In this week’s installment of OPEX One I’m going to be giving insight to the art of assessing an athlete who’s been chewed up and spit out by the grinder. If you’ve been involved in fitness for awhile you’ve likely seen the athletes who have stopped making progress, perhaps keep tweaking things such as their back or knee or even a shoulder. I have one such client named Anthony.
Anthony came to me 2 months ago with back pain; he herniated a disc and had a discectomy as a result. He didn’t go through rehab, and sought me out to help him. Upon first assessing Anthony, and just like every other athlete I work with, I run them through a Functional Movement Screen or FMS for short. Before all the FMS “haters” hop in on this, I’d like to make mention that the FMS is NOT an assessment. It’s a screen, plain and simple. I run everyone, regardless of age, sex, sport, or goal, through the FMS. From the data I get from the FMS I choose where to take the rest of the assessment. While having a conversation with Anthony it was clear he was in pain and/or discomfort. He was constantly shifting in the chair, adjusting his back position, and he couldn’t hip hinge or squat very well either.
Now I’ll be honest with you, I’m not very interested in looking at the program for someone who’s already a very gifted athlete such as Rich Froning. You can pretty much give him anything and he’s just going to get better. I am though, very interested in the program that takes someone from injured or very low level fitness, and creates an athlete out of them. I want to see that program from start to finish. That’s what today will be about, a glimpse into the last couple months of Anthony’s program.
For the first month with Anthony, it wasn’t very sexy. Anthony could not stabilize his spine very well, and so he relied on his erector spinae muscles to create stability rather than creating intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) for stabilization. We hammered home IAP in many different ways. The first thing I always work on though is sagittal plan stabilization. From there, we can branch out into different movements. We started with deadbugs, not for any specific reps or sets, but simply for quality reps. Once quality was out the window, I stopped him and let him rest. Over the course of a few weeks, I increased the difficulty of movements by moving him into a quadruped position, and had him lift one arm at a time while not allowing any movement elsewhere in the body. We also focused on side-plank clamshells with the same principles being applied. I’m not a huge fan of workouts being boring old physical therapy stuff, so we were playing with kettlebells in less than a week. Below is an example of what we did:
A1. Half Kneeling 1-arm KB Press w/ RNT@3030; 6-8/arm x4; Rest as needed
A2. Side-lying rotation w/ reach; 5/side x4; Rest as needed
B1. Barbell Glute Bridge w/ Posterior Pelvic Tilt @11×5; 6-8×4; Rest as needed
B2. Brettzel; 5/side x4; Rest as needed
C1. Prone row @11×3; 4-6×5; Rest as needed|C2. Deadbug; 5/side x5; Rest as needed
Anthony stuck to this type of training for 4 weeks and I reassessed his FMS and there was massive improvement in his movement quality and strength. His back was basically back to feeling normal, and I was comfortable giving him some more “sexy” exercises. One side note, Anthony also only has one biceps tendon in his right shoulder as he tore his short head and so for the next month I still was not comfortable giving him much horizontal pushing. Instead I opted for floor presses and horizontal pulling. Generally speaking, for every reach I have a row, so I’m a huge fan of using the cable machine to keep his shoulders healthy while also being able to work on core stability and glute activation. It’s kind of like killing 3 birds with one stone essentially. Below would be an example of a day in Anthony’s shoes here at OPEX Fitness.
A. KB Rack RFESS w/ RNT @30×1; 6-8/leg x4; Rest 90 seconds between legs
B1. 1-arm 1-leg cable DL into row; 6-8/ side x4; Rest 90 seconds between sides
B2. Plank Diagonal from hands w/ 2-second pause; 5/ side x4; Rest 90 seconds
C1. DB Floor Press w/ Glute Bridge; 6-8×4; Rest 90 seconds
C2. DB 3 Point Row ; 6-8/ arm x4; Rest 90 seconds
D. Turkish Get up practice; 10 minutes focusing on the first 3 steps of the TGU only
Anthony advanced quite a bit over the next 4-week cycle and we began testing this week. He hit a 255-pound front squat for a 1RM (which you can watch below), 270-pound sumo deadlift, 225 pound bench press. He’s now pain and discomfort free, getting stronger, and his movement quality improved. Obviously for an advanced power lifter or Olympic weightlifter these numbers don’t mean much, but he came from a very serious back injury and surgery. Now in 2 months, he moves like an athlete, with intent and efficiency, without pain or discomfort, and can move some appreciable weight. This is only the beginning for him, which is what excites me the most. I’ve had the pleasure of working with extremely high-level athletes in various sports, many of whom are so naturally gifted I was able to give them almost anything with good principles and they’d be fine. Working with Anthony and other athletes who have been chewed up and spit out by the grinder, the ones with a true desire to get back to high levels of strength and fitness, those are the athletes we as coaches can truly help the most.