Movement is Medicine

November 2017

Over the course of this past month, I’ve taken on a few clients through referrals and walk-ins who are in their late 30’s and early 40’s. This was a new challenge as the majority of my clients for the past 6 months have been in their 20’s or early 30’s. The younger crowd spoils me as they usually don’t have that many injuries/previous surgeries to deal with. With that being said, it’s been a fun learning experience and I’m happy that I’ve got the ball rolling with these older clients.

As many of you know, I am a strength coach and I run small-group sessions. I train up to 4 clients in these sessions so I can keep the quality of movement as high as possible while also being able to chat with them between sets. Before I have a client join my small groups, I run a one-on-one initial assessment to see where their mobility and strength levels are currently at. This initial assessment also gives us a chance to speak in person about their goals and what they are looking to achieve.

In this post, I want to give an overview of what I’ve been doing with a client who had sub-par mobility starting out and more importantly, very little awareness of what his body could do or how it felt. Let’s call this client ‘John’. John met me to do the initial assessment about 4 weeks ago and we’ve been training twice a week since then. His main goal is to improve his overall health. When he first came in, I ran him through the warm-up routine. The warm-up is focused on mobilizing and lubricating the areas surrounding the shoulders, spine, hips and ankles. Immediately, I could see that John had very poor control of his core. I don’t think he knew what his core was to be honest. Overall, he was in okay shape – he just didn’t have any awareness of his body. John works a desk job and has not been active for over 20 years.

Following the warm-up, I showed John a few moves for a more ‘dynamic warm-up’. I had him perform a couple reps of ball slams, TRX rows and lateral band walks. I am a big fan of the ball slam for new clients. It immediately shows me how coordinated they are. It starts with them picking up a 10-15lb ball, bringing it above their head and slamming it into the ground underneath them. With this simple movement, I can gather a lot of information. John’s ball slam was very choppy. It was clear he didn’t participate in much physical activity. As I watched him, a tinge of excitement grew in me as I knew that I could help him move better and become healthier.

Moving on, we get to the lifting portion and my standard protocol consists of a squat, a row and a pressing movement. That day, I had him do box squats, DB rows and pushups off of a rack. As mentioned above, John’s core control was pretty nonexistent. Therefore, all three of these movements were a challenge as he didn’t know how to keep his back flat. Not to worry. That’s what I’m here for.

Fast forward 3 weeks later and our last session was a big success. We are still not squatting because I don’t think it’s what John needs right now. I explained to John that I would help him move better before we would really start doing a lot of weights. His desk job and lack of physical activity had put his body in a tough spot over the years. I prescribed for him to take the stairs whenever possible and to drink a lot more water. I also gave him a few stretches/mobility drills he could perform at home in order to fast-track his progress in the gym. So, what exactly have we been doing?

A little bit of everything, not too much of one thing.

Our last session looked like this –

  • General warm-up (shoulders, t-spine, hips, ankles)
  • Walking Lunges + Ball Slams + Glute Bridges – 3 sets of 10 (YES, he can do walking lunges now. Ball slams are also smoother too)
  • TRX Rows + Reverse Lunges – 3 sets of 12 (reverse lunges still a challenge)
  • Ball Slams + Overhead Medicine Ball Throw and Catch – 3 sets of 10
  • Suitcase Walks/Farmers Carry + Sled Drags – 3 sets
  • Burpees – 3 sets of 10 (first time)
  • Battle Ropes – 3 sets – 20s on/40s off

There you have it. That was our session. I didn’t have him squat or press much in this session.

So, what did we really do? I told John that he needed to work on body awareness and I wanted to expose him to a large variety of exercises that would force him to move in various ways. I also pepper him with questions the whole session. “Can you feel your core working on the left side? Can you feel your glutes when you do glute bridges? How about your back when you row?” As Vinnie (@vinnierehab) from Myodetox said over the weekend at a workshop I attended, we must first give attention to Structure and Function before we start Loading people up with weights. This means that if a person can’t move well without weights, there is little benefit to having the person lift weights before first addressing his movement.

As I mentioned above, I am a big fan of ball slams for overall coordination. I also had John do overhead throws with a med ball. He would set up about 3 metres away from a wall, throw the ball at the wall and gather it in when it came back to him. I am a big believer in a person’s ability to throw and catch as an indicator for overall health. John can now do lunges which is a big accomplishment as well. Loaded carries are amazing for building up the core and grip strength. This also gives him a chance to really ‘feel’ the core working. Sled drags are great for building up strength in the legs without having to load the spine. I also wanted to test his conditioning which we’ve slowly been building up. I remember the session before where I had him do jumping jacks and he was completely winded after 30 seconds of jumping jacks. This time, I had him do 10 burpees, rest about a minute and repeat. He was winded but not nearly as winded as the session before. Progress is progress. He knows he’s feeling better and he knows that the training sessions are getting a bit harder. Remember, 4 weeks ago, all we did was warmup, do 3 sets of squats, pushups and db rows and that was it. His work capacity is growing but more importantly, his awareness and ability to move is growing even more.

Moving Forward

Overall, John has made some very solid and noticeable gains in the last 3-4 weeks. I see some upper back muscles coming in from all of the TRX rows and band pull-aparts we’ve been doing between sets. He’s gaining better control of his core and the rest of his body. His conditioning is also coming up. We’re going to keep rolling and keep exposing him to different kinds of movement. I am a big believer in “a little bit of everything and not too much of one thing’. 

With that being said, I am very aware of my evolution as a coach. It’s very humbling to toss away previous ideas that I had and replace it with newer ones. It feels good to know that I’m learning more and being exposed to more. It feels good to know that a client doesn’t necessarily have to squat in order to make gains. We can do lots of other things and still positively impact someone’s overall health and fitness.


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