There are a lot of different approaches to individualizing training in group settings.

First, it’s important to recognize that attempts to improve the program shouldn’t get in the way of being able to run it. There are very real logistical and cultural barriers to running what you may envision as the most “optimal” program. The goal here is to start making SUBTLE adjustments to address individual needs.

Here are a few strategies I’ve used in the past:

  • Systemize “corrective” work. Post sheets on the wall or on a digital display that has the individuals name (or jersey number) with a list of what you want them to do, and another sheet with pictures to serve as cues.
  • Make any exercise selection adjustments you want on the actual program display, and reinforce that the athletes should reference that (not just follow someone and do what they do)
  • If your facility requires progressing through set stations like an assembly line, divide the stations up by goal (e.g. strength emphasis vs. speed emphasis) and program goal-specific exercise variations that can be performed in the same areas.
  • Teach A LOT up front, and then encourage the members/athletes most experienced in your system to teach newer/younger athletes. This provides built in support for you and a leadership/growth opportunity for them.

Feel free to post any comments/questions below. If you found this helpful, please share/re-post it so others can benefit.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you’re interested in more information about how to profile an athlete’s needs and use the profile to individualize a training program, check out the videos at Optimizing Adaptation & Performance

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When I was growing up playing hockey, at least once every season I’d have some sort of left groin or hip flexor issue.

None were ever significant enough to keep me off the ice, but they were always enough that I was constantly “aware of it”, which is not where you want your focus going while you’re playing.

I always wondered if there was something I was doing, or not doing, that was causing these injuries.

Now that I’ve made the transition from player to S&C coach, I’m thankful for my long list of injuries as they’ve motivated me to learn more about functional anatomy, biomechanics, and a number of other injury risk factors.

Naturally, one of the major goals of every program I write is to reduce my athletes’ risk of injury. As a result, it’s important to understand what factors may predispose an athlete to injuries in the first place, and then make decisions about what I have the ability to influence.

With the increasing popularity of PRI and FMS courses over the last several years, a lot of attention is being paid to the potential for faulty movement patterns to contribute to breakdown. This is obviously an area I subscribe to, as I’ve taken FMS Level 1&2, the SFMA course, and spent over 100 hours in PRI courses, in addition to becoming PRT-credentialed a couple years ago.

Postural Restoration Institute

With that said, purely postural/biomechanical approaches to injury risk have been appropriately questioned in the research, as these are really just one piece of the puzzle. In an effort to perfect movement, coaches may be inadvertently increasing their athletes’ risk of injury.

Identifying Injury Risk Factors

The most effective approach to injury risk reduction is to attack it from all angles. While this topic can get pretty complex, I generally think of risk factors as falling into these major buckets:

  1. Postural/Biomechanical: Determines length/tension relationships, how mechanical stress is distributed during movement, and movement efficiency in general
  2. Neuromuscular Abilities: Force production, rate of force development, and timing of force production
  3. Conditioning/Fitness: The ability to repeat the sport-specific movement demands at a consistently high level and recover appropriately, both in a short-term perspective following a work bout, and at the conclusion of a training session/practice/game
  4. Stress Tolerance: The resiliency of the body to the accumulation of stressors from within and outside the training/sports paradigm. This also determines the individual’s adaptation capacity at any given period of time
  5. Accumulated Fatigue: Related to stress tolerance; influences all of the above factors

Each of these areas is an important contributor to injury risk and needs to be considered in a training program.

When Corrective Exercise Goes Wrong

A couple years ago, I remember hearing people talk about how some personal trainers and strength coaches were taking some of these movement-based courses and basically not letting their clients/athletes do anything except corrective work until they met some standard. At the time, as I would now, I remember thinking “people actually do that?”

As time has gone by, I realize this is more common than I would have ever thought.

If you come back to the list above, focusing on movement capacity to the exclusion of other qualities will only improve that one injury risk factor. An argument can be made (that I’d agree with) that improving movement quality can improve stress tolerance by reducing unnecessary tension/tone resulting from a compensatory attempt to produce the desired movement, but not to the same degree that also addressing fitness/conditioning and accumulated fatigue would.

Probably the biggest oversight in an overly “corrective” approach is that the athletes actually detrain. Having slow, weak, and poorly conditioned athletes that move well doesn’t only neglect many key areas of injury prevention, it makes them worse at their sport.

A Better System

Even in the presence of movement limitations, athletes need to train to improve, or at least maintain, their performance capacities. The key here is to pick exercises and methods that are best suited for the athletes based on their current movement abilities. This is one of the major topics I discussed in in my DVD Optimizing Movement, as having a system for what to do in the presence of specific movement limitations makes it easy to individualize training, even in a group or team setting.

Optimizing Movement Cover-Small

Assessing factors that influence movement, and demonstrating how to use them to drive your training approach

It’s important to recognize that slow, weak, poorly conditioned, stressed out, and/or tired athletes are all at a greater risk for injury. With this in mind, training programs should be designed to develop physical capacities using individual-specific exercises/methods while also improving notable movement limitations, with coaches monitoring stress and accumulated fatigue to make any necessary adjustments to training loads or recovery strategies on an ongoing basis.

Wrap Up

Looking back on my own injuries, I can remember that some happened when I just didn’t feel right (possibly an alignment issue), some were the result of overuse, and others were simply because I was too weak.

As strength and conditioning coaches, our job is to deliver highly trained, injury resistant athletes to our coaches. As more emphasis is placed on assessments and corrective work, it’s important to not lose site of the importance of continuing to develop the speed, power, strength, and conditioning of our athletes, while also monitoring fatigue. Ultimately, a more comprehensive approach will not only improve their durability, but also their performance.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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If you missed the first two parts of this “Optimal Movement Series”, I’d encourage you to check them out at the links below, as they really lay the platform for today’s discussion.

  1. Structural Adaptations: Not Just a Hockey Problem
  2. The Truth About Corrective Exercise

One of the big questions that comes up in discussing integrating assessments and corrective work into training programs (and it’s a good one) is simply, “How do I do this in a group setting?” The reality is that for some of you, this will be much more easily accomplished than for others depending on the number of athletes and the amount of resources (e.g. time, space, equipment, help, etc.) you have. While the implementation will change depending on the setting, the thought process should remain almost exactly the same.

1) Identify the Assessments
The goal here is to decide, based on the logistical concerns identified above, which assessments you want to use. In making these decisions, consider:

  1. Which assessments do I (and the supporting staff) feel comfortable performing? Invalid data isn’t worth collecting unless you recognize it’s just more practice for you to get better at the assessment.
  2. Which assessments provide me the most usable information that will govern my programming and/or my approach to training an athlete? If there is no use for the collected information, it’s probably not worth collecting.
  3. Related to above, which assessments have correctives that I can successfully implement based on logistics? This is a big one, as it comes back to the idea of “if you can’t successfully teach it, don’t program it.”

2) Divide the Group into Buckets

The goal here is to provide everyone with the correctives that will best address their primary or most prominent restriction or dysfunction, while also keeping the implementation realistic. Naturally, if you have 20 athletes and you have 3 different corrective exercises for each of them that are all completely unique, the program will fail because it’s simply not feasible to teach 60 exercises at one time. Most assessment systems will have a priority order in terms of what to address first. For example, the FMS hierarchy is to address limitations in mobility tests, then stability tests, then integrated movement tests. Similarly, PRI would suggest addressing those with a dominant “Posterior Exterior Chain” (limitations of hip adduction on both sides) before addressing a “Left Anterior Interior Chain) (limitations of hip adduction on the left only). You can use these algorithms as a starting point to simplify the implementation of the corrective process.

For example, with the junior hockey team I’m training this year, we performed the Shoulder Mobility, Active Straight Leg Raise, and Ankle Mobility (an assessment I learned at an FMS course, but not technically part of the FMS “7”) assessments from the FMS, and the Extension Drop, Adduction Drop, and Passive Abduction Lift tests from PRI (among many others). Using this information, I was able to put the players into PRI and FMS buckets:

  1. PRI: PEC, Patho Left AIC (L anterior hip capsule laxity), Left AIC
  2. FMS: Shoulder Mobility, Active Straight Leg Raise, Ankle Mobility

Then based on these buckets, I put together 1-3 correctives based on each pattern/limitation/dysfunction, and posted them all on a sheet on the wall. Because a lot of the PRI exercise concepts were new to the guys, I chose exercises for the patterns that were fairly similar, but with a few different tweaks, so when the kids came in, I could teach a few different exercises at once and simply and quickly explain how to tweak it based on the specific exercise the player had. Most players had 2-3 PRI-based exercises, and then if they also fell into any of the FMS buckets, they would have one corrective for that, so at most someone would have 6, which didn’t happen in the first phase (Some players had 5, most had 3 or 4). Importantly, because of the overlap in the PRI exercises between the different buckets, I only had to teach ~8 different exercises, which was very manageable.

Teaching all of these on Day 1 to a team that was largely unfamiliar with the idea of assessments and corrective work, let alone exercise driven by breathing sequences, was a lot of work. Day 2 was still a lot of work, but less as the players began to internalize the positions, movements, breathing sequences, and what they should be feeling. A couple months into the season, it’s been fun as some of the players will simply ask others how to do things and those players will teach/explain it to their teammate…correctly.

Corrective Exercise without Corrective Exercise

Mathematically, you can make something more positive by adding more positives or by subtracting negatives. Similarly, you can improve movement quality by adding positives or by removing negatives.  In this context, positives might refer to corrective exercises to restore neutrality, mobility, and appropriate strength/control, and/or cuing in the form of physical touch, verbal instructions, or using implements like bands or balloons to drive the pattern you want. Negatives may simply refer to removing or changing exercises that don’t suit the individual athlete’s structure/function. For example, consider a posterior chain exercise for these populations:

  1. 5’8” athlete with optimal mobility: Trap Bar Deadlift with low grip from floor
  2. 6’4” athlete with optimal mobility OR 5’8” athlete with limited hip flexion: Trap Bar Deadlift with high grip from floor
  3. 6’4” athlete with limited hip flexion: Trap Bar Deadlift with high grip from blocks

Using this example, telling the 6’4” athlete with limited hip flexion to pull from the floor because that’s “full range of motion” would be misguided, and ultimately lead to excessive wear and tear on the athlete’s hip, lumbar spine, and any number of other places up and down the chain.

This is an oversimplified illustration of this concept, but the idea is to keep the pattern the same, but change the execution of the exercise based on the individual’s structure and functional competence. Simply changing the execution of exercises based on what depths/positions best cater to that individual’s structure can have a profound impact on that athlete’s ability to develop the physical capacities intended from the program while minimizing the risk of injury, which is always the goal.

Be an astute observer of movement and don’t make assumptions about what range of motion an individual should or shouldn’t have, and don’t hesitate to alter the performance of an exercise based on what allows the individual to perform the movement with the most optimal alignment and stability. Following these steps will make EVERY exercise more corrective…or at least less destructive, and allows you to improve (read: individualize) the execution of every exercise in group settings.

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

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To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Part 1 of the “Optimal Movement Series” discussed several reasons why it’s so important to have an assessment process in place and identified a few ways in which structural changes will influence movement. If you missed that, you can check it out here: Structural Adaptations: Not Just a Hockey Problem

Today we’ll continue the discussion by delving into the topic of corrective exercise, what it means and when it’s appropriate to use.

The Truth About Corrective Exercise

I first started hearing the term “corrective exercise” about 7 years ago. Typically, it’s used within the context of basic mobility exercises or lower level stability exercises thought to help restore balance in mobility and stability across joints and improve “awareness” to ultimately improve movement quality. The general rationale here was to take exercises used in the rehabilitation of certain injuries, and integrate them into training programs in a pre-emptive effort to help minimize the risk of these injuries ever occurring. This made sense to me then, and still makes sense to me now, to an extent.

One thing that has become more clear to me as I’ve had opportunities to attend FMS, PRI, and DNS courses, among others, is that in order for something to be truly “corrective”, there needs to be some sort of test or “audit”. In other words, if you’re telling someone to do an exercise to “correct” something, how do you know if it’s working? Thinking in this way has really changed the way I think about the entire training process (as I’ll discuss more in a future piece).

As an example, if you’re familiar with the FMS Active Straight Leg Raise test, you know that the test is scored as a 3, 2, or 1 depending on how high the individual can raise his/her leg while maintaining the specified alignment or a “0” if the individual has pain. These zones are separated by measuring the distance between the ASIS of the hip and the mid-patella, and then marking half of that distance (roughly the mid thigh). Anything above the midpoint is a “3”, anything between the midpoint and the mid-patella is a “2”, and anything below the mid-patella is a “1”. If it’s painful, it’s a “0”.  As a general rule, the desired goal here is to get “2’s” on both sides.

Active Straight Leg Raise

Active Straight Leg Raise

 If, for example, someone had a “1’s” on both sides, and you integrated a Supported Single-Leg Lowering exercise into their program as a means of helping them achieve 2’s on both sides, this could appropriately be called a “corrective exercise”. You have a test, and you’re programming a specific exercise to improve a quality that you can then assess the effectiveness of by retesting.

Band-Supported Single-Leg Lowering

Band-Supported Single-Leg Lowering

 As another example, I’ve seen a good number of people that have a limited Adduction Drop Test (see video below) on the left, that also have less Active Straight Leg Raise motion on the left compared to the right. This is likely because of the position of their pelvis, which is oriented to the right and forwardly tipped on the left, placing the left hamstring complex under tension.

PRI Pelvis

A picture taken from PRI illustrating the pelvic position most humans gravitate towards

 In this situation, a Left Adductor Pullback may be sufficient to reorient the pelvis to a more neutral position, which would then clear the Adduction Drop Test AND the discrepancy in Active Straight Leg Raise.

 These examples highlight two situations where exercises are being used to correct a pattern. Importantly, the goal here is to now integrate the newly acquired function (be it mobility, stability or both in nature) into more “functional” or capacity-based exercise. For example, once we’ve established a reasonable amount of symmetry within an Active Straight Leg Raise pattern, we have a green light to progress to double- and single-leg loaded hip hinge variations (e.g. trap bar deadlifts, 1-leg stiff-legged deadlifts, etc.), and if appropriate for the individual’s training goals, more explosive movements within this pattern, such as broad jumps, kettlebell swings, hang cleans, etc.  These are just a few examples; obviously there are other factors that need to be accounted for in exercise selection, but the idea is to progress beyond corrective work.

This idea of Assess -> Correct -> Reasses has a different end-goal, in most cases, than integrating exercises like glute bridges, miniband walks, front planks, etc. into programs. The latter can be considered more “activation” in nature, or really simply fall into the broader bucket of what I think of as core training. If you call any miniband walk a corrective exercise, the follow up question should be “corrective for what?” There may be an answer for that, depending on the athlete. Athletes that are well trained and have established a quality squat, deadlift, and single-leg patterns may do mini-band walks with the intent of activating the lateral hip musculature almost within the same context as a warm-up. In contrast, an athlete whose knees touch while squatting may benefit from the neuromuscular cuing that the band provides to engage the glutes and lateral hip musculature to maintain better alignment during the movement. One is warm-up; one is corrective.

The reality is that in most cases the goal is to do as little true “corrective” work as possible, and quickly progress to training that will enhance physical capacities (e.g. speed, power, strength, conditioning, etc.). In many instances, depending on the dysfunction, I think it should be a quick journey to individual-specific full training clearance. The waters get a little muddier when programming is attempting to counteract positions the athlete/client spends time in outside of the training facility.

It’s for this reason that I don’t think it’s a bad idea to continue incorporating exercises designed to be corrective on an ongoing basis. For example, having a guy that sits hunched over in front of a computer all day do a couple sets of glute bridges and thoracic spine rotations is unlikely to hurt, and very likely to help. If they continue to pass your reassessment, the exercises can be viewed as reinforcement, warm-up, activation, neuromuscular cuing, etc. If they aren’t passing the reassessment, then you have to consider (among other things):

  1. Does the corrective exercise actually work for THAT individual?
  2. Do you need to discuss alternative strategies for the positions/postures that individual spends the majority of their time in away from you?
  3. Do you accept that you may never “win” the corrective battle for a given individual, but continue to program specific corrective work in an attempt to “minimize the bad, and maximize the good”?

In the last year, I’ve heard a few people “in the industry” with whom I have a lot of respect dismiss the term “corrective exercise”, and I completely get it. Corrective exercise is being thrown around a lot, often to simply refer to low-level activation exercises, which may not be correcting anything. There are two major problems with this:

  1. If there is too large of a disconnect between corrective exercise and the individual’s functional activities, the correctives won’t stick.
  2. Some people in training professions get so caught up in trying to correct everything that they forget their job is to improve physical capacities.

As an example of both, sometimes range of motion is restricted as a protective mechanism if the individual doesn’t possess the stability/control or strength to own that range. In these (and many other) circumstances, strength training with traditional exercises may be the most corrective thing the person can do.

The important take homes here are that corrective exercise needs to be programmed to correct something, and there should be a way to assess whether it’s working or not. Corrective work doesn’t always need to be in the form of low level activation exercises, and not every low level activation exercise needs to be programmed with a corrective intent. As with every exercise in your program, you should ask yourself, “Why am I programming this exercise, and is it producing the intended results?”

In a couple days, I’ll be back with the third part of this series, “Individualizing Corrective Exercise and Movement in a Group Setting”. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the Optimizing Movement DVD set, which you can get for a $20 discount until next Saturday (December 7th), as part of a special “Extended Black Friday Sale”. Click the link below for more information!

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

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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The other day I suggested that hockey players may be making a big training mistake, a balance training mistake. I’m referring to training that involves standing on medicine balls, stability balls, dynadisks, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think unstable lower body training has a place in rehabilitation settings, especially for lateral ankle sprains. I DO NOT see a place for standing on these objects for healthy hockey players. Yes, hockey requires a lot of balance and stability, but NO it does not require these things while standing on a round object!

I can understand the appeal of mastering these circus acts, but they won’t make you a better hockey player. Balance is extremely movement and surface specific. This is evident by watching a team of talented youth hockey players go through a dynamic warm-up that requires single-leg stability (for details on how to design your own hockey-specific dynamic warm-ups using hockey-specific exercises, check out Hockey Training U’s Off-Ice Performance Training Course).

Despite their admirable skating ability on the limited surface area of a skate blade, many of them have trouble balancing on one foot off the ice, despite a much large surface area. Unstable surface training has been excessively misinterpreted and misused. Eric Cressey put together a phenomenal resource outlining the myths of unstable surface training. Of more interest to most people, he also includes a wide variety of awesome core training exercise progressions and the neurological rationale for why these exercises are beneficial. For only $39.99, I think this is a resource that every athlete (or coach that trains athletes) should invest in. I use it as a reference on a regular basis. STOP standing on stability balls, and START training smarter.

For more information on Eric Cressey’s Truth About Unstable Surface Training, click here.

– Kevin Neeld

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