There’s an overlooked piece of information when we consider the success of the experts in our field. Whether you’re a coach, trainer or rehabilitation expert, this element is so compelling that I’ll refer to it as a secret.
I first started this thought process while working with a few of my favorite strength coaches. The statement that emerged in my head to encapsulate this idea was, “The best strength coaches I know are actually weakness managers.” The concept also applies to physical therapists, chiropractors, athletic trainers, personal trainers and sports coaches.
The best of the best don’t simply exploit the strengths of the individuals they train and educate, they also identify and expose their weaknesses. They don’t stop there. The best even prioritize weaknesses and create a hierarchy of actions to remove the limitations. They strive for completeness and balance by focusing on weakness, flaw or dysfunction.
This doesn’t mean some attention is not directed at maintaining strength or developing an average ability into a superior or elite ability. It just means the things that limit athletic performance, fitness achievement and complete rehabilitation are usually weaknesses or limitations that go unidentified or are identified but remain unmanaged.
Many know Pavel Tsatsouline as the face of Dragon Door’s Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC). As you explore the art and science of kettlebells, you will more often than not see the face of my Russian friend. However, Pavel’s coaching, teaching and overall wisdom goes far beyond the use of a kettlebell.
I often ask my readers to look into Pavel’s work, The Naked Warrior, where he deconstructs athletes to reduce them to single-limb symmetrical competency. He also proposes the concept of a “naked warrior” as an athlete or fitness enthusiast who trains without weight or the individual who develops fundamental competence in all four quadrants of the body. This individual will focus on symmetry and movement achieving competence with bodyweight before ever lifting a weight. Pavel requires us to work toward a single-leg pistol or a single-leg squat on each side, as well as a single-arm pushup on each side. What a wonderful example of a wise coach providing a self-limiting activity that results in balanced development.
Whether you do or don’t achieve these feats of balanced strength is not the goal. To quote Dan Millman in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, it is the way that makes the warrior. Getting on a path to create bodyweight competence, symmetry and working through your limitations in a progressive manner is the goal… the way.
Pavel laid out consistent feedback. Can you do these maneuvers or not? If you can, move on to weight training. If you can’t, you are the weight. Develop better competence, then you can ask the next question.
Alwyn Cosgrove and Rachel Cosgrove of Results Fitness easily blend movement information and metabolic information from screening and tests into programming that addresses the metabolic needs of their clients as they perform corrective strategy. They realize that most individuals who need to lose serious amounts of weight will probably experience an orthopedic issue or a musculoskeletal setback on the path to achieving greater metabolic efficiency.
Their attention to detail with movement—screening, training and correction—eliminates a potential problem before it interferes with programming. The brilliance in their programming is not necessarily tied up in the sets, reps or even exercise choices, but in their ability to anticipate weakness, limitation and problems before they occur.
Mike Boyle’s enthusiasm for single-leg strength closely parallels Pavel’s recommendation in The Naked Warrior. Mike has a completely different methodology for achieving single-leg competence, but his message is a voice of logic and reason because he’s a strength coach who truly develops athletes. He realizes that single-leg competence contributes more to injury prevention in athletic performance than adding 50 pounds to a back squat.
My first exposure to Mike revealed a coaching intuition and programming perspective that consistently yielded higher scores on the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) even though he had no idea what a Functional Movement Screen was. This told me his attention to movement competency—asymmetries, limitations and fundamental weaknesses—was already in place even though he didn’t possess a tool like the movement screen to make analysis easier for his interns and more reliable across larger groups.z
Jon Torine and Jeff Fish, who are very close friends and also happen to be NFL head strength coaches, are more obsessed by what their players can’t do than what they can. They strategically use data gathered from screening, testing and performance statistics to hone in on the weakest link for each player. They constantly mine their data and look for players whose movement and performance marks do not meet minimum standards. They identify a problem and introduce a strategy to create a positive change—and they are really good.
Their players instantly know they are in the presence of a higher level of coaching as these guys go to work on them. They remind me of the quote I used to close my first book, Athletic Body in Balance.
“No coach ever won a game by what he knows. It’s what his players learned.”
Paul “Bear” Bryant
Not too long ago, strength coaches dispensed pre-packaged exercise programs based on an athlete’s particular position or role. This seemed completely logical at the time. However, in the National Football League, players are occasionally moved to different positions. Does this mean their workouts instantaneously change so they can play a different position? They wouldn’t even be placed in the alternate position if they couldn’t be successful, and they were originally successful without the pre-packaged workout that was intended to ready them.
What we’ve learned is that an individual’s training needs should fundamentally be addressed toward weaknesses and not some nebulous opinion about physicality. Once weaknesses have been resolved, we should seek a more sports-specific or activity-specific platform based on specific goals. How many of us can really say our weaknesses have been effectively managed, our limitations have been removed and our asymmetries have been balanced? Until then, sports specificity and activity-specificity training is not the best platform for improvement. Fundamentally removing weakness and keeping it suppressed is a permanent job, so make it part of the program.
Removing the crack in the foundation is the best way to progress the strength of a structure —not simply adding another floor to the building, but strengthening the foundation before the new construction starts.
As I’ve developed my clinical skills in physical therapy, I’ve tried to apply this philosophy. I do not only address the patient’s complaint, but I look for other limitations that could be causative factors and impede progress in rehabilitation.
Dr. Vladimir Janda instructed us that many undetected dysfunctions are evident in the modern human that are either related to the symptoms or reduce the effectiveness of our rehabilitation efforts. His student Dr. Craig Liebenson continues the message today. Shirley Sahrmann pioneered perspectives of muscle balance and efficiency within rehabilitation. Dr. James Cyriax showed us methodical ways to consistently deconstruct human movement and arrive at a specific tissue problem he referred to as a lesion.
Today, chiropractors and physical therapists are working together, agreeing on the same movement perspective called the Selective Functional Movement Assessment. Dr. Greg Rose and Dr. Kyle Kiesel were essential to the development of the SFMA. These men have completely different backgrounds —one being a chiropractor and one a physical therapist. However, they put their treatment methodology preferences and their respective educational backgrounds aside and arrived at common movement perspectives and principles in total agreement.
Greg has access to the most advanced biomechanical analysis tools in the world. Kyle uses diagnostic ultrasound to look deep into the body and relate movement to muscle activity. However, they both arrived at the deconstruction of movement deficiency when performing the most efficient efforts toward rehabilitation.
In short, these two clinicians don’t simply seek to resolve symptoms. They seek to not only identify the movements that provoke symptoms, but also the dysfunctional movements that do not immediately seem related to the patient’s complaint. They consider dysfunction in the human system just as important as the symptom. By doing this, they not only manage symptoms, but they also remove some of the risk factors that could perpetuate a poor outcome, slow rehabilitation or cause a relapse.
This science is called Regional Interdependence, the scientific name for how dysfunction in one part of the body can create symptoms elsewhere.
In short, these clinicians don’t simply attack their area of responsibility. Clinicians are supposed to get rid of pain. Weight loss experts are supposed to help their clients drop weight. Strength coaches are supposed to make us stronger. However, each of these not only focuses on the goals of their professions, but they arrive at attaining those goals by managing many of the things we fail to consider. The little things make big differences and the great ones get it. As we all strive to emulate the individuals at the forefront of our professions, let us remember their subtle secret.
In summary, the best trainers, teachers, coaches and clinicians I know are fundamentally weakness managers. They identify a fundamental limiting factor and manage it!
And that’s the big secret.