Mike Robertson recently released his new “Complete Core Training” product, and is offering it at $50 off this week only.

Complete Core Training System

As I mentioned to those of you on my newsletter list, I had a chance to review Complete Core Training and thought it was excellent. It’s a great blend of the “whys” and “hows” so you have a complete system of how to train the core, but also know why the system was developed.

I have a lot of respect for Mike. In fact, over the last 5 years, I’ve read his work more consistently than anyone else in the field. He’s constantly looking for ways to improve his programs, and (importantly) he actually trains people on a daily basis, so you know his ideas have been real-world tested.

I asked Mike to write a guest post on the 3 biggest core training mistakes most athletes make, which he graciously agreed to. Check out the post below, and if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below!

3 Biggest Core Training Mistakes Most Athletes Make by Mike Robertson

For 16 years now, I’ve trained athletes of all shapes and sizes.

From little Johnny, the kid who will never play high school sports, up to pro athletes in the NFL, NBA and MLS, I’d like to think I’ve seen a lot of good (and bad) training.

It should be obvious, but an athlete can’t train like a bodybuilder.

They can’t just do random core training exercises and hope it will carry over to sport.

As such, here are three of the most common mistakes I see athletes making with their training. Enjoy!

Mistake #1 – Not Using Contextual Core Training Exercises

Now I know what you’re thinking here:

What does “contextual” even mean?

Contextual simply means that the body postures and positions you’re using for your core training have some carryover to sport.

Sure, there’s probably a time and place for general work where you’re in a prone position, lying on your back, etc. But at some point in time, you need to get comfortable being in positions that are similar to your sport.

In sport you’re often in a split- or parallel-stance position. From this posture, can you effectively control your abdominals?

Core Training-Lateral 1:2 Kneeling Cable Chop

Lateral 1/2 Kneeling Cable Chop

If not, you’re missing the boat. You need core and pelvic control to get the hips in the right position.

If you can’t control these areas, that inability to load your hips will lead to excess (or inappropriate) stress in the abdominals, lower back, and hips.

So developing stability and control in specific positions is crucial. But what other mistakes are we making?

Mistake #2 – You’re Not Bridging the Gap

Too often, we assume that if we’re including core work in our program that it will automatically carryover to other aspects of our training.

You might be crushing your core with random, isolated exercises, but we can’t assume that it will magically carry over to speed, power and strength development.

Using contextual exercises is a start, but from there, we need to further bridge the gap by taking those postures and positions into the rest of our training.

For example, I love reactive med ball work in a tall- or half-kneeling position where you rapidly throw and catch a medicine ball. It’s great for creating stability and control, as well as developing a small degree of upper body power.

But from there, we need to take that and flesh it out. We need to make it a true power exercise, versus a lower level stability and control exercise.

This is where you take that rotational med ball throw and make sure that you’re able to control and appropriate position your core in a high speed/high power/high force environment.

Core Training-Split Stance Med Ball Scoop

Split Stance Med Ball Scoop

It’s just a standard progression, but it’s something I find many coaches ignore. Their athletes look great when they’re doing the low load/low velocity work, but when it’s time to bring it all together, their athletes fall apart.

Think of this as a slow evolution. Dial in the stability and control first, especially in postures and positions that focus on appropriate core position and control.

Then, move to bigger exercises, but continue to reinforce proper posture and mechanics.

Make sure they’re controlling their core and pelvis.

Make sure they’re loading the hips (and not the lower back).

And as this is all starts to smooth out, take your foot off the brakes and let them be athletic!

Mistake #3 – Not Including Alternating Work in the Program

I’ll admit my bias up front: I’m a huge fan of PRI. And one thing that PRI talks about incessantly in their work is the concept of alternating function.

We know that the lumbar spine has a limited degree of rotation available to it. In fact, the entire lumbar spine combined only has 10-15 degrees of rotary capacity!

So while our goal should be to maintain that lumbar rotary capacity, the real end game here is better rotation up top.

Athletes need to be able to rotate, and some of the primary areas to unlock this are the hips, shoulders and thorax. Whether you are running, skating or swimming, the ability to effectively rotate your thorax is crucial for keeping you healthy and improving performance.

I’m a huge fan of half-kneeling and split-stance work my athletes, because I know that core and hip stability are crucial. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the end game.

The end game is to give them stability and control through the hips, pelvis and core, while giving them the ability to rotate freely up top.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

As you can see, my hips are square throughout, but I’m driving rotation through my thorax.

One of my favorite cues (which I believe I stole from Mike Cantrell) is to have the client/athlete focus on their sternum, or chest bone. Imagine there’s a laser on there, and you are trying to point the laser to the right and left.

Doing this will ensure that they are getting their rotation through the thorax.


I don’t claim to have all the answers for what ails athletes, but these are three of the most common mistakes I see.

If you can create more context with your programs, if you can bridge the gap from isolated to integrated movements, and if you can incorporate more alternating activities into your training sessions, I think you’ll be light years ahead of the competition.

Now get in the gym and put in some work!

All the best


Complete Core Training System

Click here for more information >> Complete Core Training

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Remember, the $50 sale ends this week. If you’re thinking about picking up a copy, now’s the time! Complete Core Training

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Get Ultimate Hockey Transformation Now!

Year-round age-specific hockey training programs complete with a comprehensive instructional video database!

Ultimate Hockey Transformation Pro Package-small

Get access to your game-changing program now >> Ultimate Hockey Transformation

“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University

Last week, I hopped on the phone with Joe Heiler to do an interview for the 2016 Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar. If you haven’t signed up for the series, go do that now. It’s completely FREE, and every year the speakers deliver great content.

Register here: 2016 Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar

As is almost always the case in these types of interviews, Joe sent over a list of topics for us to dig through…and as is ALWAYS the case…I got hopped up on coffee and ended up going on a long-winded rant about hockey hip injuries, what imaging does and does not tell you, how I approach the screening and program design process, and the outcome of another case study of a kid limping into our facility convinced he needed surgery immediately.

That is to say, we didn’t get an opportunity to talk about speed and power training, topics I’m equally passionate about. With that in mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a few important considerations for hockey-specific speed and power training.

Hockey-Specific Speed and Power Training

Hockey is really an interesting sport because it lives across the entire strength-speed to speed-strength, or what I refer to as the high-load low-velocity to low-load high-velocity continuum.

Skating in open ice and shooting are two examples of where training the middle to higher velocity ends of that continuum are really beneficial, but when players are delivering or accepting contact or battling for pucks in corners, they really need the high load, low-velocity end as well.


Image Credit: Here

From a training standpoint, we’ve always used sprints from a variety of starting positions, plyometrics, med ball throws and Olympic lift variations as part of our speed and power efforts. If you view these purely from a speed of movement standpoint, Olympic lift variations will fall closer to the strength-speed/power side of the curve, plyometrics will live in the power/speed-strength area, and med ball throws and sprint work will fall closer to the speed end of the continuum.

Side Standing Med Ball Scoop. Video taken from Ultimate Hockey Transformation

Obviously, the load you use for all of these exercises, but especially the Olympic lifts, can shift where you are on the curve. With the O-lifts, if you’re near your max load for any given lift and rep range, you’ll be closer to the strength-speed side of the curve.



Similarly, different starting positions can slightly shift the emphasis. For example, 1/2 kneeling starts require more force to get up and out of the start, and will therefore be slower than standing variations (2-point, side standing, etc.). This isn’t a bad thing, but if your training day is geared toward maximal velocity and 1/2 kneeling positions look slow, it may be worth shifting to a standing position.

Lateral 1/2 Kneeling Start. Video taken from Ultimate Hockey Transformation



Both of these variations have a place in off-season programs, but this version will lead to quicker initial accelerations. Video taken from Ultimate Hockey Transformation



Top End Speed Work isn’t Hockey-Specific

The nature of skating requires a few special considerations. It’s easy to see that hockey requires a lot of movement in the frontal and transverse planes, so training should reflect that.

It might not be quite as obvious, but the ground contact times are drastically longer (leading to a larger impulse –  the cumulative amount of force produced over the duration of a stride) in skating compared to running.

I’ve talked a lot about why I don’t think the overwhelming majority of ladder drills should be considered speed training for anyone, but especially hockey players. Moving the feet really quickly without moving the body very far is not speed training.

But I also don’t think top end speed sprinting drills, which are characterized by more of a rapid sweeping motion, are even remotely specific to the long duration pushing motion of skating.

Appreciate both the cadence of Bolt’s strides as well as how long his foot is on the ground

Note how much longer Larkin’s skate is in contact with the ice compared to Bolt’s foot, and how much slower the cadence is.
Longer duration and max speed sprints carry a higher injury risk for almost every athlete, but hockey players are typically terrible runners, so the risk of something breaking is even higher.

Shorter duration acceleration drills are much more specific to the hockey stride and also carry a drastically reduced injury concern. I can count on exactly zero hands the number of quad and hip flexor strains I’ve seen in sprints under 20 yards.

Programming Considerations

One of the biggest changes we’ve made since I first started is we’ve moved to more a block periodization model from a more concurrent model a few years ago. This simply means that if we have a training phase or training day within a phase with the primary target of influencing speed-strength, the entire training day we’ll be designed around that quality, so we may use methods like contrast training and low load lifts performed for as many reps as possible within a set time frame.

We’ll also keep our conditioning consistent with the energy system focus of the day, so athletes may be running series of short sprints with long rest intervals, whereas in the past there wasn’t that level of continuity. In the past, players may have had a high dose of sprints or med ball throws in the beginning, then grinded through some heavy lifts, and then, depending on the time of the off-season, done more lactic-based conditioning.

The block periodization approach sends a clearer message to your body about how you want it to adapt and therefore will lead to larger increases in the target quality. This is especially important for athletes with a higher training age that are passed the “everything works” phase of their development.

Wrap Up

Hockey challenges an exceptionally broad range of athleticism. When developing speed and power, it’s important to consider the full spectrum of the force-velocity curve. Specific areas of the curve can be targeted using a block periodization approach, based on the specific needs of the individual. Off-ice speed training programs should be designed with a full understanding of the uniqueness of the skating stride and the specificity that will lead to the best on-ice transfer, as well as the methods that carry the lowest injury risk.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Take the guess work out of training for speed this off-season and start using a proven program now: Ultimate Hockey Transformation

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Get Ultimate Hockey Transformation Now!

Year-round age-specific hockey training programs complete with a comprehensive instructional video database!

Ultimate Hockey Transformation Pro Package-small

Get access to your game-changing program now >> Ultimate Hockey Transformation

“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University

Throughout my career, I’ve had an opportunity to observe and work alongside a lot of great coaches. One of the many reasons I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity to work with USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team is that it was through this work that I was introduced to Sarah Cahill. As with athletes, every coach has his or her own special areas of expertise. Over the 4 years we’ve worked together, Sarah has become both a great friend, and a constant source of inspiration and education.

Sarah Cahill-USA Hockey Olympics

Sarah at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Sarah could very well be the world’s leading expert in the “art of coaching” and more specifically, coach-athlete relationship building. She has the unique ability to bring out the best in other people, and more importantly, to inspire athletes to want to bring out the best in themselves.

Through a few months of persistent insistence, I was able to convince Sarah to share some of her expertise with us. Enjoy!

3 Proven Strategies to Get Athlete Buy-In

Have you ever coached a group of athletes or clients and left the session feeling like something was off?

How about meeting with a coach or parent and feeling like you were talking in two completely different directions and were never able to find common ground?

Creating buy in, regardless of whether it’s with an athlete, client, parent, or coach is one of the toughest parts of our job as strength and conditioning coaches. But it can also be one of the most rewarding and effective ways to unlock the potential of others, and to discover people’s inner motivations.

Here are 3 proven strategies to create buy in with those that you work with and get more out of every session.

1) Search for opportunities for 1:1 interactions

Problem: When working with a large group of athletes it can be difficult to provide each athlete with individualized attention without:

  1. Avoiding other athletes
  2. Creating blind spots and
  3. Making others feel as though you are showing favoritism.

Solution: During the warm-up or before the workout begins is an excellent opportunity to seek out brief 1:1 interactions.

When the group arrives try to triage the room and seek out those that appear disinterested, those that are new to the team, or approach returners whom you already have great relationships with.

Kneel down with those athletes and try to strike up a conversation by starting with an open-ended question.

Make a point of having different interactions with different athletes everyday. 

At the end of the workout, head back into your office and pick up a note book to jot down any information you want to remember about your daily conversations with those athletes: their sister just left for ___ college, they just got a new puppy named ____, their family member passed away and the funeral is on _____ date etc.

These notes may provide you with an opportunity to get to know your athletes and revisit certain conversations weeks later.

Personally, this approach and these conversations have led to some of the greatest insights about my athletes, helped strengthen my relationships with them, and thus led to much more “buy in.”

2) Create Consistent Messaging

Problem: Often times we are coaching our athletes in conjunction with other strength coaches, interns, or sport coaches, which may lead to confusion.

There is no faster way to lose credibility in the eyes of your athletes than to provide them with a different message than other coaches you are working with. We’ve all found ourselves in the scenario of having just coached an athlete and having that athlete turn to us and say that’s not what Coach “X” told me.

View More: http://brittanyhydephotography.pass.us/sc-strength

Solution: One of the best ways to create buy-in with athletes is to get on the same page as the other professionals you are working with so that your messages are consistent.

This may mean attending extra meetings with the sport coaches, attending more sport practices to learn sport-specific language and messaging, or being more aware of others in the weight room.

For example, try assigning different roles to your interns or assistant coaches, where one coach can be assigned to provide positive messaging to your athletes, another coach can be assigned to survey the athletes and document exactly what weight they are using and how difficult the exercise was, etc.

Finally you could assign one intern/coach to focus in on the specifics of one exercise that day and getting really specific with your coaching cues.

Assigning specific roles allows you to give your coaches very specific directions on how you want them to communicate to the athletes, minimizing the risk of them saying something inconsistent with your message.

Consistent messaging will strengthen your credibility as a staff with those that you work with, minimize athlete frustration, and ultimately lead to much more effective sessions.

3) Try the 1-6-5 Approach

Problem: You do not have 24/7 of your athletes’ time in the week. The final strategy for effective athlete “buy-in” is something I recently heard in an interview with Dr. Roy Sugarman, author of Motivation For Coaches and Personal Trainers and Director of Sports Psychology for EXOS, during a great episode of the “Coach your Best” podcast by Jeremy Boone.

In the podcast, Dr. Sugarman introduced what he calls the 1-6-5 Approach to mental performance. This approach is something I try to emulate as I believe it is an incredibly important ingredient for athlete buy-in. The basic premise of this approach is that there are 168 hours in a week, and most coaches get to work with their athletes three days a week for 1 hour. This means you have a presence in their lives for 3 hours a week, and for the remaining 165 hours they are on their own.

The question is what are those athletes and clients doing during those 165 hours? Often times as coaches we are asking for our athletes to make small changes, but for most people change is incredibly difficult. It is during those 165 hours that our clients and athletes may be making choices that directly contradict our recommendations.

Solution: Therefore, to create the greatest amount of buy-in with our athletes we must find ways to have a presence with our athletes during the 165 hours.  For example, in my work with the USA Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team, we send our athletes daily surveys to fill out every morning. These surveys have been incredibly informative and are another effective tool to continue to have a strong presence during the 165 hours.

Another effective tool in maintaining a daily presence is to send a “random” (but calculated) athlete a text or e-mail just to check in. The true magic and when the greatest amount of buy-in takes place when we find ways to inspire our athletes to want to make changes for themselves.

Wrap Up

If we always remember to work towards the 165 hours by creating authentic relationships with our athletes through 1:1 interactions, consistent messaging, tasking them with things to think about when they’re not with us, and by personally checking in during the week, we are maintaining a strong presence in their lives and showing each athlete that we are by their side at all times.

As a result, when your athletes are faced with those difficult decisions about going out drinking with friends, or staying home to get a good night of rest, they will be better prepared to make the right decision.

Hopefully these strategies are helpful or reinforce what is you already know. Coach on and continue to change lives!

-Sarah Cahill

Sarah Cahill is the Site Director of InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW, Kendall Square) and a Strength and Conditioning Coach for USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team. Prior to joining ICW, Sarah spent time as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University, as the Head Performance Specialist at the Core Performance Center, and as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at University of Oklahoma.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Get Optimizing Movement Now!

“…one of the best DVDs I’ve ever watched”
“A must for anyone interested in coaching and performance!”

Optimizing Movement DVD Package

Click here for more information >> Optimizing Movement

I say this every year, but once again my friend Joe Heiler from Sports Rehab Expert is putting together an awesome teleseminar series with some of the world’s top professionals in sports rehabilitation and performance training known as the 2016 Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar.

Sports Rehab Expert

The series starts this coming Tuesday (March 8th) at 8pm EST, and will feature a new guest speaker each week. The best part is that the interviews are completely FREE.

Each Tuesday Joe will email you a link where you can catch the interviews. You don’t need to be online at the time of the call to get access to it. The interviews will be recorded and available for another 2 weeks from that point.

I like these interviews because they always dive into a lot of content; they’re not just glorified sales pitches. I actually have a playlist on my phone that has a lot of interviews from the last 7 years that I’ll return back to during my drive in from work or on flights.

Register for FREE here >> 2016 Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar

Possibly because of my unbridled enthusiasm for this series, this year Joe asked me to be a guest.
In the interview we discuss:
  • Why a lot of people are missing the boat when training to prevent injuries
  • Training methods that have fallen out of favor in the last 8 years (including some of the limitations of concurrent periodization, and why tabata’s are ridiculous)
  • Why you should never ask if an exercise is “good” again
  • The biggest challenge I face in coaching athletes
  • The current research on hockey hip injuries, and a case study of how I helped a Division 1 collage player stave off surgery
  • How we set up our business to allow us to successfully implement individualized programs in a group setting
Check out the rest of this year’s line-up!

  1. Charlie Weingroff – developing training systems with Canada basketball, ‘one shot – one kill’ using the SFMA, and the benefits for PT’s and patients of developing an out-of-network practice.
  2. Mike Reinold – creating your practice around your core values, upper quarter assessment emphasizing shoulder elevation, and return to play criteria.
  3. Rob Panariello and Al Vermeil – athletic development hierarchy and discussions on developing movement efficiency, strength, elastic qualities, speed, and more…
  4. Quinn Henoch – mobility and stability requirements for weight lifting, injury prevention in a sport that focuses on loading, and the Jefferson Curl as a possibility for developing spinal resiliency.
  5. Zac Cupples – learning the PRI system, utilizing PRI in professional basketball, repositioning tricks with challenging patients, favorite manual and non-manual techniques, and more…
  6. Kyle Kiesel – Selective Functional Movement Assessment updates, keys to learning the system, finding the key dysfunction,  as well as an update on the research and his treatment of athletic low back pain.
  7. Mike Voight – developing the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) model, the role of the SFMA, mobility/stability requirements for swinging a club, common injuries and solutions, and more…
  8. Mike Robertson – growing IFAST and valuable lessons learned, finding that ‘sweet spot’ between hard training and injury prevention, as well as some favorite correctives and hard core lifts.

Register for FREE here >>2016 Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Get Ultimate Hockey Transformation Now!

Year-round age-specific hockey training programs complete with a comprehensive instructional video database!

Ultimate Hockey Transformation Pro Package-small

Get access to your game-changing program now >> Ultimate Hockey Transformation

“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University

An Introduction to Variability

About 8 years ago I gave a presentation titled “Motor Unit Discharge Variability” for an Exercise Neuroscience class I was taking in grad school at UMass.

The precedent for studying variability in neural firing rates stemmed largely from studying variability in heart rate. At the time, I would have assumed that a more variable heart rate would be problematic. Without a background in the area, I deferred back to hearing the steady “beeps” when people were monitored in a hospital setting on TV, and when things sped up or slowed, it was generally a disastrous sign.

Of course, there are more credible ways to gain a deeper understanding of human physiology than ER and Grey’s Anatomy. In reality, increased heart rate variability (HRV) was universally regarded as a positive measure. In fact, a decrease in HRV is predictive of death from a heart attack or heart failure. The rate at which the heart discharges is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is subject to feedback/influence from a number of systems within the body. In the interest of simplicity, the brain controls heart rate, and in this instance, increased variability equates to better health.


Read more about how HRV can be used to influence your training here: BioForce HRV

Motor units, for those of you that don’t read about neuroscience on the weekends (or slept through your freshman year anatomy course) is an individual motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers it innervates. It’s referred to as the smallest functional unit of the neuromuscular system. When we need to produce force, or move, the brain sends a signal down to a group of motor neurons, which signals the muscles to contract.

There are several different ways to measure, and therefore discuss, the role of variability within the neuromuscular system. On the scale of an individual motor unit, variability in firing patterns at low force levels may lead to less controlled movements; this is particularly relevant for fine handling skills in older adults.

On the other hand, when a motor unit fires twice within a short period of time, known as a “doublet” discharge, force is increased faster and to a higher level than if those two impulses were spread further apart.

In other words, a more variable discharge allows for a more rapid accommodation/adjustment to force requirements.

Similar arguments can be made about the coordinated firing of multiple motor units (i.e. synchronization), and the rotation of motor units firing to maintain a given force output in any given position/pattern (e.g. if you hold a split squat for as long as you can, your brain will naturally rotate which motor units are active, and to what extent, in an effort to prolong your ability to hold the position). Similar to HRV, the common “controller” of much of this variability is the nervous system, which we’ll uncomfortably oversimplify as “your brain”.

Taken together, these measures of “nervous system variability”, of which there are many more, demonstrate how the body finds different strategies to accomplish a given task. Variability implicates a more dynamic, flexible, and resilient “system”. This idea has important implications for how we program and coach movement in training settings.

Movement Variability

Since Gray Cook and Mike Boyle first popularized the Joint By Joint Approach to training (more on this topic here: The Mobility-Stability Continuum), mobility work has received a lot of attention. The term mobility is used in a variety of different ways, but within this context it really just means ensuring that each joint possesses the full range of motion the individual’s structural anatomy allows.

A lack of mobility at a given joint is likely to lead to excessive accessory motion within the same joint (which is potentially pathological) and/or compensatory motion at a neighboring joint.

Another way to view the issue is that by limiting range of motion in one or more planes/directions of an individual joint, the strategies that joint has available to accommodate different movement patterns or force requirements is limited. By repetitively overloading a narrow range of inter-joint movement possibilities, there’s an increased risk of a given structure within that joint breaking down (e.g. overstretching a ligament, wearing through a labrum/meniscus, etc.).

Imagine slowly pouring a bucket of water on a level area of sand. Because there are minimal restrictions to where the water can go, it will spread out and absorb into the sand with minimal changes in the shape/position of the sand. In contrast, if you dug a small trench in the sand with 2 of your fingers and poured the water at the beginning of that trench, the water will flow down the trench, dragging more sand with it, both deepening and widening the groove. This erosion is analogous to what happens at joints that posses very narrow movement opportunities, a concept I refer to as “Micro-Movement Variability”.

Colorado River

Just a small groove in the sand (Image Credit: Here)

This highlights the importance of using whatever strategies you’re competent in to maximize individual-specific joint mobility. Simply, if the joint doesn’t have the motion, it can’t use it. This will not only negatively influence the health of a single joint, it will also limit the quality of more global movement patterns. When you attempt to integrate one or more joints that have compromised movement variability into a more complex movement pattern, your body has very few strategies available to it to accomplish that pattern.

Consider, for example, an individual attempting to perform a reverse lunge with limitations in ankle dorsiflexion or hip extension. An inability to load through the back ankle will cause them to either turn their back foot out more or lean forward more to unload the ankle. An inability to extend fully through the hip will cause someone to arch excessively through their lower back, lean forward more to “cheat” hip extension, or simply to shorten the stride. In every case, the position of one or more joints is being torqued through undesirable positions and various soft-tissue structures are being predictably overloaded as a required compensation for the lack of individual joint mobility available to pattern the movement around.

Reverse Lunge Comparison

Note the incomplete hip extension and greater “hinge” through the lower/mid spine on the left compared to the right. (Photo Credits: Here and Here)

From a more athletic perspective, one thing common to many elite performers is their ability to execute a specific skill in a wide range of positions/environments. Using a variety of strategies to accomplish the same outcome is what I refer to as “Macro-Movement Variability”.

For example, consider a quarter back that has to hit a receiver on the same spot of the field under different conditions: sitting in a well-protected pocket, adjusting to a collapsing pocket, escaping a collapsed pocket. All of these scenarios lend themselves to further variability: Is the defense blitzing? Are their hands in the way of the optimal flight path? Where are the defenders on the field? All of these things need to be accounted for to execute the pass, and many of these things will be entirely different the next time the same play is run.

Very different foot placements, movement strategies, arm motions, and defensive looks integrated into these highlights.

In hockey, the best shooters can pick their spots while facing the net, facing perpendicular to the net, while stationary, while moving, with sticks in the way, under pressure, etc. All that matters is that the “task” is executed effectively. Those players with better Macro Movement Variability will be able to produce a similar outcome under much more variable conditions.

Pay particularly close attention to the different areas on the ice, different challenges from defenders, and different body positions he scores backhand goals from.

Understanding micro- and macro-movement variability should inform a more strategic approach to both training and skill development. Micro-movement variability helps highlight the importance of assessing athletes before writing their programs, an idea I discussed in depth in my DVD Optimizing Movement.

You need to know whether the individual can get into and control the positions you’re asking them to overload with exercises.

It’s also important to recognize that the consequences of bad exercise selection aren’t always immediate. Similar to erosion, sometimes things will break in big chunks, but issues are more likely to accumulate over time. Having a team of athletes with significantly compromised ankle mobility back squat to full depth is foolish, even if no one gets injured on the first day. Micro-movement variability should drive exercise selection, and ultimately how you teach/coach an individual to perform the exercise correctly.

Macro-movement variability further highlights the importance of integrating variation into exercise selection, while still sticking within the individual’s movement capacity. Exercise variation teaches the body to produce force in different positions, requiring variable stabilization strategies.

It also changes which structures are being loaded, therefore minimizing the risk of overloading any one area of a structure (e.g. a specific section of your hip labrum). This strategy produces a stronger, more resilient and durable athlete, even if 1-RMs in a specific lift are compromised by rotating it out for a phase or two.

Macro-movement variability also has implications for skill development. Athletes should be practicing rehearsed skills in a variety of body positions and movement directions. For example, many youth hockey players will set up a pile of pucks and shoot, stationary, from the same location. This is not bad, only limited. Instead, they should practice shooting from a variety of different positions on the ice while directly facing the net, “off-centered” so they’re turned slightly away from the net, with weight shifted more on one side, with the back leg dragging behind them or down on the ice, etc.

An outstanding example of how macro-movement variability can be integrated into skill development
All skills should be integrated into more variable practice environments, which is one of the benefits of small area games, and why I loved integrating 6-on-6 full-ice scrimmages when I was still running hockey clinics and helping at practices.

Challenging athletes to execute their skills in unpredictable environments better prepares them for the open-loop nature of team sports.

This is also one of the most overlooked arguments for the importance of playing multiple sports through adolescence. Different sports not only require different skill sets, but different pattern recognition tendencies that can be transferred to specific situations within a different sport.

Wrap Up

Variability is a symptom of a dynamic, flexible, and durable system. Micro- and macro-movement variability create the foundation for both the development and execution of elite athletic skills, as well as an athlete’s durability. Understanding these concepts should therefore underlie the entire athletic development process – from intake assessments, to designing training programs, to in-sport skill development and practice planning.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Get Optimizing Movement Now!

“…one of the best DVDs I’ve ever watched”
“A must for anyone interested in coaching and performance!”

Optimizing Movement DVD Package

Click here for more information >> Optimizing Movement