It’s so common. Everyone is looking for the next “X”-specific training program. “I’m looking for a climbing/basketball/baseball/etc. specific strength routine.” “Oh, I don’t squat. I’m on a marathon preparation training program.” The examples are endless. While having a program tailored to your sport-specific goals is important, it’s even more important to make sure the foundation isn’t neglected. Oftentimes, in the well meaning attempt to be “specific”, people end up doing goofy “circus trick” movements that are worthless in terms of performance. When you boil it down to the core principles, you are a human. You need to train like a human before everything else.
The Performance Pyramid
I like to arrange the major factors of athletic performance into a pyramid. This pyramid has three sections. The top section concerns skill. This includes sport specific abilities. Some examples of skills include shooting accuracy in basketball, the ability to drop knee in rock climbing, the ability to play donkey guard in jiu-jitsu (Yes, this is a real thing. Look it up. It’s ridiculous.) The Performance section concerns qualities such as speed, power, explosiveness, and raw strength. The bottom section concerns fundamental movement ability.
Let’s take a closer look at movement. Can your body perform the fundamental human movements? Can you squat? Can you hinge? Can you reach or pull? Can you crawl? Can you carry something relatively heavy for a decent distance? Can you resist movement through your midsection? It’s easy to see how each one of these movements provides the foundation for every single athletic quality. Consider the location of “Movement” on the pyramid. It provides the foundation. A house with a shitty foundation is a shitty house. Any adequate performance program MUST address the goal of a solid movement foundation, regardless of what skills are required in the sport.
If the capability of fundamental human movement is not addressed, improvement roadblocks in the near future are likely. Another cool thing about the foundation of the pyramid: it limits the size of the top of the pyramid. It’s geometry. Thanks Mr. Schroeder, I knew paying attention in 10th grade (sort of) would help sometime. A small foundation means skill can only grow so much. A larger foundation means a larger potential for skill development.
Addressing the Movements
There are an infinite amount of ways to practice these movements and develop your movement “literacy”. Here are some that I like, because they can be done anywhere, require little to no equipment, and provide a stellar benefit:effort ratio. Work smarter, not harder.
This is a great drill to refine your squat and help create some space in your hips. Start by standing tall with your feet in a comfortable squat stance. Squat down and use your elbows to create some gentle outward pressure on your knees. Slightly rock from side to side, making sure to keep the back straight and tall. Stand up and finish the squat. Repeat for 5 or so reps.
Find a wall and put your heels to the wall. Step forward one foot length. Without squatting, push your hips back until your butt touches the wall. Keep your back straight. If it is easy, step forward an inch or two. Find the spot where it is a gentle to moderate stretch to reach your hips back towards the wall. If you can’t get your hips back to the wall, you are either too far forward or you are “squatting” your hinge too much. Hips should move predominantly forward and backwards.
Once you’ve found where it’s a challenge to stay rooted through your whole foot, and you can still baaarely touch the wall with the hips, you can add a version with a reach. This variation will change your center of gravity and allow you to sit back slightly more, allowing you to groove the weight shift required for a hinge.
Push Up (Edit: In the original version of this article, I called this a Pushup plus. However, I think this is how all pushups should be done, so no need to create some fancy variation name).
A good pushup involves reactive trunk control, upper body motor control, and total body strength. Nathan Drolet from Power Company Climbing and I teamed up a while back to break down ways to get the most out of this movement.
This movement is a great variation for people just starting out. You can also use a lat pull down machine, but I don’t have one ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
An elastic band can provide the same benefit. Start on your knees in the tall kneeling position and make sure your hips are tucked underneath your torso. Grab the band as high a possible and pull down. Make sure to squeeze the armpits at the bottom and keep your chest proud.
Strict Chin Up
Chin Ups are another good pulling progression. When performing a chin up, make sure to start from a dead hang and keep the rest of the body in a plank. Lower all the way to the dead hang position and pause before the next repetition.
Strict Pull Up
Another classic pulling variation is the pullup. Like the strict chin up, make sure to start from a dead hang, touch your neck or chest to the bar (no trying to lift your head up and streeetch your chin over the bar), and keep the rest of your body in a plank.
An overlooked pattern, crawling helps build stability and coordination through the midsection, shoulders, and hips. In addition, this pattern helps improve ones cross body connection, which is helpful for Get set up on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your feet. Crawl forwards and backwards, making sure to move the opposite arm and leg at the same time. Keep the eyes on the horizon.
Core Control Bear Crawl
Nate and I dig into the core control crawl in the video above. This crawl is a progression from knee crawling. Keep the knees hovering off the ground, try not to let your hips move from side to side, and move the opposite arm and leg together. Crawl forwards and backwards, keeping your movements smooth, slow and controlled. When done right, this is a challenge. For an added challenge, try performing this movement with your mouth closed, allowing for slow and controlled breathing only through the nose.
1/2 Suitcase Carry
Pick up something heavy in one hand and walk around with it. Try not to lean too far in either direction. Keep your midsection stiff and stable. I’m using a kettlebell, you can use literally anything that you can pick up and hold comfortably. Or uncomfortably. Just stay standing tall.
You can do this movement from a variety of positions. I like tall kneeling as a starter. By abducting the legs and allowing for some slight hip external rotation, it makes the task of setting the hips a bit easier. Make sure to stay tall and reach long through the end of the press.
Do these anywhere and everywhere
All these movements should be fairly simple to perform. They are a great way to fill some gaps in your programming, and you don’t even have to do them when you train! Most of these require zero or little equipment, so as long as you perform them somewhere, you will receive the benefit.
Will these movements make me better at my sport?
Like all good performance questions, the answer is “maybe.” Maybe you have been compensating due to a lack of proficiency in one or more of these categories. Maybe some focused attention on a certain deficiency will unlock the “parking brake” that has been limiting some quality necessary to better performance.
Odds are, these movements are a great precursor to more targeted strength, power, tissue tolerance, and skill work. Higher load, movement speed, or sport specific technical and tactical practice is probably necessary to eke out additional improvement as you develop. However, the base is important. Addressing categories such as the ones in this article will make you more efficient, reduce the recovery demand of more developmental training sessions, and reduce the risk of injury.
Will these movements (or some variation) make me better mover overall and help build a resilient, athletic platform to increase strength, mobility, and power?
Train like a Human
Sport specificity is great. Generality is mandatory. Specificity allows us to use the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) to direct our body to adapt and make us better at whatever goal we choose. Generality keeps us resilient, supple, and bullet-proof. Again, a fancy house with a shitty foundation is still a shitty house. Build from the ground up. What are you going to do to build your foundation?
-Are you in the Chattanooga area and want to learn more about our facility? Head here.
-Want to work with me, regardless of where you are? I offer online fitness and Strength & Conditioning. You can find out more information here.
-The fine folks at Power Company Climbing offer climbing training coaching for wherever you’re at in the world. You can find out more here.