When I was a young lad learning about the vast world of the fitness I found myself drawn towards the methodologies of eastern European countries. It wasn’t necessarily the specificity but rather the preparation and patience that they would employ to create champions. To varying degrees in different sports they had a system. To this day you see this exist much stronger in non western countries. Instead of poking around with every new fad, there were goals and milestones to achieve by certain training ages to move to the next level.
Imagine if you couldn’t play football until you had a certain level of conditioning and strength. Or what if you couldn’t play soccer until you could do proper squats or single leg squats without displaying knee instability. While this certainly wouldn’t be as fun I would put money on you would see a much higher level of performance and a much lower incidence of injury. In collegiate athletics there is an attempt at this by employing test such as the functional movement screen but if the proper exercises and drills aren’t implemented as a follow up then all you have done is shown they can’t pass the test then you send them back on the field. I don’t think it always needs to be as complicated as the FMS especially if you are a regular Joe or Jane just trying to have a decent workout without pain. Here are a few test I use.
- Can you perform and overhead squat with a barbell with good form?
- Can you touch your toes?
- Do you have control of your spine on a sub max deadlift?
- What happens when you jump and land? Knees buckle? Toes point out?
These certainly isn’t all conclusive but these are a good starting point to see where you are at. I love the overhead squat. This tells a lot about the stability of many joints and the flexibility of the person. If you can overhead squat your body weight you are off to a good start. If this seems impossible you have some work to do. The overhead squat shows not only movement ability in the squat but also shoulder flexibility and stability. You can spot ankle dysfunction, hip problems, shoulder problems, ext. It is a great all around test.
If you can’t touch your toes even without crazy rounding of your back then you should stretch your hamstrings. That should be obvious. If you are trying to lift lots of weight or get in a good start position on Olympic lifts then you need to stretch them more. If you have trouble making progress you may need to stretch more than just your hamstrings such as glutes, hip flexors and anything else you can think of.
Picking an object off the ground is one of the most basic movements we do as humans. Deadlifts therefor shouldn’t be a prescription for injury. Take the time to learn to do it right. If you have not so great proprioception you may need to have someone film you. Your spine is very strong when it is straight. It is not very strong when rounded. You may be able to lift much more in the deadlift after you form breaks down but be hard on yourself. Yes, some great deadlifts have performed big lifts with rounded backs but it doesn’t mean they have the best spines either. Until you are competing work on having great spine stability. It will pay off in many other motions.
Being able to squat with perfect form is great but what happens when you add speed? Now you can’t think about pushing your knees out or keeping your back straight. There is no time. This is when you really see what you are made of. Can you keep all these positions when it matters? When you jump and land you should look like and animal springing into action because that is exactly what you are. If you can’t seem to stabilize these things or you look like “springing into action” means blowing out your ACL then you need to work on some of the skills above and make some basic stabilizer muscles.
So what if you can’t do these things. Does it mean you shouldn’t train? Of course not. But it may mean it is time to reassess where your priorities are. It may be time to back off and dedicate some of your workout time to basic mobility and flexibility. Even if it means spending the MAJORITY of your workout time on these things. At least for a while. The payoff is staying injury free and pain free while getting PRs in your lifts. Plus you will actually feel like a capable human being instead of fearing every time you stand up or reach down to pick something off the floor. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? It just takes some sacrifice and will power.