Industry Interview: Chris McGrath (Part 2)
In case you missed it, you can find Part 1 of this interview here. Now, onto Part 2!
Which corrective techniques have you found to be most effective?
It really depends on the issue. One of the first questions we ask is whether the movement impairment is a mobility or stability issue. In the absence of stability, the body will give up functional mobility, but not necessarily passive mobility. Someone may appear tight through movement, but when we check their range of motion (ROM) in an unloaded position, they aren’t actually “tight.”
For example, we see a lot of squats that have a very limited range of motion when screened. But when we unload the person, they are perfectly capable of assuming a deep squat position. Their problem isn’t with mobility; it’s actually a lack of stability. In this case, stretching is not the appropriate corrective strategy.
When someone can’t do a bodyweight squat, we often see the leg press and Smith machine as alternatives because they allow the addition of load. But we’re loading a body that can’t even handle its own weight. We call this “placing fitness on top of dysfunction.” To illustrate a better option, I often ask, What do we do when we can’t do a pull-up? The obvious answer is a weight-assisted pull-up.
A strategy that may work well for an unstable squat is to provide weight assistance. We use bands attached overhead and looped under the arms to provide upward lifting assistance. Or, we use a TRX or something else that the client can hold onto and assist the squat with their arms. It is amazing to see how many people can do a deep squat with a little assistance. The end result (we hope), is that the nervous system will now recognize the pattern through a new range of motion.
Sometimes, we need to use regressive strategies in order to move forward, and that’s ultimately what the weight assistance does. When we think overload, we are quick to use resistance as the next step. But the overload principle can also be applied through increasing active range of motion. This provides overload to the nervous system, forcing it to adapt to a new stress (the range). If we add resistance to a dysfunctional movement, we’re once again adding fitness to dysfunction.
A technique that works well for fixing asymmetries is the Reactive Neuromuscular Technique (RNT). We use light resistance to try to exaggerate a compensation, and simply ask the client to resist the exaggeration. For example, if someone’s right knee caves in during a squat, we may put a band around the right knee and try to draw it in more, cuing the client to resist the inward pull. We hope this will “wake-up” whatever was not working as a stabilizer. If it works, we gradually wean the resistance away until the client can perform the movement on their own. We call it “reactive” because we aren’t asking the client to keep the knee in alignment through conscious effort; we’re communicating to the nervous system directly and hoping it will recruit the muscles that weren’t previously doing their job. The end result is a naturally functioning movement pattern.
How can we fix fundamental movement patterns without neglecting the desire to build muscle and lose fat with high-intensity training?
This is one of my favorite topics to discuss and I could probably write a book on it. First and foremost, I have to start with a professional and ethical statement of my responsibility as a movement professional. Training with poor fundamental movements will not only hold people back from reaching their goals, it will lead to injury.
For me, it’s not a hard sell: If you don’t move well, you can’t train well. There’s no way around it. My clients all hear this statement. It’s simple and concise, and rational people usually get on board without protests. I do encounter a few who don’t want to listen and I simply choose not to work with them. It’s a tough decision when trying to build a business, but every action contributes to reputation. If training dysfunctional clients leads to injuries that could have been avoided, that’s not good for business or reputation.
That said, people who need corrective exercises will be working hard when they perform them and may actually break a pretty good sweat. One of the best things about the corrective strategies is that they don’t seem like physical therapy, which is what everyone thinks. At the same time, you won’t “feel the burn” in the traditional manner, either. It all comes down to how you set the tone. I think the only times I’ve ever struggled with people buying into my methods are when I failed to explain exactly what to expect. As long as I’m clear, I get very little resistance.
Corrective strategies can work their way into any workout, even boot camps. I teach group classes, including a sports conditioning class that offers boot-camp levels of intensity. But I still remember that most of my clients are sitting at desks all day, and I make sure I emphasize quality before quantity – ALWAYS. The warm-ups are dynamic and many resemble corrective strategies. This is done on purpose. We practice squatting, stepping, lunging, reaching, pushing and rotation patterns because this is what we will be doing during the workout. If the warm-up is challenging enough, that’s the intensity the individual will practice during the workout.
On a slightly different note, the January 2011 NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning Researcg contains a study showing a weak correlation between core stability and FMS scores, and between FMS scores and performance. What are your thoughts on this?
Interesting research and article. I don’t have too much to say other than the authors summarized my answer in their final two paragraphs… The FMS was never designed to predict performance; it is designed to predict injury risk. That’s always been Gray’s whole point with the screen. There are dozens of performance and skill tests, but there are no comprehensive movement tests that address the fundamentals and set qualitative standards.
I was a bit confused when reading the research because it deals with tests that predict performance. I’m no Gray Cook, but I probably could have told you the outcome without spending the time or money to do the study. The most frustrating part is the authors waited until the final two paragraphs to pardon the FMS as a performance predictor. People who only read the abstract or don’t carefully read the conclusion might think negatively of the FMS, only because it was found to be poor at doing something it was never designed to do. It’s a shame, but it shows the potential flaws of research.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Don’t forget to catch Chris McGrath February 12th-13th at FocusNYC!