As I continue journeying through the web of training modalities, I find myself becoming more enlightened, but even more confused. Strength and Conditioning is an industry dominated by extreme pendulum swings. We are excited by each new training revolution that seemingly trumps the previous. New modalities tend to saturate our training programs immediately, replacing others, instead of being used in complement. Eventually, a greater understanding occurs and the pendulum settles in its appropriate spot. While this may sound like the opposite of what the process should be, I believe it inevitably serves to benefit our world of performance enhancement.
This process is more evident now than ever. Strength and conditioning coaches continue to blend scopes of practice with other members of the support staff as we become more knowledgeable, passionate, and critical to an athlete’s well-being. We are in a proverbial renaissance of performance enhancement training, with some thinking they have found the answer, while many lacking the perspective necessary to realize there is none, but rather the continued pursuit of greater understanding.
I am glad I can be a part of this movement. Recently, my journey through the rabbit hole has taken me into the realm of primal human movement. With training modalities and concepts such as PRI (Postural Restoration Institute), FMS (Functional Movement Screening), DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Training), Movement Restoration Project, Animal Flow, FRC (Functional Range Conditioning), Yoga, etc. becoming common language amongst strength coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists, I found myself in a competition of understanding where I did not know the rules or even if I had the credentials necessary to play.
I have been minimally learning and experimenting with several of these modalities for most of this past school year. I have dabbled in crawling and rolling patterns because of my experience with the FMS. I have worked with wonderful PT’s that have enlightened me on concepts related to DNS. I have had the pleasure of diving into the twisted mind of Pat Davidson who has confused me even more when it comes to PRI (Don’t worry Pat, I do have a desire to not be confused). I have practiced Yoga sporadically for a few years, and have made it a greater part of my cornucopia of training in the past year. I have watched as Stuart Mcgill eloquently explains some of America’s misinterpretation of many training practices, most of which revolve around our desire for MORE and, in some cases, our unnecessary use of added resistance. All of this has lead me to a mindset conducive to first empowering body control and ownership through movement, manipulation, transition, breathing, activation, relaxation, pressure creation and release, etc. Instead of only thinking of myself as a practitioner meant to add external resistance to movements as my means of performance enhancement, I have, as is our common practice, reverted to techniques that have been around longer than any of us, but only now are finding their way back into our practice.
Enter in what my athletes know as Movement Flow. The fall semester was spent primarily experimenting by blending together primal movements and implementing them into my “warm-ups”. After such a positive response, in conjunction with a desire by some coaches to contract out a Yoga teacher for in-season recovery sessions, I began conducting voluntary Movement Flow classes throughout the spring semester. In my short career, I have never had a more positive vocal response and appreciation towards a training modality.
Movement Flow is influenced by many body weight oriented training practices. It contains common primal movements such as crawling and rolling. It contains breathing practices over various movements from things I have learned from PRI. It contains movements I have stolen from guys like Dr. Andreo Spina, Dewey Nielsen, and Ido Portal (on a much more amateur level at this point of course). It contains movement practices from Yoga in that we own proper positions, activation patterns, and transitions. All ingredients are sequentially blended based on concepts from DNS. In other words, we begin by performing movements in supine, transition into sidelying, then prone, then kneeling, squatting, and finally standing. That is the overall map, with the beauty being that so much of this happens organically and it is continuous. Yes there is a plan, but there are so many times during which we freestyle our way into things that might feel right at the time, or are desired by the athletes based on a challenge they want to conquer, or a movement that they must do to feel good or ready at the time. We get so engrained into sets and reps, that we forget the attention and excitement we can achieve through being unexpected, spontaneous, and engaged enough to assess what is right at that moment.
To understand where I am coming from, the following is a demonstration of a flow session performed as a total body “warm-up” that takes approximately 7 min depending on your time spent in each movement.
I have learned so much from implementing Movement Flow. With our primary role being educators, I have learned that this modality has allowed me to educate my athletes more than any other technique. They now have a greater understanding of what high level pinpoint activation means, how to be proficient at transitioning from one position or movement to another, how to breathe properly during a highly intense, uncomfortable movement, and, most importantly, being humbled by the challenge of one’s own body weight.
PRI talks about the importance of position. A slight change in the position of a muscle can cause a cascade of negative biomechanical effects. Now take that position and add external resistance, and we move towards facilitating a problem instead of enhancing a training quality. Technique may sometime seem subjective in our industry, but the reality is each time we accept technique leaks, there is a negative event taking place somewhere within the body. We see this during so many of our extension activities. We know a lot of our athletes are camping out in improper pelvic positions, most of the time locked into extension. Movement Flow provides for a means of potential relief from future or existing position flaws through understanding. Education related to understanding neutrality by owning crawling patterns, warrior poses, or simply learning how to traverse a range of flexion never explored before through a cat-cow exercise, forward bend, eagle pose, happy baby with breathing and posterior tilt promotion, etc. They began to know why it’s important, how we get there, and how we control it. It has played a critical role in improving our resisted movements. Applying this to a clean or deadlift, we have seen athletes with the greatest improvement not being in the lift itself, but being driven by the increased skill in creating tension and pressure through grip and breath or driving an activation pattern through specific joint manipulations to allow certain things to stablize or work, while other things are spared from being used as drivers.
Coaching in group settings, I have found this to provide a successful means of allowing learning and benefit to be had by most. There is greater focus vs. other warm ups structured into separated exercises and specified reps. The emphasis on transitions and continuity forces even greater attention and skill throughout. Transitions force the athlete to maintain so much of the tension, stability, and integrity we seem to always lose during our lifts. The higher threshold of the movements also makes for the applicability to mimic more of what is coming, greater than a mini band walk or half-kneeling ankle mob can provide.
As is the case with a renaissance, I do not know where this may go or the inevitable place for the pendulum, but I believe it is important. Ido Portal talks about how people really do have that desire to move around, invert yourself, crawl on the ground, lift, climb, brachiate, twist, and have that freedom of self-dominance. We know that we have to challenge our athletes in so many ways. Some of those ways make sense, but some, if we are being honest, do not have any bearing on whether or not that athlete will be better at his or her sport. Make no mistake, I still implement higher threshold movements that utilize added external resistance…for those who can do them and for those who need them. I simply believe that dominance of certain primal movements should happen first as assessments or baselines, while others can happen in conjunction serving as warm-ups or advanced challenges. For my colleagues who may say this is not at a level stimulating enough for a high level athlete, I say that I have found it to serve to enhance my externally resisted movements immensely. Movement Flow is movement education at its finest.
Below is a more elaborate example of what occurs during a full 60 min session that happens during voluntary classes or as recovery sessions for some teams. This is only some of the movements that occur, with many others occurring depending on the experience of the group I am with.