Pro Football Functional Strength Coaches Care About Movement…And So Should You!
I’ve been around the block enough times to know that talking a good game isn’t always enough to convince someone of what is best for them. I’m specifically talking about those out there who believe the secret to getting stronger consists only of more weight, more sets, and more reps.
So it makes me feel better to hear that Strength Coaches in the NFL have the same problem. Watch this video featuring Jeff Fish (who at the time served as the Director of Athletic Performance for the Atlanta Falcons) talking about how he requires athletes to meet various standards of functional movement before he focuses on strength programming.
Olympic lifts are a proven commodity in producing strength and power gains. Most pro athletes (and athletes at any level) know this, and they want Olympic lifts in their programming. But at 20 seconds into the video, Jeff mentions that his athletes need to touch their toes if they want to do Olympic lifts like high pulls and cleans…
Why, you may ask?
He teaches that athletes need to have adequate functional movement in the same pattern of motion that their strength and power exercises require.
Olympic lifts, such as the clean, require the ability to hinge the hips with a flat spine. An athlete needs to be able to lengthen along the back side of the body (the posterior chain) in order to hinge the hips and control the spine in the desired position.
The standing toe touch tells the strength coach in just a few seconds if the athlete has trouble with their posterior chain mobility.
The athlete needs both mobility and stability to be able to complete the lift. Well, not to just complete the lift, but to excel in the movement and reap the rewards.
Jeff knows that athletes who want to use the Olympic lifts need to be able to touch their toes. Do you want to deadlift, clean, or high pull? Prove you can touch your toes. You can’t put the cart before the horse. Move first, then develop strength and power.
The proof is in the pudding
I’ve made this point a countless number of times, too. Functional movement is the foundation that allows your body to both maximize strength and power gains AND reduce your risk of injury. But if you’re going to talk the talk….well, you know.
That’s where Jeff succeeds with his athletes. He proves it to them by walking the walk.
He talks about it around the one minute mark in the video. Athletes who can’t touch their toes will have their power output tested. But to be able to add Olympic lifts back into their program they must first prove they can touch their toes with proper movement patterning.
Once they have restored their toe touch pattern, they have their power output re-tested.
Here’s what he has found…Simply working on improving functional movement can lead to increases in power output of up to 20%.
Yes, more power without doing power-based exercise! All he did was improve the way the athlete moves.
That is huge! This concept applies to all athletes and active individuals…If you want to get stronger, first make sure you move well.
Now, I’m not going to promise 20% power increases for everyone (everyone starts from a different spot), but in my experience developing proper movement patterns is the primary factor for determining how high your ceiling of potential can be pushed.
The moral of the story is this…don’t get caught up in the arms race to develop yourself as a stronger, faster, more powerful athlete without first identifying your ability to move well in basic functional patterns.
It sounds bland, I know, but developing movement is where you gain a meaningful edge in your sport! This applies to all levels from amateur to professional, and adolescents to adults.
Creating the foundation of power
At the 1:22 mark, Jeff says “You can get stronger, you can get faster, and you can get those variables that help you on the field to improve by increasing the ability to move better — not just dumping more sets, reps, and weight onto the athlete.”
The driving force behind this statement is the Performance Pyramid. The Optimum Performance Pyramid (pictured to the right) is a structure where sport-specific skill is adequately supported by performance (strength, power, speed, etc), and performance is adequately supported by functional movement.
The Optimum Performance Pyramid represents a body that is going to get the most out of training, and it suggests there is no added risk of injury.
Variations in the Performance Pyramid exist. These variations demonstrate a body that isn’t properly balanced. This includes an Over-Powered system, and Under-Powered system, and an Under-Skilled system (PICTURED BELOW). Each of these variations represents a system that may either limit progression or increase the likelihood of injury…It’s not where you want to be!
Are you interested in knowing which category you fit into?
The best place to start is with a professional who utilizes functional testing like the Functional Movement Screen to determine the “health” of your foundational tier in the Performance Pyramid.
Your progress down the road is tied to creating AND maintaining a solid foundation of movement.
Once your functional movement meets adequate standards you are ready for performance training. Technically, you can begin (or continue) performance training as you are working to improve functional movement, but (there’s always a “but”!) specific strengthening activities may need to be put on hold while you’re making the necessary movement corrections.
Of course, improving performance and skill are the fun parts. There’s no doubting that! But don’t underestimate the importance of taking care of your foundation. Pro strength coaches definitely don’t!
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What I see going on in your body…
How I would suggest correcting the problem…
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