Good Movement Is Corrective: Why the Squat Might Be Better Than Screening
There’s something sexy about corrective exercises. If you’ve been a trainer for any length of time you’ll have no doubt seen it. Someone comes in and can’t do a particular thing or complains about pain. You give him or her some homework to do and the pain “magically” disappears, or his or her ability to do that task nearly instantly improves. Corrective exercise can look like personal trainer voodoo when done well.
But despite how much better it can make things for a client, some will always oppose doing corrective work. “It’s boring” is a common complaint. One of my big things is to not just lead people to the water, but have them walk away not even realizing how much they’ve been drinking. So how can you hide corrective exercise within regular training so clients do what they need, rather than just what they want?
The first thing is to clearly understand the correct flow of training. First comes mobility, then stability, static motor control, dynamic motor control, strength, and finally power. Let’s look at one of the FMS patterns to see how this develops.
In the active straight leg raise (ASLR) test the first step would be to develop mobility and this is done via passive stretching of the hamstring. That may then be progressed to something like an active straight leg raise with core activation. Moving on from there you might end up in half kneeling - developing stability. That may then be progressed to a single leg deadlift, which includes an anti-rotational element, tying together both mobility and stability. The next step would be to go from unilateral work to bilateral work and onto a slow strength pattern like the deadlift. The final step, power production, could be the kettlebell swing.
So, if the swing is the final correction for the ASLR, which itself is quite often the first target chased via the FMS, what happens if you ignore the correctives and just work on refining the swing? Because if I watch someone who has a crisp, beautiful swing, then surely it means that they’ve got a decent active straight leg raise too, right?
Well, I can tell you - I’ve had clients that we’ve identified with a poor ASLR test, but no other issues, who we have just progressed through the mechanics of the swing, and wound up with a better FMS score a month later, despite no actual corrective work.
For me, one of the reasons that the FMS makes so much sense is that I’ve always looked at all exercise as corrective. Take the squat as an example. People will tell you the squat is a great leg exercise. They may also tell you it’s a quad-dominant exercise or maybe even a great assessment of whole body strength. But how many people tell you it’s also a great test of abdominal bracing and thoracic extension? Because without those two things you’re going to collapse like a ragdoll if you put a decent load on your back.
So when I watch you squat, I’m not thinking, “That’s a lot of weight there.” I’m looking at your feet and seeing if you’ve screwed them into the ground, which creates a strong arch in your foot. That, in turn, causes you to externally rotate and abduct your femurs so your knees are pushed out without any sign of collapse. I’m also looking to see that you don’t collapse in the upper body. You’ve seen those people squat with their upper bodies parallel to the floor, haven’t you? That’s a sign of a lot of things not working properly.
To fix the squat I can do one of a few things. Most likely trainers would start pulling all kinds of bands and tricks out, hoping to fire in the dark and hit the right one (and it is a shot in the dark as the squat involves movement at the ankle, knee, hip, and spine in the squat), or they’ll screen you to find the issue and then work on whatever the screen shows.
One of the things about the FMS is that you start with the simplest thing and go from there. Often, working on a single joint or a movement that crosses a single joint can be the best way to attack a much more complicated looking issue. So it’s quite common to begin a client with work on the ASLR and shoulder mobility. But let’s assume that everything is acceptable with these tests, as well as the others, and the only thing left is that pesky squat.
One of the final strategies for fixing the squat is to load up the front panel and do a squat while a band tries to pull you into trunk flexion. The abdomen has to fire up to prevent this happening and you end up with a good squat. But what about the goblet squat? The weight being placed in front of the body puts that same effect into motion, and the body has to fire up muscles it often ignores to prevent any kind of flexion. So as long as I get you to squat correctly with the kettlebell in front of you, either as a goblet squat or a double front squat, I know I can achieve the exact same thing.
Executing a movement well is corrective. It may even be a better assessment in some cases than screening. This is why I often get all funny inside when I see people mindlessly thrashing about while training. I don’t even listen to music while training so I can focus on every nuance of what it is I’m doing. I’ve found over the years that fussing over what seem like minute details in training can have big carryover to other things. Get the movements right, and you’ll receive many benefits beyond getting bigger, stronger muscles. This is the root of what functional training should be - it should make you function better, and not just at a single task.
Photo 1 courtesy of Miguel Tapia Images.
Photo 2 courtesy of Andrew Read.