Movement 101: Standards for Movement Quality

Check your movement quality every session. At the beginning and end. No, I’m not kidding.

When I used to teach personal training at a college in Australia, there was this stupid notion that certain exercises were for beginners and others for advanced clients. The fitness industry in Australia is as big a mess as it is anywhere else in the world, and the people setting the guidelines aren’t actually trainers of any decent level. Just like in most sports, the role of the administrators seems to only be protecting and rationalizing their jobs, rather than helping things improve.

Recently on Coaches Only I wrote about movement competency and the importance of having solid baselines for people to work from. The problem most people have is they want to go directly to “performance training,” but they’re not ready for it. If you can’t demonstrate movement quality then you don’t get to go onto movement quantity (which in this case could be through added load, speed, or both), regardless of your level.

The bottom line is, exercises vary only in intensity between beginners and advanced lifters. Learning how to squat to full depth is a beginner movement, while an advanced trainee will squat with two or more times bodyweight. Performing a snatch with a piece of PVC pipe is how you teach a beginner, while the advanced lifter is working on the same lift with more than bodyweight on the bar. But it’s still the same exercise, and movement quality is the first thing to address in both cases.

Standards for Movement Quality

Where does movement quality start? I find it’s best to start at one end of the body and move to the other. Here is a great website that shows what baseline movement quality is. If you cannot hit these standards, I would address them now before they become a bigger issue.

“If you can’t demonstrate movement quality then you don’t get to go onto movement quantity (which in this case could be through added load, speed, or both), regardless of your level.”

I’m sure many of you will have deficiencies in one or more areas. I know I do, and I address them daily prior to training. In some cases the issue is so big I cannot make the correction “stick” like with my hamstring, which was torn off the bone and repaired, but I can fix them enough to train right now. But generally speaking, if you can’t reach these standards then you need to address them. You need to go right back to basics.

Meal Prep and Movement

A friend of mine, Nash Davis, wrote this excellent message on Facebook while I was writing this article: “Meal prep is a simple skill that is massively underestimated. It can take a little bit of time but once you become practiced at it, it takes no time at all. Making meal prep a consistent practice will set your week up for eating well and achieving your weight goals easier.” And he’s right – without spending time on meal preparation, your physical goals are far harder to reach. When it comes to diet, nothing is more basic than getting your meal planning and preparation right and then tracking how much you eat versus what you weigh and how you perform.

Keeping with our movement theme, the meal preparation is like ensuring you have adequate range of motion in each joint. In movement terms, the cooking is basic human movements. No, that’s not squat, hinge, blah, blah, blah. Those are not basic human movements. Those are artificial constructs for you to use in a gym setting. Basic human movements are rolling, crawling, and integration of multiple appendages moving while maintaining core control.

When the Session Ends, You Should Be Moving Better

If you’re not sure why this is important, then perhaps read Gray Cooks’ take on what he calls primitive patterns. The modern fitness world is often only concerned about movement quantity, not quality. Once workouts become “how many” and not “how well,” keeping the body working well is difficult.

The body is an amazingly resourceful machine. Damage one system and it’ll figure out a way to keep going with another. Do it again and it’ll figure another, and another, and another, until you finally become aware there is even a problem. By the time you’re finally aware there may be a problem, you’re looking at surgery and some decent time off. And don’t think that talented athletes don’t suffer from this. Often the more talented an athlete, the more ways he or she has to cheat.

And at this point you go back to basics – you check for optimal range of motion. Then you evaluate your ability to perform the underlying movements before you worry about movement quantity. And you repeat the process over and over again, although if you’re smart you do it before you get injured.

Movement patterns need to be accessed each training session.

How many times must you go back and check our movement? The answer is every time. Every time you do something you need to go back, assess, and make sure you’re headed in the right direction in terms of movement quality.

You need to check quality of movement at the start and end of each training session. If the purpose of training is to improve the body, then movement quality should be better at the end, right? This way you can keep a check on yourself and make sure that you’re on the right path.

Without adequate range of motion, you will always be forced to work sub-optimally, like a car with bald tires and unbalanced wheels. Once the framework has been assessed and recognized as working correctly, you can check your basic movement patterns – like revving the engine in the pits. Then you are good to go as hard as you want, returing to the same sequence in reverse order to cool down – check basic movement skills, then assesss joint range of motion.

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

That may mean some days you don’t get to go all out. Trust me when I say you will be far more appreciative of a well-functioning body at forty, fifty, or beyond than you will be about having damaged your back attempting a lift that you shouldn’t have when you were thirty. And at forty, fifty, and beyond, this daily checklist will help you figure out when to train hard and when to take it easy and spend more time working on these basic elements.

The OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) that is formed by this constant checking reminds me of this article by Eric Fletter about the great Robson Moura. Fletter speaks of the old champion’s adage of, “fall down seven times, get up eight.” Except in this case, it’s one hundred.

“Professor Moura’s ‘rule of 101’ (if I may be so bold as to label it), more specifically represents the mindset when you know that this step is the correct next step, when you know it’s the right thing to do. If you are certain of the next thing you must do, and something stops your progress 100 times, you still take that next step–101 times.”

If your movement is messed up 100 times, you fix it 101.

More on movement quality:

Photos courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.