How to Implement Assessment and Corrective Strategies into Your Box: Part 1 – The Problem and the Solution

By djpope

December 29, 2014

corrective exercise, evaluation, flexibility, mobility, physical therapy, Screening and Assessment, stability

Dan coachingI’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling and speaking around the United States lately and one of the biggest things I’m trying to do is educate people about screening and assessing themselves and their clients.  It is enormously important and also enormously overlooked and forgotten in our realm.  We’ve become very good with practicing technique, programming properly and spending time mobilizing.  The issue is that we don’t really understand mobility.  People come to me saying they’re mobilizing but they’re still in pain or they’re still limited with “X” or “Y” exercise.  The first thing I’ll ask is if anyone ever evaluated them to see where the issue is coming from, or even if the individual even needs more flexibility work.  Are you using the right exercises?  Do you know how to tell if your exercises are making a difference?

Being able to assess our athletes will allow us to hone in on their specific deficits and efficiently correct these.  It’s important to know the source of someone’s dysfunction because if we guess wrong we’re essentially spinning our wheels by applying an intervention that doesn’t get at the root cause of the problem.  Also, if we apply a shotgun approach to mobility then we’re being incredibly inefficient.  Mobility and corrective exercise is already not very sexy, no need to waste time working on things that don’t need to be worked on.  We want to spend the bulk of our time training and mobility should be short, sweet and effective.  However, we can’t ignore mobility as some experts will espouse.  Not everything can be fixed by squatting more and some things can be made worse by this approach.

Think of it this way.  Imagine someone who has poor overhead squat mechanics.  This could be coming solely from a right ankle dorsiflexion limitation stemming from an ankle sprain 15 years ago.  If that athlete is spending time mobilizing their shoulders, thoracic spine and hips in an effort to improve their squat then they aren’t efficiently improving their snatch.  Sure, additional shoulder and hip range of motion may help but the main issue lies in the ankle and we’re spending gobs of time working the wrong part of the chain.  Also keep in mind that gaining excessive motion at the shoulder and hip may also lead to more issues we don’t want.

This stuff is so important that it’s one of the first things I assess after someone has broken down and is coming to me in the physical therapy clinic.  Working this stuff will help you stay away from me and potentially from the orthopedic surgeon.  The other cool part is we’re going to become more efficient with our WODs and weights used.  Think of how much your snatch would improve if you could just get more comfortable in the bottom position of an overhead squat.  Think of how much easier 50 thrusters for time would be if you could just get your front rack in order.  The cool part is that we have the power to change this and help our population.

It’s no small task.  First off, it’s a complex thing for people to understand.  You’ve got several fantastic tools out there for assessment and screening including the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), Functional Movement Screen (FMS), Y-balance, postural assessment and specific movement screens from just about everyone and their momma out there.  (Keep in mind that I use all of these tools myself and they’re all valuable)

These tools are all important.  However, one of the largest things I’ve changed over the course of doing these seminars is the simplicity and ease of the assessment process.  Once I get into the real nitty gritty of the assessment process I usually have people’s eyes rolling into the backs of their skulls and falling asleep.  It’s just too complex for most coaches.  On top of that tools like the Functional Movement Screen are a great resource for these populations but it’s often difficult for our athletes and patients to see the value in these screens and the correctives are often neglected (I know a few gyms who use the FMS successfully but they run into the same issues I just stated).  The FMS is also not as specific to the lifts and gymnastics skills we want to improve upon anyway (Although a good start).

The next part is that it’s hard to implement.  How can we individually screen our athletes in a group setting and give them the tools they need to progress safely and become more efficient in the movements we want to master?  How do we decide which athletes should be held back from specific movements until their motion improves?

Well, here’s how I do it.  Over the next few installments I’ll put together my own system that I teach other box owners and have been using at Crossfit Verve with the foundations class.  It’s definitely not a perfect system but I feel that it’s a bit more practical then some other systems and specific to our target population.

The major assessments we’ll be going over are:

  • Overhead Mobility Screen
  • Front Rack Mobility Screen
  • Squat Mobility Screen
  • Deadlift Mobility Screen

It’s only 4 main screens and isn’t going to address every limitation but it is a great start and these movements form the foundation of most other movements we’ll want to improve upon (Better front rack mobility will also improve thrusters, cleans, jerks etc).  These movements are also very specific to what we want to improve in the gym.  Your athletes will be able to feel a difference after applying a few exercise interventions and will be more willing to continue with their exercises after seeing an improvement in their performance.  Ultimately we’ll have safer, more efficient athletes and you’ll be a more effective coach.

Some basic things to keep in mind over the next few installments:

  1. These screens are best implemented at the start of an athlete’s training at your box.  At Verve I attempt to put these into the foundations classes.  On a day we’re doing a lot of overhead movement coaching, we’ll do an overhead screen.  Next we’ll identify those who have a limitation.  The warm-up for that day will contain several overhead mobility corrections so that the athlete has an idea of how to improve their overhead mobility if a restriction is identified. This way the athlete holds the tools they’ll need to address any limitation and the coach won’t have to waste time assessing in the future when they notice an athlete’s technique is sub-par.
  2. If an athlete fails these screens then they will end up compensating to perform these movements (Think of someone’s back rounding in the bottom position of a snatch due to poor hamstring mobility).  Performing a faulty movement on top of a dysfunction is basically reinforcing people how to move poorly.  Keep in mind that it is up to the coach to identify how much of a compensation they’re willing to allow their athletes (i.e. if an athlete is mildly limited with motion then performing that motion might be safe but if a major limitation exists then it would be worth modifying that movement until their mobility improves).  I’ll give a few modifications I like to use if an athlete is really failing these screens.  As mobility issues clear up an athlete should be progressed into these movements accordingly.
  3. Athlete’s will be taught how to screen themselves and should employ a test and re-test before and after an intervention to determine if their chosen corrective exercise is improving their motion.  This way athlete’s can become more efficient with their corrective exercise and won’t have to mobilize all day long.  i.e. utilize only the most effective exercises.  Keep in mind that everyone is an individual and all people respond differently to different corrective exercises just as different cues will be needed to help each individual.
  4. Athlete’s should be able to create their own problem list and should work to improve these issues.  I like to set up a list in triage format,  spending the most time with movements that are most limited.
  5. Some athletes will end up moving poorly just because they have not yet mastered the motor planning of the given movement (i.e. an immature squat).  However, if there is an underlying mobility / flexibility limitation, no amount of cueing will correct the issue.  More practice may make the mobility issue improve over time but it is much more efficient to identify and treat the main limitation.  Don’t push a round peg through a square hole.  Pushing through poor technique over time with the hopes of eventually improving technique may work, but you’re playing with fire.  You’re being inefficient and may potentially cause injury.
  6. Assessment is very important because poor movement can come from a variety of limitations and will present the same way.  i.e.  If someone’s feet always spin out toward the bottom of a squat this could come from a variety of places (limited ankle dorsiflexion, limited tibial rotation, limited hip flexion and rotation, limited hip stability, foot stability, poor motor control etc).  We can’t assume it’s coming from one place.  Assess and target the correct area.

That’s it for this week.  Next week we’ll go over the overhead mobility screen.  We’ll identify when to put it into practice, what failing and passing is, how to correct any deficits and what to modify until things clear up.  I’m certainly pumped for this article series.  Although not sexy, assessment is incredibly important and as coaches I think we’re really dropping the ball here.  Let’s be better.

Still can’t touch my toes,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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