A Deep Investigation into the Safety and Performance of the Deep Squat: Part 3 – Addressing Compensation With a Continuum Model

proper-squatLast week we spoke about why compensation occurs in our body.  When we have an athlete who displays some of these compensations we have to determine why these are occurring so that we can more thoroughly address these limitations.  Are we having a true flexibility problem?  Is it a motor control or stability issue?  Is the weight just too heavy or the movement too challenging?

These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:

  • If it’s a flexibility issue, where is it coming from and which intervention is most appropriate for that athlete?
  • If it’s a motor control issue can I correct it with a few cues?  Do I need to give that athlete an even easier movement with a pattern assist?
  • If it’s a pure strength issue, how much do I need to back off the weights used?  Which modification does this athlete need if they can’t perform a given bodyweight exercise properly?

One of the biggest concepts myself and Dave Tilley speak about at Power Monkey Camp is the idea of using a continuum for corrective exercises.  The continuum looks like this:

Flexibility / Mobility –> Motor Control / Stability –> Low Level Reinforcement Exercises –> Training

This idea is based off of what we discussed earlier.  Not everyone is going to start at the same place in the continuum and need the same intervention.  For example, for someone without a flexibility issue, I wouldn’t give them a bunch of flexibility exercises.  I’d start them off where they need it, potentially with motor control.  Really, if someone has a perfect unloaded squat with no flexibility or motor control issues then they can skip right to the end of the spectrum, they need to go train, not mobilize.

The other concept we like to speak about is performing your corrective exercises along a spectrum.  We argue that going straight from foam rolling your upper back to lifting a maximal load overhead won’t improve your movement as well as going through this spectrum approach.

The example I give is this.  Let’s say you have a limitation in overhead motion due to thoracic spine and lat stiffness.  Because of this you’ve created a habit of pressing overhead with suboptimal technique.  Basically you’ve built a bad habit.  Let’s say you do a bunch of lat and thoracic spine foam rolling and improve your range of motion.

Do you think that new motion is something your brain recognizes you have?  Do you think that when you go back to lifting overhead your body will break your old habit and use that new motion?  Do you think that new motion is strong enough to support the normal weights you’re used to working with?  I’d argue no.  After you’ve created new flexibility we believe it needs to be reinforced with movement and slowly incorporated back into your normal lifting and training.

Another common complaint we hear from people is how short lived these improvements in range of motion are.  Newer research about foam rolling is showing just how short lived this motion is.  The same goes for stretching.

We believe that using this continuum may be a way to make range of motions more permanent, especially if we can make those range of motion changes progress into our regular training.

Nerd Notes: We don’t disagree that longer term programs including static stretching, self myofascial release and eccentric training are not effective.  We’re just trying to improve on the current system

Here’s an example of how the continuum would work for someone with a hip mobility restriction.

  • Flexibility – Quadruped hip posterior mobilization (To Improve Hip Flexion)

  • Motor Control / Stability – Quadruped Groin Rock (To teach deep hip flexion and dissociate between the hips and spine)

  • Low Level Reinforcement – Goblet Squat with Band Around Knees (3 seconds lowering and 3 second pause at bottom of squat)

  • Training – Back Squat / Front Squat

You can see from this example that we’re very thorough about creating new range of motion, trying to actively reinforce this with basic motor control exercises and then using a lower level exercise specific to what we’re trying to improve (hip flexion in the squat).  We believe this method will carry over better to a lasting change in our movement then simply stretching alone.

Keep in mind that this will look different for a different joint restriction.  Also keep in mind that if you have a motor control limitation then that is where you start on the continuum (Not with flexibility).  Improving motion is also a bit like un-peeling the layers of an onion.  You may initially have a lot of flexibility issues but after working them thoroughly you may notice you’ve got more motor control issues.  You may also initially have a lot of stiffness in the posterior hip, but after clearing that up you find your adductors are more limiting.  Be ready to adapt and change.

Next week we talk hip health.  Oh my god I’m so excited!

Continuum for the Win,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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