You Can't Dominate on the D.L.

Coaches and trainers often test strength, power, speed, and sport specific skill. Radar guns, bench press, vertical jump, and 40-yard dash times are meaningful to them. But there are other less glamorous but essential components to peak performance.

No athlete has dominated a game or set any personal records while standing on the sidelines.

Comprehensive Training

Gray Cook and his associates have devised the "Performance Pyramid" to help coaches and athletes understand comprehensive performance training. The pyramid explains three distinct levels of training, their prioritization, and how to integrate them.

Level one is Functional Movement. This simply refers to the symmetry, flexibility, body control, and movement awareness that is the required base of higher level movement. Here we get finicky about flexibility or strength imbalances that lead to faulty body mechanics in fundamental movement patterns. For example, an athlete that cannot correctly execute a body weight deep squat has no place trying to squat with a loaded barbell across their shoulders.

You would be surprised at how many young athletes cannot execute a proper body weight squat.

The second level of the pyramid is Functional Strength. Compound total body exercises like dumbbell rows, chin ups, deadlifts, and plyometrics give the athlete a stronger, more powerful engine. Sport skill will only take an athlete so far if they lack strength and power. Athletes who haven't served time under the iron will often find that they have difficulty applying new skills at "game speed" and quickly hit a plateau in skill progression.

The final level of training is Functional Skill. Whether it's pitching mechanics, blanketing a wide receiver, or pole vault technique, the largest gains in sport performance occur when athletes have invested time developing the base levels of the pyramid. Over use of skill practice and other high level training methods can actually hinder development of the athlete when their primary "limiting factor" lies on another tier of the pyramid.


It seems that athletes young and old typically like to work on their strong areas and neglect weaker links. Bench pressing 350 pounds is overrated if rotational range of motion is lacking. Being able to balance on your head is overrated if your reaction time is horrible. Good reaction time and flexibility are overrated if you don't have sufficient strength and core stability to squat your body weight.

A strong and powerful athlete with a high level of specific skill is the perfect recipe for injury when the body is lacking in fundamental movement patterns.

Athletes should periodically revisit and solidify the base of the pyramid in order to prevent injury and to realize the greatest gains from higher level strategies. Sustainable improvement requires a structured, long-term approach with an eye on safety.

You're Hurting. So Now What?

It's hard to resist the impulse to twist and turn and contort the body into different positions in order to "hit" a painful area. I see this all the time. "Gotta work that thing out," as the person makes some kind of circle with the painful area in question.

An athlete with a hamstring strain or history of hamstring strains does 12 renditions of hamstring stretches to work out the "tight" hamstring. But what if the problem is not the hamstring at all? What if weak gluteal muscles are doing a poor job of extending the hip? What if the knee is taking on a lot of rotational force when the athlete runs? That can happen for a number of reasons.

Both of these issues can cause the hamstrings to work overtime, and all the stretching in the world won't improve the faulty movement patterns at the root of the injury. While there are certainly times when stretching isolated muscles or joints is called for, for the most part, these have not been effective in reducing pain and preventing the occurrence of injury.

To reduce injury risk and improve rehabilitation to game speed, athletes should focus more on improving movement patterns. The term regional interdependence has been used to explain why dysfunction in one body region may contribute to injury and pain elsewhere.

As compared to testing balance, strength, and flexibility individually over one part of the body, testing these simultaneously with functional movements improves the accuracy of identifying athletes at risk for injury during repetitive, complex movements that often occur in sports.

The Functional Movement Screen consists of a series of 7 tests designed to assess functional movements. The real "magic" in the protocol is that the tests are fairly easy and quick to apply in any location and they really do cover the entire body.

Recent research has shown a relationship between an athlete's functional movement characteristics, as measured by the FMS, and injury risk in professional football players. The FMS was applied in the preseason then injuries were tracked. Those who scored less than 17 out of 21 in the preseason had significantly more injuries during the season than those who scored 17 or greater.

Individualized How?

The FMS allows athletes to identify weak areas that may predispose them to injury and customize their training accordingly. Doing time in the basement of the Performance Pyramid with corrective flexibility and strengthening exercises is critical for both peak performance and injury prevention. Coaches and athletes would both be served well by using a passing score on the FMS to "qualify" for the weight room leader board.

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