent explanation, and demonstration. (I actually prefer “screw the hip into the socket”, again illustrating my preference for cues that refer to the proximal attachment of the muscle in question. But again, that’s just me!)

Rippetoe’s version, “shove the knees out” also caused me some movement confusion. Again, this just comes down to terminology. I couldn’t figure out how to actively “shove” (use my glutes to concentrically force the knees out) while simultaneously eccentrically lengthening them as I tried to sink into the hole.

It becomes increasingly clear that even the best coaches, those that are completely on top of their game, and on top of the heap, don’t necessarily have one size fits all prescriptions. This is due to the multitude of biomechanical and mental processing differences that we pesky individualistic humans bring to the table.

Co-winners: “Put your hip bones on your ankles”, Nick Horton
“Knees outtie!”, Kelly Starrett

Honorable mention: “Put a boulder between your legs”, Dan John


Smile! You just discovered the joys of knee-breaking your front squat!

Our Final Award: Core Stability During SQ’s and DL’s

Remember Point #2, on why coaching cues can suck from above? Boy has this one changed! It used to be: “Arch your lower back…HARD!”

There are many reasons why that cue can be problematic. A quick search on MWOD, or Mike Robertson, or Eric Cressey’s blog will find some informative articles. Here’s my anecdotal experience. When you concentrically crank the low back hard under load, and more importantly over TUT (time under tension), a few not so great things happen:

  1. You fatigue remarkably quickly. Your lumbar erectors are like a video game “life force”, limited but quickly regenerative. If you burn out the force unnecessarily hyperextending the spine, it will fail quickly. When it does fail, you may not have any warning. You may just simply buckle. This is usually followed by shrieking.
  2. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. Ask a newbie to power clean an appreciable load, and it is not uncommon for them to try to “lumbar erect” the load instead of using the hips. A hammer is a great tool, but not for hoeing the garden.
  3. Related to #3. The lumbar erectors operate in responsibility-sharing team with the short external rotators of the hip, and the various abdominal muscles, etc. Prioritizing the low back often comes at the price of compromising downstream stability and positional torque at the pelvis and hip.
  4. It takes the glutes out of the movement to a degree. Someone should really write more on this very topic, and that someone is Bret Contreras. Not that he doesn’t have a few other things to do.

So that “hard arch” thought process is slowly being replaced with “Control rib flare”, “Control anterior pelvic tilt” or “Connect the ribcage to the pelvis”, or simply, “Keep the spine neutral.”

I personally like “plank the spine”. Another gem: Starrett’s “global whip”. Now, is “global whip” going to mean anything to Joe Bob Dumbbell, or Mary Jane Blaststrap? Not without some indoctrination. Again, it’s a concept. It requires some thought and study, some explanation. And it perfectly lays out the map for core stability.

Finally a word about, “brace your abs”, (I’m not even going to get into that whole TVA “draw in” maneuver). Abdominal bracing is not a bad idea at all. Except when you overfocus on the muscular action, and apply that force concentrically, as I mentioned in point #5 above. One thing you don’t want to do is unintentionally perform an active crunch with a loaded barbell on your back or in your hands. This is when “bracing” goes bad!

Co-winners: “Plank the Spine”, Anonymous
“Global Whip”, Kelly Starrett

Well, folks, this concludes our impromptu cueing awards show. Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that overall, coaching cues are awful, and should never be used!

But seriously, I think that cueing shorthand works way better when you first take the time to learn the longhand. Without a good base of understanding and awareness, a snappy sounding cue can end up being counterproductive.

Finally, I like Bret’s approach of discussing the intended action with his trainee, and asking them how they would describe it. Let them tell you the cue that they can process in their own movement language.

And if that fails, just yell out, “Global Whip!” as they are grinding out a heavy DL!

Skewed Views of Science

I’d like for you to take ten minutes of your time today to watch this video. My friend Charles Staley sent this my way, and it’s excellent. It’s almost as if the person who created this video did so specifically for the strength & conditioning industry. I wish that more of the top fitness professionals understood the information contained in this video, if so we’d be in a much better position to cooperate and progress as a field.

50 Shades of Gray (Cook)

Recently, I came up with a good idea. Due to the popularity of the book titled 50 Shades of Grey, I thought it would be appropriate to post a guest blog on Gray Cook titled, 50 Shades of Gray (Cook). I’ve learned a lot from Gray over the years, and this is my way of giving back. If you’ve never seen Gray speak, I recommend you do so. He’s got the gift of gab, and is without a doubt one of the most eloquent speakers the fitness industry has ever seen.

Last week I reached out to my friend Laree Draper to find me a bunch of quotes from Gray, and boy did she deliver. Without further adieu, here are fifty one-hundred (you get double for your money) Gray Cook quotes. Enjoy!

1.  The definition of functional exercise is what it produces, NOT what it looks like.

2.  Unless you find the driver of bad movement, and find the thing that changes it, you’re just guessing.

3.  First move well, then move often

4.  Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body but poor movement patterns can only exist in the brain

5.  The most objective person is the individual who realizes just how subjective he is.

6.  Moving isn’t important, until you can’t.

7.  Pain is not the problem — it’s the signal

8.  Don’t add strength to dysfunction

9.  Quantitative accumulation leads to qualitative changes.

10.  When someone loses core stability, a bunch of planks don’t fix that shit

11.  Are you moving poorly because you are in pain? Or are you in pain because you are moving poorly?

12.  Do what people need, not what they want

13.  Test for durability not only for performance

14.  ‎I wanna see if you have lost the abilities you had when you were 3 years old, at 3 you could roll, clime, balance on one foot, and run.

15.  At 1 to 5 years old most of us are moving alike

16.  ‎The TGU is a proproceptive drill, but I don’t think is a strength move, even thou it will make you strong, it is a stability movement

17.  Anatomist will tell you this: The neck and ribcage, and the neck and scapular share more muscles than they have independently

18.  It’s very hard to catch, I can’t even tell you what injury, a left/right hip asymmetry is gonna cause, one person is gonna get SI pain, one person is gonna have low back pain, and one person is gonna have chronic knee pain, the asymmetry causes compensation, and compensation is a natural survival mechanism

19.  Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position, it’s called muscle inhibition

20.  75% of world spends at least 30 seconds per day in that position (sic-deep squat going number 2). Why shouldn’t you?

21.  When challenged the brain will always choose quantity of movement over quality of movement

22.  Whenever possible, we must separate movement dysfunction from fitness and performance. Aggressive physical training cannot change fundamental mobility and stability problems at an effective rate without also introducing a degree of compensation and increased risk of injury.

23.  Patterns and sequences remain the preferred mode of operation in biological organisms. Patterns are groups of singular movements linked in the brain like a single chunk of information. This chunk essentially resembles a mental motor program, the software that governs movement patterns. A pattern represents multiple single movements used together for specific function. Storage of a pattern creates efficiency and reduces processing time in the brain, much as a computer stores multiple documents of related content in one file to better organize and manage information.    Common strengthening programs applied to muscles with the stabilization role will likely increase concentric strength but have little effect on timing and recruitment, which are the essence of stabilization.

24.  Stabilizer training goes far beyond isometrics found in popular stability exercises such as side plank. In this isometric exercise model, conscious rigidity and stiffness are the goal, but true authentic stability is about effortless timing and the ability to go from hard to soft to hard to soft in a blink.

25.  Stability is also confused with strength, where concentric and eccentric contractions build massive endurance. The muscles do become stronger in shortening andlengthening, but again they lack the timing and control needed for true functional stabilization. We should train muscles in the way we use them. Stabilizers need to respond quicker than any other muscle group to hold position and control joint movement during loading and movement.

26.  Movement pattern corrective strategy is a form of exercise that focuses more on improving mobility, stability, basic motor control and whole movement patterns than the parameters of physical fitness and performance. Once established, the movement patterns create a platform for the general and specific parameters of fitness, including endurance, strength, speed, agility, power and task specificity

27.  Maintain the squat, train the deadlift

28.  If you have an issue with your active straight leg raise or shoulder mobility, you don’t have the right to go anywhere else in a corrective strategy.  Don’t worry about your squat, clean up the active straight leg raise and shoulder mobility FIRST!

29.  If you leave out one of the seven tests because of your own bias, your data will be flawed and you won’t get the same result.  There are seven tests for a reason.  They are all important!

30.  After you clean up your active straight leg raise and shoulder mobility, shoot for cleaning up rotary stability, as this is a true test of “soft core” function.

31.  Pain is not a signal we can train through.

32.  You need to get your clients to stop doing negative activities that will hold back their progress in your program.  Once movement clears up and is above a minimum standard, they can work back to doing what they like to do.  If they aren’t willing to give these things up, the results of the program will always make you look bad, as they won’t improve.  For example, the best back surgeons will not operate on smokers because smoking delays the healing process and their results will not be as good, making the surgeon look bad.  You wouldn’t ask your mechanic to run alongside your car and fix the engine WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING IT!

33.  Don’t be ready to add a positive (corrective exercise/strategy) to a training program.  First try and remove a negative!

34.  Any movement that you cannot score at least a two on means that you can’t do any conditioning or strength work on that movement.  You must meet the minimum standard.

35.  The definition of corrective exercise is move well and then move more.  Most people just want to move more.

36.  The best way to get your core to work right is to correct your worst movement pattern.  If you can get mobility back, your core will turn on automatically and do what it needs to do (mobility before stability).  Your core may not be able to work properly right now because your ankle is locked up, or your hips don’t move well, etc…Doing all the core work and plank exercises in the world won’t fix this problem.

37.  Work backwards to the crib for correcting movements!

38.  If you don’t move well in a pattern, don’t move often in that pattern until it improves.  For example, if the squat pattern is bad, don’t worry about doing plyos or jumping activities until it is better.

39.  It disappoints me to see research that tests stability without the researchers clearing mobility first.  Stability is driven by optimal mobility, as mobility improves mechanoreceptor stimulation.  Poor mobility = poor mechanoreceoptor function = poor stability.

40.  A higher center of gravity will make you authentically stabilize.  Seek to use a higher center of gravity in some of your exercises/movements.

41.  If you go into a movement pattern and the muscles that are being lengthened contract and push you out of the pattern, THIS IS NOT TIGHTNESS.  This is actually a contraction, even though the client describes it as tightness.  A good example of this involves clients who can’t touch their toes and claim that their hamstrings are tight, when in reality, the hamstrings are turning on (when they should be lengthening) during the movement to provide stability to the pelvis since the core is not doing what it needs to do.  This is muscular contraction and not hamstring tightness.

42.  Inconsistencies in the FMS are usually stability problems, while consistencies are typically mobility problems.

43.  If you want to see your abs eat better.  If you want your abs to work better, move better!

44.  You gotta break a pattern before you can make a pattern!

45.  We’d like to think that we can verbalize to people how they can move better, but we can’t.  Try and tell someone who has never ridden a bike how to do it and see if they can go out and reproduce it.  They can’t!  They have to actually go out, get on the bike, and try it out a few times to understand what it feels like.  Exercise is the same way.

46.  You can’t motor learn authentically in a painful pattern.

47.  Neurodevelopmentally speaking, it was always quality before quantity.  This should be true with our exercise programs as well.

48.  Tarzan, to me, is the epitome of fitness.  The guy is strong, agile and quick.  He can run, jump, climb and swing through trees.  If we take a person who moves well and put them on a Crossfit type of training program, we turn them into Tarzan.  If we take that same program and give it to the majority of people in society who move poorly, we turn them into a patient.

49.  If you can’t change the movement of the majority of clients you are working with then you are doing something wrong.  You need to have a standard operating procedure as a way to test and re-test their movement patterns.

50.  Once you can get a good toe touch and active straight leg raise, go immediately to deadlifting.  Re-pattern that range of motion by locking down the newly gained mobility with some stability.

51.  The brain will create a mobility problem because it is the only option you have left it.

52.  Foam rolling should lead you to better movement.  If it doesn’t, then you aren’t doing something right, and foam rolling may not be what you need.

53.  The only thing documented for depression that does not have side effects is exercise.

54.  Strength or mobility asymmetries of greater than 10% in an asymmetrical sport (IE, golf) are a problem!

55.  You can’t strengthen stabilizers and assume the timing of them will improve.  Muscles like the rotator cuff musculature and rhomboids are muscles that need to fire FAST, not necessarily strong.  Seek to improve the timing of these muscles.

56.  Programs are carried out the same way, no matter what happens.  Systems have a way of breaking things down and telling us “if this, then than” and “if that, then this”.  Use systems instead of programs to get what you want in your clients training programs.

57.  The FMS is species specific, not sport specific.  The FMS is made up of basic patterns that everyone should be able to perform, regardless of sport.  These patterns show themselves in everyday movements and sports movements because we are all human beings.

58.  Intelligence is made up of two-systems working together: Pattern recognition and memory recall.

59.  The FMS seeks to predict injury from a behavioral standpoint.  That behavior is measured by your ability to move through certain patterns.

60.  When someone’s back hurts they don’t want to blame their lifestyle, fitness level, or daily patterns.  Instead, they want to blame their back pain on starting the lawn mower last week, which, in reality, is probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Human beings live under the philosophy of, “I have a snowball and I have to throw it at someone.”  No one wants to take responsibility.

61.  If the CNS and transverse abdominus don’t communicate together nothing will happen.  You can “shred someone’s abs” while they are lying on the floor, but as soon as they stand up they will revert back to the bad pattern(s) they are used to.

62.  Are dysfunctions anatomically specific or movement specific?  The gluteus medius may appear to do what it needs to do in a bilateral stance (IE squatting), but as soon as we get to a single leg stance or split stance, the person’s movement may deteriorate.  Is the problem really the gluteus medius?  Or is the problem the fact that they don’t move well in that pattern?

63.  Stop thinking about things from a kinesiological standpoint.  Movements are movements.  Movements aren’t specific to one single muscle.  You need to move better if you want to improve function.

64.  Eye movements alone will light up muscular activity in the direction you are looking.

65.  If you want people to move better stop shopping exercises and break down their movements.

66.  For corrective exercise, put people in a position where they are making a lot of mistakes (this position needs to be a safe position though and not dangerous) and SHUT UP!  Don’t over coach them.  Let them work it out and learn to develop the pattern…THIS is motor learning!  The baby didn’t need you to coach it on how to roll in the crib, crawl or stand.  It figured it out on its own.

67.  Walking and running strides have a heel strike that is between 1-4 inches apart.

68.  Don’t migrate to just doing one thing – IE, runners just run, kettlebell coaches just coach kettlebells, etc. – you need to have variety and be well rounded.  What would happen if I told you to eat chicken breast three times a day, every day, for the rest of your life?  YOU’D MISS THINGS!  Don’t miss things.

69.  Build systems to protect yourself from your own subjectivity.

70.  Your soft core (diaphragm, multifidi, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominus) needs to hold everything together.  It makes up about 20% of your core activity.

71.  You have three things to consider when dealing with a client/athlete:

  • The first thing you always need to consider is movement.  If movement quality is not above a minimum standard, then this is the first problem you need to deal with.
  • Performance problems come next.  If you move well, go ahead and add some conditioning, strength and speed.
  • Issues with skill are the final thing to fix (IE, golf swing, throwing technique, running form, etc.)

72.  Even an inappropriately performed deadlift does not have as much intradisc pressure as sitting down and pushing or pulling on things (performing exercises).  Stand up and move!

73.  You can’t coach people to do a movement that they can’t do.  All they are doing is trying to survive the pattern!  Poor movement is a balance reaction.

74.  While the masses make maximums part of identity, the truly talented are just as clear that their minimums are also part of their identities. In fact, our minimums are usually our weakest links and influence outcomes more than our superlatives.

75.  Whether they are mobility issues, stability problems, performance troubles, or skill and technique flaws, minimums usually represent the limitations that control performances. These limitations, once removed or at least managed, will allow for greatly improved skill acquisition, much better performance, much greater durability and also reduce wasted time doing ineffective training. Our minimums rob efficiency and waste valuable training time.”

76.  1. If you can’t test it, don’t train it 2. Go light and do it right 3. Balance is  the base

77.  Some of the fittest people in the world don’t obsess about their exercise time slot—they don’t require loud music or mirrors to motivate them. They simply practice movement skills, knowing they will never master them. They use exercise correctly and they stay in touch with movement. Exercise correctness is not a popular topic, but is a much needed perspective.

78.  Quitting unproductive practices early and moving on to something better is a hallmark of successful people.

79.  First, functional exercise must promote or maintain basic functional movement patterns. Second, functional exercise must promote or maintain basic physical capacity. Lastly, functional exercise must promote or maintain specific skills associated with athletics and activities. This is a big order, because it suggests that functional exercise choices must promote or maintain one level of function without compromising another.

80.  Corrective exercise is probably the best remedy for movement pattern dysfunction, but it is not the best preventive measure. If we constructed and taught better exercise techniques, we could help prevent much of the need for corrective exercises and reserve corrective concepts to situations where rehabilitation and post-rehabilitation are necessary.

81.  Squatting is not an exercise; it is a movement pattern. The movement is part of growth and development as a transition from the floor to standing. Squatting can be used as an exercise, but is first and foremost a movement pattern.

82.  Adherence to a squatting program with no upper body work whatsoever will yield upper body development. However, attention to an upper body strength-training program does not yield the same benefits in the lower body. That in itself represents how powerful the squat is as a developmental platform.

83.  These smaller, deeper muscles enhance the efficiency and power of the prime movers by creating resistance, stability and support of movement at one movable segment, and allowing freedom of movement at another. This interaction happens in milliseconds and occurs without conscious control.

84.  The conscious brain does not act alone. It is supported by an automatic system of reflex activity with involuntary adjustments occurring in the background of every intended movement. This is possible because the sensory system constantly monitors our real-time movement to the intended movement pattern. We don’t really think about our muscles, we think about movement and our muscles act in accordance with our intensions and automatic support system.

85.  Both the rectus femoris and the three hamstrings are active, and neither change length from sitting to standing position.

86.  The muscles change roles responding both mechanically and with neuromuscular accommodation as they perform the task, unaware of the academic classifications.

87.  Being strong doesn’t mean much without fluid, efficient movement;

88.  We need to create an understanding and an active dialog between the professions. Our team does not advocate, not for a second, that any of us work outside of our particular specialties. This is merely a call to understand how to interact and communicate with others in or around the profession. A true paradigm shift requires better communication and new semantics may be required.

89.  Many readers will skip what they consider philosophical mumbo jumbo to get to the discussion about screening, assessment and corrective strategies—after all, tools are the cool stuff. Nevertheless, skipping forward without understanding the basics would be the equivalent of studying the medical remedy for a perceived problem before having the skill to diagnose the cause.

90.  If movement is dysfunctional, all things built on that dysfunction might be flawed, compromised or predisposed to risk even if disguised by acceptable levels of skill or performance.

91.  Remember that muscles do what they are told. If they are doing something you don’t like, tell them to do it differently: communicate to the muscle through repetition of posture and movement.

92.  We should make sure our methods always reflect our principles. It is easy to get caught up in methods, but those will change, improve or be replaced. Innovation, research, experience and expertise will always move us along to better methods, but we must always judge them against our principles. That is how we make sure the glitter is actually gold.

93.  Explore stretching from a movement pattern, not a body part approach.

94.  Current exercise programming has two inherent problems: Some movements are performed too frequently or with too much intensity, and some movements are used too infrequently or with too little intensity. The magic recipe is not universal; it is unique to each person’s movement map

95.  The number one risk factor for musculoskeletal injury is a previous injury, implying that our rehabilitation process is missing something.

96.  Mother Nature taught that movement, and it was expert teaching: basic, pure and unmolested by the interpretation of professional instructors. The practice was so pure, we didn’t know we were practicing. The rules and goals were clear: Here’s gravity; explore your world with your senses, and, by the way, an added benefit—your gift—will be movement.

97.  Every day, out-of-shape people attempt to regain fitness, lose weight and become more active. They assume if they just move more, they will start to move well.

98.  While some serious injuries are unavoidable and need surgical repair, we should do everything possible to build an injury buffer zone by training healthy movement. It is always better to bend than break—and strong agile bodies bend better than weak, stiff bodies.

99.  The neglect occurred the minute we started to train partial movement patterns instead of whole movement patterns, the minute we focused on quantity maximums and did not set a quality minimum. One might argue we need progressions, but breaking down movement patterns into isolated muscle training is not as effective as following a developmental progression.

100.  Original humans were on their feet for a large part of the day without leisure or entertainment opportunities designed around sitting in one place.

Thanks for your insight Gray!

Let’s Stop Blaming the Exercise

Today’s post is another masterpiece by Rob Panariello, a regular guest contributor to my blog. I am in complete agreement; we need to stop condemning specific exercises and place the responsibility on the professional. Exercise form matters. Intensity, volume, and frequency matter. Anatomy, history, and training status matter. And goals matter. There’s a time and place for everything!

Let’s Stop Blaming the Exercise

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York

Recently while both attending and presenting at a professional conference, during a particular speaker presentation a conversation (actually a debate) arose by some attendees regarding their opposition (actually condemning) of the utilization of specific weightroom exercises which were a portion of the content of the speaker’s presentation.  A “pro vs. con” utilization of the exercises presented discussion evolved and continued until the next presentation was ready to begin. If not for the next scheduled presentation, I am confident the discussion would have continued for a prolonged period of time. The “pro vs. con” weightroom exercise performance conversation resumed that evening with a number of strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches who were gathered at a local tavern where I also happened to be present.  During the lengthy conversation there were yet again, some very strong opinions with regard to the performance of these same weightroom exercises, and how these specific exercises, in the opinion of some, were unsafe and to be avoided like the plague.

This certainly wasn’t the first time I had been present to such a conversation. Throughout my 30 plus year career as a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach, I have witnessed many “era’s” of athletic enhancement performance training. For many years the evolvement of various types of exercise machines and the theme of “the next best thing to free weights” was all too common, nutritional supplements evolved, “odd implement” equipment entered the training arena, countless pieces of new equipment, training techniques, and programming continued to emerge. Books progressed to instructional DVD’s, and the establishment of the Internet provided an easy and accessible venue to educate, as well as to both promote and sell products. Undoubtedly many of these product developments and training progressions were beneficial to the industry.

During these decades I have also witnessed numerous claims and products that were preceded by the words “the best”, some may have been valid, some were surely unfounded, but one thing is for certain, these manifestations continue to this day. One reoccurring “theme” that has also “reared it’s head” throughout my career, and yet again at this conference, is the perpetual condemning of the performance of specific weightroom exercises that are to be avoided during the development of an athletic performance enhancement training program. These “con” sentiments are often followed with a declaration of the type of injury that may (will) occur if these weightroom exercises are utilized for the enhancement of the various physical qualities necessary for the participation in competitive athletics.

I recall a similar experience early in my career when reading that during the early 1960’s a Dr. Karl Kline was noted for his insurgency against the utilization of the squat exercise with claims this specific exercise was detrimental to the ligaments of the knee. Due to Dr. Klein’s efforts, the “fable” of the squat exercise performance resulting in an adverse effect to the ligaments of the knee continued to snowball for many years to come, including my initial years in practice, amongst coaches and medical professionals. During my time at the Sports Medicine, Performance, and Research Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City I successfully initiated the squat exercise as part of my ACL reconstruction protocol in 1986, and continue to do so to this day. In 1994 my associates and I published our research in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that was one of many studies performed by many other researchers and professionals throughout the years to demonstrate this particular squat “myth” to be unsubstantiated.

To this day continued concern regarding the performance of weightroom exercises such as the squat, overhead press, the Olympic lifts, leg press, knee extension, and many other specific exercises placing “excessive and undue stress” upon the low back (spine), shoulders, knees, and other various anatomical structures of the body has portrayed to be the topic of conversation at many conferences, publications, Internet sites and blogs, and yes, even dialog at the local tavern. Throughout all of these discussions I have often witnessed many a conversation of how the athlete’s injury was “due to the exercise” performed, yet I personally do not often hear, read, or witness the responsibly for the occurrence of such an unfortunate event as that of the S&C Professional. Certainly there are times an unfortunate injury may occur due to circumstances that are not within the control of the S&C Professional. However, these circumstances are of rare incidence. The S&C professional is responsible for establishing a controlled and safe training environment, as there is research documenting the incidence of weightroom injuries to be very low in comparison to the incidence of the various types of athletic injuries that may occur during athletic team practice or especially during game day competition. Therefore the argument of the unfortunate occurrence of an athlete’s training injury due to a specific strength or power type exercise performance is likely lower than what is perceived. Perhaps the strong “con” opinion of specific exercise(s) performance is established due to the history of a single specific incident, experience, and/or conversations with other S&C professionals, resulting in the “blame” for the training injury to be directed upon the specific exercise of performance at the time of the injury.

The question may then be asked if a specific strength or power type exercise performance is dangerous and responsible for a “high” number of weightroom injuries, why do so many athletes from various sports of participation perform these very same exercises without concern or incidence of injury? If these specific exercises are so dangerous, then why have they survived the stringent test of time as many of these “condemned” exercises have been utilized both safely and successfully for more than a century?



The Athlete’s Evaluation and Preparation


At the time an athlete is to initiate their participation in an athletic performance enhancement training program, an evaluation process (based on the individual coach’s preference) is necessary to determine the athlete’s strengths, deficits, needs, and establishment of goals. A medical history should also be included in this evaluation process for awareness of the athlete’s medical, injury, and surgical history so that appropriate training adaptations, if necessary, may be incorporated into the athletic enhancement training program to avoid an exacerbation or recurrence of the athletes previous injury/surgical history.


Once the athlete’s evaluation is completed, all of the information obtained is utilized for the development of the athlete’s performance enhancement training program based on the needs and goals that have been established. Prior to the initiation of their “primary” athletic enhancement training program, often times it is necessary to prepare the athlete for this “primary” training program via a programmed  “preparation period” of training to establish and/or enhance such essential physical qualities as mobility, stability, proficiency in exercise technique, strength, and work capacity. It certainly serves no purpose to load an athlete with a high intensity (i.e. weight, velocity, etc.) whom is not “equipped” to handle such an exercise intensity or volume of work. It also doesn’t make sense to disregard an exercise that may be beneficial for the athlete when all that is required is to simply prepare the athlete to ensure an eventual safe performance of the exercise in question. If an athlete cannot perform an appropriate and perhaps a beneficial exercise due to an inadequacy in a physical quality and/or anatomical deficit, is it more logical to disregard the exercise entirely or to resolve the inadequacy/deficit (i.e. via the preparation period) so that this valuable exercise may be incorporated into the athlete’s training program?

If neither an evaluation, or if deemed necessary, a preparation period of training is implemented by the S&C professional, and the athlete is injured during a specific exercise performance, is that the fault of the exercise executed at the time of injury?

The Selection of “Safe” Exercises


Every exercise has a place for consideration during the athletic performance enhancement training process. Some exercises may be deemed inappropriate and not be incorporated at all, but when determined to be appropriate, will have their place for utilization based upon the athlete’s presentation as determined at the time of the athlete’s evaluation. The evaluation will provide the information previously stated, to establish the appropriate exercise selection for the needs and goals of the athlete. The selection of some specific exercises may be employed more often than others, as there certainly are specific exercises that are considered to be the “foundation” of each S&C Professional’s training program(s). The “foundation” of exercises may vary from coach to coach as disparities in various program philosophies including exercise selection, certainly exists. However, isn’t this one way in which we as S&C Professionals learn from each other? If there was a “perfect” training program or “perfect” exercise wouldn’t we all be coaching exactly the same way?

The work of Hans Seyle as well as the work of others, have documented the necessity for the application of stress to be applied to the body for adaptation and (physical) enhancement to take place. The stress applied to the athlete must be of a high enough stimuli to disrupt the homeostasis of the body for sufficient adaptation of the body to take place. For this disruption to occur, the stress applied to the body must exceed the levels of stress to which the body is accustomed. Each specific exercise available for selection will place an emphasis of increased localized stress upon different anatomical regions of the body based on factors such as body posture and biomechanics of the exercise (movement) performance, the (anatomical) placement of the exercise resistance, and the velocity of exercise performance, to name a few. As an example, some exercises considered “safe” for the lumbar spine might “unload” the lumbar spine so to speak, yet place increased stress to the sacroiliac joint. An exercise considered to “unload” the knees, may place greater stress upon the hips and low back. An exercise considered safe for the shoulders (gleno-humeral joint) may prohibit the normal and necessary scapula-thoracic motion required during exercise performance, and the list can go on and on. Due to the necessary application of stress, all exercise performance encompasses an effect of both a risk and reward with regard to the (a) high stresses placed upon specific anatomical structures as well as (b) the diverse anatomical structures that may also be considered “unloaded” during the same exercise performance. When exercises are appropriately selected, programmed, and applied, the stress levels placed upon the body will  be suitable for the exercises performed during the training process. What is also true is that with inappropriate exercise selection, programming and stress application, some anatomical structures may receive unwarranted levels of inappropriate (excessively high) stress during exercise performance that may result in an undesirable outcome.

Truly safe exercise selections for performance are those exercises that are appropriately selected based on the athlete’s medical history, evaluation, and work capacity (preparation), which also include proper technical exercise execution. Specifically with regard to the process of athletic enhancement performance exercise selection and prescription, one must also remember to address the “big picture” and not only focus on one anatomical joint, structure, or muscle group.

Exercise Intensity


The exercise intensity may arise from a variety of applications. The weight (load) placed upon a bar, the velocity of the bar, run, or throw (i.e. maximal effort vs. tempo), as well as the height and/or distance of a jump (i.e. plyometrics), to name a few.  Appropriate exercise intensity is not only important to ensure “adaptation”, but is also essential to minimize the occurrence of a possible training injury. For example, as an athlete performs the squat exercise with an inappropriately programmed (excessively high) specific intensity (weight), to compensate for this excessive load, an unwarranted flexion (posture) of the lumbar spine may occur in an attempt to achieve a successful exercise performance. An athlete may also “arch” their back to compensate for an inappropriately prescribed heavy intensity during an overhead press or bench press performance as another postural “adaptation” in an attempt to ensure the same exercise success. As a possible consequence of this “postural compensation” during exercise performance, if an unfortunate injury happened to occur, is that the fault of the exercise performed? Who programmed the inappropriate high intensity to be lifted by the athlete, the S&C professional or the specific exercise that was performed at the time of the injury?

Exercise Volume

The exercise volume is probably the most significant training component that is responsible for excessive fatigue. The onset of fatigue may also result in consequences during the exercise performance. Exercise fatigue will negatively affect the body’s proprioception abilities resulting in a decrease in stability, a decrease in the proficiency of exercise technique/performance, as well as a decline in muscle force output. The undesirable effects of fatigue are well noted in athletics, i.e. there is a reason why there is a pitch count at all levels of baseball competition.

If the program design for the exercise performance volume is inappropriate (excessive) for the athlete, and at the time of an attempted specific exercise performance the athlete is overly fatigued, resulting in a change of the qualities listed above, and an ensuing injury occurs during exercise performance, is that the fault of the exercise performed at the time of injury? Who is responsible for prescribing and applying the exercise volume to be performed by the athlete, the S&C professional or the specific exercise performed at the time of injury?

The exercise performed surely does not retain a level of intelligence (possess a brain), or the ability to comprehend, think, or reason. Table 1 is a review of the capabilities of the S&C professional when compared to the specific exercise of performance.

Is the Exercise Performed Responsible for the Athlete’s Injury?


The S&C Professional has the unique responsibility to apply high levels of stress to the athlete for adaptation resulting in the enhancement of various physical qualities, to be performed in a safe and controlled environment as possible. During specific exercise performance these high levels of applied exercise stress also place high levels of stress upon various and specific anatomical structures of the body. If this were not true, why then would exercise performance (adaptation) improve? The “blame” for an injury that may occur during an athlete’s athletic enhancement training is often pointed to the specific exercise performed at the time of the injury. However one may be justified to inquire who prescribed and applied the (a) specific exercise to be performed at the time of injury (b) specific exercise intensity implemented, and (c) specific exercise volume executed during the actual exercise performance, the S&C professional or the exercise itself?


Throughout my career there have been countless S&C professionals whom I’ve met and as well as those of whom I have had long standing relations. My impression is that the majority of all of these professionals are very proficient in their occupation and take their responsibility very seriously. The S&C Professional has a very large diversity of exercises available for selection to their training program. Each specific exercise selection, when deemed appropriate, has its specific contribution to the athletic enhancement training program. These “selected” exercises (as well as all exercises), place an unaccustomed stress upon the athlete, thus all exercises utilized in training have both their risk and reward. As S&C Coaches we are the professionals who possess a level of intelligence, and unlike the specific exercise(s) performed, have the ability to contemplate, comprehend, analyze, instruct, and ultimately are the ones who are responsible for the prescription and application of the athletic performance enhancement training program to be performed. As any other professional in any other particular professional field of occupation, the S&C Professional is also required to assume the requirements and responsibilities for their occupation, as well as the accountability for the expectations of both their occupation and position held. When the unfortunate occurrence of an exercise performance training injury does occur, as an alternative to pointing the finger and the blame at the exercise performed at the time of the injury, perhaps the S&C Professional should leave their hand in their pocket and glance in the mirror.


  1. Hammil B, “Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(1) 53-57, 1994
  2. Hootman JM, Dick R, and Agel J, “Epidemiology of Collegiate Injuries for 15 Sports: Summary and Recommendation for Injury Prevention Initiatives” Journal of Athletic Training, 42(2) 311 – 319, 2007.
  3. Panariello RA, Backus SI, and Parker JW, “The Effect of the Squat Exercise on Anterior-Posterior Knee Translation in Professional Football Players”, The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 22(6) 768 – 773, 1994.
  4. Selye H, The Stress of Life, New York McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 1956