Exercise Order & Selection

Exercise order and selection are such a basic piece of programming, however, I feel that a lot of people in the field disregard these fundamental pieces.  Walk into any commercial gym, “box”, or even some strength and conditioning facilities and you will most likely witness clear violations of physiology.  In some instances this may be warranted, like when working with athletes or individuals with high training ages.  The bottom line is smart planning with your clientele will always pay off in the end.

The Rules

The rules are really quite simple and almost come off as common sense.  Would it make sense to do Hang Cleans at the end of a workout when you’re tired and have a limited energy reserve? Probably not.  Programming something like a clean at the end of a workout for a novice lifting population will simply increase the likelihood of injury.  As professionals in the field we should be aiming at total safety first.


Assuming that we have gone through an initial evaluation with our client to see if any deficiencies exist, our warm-up should include any correctives to address these deficiencies.  This section will include soft tissue mobilization, mobility work, turning on muscles that we want to use, and a dynamic warm-up that will mimic a lot of the movements that will be done in the session to come.  Simply getting on a bike and “warming up” for 5 minutes is not the same, but at least it will increase the body temperature–better than nothing, but very inefficient.

Why the Correctives?

We have to keep in mind that the most important exercises need to be done first in the workout.  Correcting any movement deficiencies is extremely important to our well-being especially if we will be lifting weights or performing anything in life from athletic events to simply walking our dog.  The bottom line is, that these corrective exercises are laying the foundation for our movement going forward.  Some will say that corrective exercises really aren’t that demanding and that it is more of a filler, and in some instances that may be correct, but I would definitely argue that if we are making someone do a corrective exercise for a range of motion they weren’t able to get in, especially because of motor control or positional faults, that it is extremely demanding for the individuals nervous system to try and coordinate this new-found position.

Owning the Deep Squat

Now the Movement

Depending on the time of year, the next piece of the puzzle is going to be to actually move.  This is the section that we can put our sprint progressions or lateral movement progressions in.  Things like agility ladder, wall sprints, partner chases, etc will be found here.  This is totally appropriate for athletes trying to get better for a sporting event.  But wait, everyone is an athlete, right?  That is the truth, but it may not be the most intelligent idea to make our 40+ year old clients run sprints or cutting maneuvers.  One could absolutely do that, however, the risk-reward ratio just isn’t that great in my opinion.  Instead, we can program in some sled marches and weighted carries.  I will do this for the younger population too, but, way more appropriate for our older adults than sprinting and cutting would be.

Here is also where you will find plyometrics, again, depending on the time of year.  Bounding, medicine ball throws, hurdles, etc are all good examples.  Be smart about programming for your older client base!  Choosing a lower impact plyometric may be a much more intelligent option then having them do single leg hurdle hops, just saying.


Why do I keep saying: “depending on the time of year”?  In the offseason and preseason phases it makes perfect sense to ramp up the intensity over time.  While in-season, the athletes will be practicing on the field, ice, or court and will not need any further work there.  The coaches will be doing sprint or running drills as they see fit. The coaches will also make the athletes live in game-like situations.  That is the best possible sport-specific activity an athlete can do.  That is not to say that we will not be lifting in-season, because we absolutely will.  More on that to come (Part II).

Mobility vs. Stability: Part 1

The topic of mobility and stability seems to be a very popular one.  In the field we have a group of individuals who claim there is way too much corrective exercise taking place; and, on the other side we have a group of individuals who will spend an entire hour performing correctives.  So the question is, what do you need and how much time should you be spending on it?  The easy answer is you need both and you should spend time on whatever needs correcting, but don’t forget about what you’re training for in the first place.

Mobility and stability are at the crux of neurological physical therapy, the foundation.  In physical therapy, it is taught that everyone first needs mobility everywhere.  Without mobility one can never truly gain proper stability.  Once mobility is acquired we can now focus on stability, and then follow the continuum through dynamic stability and skill acquisition.

If we follow Coach Boyle, co-owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning as well as many others, and physical therapist Gray Cook, the co-founder of Functional Mobility Systems, we will know of the joint-by-joint approach.  Basically the joint-by-joint approach explains that there are certain joints that need mobility and certain joints that need stability in the functional model.  The hip for example should have three planes of mobility and the knee should have stability acting like a hinge joint.


When starting an initial evaluation with a new athlete, we should include some sort of movement screen that looks at the quality of movement at each joint.  Based on this knowledge we can assess what kind of corrective exercise is necessary.  For instance, if we are going to program an athlete to perform any overhead exercise, an overhead press or snatch for example, we should first make sure that the athlete can actively get their arm into that range without a weight first.  If they cannot, they will then sacrifice the stability of the necessary joints to attain the mobility they cannot already achieve.  If they are lacking shoulder flexion at the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) the will then subconsciously look to the next joint–scapulothoracic or thoracic (shoulder blade or upper back respectively)–to get their arm to get into the fully flexed overhead position.  This will create a cascade of issues both up and down the line like hyperextension in the lower back or flexion of the neck just to maintain their body within it’s base of support so the individual does not lose balance, which may also happen.


Another example, if the ankle joint does not have the proper amount of dorsiflexion (think toes toward shin bone) there is no way that they can achieve a proper squat without lifting their heel.  Simply coaching the athlete to keep their weight in their heels is ineffective in this instance.

Stability is necessary for the muscles performing an action to have a platform in which to push against.  In the case of the shoulder joint, the shoulder blade and it’s articulation with the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) is a stable joint in which the muscles of the rotator cuff, the trapezius, the deltoids, biceps, and triceps, etc. all anchor to the shoulder blade.  If the shoulder blade doesn’t have proper stability then we can see a whole host of issues that will be created including rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, trigger points throughout the upper traps just to name a few.

The complexity is in the instance when a stable joint must become mobile.  In life events and sport, sometimes it is necessary for that very same shoulder joint to move around to create a good angle for the shoulder to move.  The point is that the shoulder blade remain stable when a demand is in fact imposed upon it.

shoulder blade upward rotation and protraction

More on this post soon to come

Why a Minimalist Solution for an Active Population?

There has been a popular movement as of late regarding the minimalist-type shoe for cross-training, sports performance, and general public use.  Like many products released for consumer use, it falls under the “shoot, ready, aim” category where the shoe brand will say that they have done numerous research studies (totally unbiased) and claim wonders for the near future—remember sketcher shape-ups??
Personally, I like to have my athletes choose a minimalist type footwear for their performance training, depending on the structure of their foot.  Mostly, I prefer to have them use the minimalist footwear with single-leg work, mobility/stability drills, and for movement prep.  The impact is lower on the system, and it also enhances the individual’s proprioception through the lower extremity.  I’ve written a previous article about this here.
In a recent research article released this June (2015), researchers were studying the acute effects of footwear on jumping performance.  There was a difference in the peak propulsion, horizontal ground reaction force, average muscle activity, propulsive duration, and duration of muscle activity during countermovement.  But, participants reported feeling more comfortable in cushioned shoes…shocking (1).
In August 2014, a study was done looking at mechanics of running on the foot using barefoot or shod conduits.  Bottom line of this research, when barefoot, individuals demonstrated more range of motion.  Not only did they demonstrate greater range of motion, it was range of motion in ideal ranges.  At foot strike, it is optimal for the foot to be pronated so that it is flexible and can absorb the impact forces (2).
May 2015, a study looking at loading response in barefoot vs. shod running found that there is less hip adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop at impact and at a later point.  Increased adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop is associated with knee injury giving another great reason to introduce barefoot style training to our athletes (3).
Many of the studies written about barefoot/minimalist training versus supported training/running are weak at best, in violation of some sort of error typically.  The studies I’ve cited here have a fair number of participants, however, it doesn’t fix the many extraneous variables that may have an impact.
Even with all of this information presented, I am not an extremist and don’t believe that it is all or none.  For instance, if you work on your feet all the time, maybe wearing some sort of support on your feet is a great idea.  If you’re a competing powerlifter or Olympic lifter, wearing appropriate shoes for your sport is necessary (outside the movement prep).  If your feet ache, wear some sort of support to relieve the soreness, just don’t come to rely on the support as the potential for the small muscles of the feet weakening, therefore, increasing the potential for injury.