While interval training conjures images of sprinting, mountain climbers and plenty of sweat, what we often find in larger group settings is poor form, a lack of coaching, and a heightened risk of injury. Though all clients want to hit the ground running, a solid fitness foundation base must be established first. In order to build this strong foundation, we must take a progressive approach to both exercise selection and intensity of training. The good news? Because most entry-level group training participants are de-conditioned in strength, cardiovascular fitness and movement skills, almost any exercise will achieve a metabolic effect.
In the first part of this article, we will review screening techniques and basic corrective exercises for potential injury mechanisms. In our second section, we cover effectively incorporating these corrective strategies in to group fitness setting. By working to improve both conditioning and quality of movement, we can create a truly holistic experience to allow the client to look and move better in a safe and effective manner.
Part One: Movement Screening and Corrective Strategies
In the career of the average fitness professional, a vast number of clients we encounter will be seeking to lose weight, tone up or get fit for some occasion. And with the bootcamp/interval training revolution, this means most of your clients will likely expect to get hammered from day one.
While a healthy client can knock out a few burpees (or a few hundred), many of our clients possess problematic knees, shoulders, and backs, along with the coordination of someone twice their age. These individuals can be referred to as "movement impaired,” especially when they’re asked to skip, shuffle or bound.
If your client does not possess the physical capacity, movement quality, or cognitive ability for complex movement, then traditional interval exercises equal unacceptable risk. From here, the question becomes: How do we give them what they want and what they need?
The first step is to screen for basic mobility in movement patterns performed in our fitness class or bootcamp. Once this is done, the appropriate corrective solutions can be prescribed in the client’s program.
The following upper and lower body assessments can be easily administered in larger groups and should be performed at the beginning and end of each fitness class cycle.
It is important to note that pain during any part of the screening process should result in referral to the appropriate healthcare professional (Weingroff, 2011).
SHOULDER MOBILITY TEST
- Directions: Start by measuring the length of the client’s hand and instructing them to ball both hands into fists, placing one hand over the back and one hand behind the back (as shown in Figure 1.1). The client should try to get their hands as close together as possible. Measure the distance between the hands along the back, then have the client switch top hands to perform the same test on the opposite side. Make note of any asymmetries that exist between sides.
If we find the hands are less than two hand lengths apart, this represents acceptable mobility. If the client’s hands are more than two hand lengths apart (as shown in Figure 1.2), this represents a mobility or stability deficit of some kind (Cook, 2010).
- Affected activities: Overhead presses and pulling
- Corrective Drills:
- Quadruped Extension/Rotation: This drill is intended to improve extension and rotation of the thoracic spine (Cressey, 2009).
- Start in quadruped with the hands underneath the shoulders and knee underneath the hips.
- Next, place one hand behind your head and gently move the elbow of the “top” elbow down and back towards the opposite knee (Figure 2.1).
- Reverse the motion, coming past the starting point to promote extension and rotation. Driving the eyes upwards will help as well (Figure 2.2).
- Tall T-Spine Extensions: This drill is intended to improve extension of the thoracic spine (Weingroff, 2011).
- Begin in an upright position with both knees on ground and hands placed behind ears with elbows tucked in (Figure 3.1).
- Extend chest forward while bringing elbows toward the ceiling and hold for 1-2 seconds (Figure 3.1). Driving upward with the eyes will help to promote extension.
- Reverse the motion and return to starting position.
TOE TOUCH TEST
- Directions: Instruct the client to reach down and attempt to touch their toes while keeping their legs straight. If an inability to touch the toes is observed, this represents an inability to properly hinge from the hip and/or a mobility or stability deficit in the posterior chain (Weingroff, 2011).
- Affected activities : Flexion-based activities (squat, deadlift, kettlebell swings, RDLs).
- Corrective Drills:
- Rockback: This drill is intended to improve bi-lateral hip flexion while maintaining a neutral spine (Weingroff, 2011).
- Start in quadruped with the hands underneath the shoulders and knee underneath the hips (Figure 5.1). A tennis ball or object can be placed in the small of the lower back to cue awareness of this curve.
- Maintaining a slight lordosis (inward curvature) of the lower back, rock back gently on the knees until spinal curve is lost (Figure 5.2).
- Rock back and forward several times while attempting to sit back farther while maintaining this curve (Figure 5.3).
- Leg Lowering: This drill is intended to improve extensibility/length of posterior muscles (hamstrings, calves) while improving hip flexion and extension (Weingroff, 2011).
- Begin in a supine position with one leg raised to 90 degrees on either a wall, held by a partner or suspended in the air (Figure 6.1).
- Attempt to maintain the position of the raised leg while raising and lowering the opposite leg to the floor (Figure 6.2).
- Attempt to contract the abdominals through this exercise and only lower to the point where the back begins to arch (Figure 6.3).
BACK BEND TEST
- Directions: Instruct the client to place feet together and hands overhead. Leading with the hands, attempt to reach behind the body as far as possible with the hands as possible. The two indicators of competence in this test are the pelvis clearing the feet and ability of the hands to clear the spine of the scapula (Figures 7.1 and 7.2; Weingroff, 2011).
- Affected activities: Extension-based activities (split squat, lunge, push-up, planks).
- Corrective Drills:
- Standing Dorsiflexion: This drill is intended to improve ankle dorsiflexion (Weingroff, 2011).
- Stand up tall facing a wall, with the toes of one foot directly up against the wall and your hands on the wall for support (Figure 8.1).
- Place the weight on your front heel, and gently glide the knee forward while touching the wall. Pulse in and out of this position several times.
- If you can easily touch the wall, scoot your foot backwards in half-inch increments until your mobility is tested (Figure 8.2).
- Stop when you can no longer keep the weight on your heel, or you feel the weight shifting forward.
- Half-Kneeling Hip Extension: This drill is intended to improve hip flexion and extensibility of anterior chain (Weingroff, 2011).
- Begin in a half kneeling position with one knee placed in front of the other (Figure 9.1).
- Holding on a stick or wall for support, extend down hip forward until stretch is felt while contracting downside glute (Figure 9.2).
- Attempt to remain as tall as possible and pulse in and out of this position several times.
Part Two: Program Design and Integration
After screening is complete, the next step is to insert the appropriate corrective strategies in to our program.
Based upon screening results, this begins with a simple circuit of corrective exercises performed in the warm-up. For a group whose scores indicated limitations in both the patterns of extension and shoulder mobility, an example circuit may look something like this:
According to Weingroff (2011), such a circuit is typically performed for 1-2 sets of 15 to 20 reps. This circuit can also be prescribed as corrective homework for individual participants to perform in their off days.
As we transition to the strength and conditioning portions of the workout, the earlier screening process allows us to determine which movements can be trained more aggressively and those which require additional refinement/instruction.
For the client with a flexion-based limitation, for example, this may involve replacing a more advanced exercise such as a kettlebell swing with a hip hinge drill to teach proper movement during a conditioning circuit. At the end of each phase or cycle, simply re-test the client for improvement or change (Cook, 2010).
As the client improves their mobility and movement, these drills can gradually be replaced with more advanced exercises and progressions. The key to this practice is developing substitute exercises for each pattern that can be implemented to improve movement.
Generally such progressions begin with static stabilization pattern to teach proper mechanics and progress to more dynamic movement as competence improves.
PROGRESSION TO OVERHEAD CARRYING
Given sufficient mobility, the key to safe progression to overhead activities is teaching the client to retract and depress the shoulders. This is often accomplished with the cue of “stick the chest out” which naturally emphasizes this quality (Weingroff, 2011).
This cue can be practiced and taught initially in horizontal exercises such as push-ups and band presses and progressed to vertical exercises as competence allows.
- Overhead Carry
- One-Arm Pressing
- Two-Arm Pressing
PROGRESSION TO FLEXION (SQUAT/DEADLIFT)
The key to flexion-based exercises such as the quality and the deadlift is teaching the client to hinge from the hips first (versus bending the knees) when initiating movement. Initially, this can be accomplished by placing a dowel rod on the clients back when performing a deadlift movement (Weingroff, 2011).
The stick must stay in contact with the client’s head and middle to lower back to ensure proper spinal alignment is maintained. Once this technique has been learned, we can then progress to more free-standing activities.
- Modified Waiter’s Bow
- Two-Handed Deadlift
- Kettlebell Swing
PROGRESSION TO EXTENSION (LUNGE)
Much like the squat and deadlift, the lunge is an exercise reliant upon the ability to hinge and extend successfully from the weight-bearing hip. In this exercise, the client should remain as straight as possible without any significant deviations of the torso, knee or foot.
With this in mind, one useful technique for teaching this exercise is beginning in a half-kneeling position and cueing the client to raise to their feet while remaining as tall or long as possible.
By returning to this position after each rep, we can cue and adjust the client to maintain proper form as this exercise is learned (Weingroff, 2011).
- Static Split Squat Hold
- Split Squat
- Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
- Cook, G. (2010). Movement. 1st Ed. Santa Cruz, CA: On Target. pp. 106, 125-126, 230-233.
- Cook, G. (2009, Sept. 24). A GPS for High Intensity Exercise. Strength and Conditioning Webinars. Retrieved from http://www.strengthandconditioningwebinars.com/members/166.cfm?sd=61 .
- Cressey, E. (2009). Assess and Correct. Indianapolis, IN. p. 109.
- Weingroff, C. (2011). Training Equals Rehab, Rehab Equals Training [DVD]. http://www.charlieweingroff.com .