Got Shoulders?

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The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. That’s a good thing! When combined with good spine mobility, our shoulders allow our arms to reach, throw, pull, and push from all sorts of angles.

A consequence of being mobile is the possibility of being highly unstable. Instability, or the inability to control a limb, may lead to the common aches and pains that many of us experience in our shoulders, elbows, and possibly even the wrists. Why might instability and pain happen? (My answer will be limited to chronic pain, not acute injuries such as fractures and dislocations due to falls and other accidents.)

My belief is that shoulder problems (and most other movement problems) are rooted in a use-it-or-lose-it dynamic. Our modern lifestyle is characterized by limited movement. As adults, we rarely crawl on the ground. As modern humans, most of us don’t have to climb trees or pick up heavy things and put them overhead. We typically sit with our arms in front of us as we type on keyboards, drive cars, and operate TV remote controls. Thus our movement skills stagnate. Our brain and nervous system loses the ability to coordinate the many movements available to us. But then we might decide to swing a golf club, swim, lift weights, attempt pull-ups, pushups, throw a ball, or reach into the back seat from the front seat. Unfamiliar movements—especially if done with high force, high speed and/or done at end-range—may be too much to ask of our deconditioned shoulder complex. Then we get pain.

The following videos are designed to help restore mobility and stability to the shoulders. Pay attention to how you move as you do them. Don’t speed through them. Always be in control of the exercise, don’t let the exercise control you. If it hurts then back off or stop. None of these drills are guaranteed to fix any specific problem you may have. You may need to see a physical therapist or some other injury rehab specialist.

For the corner stretch, keep you eyes up a little bit. Don’t let your head and neck flop forward.

For the rotator cuff complex, use high reps, maybe 15-20 reps.

The halo can be varied in some ways not shown in the video. Try the halo while in a hip-hinge or deadlift-like position. Use a light weight.

The Best Know How to Rest

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Our popular culture is filled with admonitions to “Just Do It” and “Push your limits.” We hear aggressively pompous questions like “What’s your excuse?” aimed at people who don’t adhere to some sort of arbitrary exercise pattern. A lot of this is good marketing but it’s not reflective of the reality behind truly great sports performance, career longevity, creativity, and good health. We don’t hear much about the massive importance of rest.

I’m very happy to see a discussion of rest in Sports IllustratedHow extended breaks in training help elite athletes—and why you should take them too is an excerpt from a book titled Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg. They offer the example of 42-year-old Bernard Legat the multiple Olympic medalist and world champion runner:

But here’s the thing: If we never take “easy” periods, we are never able to go full throttle and the “hard” periods end up being not that hard at all. We get stuck in a gray zone, never really stressing ourselves but never really resting either. This vicious cycle is often referred to by a much less vicious name—“going through the motions”—but it’s a huge problem nonetheless. That’s because few people grow when they are going through the motions. In order to give it our all, and do so over a long time horizon without burning out, we’ve got to be more like Bernard Lagat: Every now and then, we’ve got to take it really easy. In addition to his year-end break, Lagat also takes an off-day at the end of every hard training week. On his off-days, Lagat doesn’t even think about running. Instead, he engages only in activities that relax and restore both his body and mind such as massage, light stretching, watching his favorite TV shows, drinking wine, and playing with his kids.

Every hard-exercising, hard-working person should read this and take this advice to heart. This doesn’t just pertain to high-end elite athletes. In fact, the article does a very good job discussing how the need for regular and at times extended rest periods applies to everyone in any field of work. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Running Injuries and Running Performance: A Podcast and an Article

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Injury and performance exist on a sliding scale. At one end we are completely broken down, hurt, and unable run/bike/swim/lift/fight/hike/etc. At the other end we’re performing at our peak. Probably every active person has been injured and I’m willing to bet that every active person would like to perform their very best. This post is for runners in either or both camps.

Runners are often injured. According to a review of literature in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, rates of lower-leg injury ranged from 19.4% to 79.3% among study subjects. The magic questions are 1)Why do we get injured? and 2) How do we overcome injuries?

I think it stands to reason that if we hurt while running then very likely it’s the way we run that’s the problem. Running requires complex coordination among many parts and systems. It is mind boggling to try and dissect running form, find the problems and then either teach or learn new, helpful techniques.

Meanwhile, if we’re not injured and we’re able to run, then we probably want to know how to run faster and more efficiently. How do we we achieve these goals? These questions aren’t easily answered. With all that in mind, I found two resources that may offer some very valuable information on these issues.

The first is the Physio Edge Podcast 049, Running From Injury with Dr. Rich Willy. At about the 20:30 mark Dr. Willy gives some good external cues to help promote running form that may help with IT band pain. The cues involve the knees and the hips:

  1. If the knees cave in too much while running: He puts brightly colored tape on the outside He has the patient run on a treadmill facing a mirror. He tells the patient to push the tape out toward the walls.
  2. If the hips are adducting too much: The runner runs on a treadmill facing a mirror with the waistband of their shorts clearly visible. He instructs the runner to keep the pelvis level by keeping their waistband level.

Listen to the podcast to get all the details.

Next is an article from the always informative Alex Hutchinson at the Sweat Science column at Runner’s WorldWhat Makes a Running Stride Efficient? Hutchinson discusses a study from Loughborough University in England that looked at biomechanical factors

“For running economy, three variables stood out: vertical oscillation (measured by the up-and-down motion of the pelvis; less is better); how bent your knee is when your foot hits the ground (more bent is better); and braking (also measured by looking at the motion of your pelvis; less slowdown as your foot hits the ground is better).

“Overall, these three variables explained 39.4 percent of the individual differences in running economy—and the vast majority of that (27.7 percent) came from vertical oscillation.

“For running performance, four variables stood out: braking (as above); the angle of the shin when your foot hits the ground (closer to vertical is better); duty factor (basically a measure of how long your foot stays on the ground relative to your overall stride; quicker is better); and the forward lean of your trunk (more upright is better).

Overall, these four variables explained 30.5 percent of individual variation in race times, with shin angle (10 percent) and braking (9.9 percent) as the biggest contributors.”

Something I always appreciate about Hutchinson’s writing is that he lays out some of the errors in thinking that we might encounter when we assume that employing new running techniques will automatically equal better, faster, pain-free running. Are these characteristics of efficient runners chickens or eggs?

“For example, you could imagine a study that compared elite runners to ‘regular’ runners and found that the elite tend to have more highly defined calf muscles. It doesn’t necessarily follow that doing a whole bunch of hardcore calf exercises will make you faster. It’s more likely that a whole lot of training, combined with some genetics, has given elites more defined calves. Fixating on getting better calf muscles would be distraction that’s unlikely to help you, and takes away from things that really would make you faster, like running more.”

That said, (and he mentions this) it may well investigating new strategies based on these findings. From my experience in helping people with their running, aiming to achieve these biomechanical outcomes can help. (This post offers a few cues that I’ve found useful to use with runners.)

Ideally, you should be videoed while running.Trying to adjust your gait without knowing how you’re currently running might be near impossible. Video is a very powerful tool when it comes to making adjustments to sporting techniques and I highly recommend it.

Definitely read the article and listen to the podcast if you think you need help with your running or if you’re a coach who works with runners. And if doing it yourself isn’t getting you the results you want then I strongly suggest you employ some sort of running coach to help.

Sometimes It’s Simple

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I’ve taken lots of courses, read lots of books and articles, listened to podcasts, and attended seminars dedicated to helping my clients move better and get out of pain. I’ve spent time and money learning about so-called corrective exercises. I’ve learned that rarely is the site of pain the site of the problem. I recognize that the body is a highly interconnected system of systems and that what happens at one end can have powerful effects way out at the other end. I’ve tried to absorb and apply all sorts of complex information and sometimes, my brain gets in the way and I overlook simple solutions.

Patty is one of my senior clients. We’ve worked together for several years. She has intermittent knee pain on both, but mostly her left knee. It’s not terrible but it bothers her after tennis games and often while climbing and descending stairs.

It’s important to recognize that the knee is caught between the hip and the ankle. Rarely is it the fault of the knee that’s causing the knee pain. (An obvious exception would be an acute injury like a ligament sprain or some sort of impact to the knee.)

I’ve had her do all sorts of exercises and mobility drills for her hips. We’ve done glute drills in all three planes of motion. We’ve done all sorts of lunges in all sorts of directions. We’ve done a bunch of ankle and foot mobility work too. In the past, I spent way too much time giving her a bunch of instructions to squeeze the glutes when she walks and to try and make her leg do this or that as she moves. (These are examples of intrinsic cues. They’re usually not the best cues.)

Sometimes her knee(s) feel better but for the past several weeks she’s reported fairly consistent knee pain, particularly on stairs. This was frustrating to me in that last week we did a variety of drills and exercises such that she was able to take the stairs without pain. I was hopeful though. If we could eliminate her pain last week then we could do it again.

We went to the stairs. I planned to review a couple of things we did the prior week. My mind filled with cornucopia of lunges, stepping drills, and ankle mobility exercises. How would I tweak the exercises? How would I load them? There were many options. My brain started to overheat as I tried to contemplate them all.

Then I paused and thought, “What’s the simplest possible way to find success?”

Coach her to walk the stairs differently. No drills, no exercises, nothing special. I would give her a minimum of instructions on how to walk the stairs in a different way than when she arrived.

There were two tactics from last week I wanted to try. If those didn’t work then we could move to all the wacky, exotic stuff. The two main instructions were these:

  1. Ascending: Lean forward a little. By leaning forward I expected the glutes to work more than if she stood fully upright. It didn’t need to be a big lean forward, just somewhat of a lean. Don’t think about the glutes either. Jus lean forward.
  2. Descending: Let the heel of the rear foot stay flat longer. That way the ankle would dorsiflex more thus taking some of the load from the knee. Also, try and descend softly. Try not to slam and clunk down to the next step. My hope was that this would prompt a controlled descent as opposed to a sort of lurching slam into the step.

(I’ve seen this ankle/knee relationship several times in the past. A few of my clients have presented with knee pain and limited ankle dorsiflexion. The knee pain diminished or vanished once dorsiflexion was restored and then used during gait.)

Both strategies worked immediately! How cool! For the next 5-10 minutes I had her practice the new stair walking strategies. The only time the knee pain popped up was when she let the heel rise too early during the descent.

I didn’t tell her anything about her glutes or her knee or any other muscles or joints. Just, “lean forward,” and “keep your heel down longer.” I need to remember that sometimes giving simple cues can do world of good. I don’t always need to go through a rigamarole of creative exercises to help someone move and feel better.

Reading & Learning: “Real Movement” by Adam Wolf, PT

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I am reading with much enthusiasm the book Real Movement by physical therapist and massage therapist Adam Wolf, aka the Biomechanical Detective. In a big way, it’s like re-reading a very good book that I’ve enjoyed in the past. I am familiar with a lot of the concepts discussed by Adam and what I enjoy immensely is coming back and examining those concepts through his eyes and his experiences.

Wolf is among other things, a Fellow of Applied Functional Science (FAFS) by way of the Gray Institute. I also study and apply Gary Gray’s material. I always like to see how other practitioners apply the principles of 3D movement. I love gaining new perspectives on how to create functional exercises, or exercises that most translate to real life. You can see a lot of examples of this at the Adam Wolf, PT, Biomechanical Youtube Channel.

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If you ain’t got that sling then you ain’t got that swing.

Something I just learned is that Adam’s dad is Chuck Wolf, another functional exercise and movement professional. Many years ago I was introduced to the concept of Flexibility Highways at one of Chuck’s seminars. These highways aka muscle slings, aka myofascial lines, are networks of muscle and fascia that often  work together during real-world, whole-body movements. (“Real-life” movements are in contrast to many of the artificially isolated movements that we see in gyms, especially those performed on machines.) One example is the posterior oblique sling as used in a golf swing. Another example is the anterior oblique sling used when throwing.

The anterior X sling is a big part of throwing, batting, golfing, running, punching and all sorts of things.

The anterior X sling is a big part of throwing, batting, golfing, running, punching and all sorts of things.

The fascial sling system was an interesting concept to me at the time but it has sort of faded from my thinking in recent years. Now, reading Adam’s book and watching his videos has brought those flexibility highways or slings to the front of my mind. These sling concepts are informing both the mobility work I’m doing with clients as well as my exercise selection. In working along and within these sling systems I feel like I’m capturing just about all of the movement we humans are capable of. Check out the following videos from Adam Wolf where he discusses how you can move better by following these fascial lines.

Hip Adduction Part II: Solutions to Mobility and Stability

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In Part I of this series, I discussed what hip adduction is and why it’s crucial for good movement, balance and sports performance. In this post I’ll give some ways to self-assess your hip adduction and increase your hip adduction mobility, stability and power.

There are many ways to investigate and train hip adduction. I do not propose to cure what ails you with any of these exercises. If you’re in real pain then you need to see a physician.

(I realize now in watching the videos that I use the term “frontal plane” more than I say “hip adduction.” Please consider the terms interchangeable for the purpose of this post.)

Check your ability to move into hip adduction. Check both right and left sides. How do they compare?

Now check your stability. Can you control your hip adduction?

Try this mobility matrix to gain more hip adduction. You may need more on both sides. The great thing about this matrix is that you’re not only address the hip but you’ll also be mobilizing other joints in concert with the hip.

This movement series is a more aggressive way to challenge hip adduction while at the same time getting an upper body workout.

The next three exercises are a few ways to challenge and develop hip adduction mobility, stability and power. These can be used for athletic training purposes or simply as fun ways to tweak familiar exercises. All sorts of implements can be used:

Achilles Pain. Time to Take Action!

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I’ve had periodic issues with my left Achilles tendon. I’ve never had trouble with my right Achilles until just lately. I felt a bit of soreness one morning and found some swelling. I knew it probably wouldn’t “work itself out” (I sort of hate when someone says that about something. Nothing “works itself out.” Someone has to put in work in order to see progress.) The upside to having had this problem before is that I know how to address it now.

I believe my trouble may have started because of the long trail run/hike I did a couple of weekends ago in Telluride. It was about 12 miles which was a sizable jump from my prior long run of 7 miles. (Sometimes I’m not smart.)

I have attacked the injury with a fairly conventional strategy of slow and controlled heel raises. Here’s what it looks like:

I’m doing these exercises frequently throughout the day. If I can hit 15 reps then I add weight. Fifteen reps isn’t a magic number by the way. Most importantly I work to a high level of exertion, pretty much to failure.

I’ve run several times since feeling pain and doing the calf raises and I feel fine. That’s a good sign. I probably don’t need to take time off from running.

This exercise is boring and I hate doing it. (Sounds like what a lot of people say about going to the gym.) I have shown a propensity for weakness in my Achilles tendons in the past though. This is exactly the type of thing I need to do and I should be doing continually. It’s easy to skip this stuff because I don’t enjoy it. My body doesn’t  though even though there are potential negative consequences to this course of non-action.

There are lots of things in life like that.

Running Technique: 3 Simple Cues

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Running form is a frequently discussed topic among injured runners and runners looking to perform better. How should we run? Is there one ideal way to run? Should we run on the forefoot, mid-foot or heel? Does our core matter? What should our upper body do when we run?

There are many schools of thought in the running world and there doesn’t seem to be any ironclad consensus on any of these questions. If you’re running pain-free and you’re performing as well as you’d like then I don’t believe you should change your running form. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If, on the other hand, you experience pain when you run or if you’re not as fast as you’d like to be then some technique changes may be in order.

Run tall.

A lot of us run in a hunched type of posture that resembles the way we sit (and sit and sit…) in our work chairs or in our cars. This hunched position may be problematic and may be contributing to running problems. To address this issue:

Imagine a chain is attached to the top of your skull. That chain pulls you up. It lengthens your spine and makes you tall. See if you can feel this long, tall spine as you run. As part of this process, keep your gaze up and out toward the horizon. Don’t stare at the ground directly in front of you. This tall posture should help with some of our other running form considerations.

Tight hip flexors may contribute to a hunched posture. The following stretch sequence may help.

Run light.

The impact of the foot hitting the ground is worth considering as it concerns injuries. Recent evidence suggests runners who hit the ground lightly are injured less than runners who hit the ground hard.

You may run with earphones and you may be unaware that you stomp and pound the ground with each footfall. So to run light, remove the earphones and pay attention to the sound you make.

Imagine you’re weightless. Your strides are feathery light, and energetic. You don’t pound the ground but rather you glide across gossamer.

Another way to run lightly comes through this skipping drill:

Use a short, quick gait.

One way to lighten the impact of running is to drop the foot very nearly under your hips. This should result in your shin being vertical or near-vertical. Look at the picture. Try running like #2. The skipping drill from above can help you feel that foot landing directly below your hips.

Runner #1 is pounding. Runner #2 is running lightly.

Want to run lightly? Run like #2.

Don’t concern yourself with whether or not you’re hitting on the heel, mid-foot or forefoot. Where the foot lands is more important than on what part of the foot hits first.

Quickening your cadence too much can be a problem. There is an obvious point at which gait can becomes too quick and inefficient. An excellent way to work on your cadence is to use a metronome. Kinetic Revolution has a great article that discusses research on cadence as well as how to introduce metronome running into your training. The article also links to a digital metronome that you can download.

Change takes work.

Running may seem like something we should all be able to do. In fact, most of us can execute some version of movement in which we rapidly put one foot in front of the other. Kids learn to run without detailed instruction and without much in the way of typical running injuries. Shouldn’t adults be able to do the same thing? Maybe or maybe not… If we hurt while running or if we think we’re too slow, then some sort of alteration to our running style may make sense.

Changing your gait takes some tinkering, some awareness and mindfulness. It won’t happen automatically. Physical therapist Rick Olderman helped me to change my running gait. He once said that “if it feels normal, then you’re doing it wrong.” He meant that in the early stages of changing how we move, it should feel weird and unnatural to us. Learning any new skill requires some struggle and awkwardness. If you practice frequently and work at it then things should improve at a reasonable rate.

Personally, I never listen to music while running. I pay attention to how I run, where my foot falls, how I move. I don’t want to fall back into bad habits.

Finally

I can’t guarantee that any of these changes will result in either a pain-free running experience or a podium finish in a race.Time with a physical therapist, podiatrist, chiropractor and/or a running coach may be what you need.  That said, these cues have helped my running as well as several of my clients’ running experience. I’ve also incorporated things like the short foot drill, ankle dorsiflexion work, and a wide variety of single-leg squats and lunges (here, here, here for instance) to improve my movement competence. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to consider when we run!

Got Dorsiflexion?

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The toes, feet and ankles get no respect. I’m not sure a lot of people walk into the gym and say, “Okay, today is foot and ankle day! Gonna work those parts hard and make ’em strong!”  We throw shoes on them and ignore them. Think about this though: It’s only every single step that we need those obscure parts to work correctly.

If we look at the body as a kinetic chain then we start to see that the feet and ankles don’t live in isolation. Movement or lack there of at the feet and ankles may create problems all the way up through the legs, hips, spine and shoulders. If an athlete doesn’t have sufficient motion at the ankles then he or she may not perform at his or her best.

Similarly, limited foot and ankle motion may be a contributor to pain. I’m not just talking about foot pain either. Again, if we consider the interconnectedness of all the joints and limbs of the body then it may not surprise us that faulty foot/ankle movement could contribute to back knee pain, hip pain, back pain — even shoulder or neck pain!

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Dorsiflexion: There’s no substitution for it!

In my observing both my clients and myself, I see a lot of us don’t quite have optimal  dorsiflexion. It’s easy to overlook but as I’ve argued, it’s very important. I know in my case, my various plantar fasciitis/Achilles tendon issues have improved as I’ve worked on my dorsiflexion. (Strictly speaking, I don’t know if limited dorsiflexion was a cause or effect of my foot and Achilles pain. That said, working on improving dorsiflexion
has coincided with those problems fading out.)

Dorsiflexion is more than just forward and back motion. There is always a 3D aspect to movement and we want to consider that. Also, We have a couple of different muscles (well… more than a couple but we’re considering mainly just two) that cross at the ankle. The following drills emphasize both the gastrocnemius muscle (the straight-leg drills) and the soleus muscle (the bent knee drills.)

Thoughts on 3D MAPS & Functional Training: Part I

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I recently attended a course called 3D MAPS. The course was presented by Dr. David Tiberio and it was offered through Gary Gray’s Gray Institute. I enjoyed the course and learned a lot. I’m now applying the concepts I learned in both my own training and in my clients’ programs. Here’s a rundown.

Overview

What is 3D MAPS all about? The Gray Institute describes it as such:

  • 3D – The human body moves three-dimensionally. All proprioceptors respond, all muscles react, and all joints move three-dimensionally. It only makes sense to analyze and progress the body three-dimensionally. 3DMAPS facilitates functional assessment and much, much more!
  • Movement – 3DMAPS leverages movements – lunges, reaches, squats – that are paramount to common, everyday movements and activities. These movements are authentic to the individual and relevant to what the individual does. While other screens, scans, analyses, claim to be functional, 3DMAPS actually is.
  • Analysis – 3DMAPS analyzes the entire body’s mobility (flexibility, range of motion) and stability (strength, control of motion) and then identifies a Relative Success Code specific to individual – based on symmetries, asymmetries, and disabling pain within the movements.
  • Performance – 3DMAPS enhances the function of the individual and progresses systematically and scientifically for optimal function and improvement.
  • System – Performance Movements parallel Analysis Movements, thus creating a seamless and intuitive process for both the practitioner and the patient / client.

As I see it, 3D MAPS is a movement analysis method that asks the client or patient to move through a wide range of motion in all three planes. As the client moves, the trainer continually asks “Is he/she showing adequate mobility?” and “Is he/she showing adequate stability?”

3D MAPS uses six lunges in three planes of motion to check mobility. In the saggital plane we have anterior/posterior lunges. In the frontal plane we have same-side lateral and opposite-side lateral. In the transverse plane we have same-side rotational and opposite-side rotational.

Six variations on one-legged squats are used to check stability. The same planes of motion are used as the lunges but instead of taking a full lunge step the client balances on one leg while reaching the other leg in the various different directions described above. These single-leg movements can be quite challenging and putting the foot down is allowed if needed.

In addition to the lunges and one-legged squats, clients swing their arms in the same three planes of motion as the lunges and squats.

3D MAPS movement patterns used to evaluate mobility and stability: anterior lunge, posterior lunge, opposite side lateral lunge, same side lateral lunge, opposite side rotational lunge, same side rotational lunge.

3D MAPS movement patterns used to evaluate mobility and stability: anterior lunge, posterior lunge, opposite side lateral lunge, same side lateral lunge, opposite side rotational lunge, same side rotational lunge. The lunge images are in black. The 1-leg squats are red.

Above are the basic movement patterns used in 3D MAPS. Trainers can “tweak” (in Gary Gray speak) in our out a wide variety of movement variables to make the movements more or less challenging. For instance, clients may lunge or one-leg squat without the arm swings or they may swing the arms without the lunges and one-leg squats. Lunges and one-leg squats may move in different planes from the arm swings.

The ground reaction force of the lunge may prove too challenging for some clients. A trainer can then simply ask the client to get in the lunge position and oscillate into and out of the lunge position.

The one-leg squat variations are designed to challenge the client’s balance and stability skills. They may be too challenging especially when the arm swings are used. Therefore a trainer may allow the free foot to tap down, tweak out the arms, keep the head steady (as opposed to moving with the trunk) or allow the client to hold lightly on to something for a little more stability. The idea here is to find the limits of someone’s stability but not to totally push them over the edge of his or her ability.

As we observe the client move we take note of the right/left symmetry of the client’s mobility, stability, and whether or not there’s pain present during the process. We note their successes and deficits as part of something called the Relative Success Code. This is a way of ranking their abilities from most to least successful and it helps determine our training or treatment process.

Strengths

Based on real-life

I feel the 3D MAPS process lives up to its “functional” billing. That is, it allows us to observe movements that are specific to many real-life situations. 3D MAPS speaks to the SAID Principle which says our bodies adapt specifically to the demands imposed on us. Real-life demands us to move in three dimensions, react to gravity and that our joints, limbs and muscles all work together to accomplish various tasks. We tend to stand on one or two legs while doing these tasks. For all these reasons I feel like 3D MAPS is superior to something like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), sit-and-reach tests, 3-minute step test, crunch test, pushup test, timed plank test, etc.

(The concept of “functional” training has stimulated my thinking. I’m writing a blog post on that concept right now.)

Feels like exercise

Most of my clients find themselves working fairly hard as we’ve gone through 3D MAPS. It feels like exercise. Not all movement analysis systems deliver this feeling to the participants. The reality is that many of our clients come to us because they want to exert and sweat. If we can gain valuable information and give our clients a workout then that’s a very good thing.

Easy to teach

The Gray Institute does a good job of teaching how to teach. Dr. Tiberio and the online videos made it easy to understand the breakdown of the movement patterns and how to progress and regress them.

Opens clients’ eyes

If 3D MAPS reveals a mobility and/or stability deficit then my clients typically perceive it. They often very clearly recognize that they’re lacking in their ability to lunge and they can always tell if they have poor balance. This is valuable in getting a client to buy into the 3D MAPS process.

Further, I’ve found that following the 3D MAPS intervention blueprint often results in noticeably better stability and/or mobility. It’s always exciting to see results!

The search for success

A very interesting aspect of the 3D MAPS methodology (and the Gray Institute process in general) is that we first want to find where and how the client can move successfully. We then want to to gradually move in on their lack of success. This is in contrast to what I think most of us want to do and that’s dive right into the task that gives us the most trouble. I think we typically want to climb the biggest, toughest obstacle before we tackle anything less significant. (Maybe that’s just me…. Nah.)

There are a couple of ideas behind the process of moving from the most successful down to the least successful movement task. One is that we want the client to feel successful and confident. If he or she can do something well and feel competent and confident then they will likely have a generally good workout experience. He or she may feel encouraged to try more difficult work.

The other idea informing the most-to-least-successful process is based on the possibility that the nervous system will best be able to solve the most difficult movement task if we very gradually expose it to increasingly difficult work. This makes sense if we think of learning anything from a language to music to driving a car to skiing. We do best if we start with very simple tasks and then progress toward more difficult territory. This process makes sense to me.

Many options

As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways to “tweak” the lunges, one-leg squats and the arm swings. Trainers can have clients move their head or not. We can ask clients to speed up, slow down, and lunge or squat farther out or closer in. We can go with lower-body or upper-body movements only and we can have clients use either the upper or lower body in ways to increase or decrease stability requirements. Beyond the assessment aspect of 3D MAPS, we can have clients hold weights, medicine balls, cables, bands, etc. if we want to create a greater challenge.

Weaknesses

Not a great upper-body assessment

3D MAPS is a very good lower-body assessment but it seems limited as an upper-body assessment. It’s very difficult to observe scapular movement quality or humeral internal/external rotation quality. Further, while we can observe mobility and stability in the lower-body, 3D MAPS gives us virtually no indication of upper-body stability.

Better for global movement assessment than local assessment

For now, 3D MAPS gives me a big picture of how the person is moving. It doesn’t reveal a lot about individual joints. My criticism here will probably lessen as I become more familiar with and more skilled at using 3D MAPS. Proper use of “tweaks” should help reveal individual joint limitations.

Relative Success Code is difficult

The Relative Success Code is supposed to be simple but it’s not and from what Dr. Tiberio said, the Gray Institute knows that there’s more work to be done. We’re supposed to score the client’s movement from their best success down to their least and then start working from their best to worst movements. But with six lunge variations and six one-leg squat variations for both sides of the body there is a lot to try and see and score. The issue as I see it is that human movement is complex and we can only simplify it so much.

Scoring should be divided into mobility and stability

This is related to the previous criticism. 3D MAPS provides tests for both mobility and stability yet we’re only supposed to give the client a “+” if they show good mobility and stability, a “-” if they show poor mobility/stability or “- P” if they have pain on any test.

If we’re testing two things it seems we should give two separate scores on each test for stability and mobility. I imagine that every trainer and therapist who uses 3D MAPS will create their own two-part score. Dr. Tiberio acknowledged this during the presentation so I’m betting the scoring system will change soon.

Many options

One of its strengths can also be a weakness. There are near infinite ways to change the testing process as well as the training/treatment process derived from 3D MAPS. Initially it’s daunting when considering all the options. Like most any new skill, the more we use it the better we get at using it. This is a minor criticism.

My overall opinion

3D MAPS gets a thumbs-up from me. I use some portion of it daily with practically all my clients. More than anything I appreciate that the driving force behind 3D MAPS is actual real-life movement requirements. I love the emphasis on three-dimensional movement. Gary Gray maybe more than anyone in the industry insists that we always look at movement through a 3D lens.

Some of this gets complicated. It does take a lot of thinking and practice to feel comfortable using the system–but what new skill doesn’t take a lot of work to master?

Dr. Tiberio said something during the 3D MAPS presentation that I found wise and valuable to me. He said, “Don’t give up what got you here.” With that he meant don’t throw out all the training methods and tools that we’ve used to become successful trainers. Don’t rush too headlong into the shiny, brand-new, hottest thing that we’ve just learned (and likely not yet mastered).

His words spoke to me and some of my past experiences as a trainer. To my regret, I’ve thrown several babies out with various tubs of fitness bathwater. There were times I was convinced that I found the absolute best, most incredible absolutely most effective tool, exercise or system and I just had to push all my clients in the direction of said new-cool-thing. While in reality two things were probably true: A) Said new-cool-thing may not have been the miracle answer to all things I thought it was, and B) Some of my previous tools, exercises and systems were still valuable. The result was that sometimes either I, my clients or both of us were frustrated. With both Dr. Tiberio’s words and my own experiences in mind, I am trying to fold 3D MAPS into my training process in a way that’s both amenable to my clients and that doesn’t frustrate me as I get familiar with 3D MAPS.

What that means is that I typically work on some of the mobility/stability issues that I see in my clients but we may not spend the whole session on 3D MAPS-related issues. We still use barbells, kettlebells, the TRX and other training tools to perform non-3D MAPS-type exercises. I have found that a very good way to work on clients’ mobility/stability issues is to put 3D MAPS exercises in between sets of say bench press, deadlift, pull-ups, etc.

Further, if someone is preparing for an athletic tasks (I train several skiers and snowboarders for instance) then their sport dictates that they exhibit athletic skill during times of fatigue. I believe an effective way of training these athletes is to fatigue them in some way (with kettlebell swings for instance) and then require them to exhibit skilled mobility/stability (with some sort of one-legged squat for instance). Thus I’ve found that 3D MAPS work can easily be used alongside whatever other training modalities a trainer and his or her clients enjoy, so hooray for everyone!

That’s about it for now. My next post will speak to the idea of functional training and exactly what that term might mean.