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"The Mistake": Adding Strength to Dysfunction | Articles | Matt Johnson's Strength Coach Concepts

"The Mistake": Adding Strength to Dysfunction

  • Squatting heavy when one can't perform a deep body weight squat.
  • Benching when one can't perform a pushup.
  • Lunging when one hasn't performed a split squat.

These are all examples of potentially adding strength to dysfunction.  Quite possibly one of the most detrimental mistakes you could make as a coach toward your athletes overall performance.  Let's face it, we have all done it during our career.  I understand, "What people want is results!"  The strength coach who is under pressure from the coaching staff to show the teams training improvements.  The weight loss client who desires that "curl up and die" workout to get their figure back in time for beach season.  The room of high school football players congratulating their teammate for just completing a squat with 10 degrees of knee flexion.   

Gray Cook has said numerous times, "Don't add strength to dysfunction...if you can't squat don't squat."  Certainly a powerful statement with a lot to be said.  Like anything else, I have given this some thought. To start, lets use the push up and bench press to improve our understanding.  Both modalities possess an upper body and a core component.  However, the core component of the push up is different than that of the bench press due to the muscle activations and neural integrations associated with the open and closed chain movement patterns of each exercise.  So, before jumping to heavy bench.  Dominate planks and push up variations.  Waste of time?  Ehhh... I think not.  Jumping immediately to the "show stopper" movements and spending less time on the "rudimentary" lifts will just result in a lot of advil.  To cure your athletes injuries and your splitting headaches.  

It all boils down to risk or benefit.  Loading poor movement patterns will only result in injury due to the various degrees of compensation at all levels (osteo, articular, muscular and neurological).  It is important to remember that the difficult or "pretty" exercises are not always the most beneficial.  In a number of cases, it's the simple exercises that don't "reinvent the wheel" that possess the greatest amount of worth.

How to Prevent "The Mistake"

If you have noticed, I have given this occurrence (adding strength to dysfunction) the title "The Mistake" due to its commonality amongst coaches, practitioners and therapists.  The following three steps when followed correctly, will help anyone avoid adding strength to dysfunction.

1.  Test:  This is the foundation to preventing against committing "The Mistake".  Perform the FMS and an upper/lower extremity Y balance test.  Period, nothing more nothing less.  Testing paints the picture and places it on display for all to view.  

2.  Teach:  Teach your body how to integrate, communicate and function in every dimension. This is where exercise selection comes into play.  Some call it "Patterning" or "Succession" which I agree with.  I prefer the term "Smart".  First, take a movement.  For example, the bench press.  Now create a sequence.  Such as superman>>>plank>>>hip band assisted push up>>>>push up-feet elevated>>>push up>>>bench press.  Spend time treating dysfunction by re educating your system with primitive patterns.

Primitive Exercises: Re educate what you once learned
Dysfunctional pattern with external load "The Mistake"  If you cant squat deep, don't think about squatting heavy.  

3.  Train:  Adopt your training sequence and implement it into your training program.  Link it together over the upcoming weeks and then introduce the "pretty" lifts.  



Mobility:  The underlying ingredient

Two reasons why we add strength to dysfunction, uncertainty due to poor assessments or poor treatment methodology when found apparent.  The second reason holds a relationship with this sub section.  Take the following scenario into account.  You implement FMS and YBT.  Find dysfunctional characteristics but you are lost for how to begin treatment or succession.  Its simple.... mobility.  Woah, not so fast.  It is important to know what anatomical areas warrant mobility work before you begin. From head to toe, each major complex is listed below for your reference. 

  • Gleno-humeral- Yes
  • Scapula- No
  • T-Spine- Yes
  • Lumbar Spine- Stability
  • Hip- Mobility
  • Knee- Stability
  • Ankle- Yes, sagittal 

Closing Thoughts

When a dysfunctional pattern is present, treat it with mobility and correct exercise succession.  If you test using the FMS or YBT and an athlete tests at an acceptable level (2 + FMS), still spend time on mobility work and introduce "starting strength" movements to maintain their current level of function.  In hindsight, the odds are low that you will come across an individual who possess impeccable movement patterns.  Therefore, avoid making "The Mistake" and use a sensible approach. Test, Teach and Train!

Yours in Performance,





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