Self Limiting Exercise

A few years ago, I heard about a concept of using self-limiting exercise while training clients.  Gray Cook was at the Chicago Perform Better Functional Training Summit delivering an amazing experience to hundreds of fitness professionals and therapists.  His talk was not solely about self-limiting exercise, but the concept of using self-limiting exercise within my programming has been prevalent ever since that presentation, so let me explain why…and how.

For those of you unaware of what “self-limiting exercises” are, let me explain in my own words.  A self-limiting exercise is an activity or exercise done that promotes good posture, strength, control, needs minimal coaching, AND is blatantly obvious when you do it wrong.  On many of these activities, the exercise itself falls apart completely if posture, balance, control, or function is lost.

Jump rope is one such activity.  Think about it, when you lose posture and get all schnarffy while skipping rope, you’re going to trip it up on your feet and be forced to re-start.  When you re-start, you generally set up with good posture, regain mental focus, and do the necessary things needed to get more skips on the next try.  Jumping rope is one of the best examples of self-limiting exercises.  It really helps paint the picture of what activities should be classified as self-limiting and what should not.

One of the biggest reasons why I use self-limiting exercise is the fact that there is minimal coaching needed to perform these exercises.  I’m a big fan of choosing exercises that need minimal coaching and allow the body to react to the stimulus in a positive way that promotes good posture, balance, control, and function.  If you have to over-coach a certain move, you should probably ask yourself if there’s a different exercise selection that will benefit the client more.  With many self-limiting exercises, the exercise itself will be the teacher.  Call me lazy, but I think that’s neat.  Less coaching, the client figures things out on their own, and the end result is better posture and function…winner, winner, chicken parm dinner.

That’s a big reason on WHY I like self-limiting exercise.  Now let’s talk about how to add self-limiting exercise into your programming.  Here are three good examples of how I personally use self-limiting exercise in my programming on a regular basis.

 

1.     The Dysfunctional Client – If you’ve been training or coaching for more than a week, you probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about when I say “the dysfunctional client”.  This is the client that has very poor movement patterns, maybe some non-medical related pain, and just flat out has issues.  Giving this individual a typical strength and conditioning routine is just not acceptable.

Modifications have to be made. snarf

Foundational work needs to be done.

This client needs to be doing primarily floor-based exercise and building the foundation from the ground up.

So, how do you give this client a good workout?

In this situation, I would be spending about 80-90% of my time on foundational work.  I’d be hitting soft tissue, joint mobilization, re-patterning movement patterns, teaching basic forms of stability, and other basic stuff to rebuild this person’s base.  That’s truly what this client needs, but I also like to give them what they want as well.  Adding a 5-10 minute “finisher” to their session will give them the feeling that they were destroyed in the gym.  Using self-limiting exercise is a great way to accomplish this task without compromising the work you just did.

Be sure to check your basic movement screens throughout though.  I will check basic movement patterns, like the Active Straight Leg Raise (add hyperlink: http://smartgrouptraining.com/active-straight-leg-raise-performing-and-scoring-the-functional-movement-screen/), before, during, and after the workout.  As long as the movement pattern didn’t get worse after choosing those self-limiting exercises, I’m pretty confident I just made them better, and gave them a little butt whoopin’ in the process.

 

2.     The Athlete Coming In on a Red Day – So what do I mean by a “Red Day?”  If you’re familiar with HRV, or heart rate variability, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If you’re unfamiliar with HRV training though, a “Red Day” is basically a day your nervous system is shot.  There are many factors that can play into this like lack of sleep, boozing the night before a session, the onset of overtraining, and countless other variables to list here.

red light

The nervous system is tricky to monitor, but if you’re not using HRV, this would be one of those days you go to the gym and you just don’t have it.  You’re mind is right and you’re at the gym ready to train, but once you get going, you just don’t have your normal intensity.

This would be a perfect day to scrap what you had planned and really focus on a few self-limiting exercises.  If your nervous system is fried, you’re going to have a tough time with some of the exercises I’m going to list below, especially the bottoms up kettlebell work.

 

On days like this, it’s better to keep the volume and intensity very low for that day.  Adding additional stress on a nervous system that’s already shot isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Take the day to focus on recovery and maybe add a few self-limiting exercises that focus on balance, posture, and control without elevating the heart rate too much.  Bottoms up carries, Armbars, and Turkish Get Up work are fabulous for these days.  You can still train, but now you’ve acknowledged the current stress in the body and will benefit from not crushing it in the gym that day.

 

3.     General Population – The general population is being referred to as the average client coming in your doors with some dysfunction, but not completely mangled.  With this kind of client, we will program based around goals, current movement capabilities, and other factors that may help us get them from point A to point B in a timely fashion.

There are many, many ways to get creative with self-limiting exercise in the programming with the general population.  Sometimes I’ll keep the self-limiting work to the end as a “finisher.”  Sometimes I’ll add these into a circuit.  Some of them may even be active recovery or low-level work between higher intensity activities.  Get creative with these.  Have fun with it.  After all, it’s an exercise that promotes great characteristics and requires minimal coaching.  Your clients will love them and they’ll add variety into your programming.  Toy around with these exercises yourself and you’ll start to get an idea of where these can be placed in your workout to get some awesome results.

There you have it…three completely different types of clients all using self-limiting exercise.  We use self-limiting exercises pretty much on a daily basis with elderly clients looking to gain more functionality to top-end athletes trying to become great at their sport.  Like I said earlier, check your weakest link movement pattern before, during, and after the program.  As long as the pattern doesn’t get worse, you’re probably making decent selections with your programming.  Keep working and making tweaks until you find the exercises that improve the pattern and that improvement sticks the entire time, from the beginning to end of session.

Here are my top five favorite self-limiting exercises:

 

High Bar Prowler March – Make sure there is enough weight on the prowler.  If you find the right weight, you pretty much have to do this right.  If you’re posture and alignment are off creating energy leaks, you’ll struggle to push the thing.  Fix the alignment, and you’ll be able to march the thing with good form.  Minimal coaching for maximal results.

prowler

Bottoms Up Carries or Turkish Get Up’s – Get a weight that is able to be controlled, but challenging.  If you choose too light of a weight, your grip strength may hide certain defaults going on in the body.  However, if you choose a weight that is challenging, your alignment has to be dialed in, or the bell simply falls.  Keep the bell up and work on developing symmetry within the body.

 

Low Box Work – Just about everyone can handle doing a little work on a 4-6” low box.  We love adding shuffles, taps, and steps to the low box for conditioning.  This works well for a vast majority of the clients out there, and I rarely see it negatively effect movement efficiency.  This is a great way to get the heart up safely and with minimal impact.  As the client begins to fatigue, they usually just slightly trip up on their feet and coordination goes to sh**.  As with any self-limiting exercise, this would be a great time to catch your breath, regain focus, and only work to your capacity so you can complete the exercise.  Feel free to mix it up with different patterns on the box.  Check out the shuffle below, but get creative and see what you can come up with that will give your clients a workout without compromising movement.

 

Upper Body Sprinting – I love adding different forms of upper body sprinting.  Taking the legs out of the equation completely takes out the impact of sprinting.  Not everyone is ready for the impact of running or sprinting, so working on form and mechanics are great to do from the half kneel and tall kneel positions.  Upper body sprinting is another great way to add in some conditioning without compromising movement efficiency.

 

Farmers Carries – Once again, weight is a big deal with this.  If you’re using a weight that doesn’t demand your focus and attention, you’ll be able to fight the weight and perform with compensation.  However, load this carry up and you’ll quickly notice that stacking the joints and fixing alignment makes it much easier.  If you start to fail on this one, usually, you simply just drop the weights.  The only thing I caution here is to be careful with the set up.  If your client has trouble deadlifting or has no business deadlifting yet, make sure to set the weight up on boxes or something else to prevent them from doing a bad lift to get into position to actually carry the weight.


What are some of your favorite self-limiting exercises?  Leave a comment below.  I’d love to add some more to my arsenal :)

Breaking Out the Shoulder Mobility Screen

Recently I started a series on breaking out the screens on the FMS with my post on Breaking Out the Active Straight Leg Raise. If you haven’t seen that post you should check it out here.

With this post I’m going to break down something a little more complicated, shoulder mobility.  If there is one movement on the FMS that I get the most questions about the validity it would have to be the shoulder mobility screen. What most people don’t understand is that the shoulder mobility screen is NOT all that you need to know to determine if someone has proper shoulder function.  What is important to know is that when you get a red flag on the shoulder mobility screen you need to dig deeper and this post is how I do it. That being said, there are many ways to assess shoulder function, and honestly if you want to dig deep into shoulder function I would check out some stuff from Eric Cressey and Mike Reinold, but this is a great way to get you started.

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Three Things I Wish I Knew Early in my Training Career

Every once in awhile, I like to write about failures, successes, and other variables that have gotten me to where I am today.  Becoming a great coach doesn’t come easy.  I’ve spent thousands of hours coaching clients, reading books, watching educational videos, traveling the country to see the best gyms and how they operate, and have dedicated my life to being great at what I do.  In this piece, I want to share my top three things that have made me a better coach and have improved my results DRAMATICALLY!

If you’re reading this article, hopefully you’ll get a couple takeaways and improve your own personal skills as a coach, trainer, or therapist.  Each one of the three highlights will require more research to fully understand them, but as I tell each new hire or new intern coming in to work at our facilities, understanding these three things and how to incorporate them into your training will make you better almost instantaneously.  Take these three tips and run with them.  I promise you will not be disappointed with your results.

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Breaking Down the FMS – Active Straight Leg Raise

When you first start using the FMS and the Smart Group Training System a lot of times your not sure which correctives to use to get the best results. We have made that a lot easier by giving you a lot of great ideas in our blogs and products, but we understand that there are a lot of exercises out there, and a lot of different situations that can occur that making picking the perfect corrective exercise a shotgun approach.

Although creating a blog post to make sure you pick the perfect corrective exercise every time is absolutely impossible, there are a few things you can do to make sure to make sure the shotgun approach is more like a sniper riffle.

What a lot of people don’t know about the FMS is that after you find the weakest link in the hierarchy by going through the 7 foundational movements there are ways you can break out that weakest link to get a better idea of what the issue is and how to fix it.

I’ll be covering these breakouts plus a few bonus breakouts of my own that I’ll often use to make sure my corrective exercise selection is as effective as possible in this newest series called Breaking Down the FMS.

Today we start with the Active Straight Leg Raise

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Bad Form Is Better Than a Bad Day

You probably know I’m picky on form. Honestly, one of the things my gym is most known for is our attention to detail and focus on tight form and clean movement. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “every rep under this roof should be perfect!”

Although I often write and make videos about how to exercise with correct form, today I want to write about a time that it may be ok to have bad form.

Have you ever been running a group training session and you have that client that is just all over the place? Their hinge looks like a toe touch, their squat is a perfect hinge, and their pushup looks like they are doing some sort of snake type dance? I know I have, and I’m positive beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have as well.

I have to mention that this circumstance happens less and less now that I have a system to screen each client and place him or her in an appropriate progression with very little guesswork. However, even with the best screening system on earth you still have people that need more coaching than others. So that brings me to my point.

angrytrainer
image courtesy of www.angrytrainerfitness.com

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The Difference Between Bootcamps and Group Personal Training – Webinar

Check out this webinar that we did a while back on the difference between bootcamps and group personal training. Even though we shot it two years ago the content is just as strong as ever. Training and programs design can always change, but some philosophies will always remain.

If you are running bootcamps or any type of group exercise program you will want to watch this video. You may love some parts and you may hate some parts, but I think that you will understand it’s true.

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Do You Strip?

breathing-strips

If you breathe out of your mouth or have ever struggled with breathing during physical exercise, you will definitely need to listen. And if you have never heard of the importance of conscious breathing while training, this article could make a dramatic improvement in your movement quality and performance.

Breathing has been a hot topic buzz word for the past few years. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how we should breathe. If you’re anything like me, I don’t care who is right, I just want consistent information that is going to help my clients and me get results the fastest most efficient way possible.

Like every exercise, it’s always super easy to make things harder. But the real genius comes with the regressions. To me there is nothing more regressed than taking in a breath. It’s the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do before we die. You will take hundreds of millions of breaths in a lifetime. Are they making you healthier or are they sending you to an early grave? Dun…Dun…Dun!

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Learn 4 Quick Ways To Clean Up Overhead Pulling

 

Building a balanced program is half the battle when it comes to developing strength training routines. Creating balance within the routine will only help your client’s performance and keep them healthy over the long haul. In our programs, we really emphasize the posterior chain. In other words, we really want to develop the backside. Each program we write has balance; however, we usually add additional back exercises to each phase. [Read more…]

Better is Better

by Dean Carlson

"That was a great workout coach!"

"We really got after it today!"

"Love it when we sweat like that!"

It’s kinda funny. I hear those kind of comments far more often than I will hear something like:

"That nasal breathing really helped me focus today"

"Love doing those hip flexor mobs"

or

"Boy when we get in there with that hip scrubbing it makes all the difference in the world"

And that is what I kind of expect, particularly from newer students to our training facilities, because let’s face it, 99% of us figure if we feel trashed coming out of the gym then we must be getting better, right?

I’ll give you the same answer I give to most questions.

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Slowing Down

It makes me proud when I hear a client say something like “That’s enough for today, I’m only going to do half of the workout. I didn’t get any sleep last night”

Our clients know that their lifestyle outside of the gym affects their progress more than their training.

I put this video together where I quickly explain the most overlooked concept in the fitness industry →


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