Building Better Humans (Part I)

“What are the foundational applications of being a human?”- Kelly Starrett, DPT

Improving and/or maintaining health markers (e.g., blood pressure, resting heart rate, triglycerides, etc.) and fitness is not the sole purpose of exercise. The purpose of exercise, or training if you will, is to develop, maintain, and improve mechanical competency in as many positions, modalities, and circumstances as possible. In other words, the purpose of training is to improve your functionality as a human being. As humans, we are genetically engineered to do work! Our bodies are designed to run, jump, squat, press, and deadlift. These are innate skills that have been hardwired into our DNA. Furthermore, we should have the ability to perform these skills until we are 70, 80, and 90 years old. Longevity and functionality are the ultimate goal.

Previously, we established definitions for health and fitness, identified the issues with the current exercise recommendations, and determined the purpose of training. Now, it is time to discuss how to better prescribe exercise and develop more effective and efficient training programs. In order to keep things organized, I am going to break the discussion into five categories: Prescription, Assessment, Movement, Consistency, and Intensity.

PRESCRIPTION

First, lets quickly review the current recommendations provided by the ACSM:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise at Moderate Intensity

  • Frequency: ≥ 5 days/week
  • Intensity: 50–70% HRmax
  • Time: ≥ 30 min/day
  • Type: dynamic, cyclical, repetitive movement (e.g., running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc.)

Cardiorespiratory Exercise at Vigorous Intensity

  • Frequency: ≥ 3 days/week
  • Intensity: 70–85% HRmax
  • Time: ≥ 20 min/day
  • Type: dynamic, cyclical, repetitive movement (e.g., running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc.)

Combination of Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Cardiorespiratory Exercise

  • Total energy expenditure ≥ 500–1000 MET-min/week

Resistance Training

  • Frequency: 2–3 days/week
  • Intensity: 2–4 sets, 8–12 repetitions
  • Time: N/A
  • Type: movements that recruit each of the major muscle groups

Flexibility

  • Frequency: ≥ 2 days/week
  • Intensity: Mild discomfort
  • Time: 60 sec/exercise
  • Type: static

Exercise prescription and programming are considered by many to be art forms. In some circles, programming is like Fight Club: the first rule of programming is that you don’t talk about programming, the second rule of programming is that you don’t talk about programming! There are countless concepts and methodologies that can be utilized to develop and implement training programs. Through experience, training, and testing, coaches and personal trainers determine which methods are the most effective. Ask 100 different fitness professionals what the best training method is and you’ll get 100 different answers! So what’s the right answer? In my opinion, there is no right answer. In a podcast with Primal Blueprint, regarding movement practices and exercise, Kelly Starrett said, “A lot of roads lead to Rome.” Kelly was right. However, it is essential that the “road” include a comprehensive movement practice and training program (i.e., the program must require the individual to perform all the essential functions associated with being a human being: running, jumping, swimming, squatting, pulling, and pressing).

That being said, what should the fitness recommendations for the general public look like? The following prescription was adopted from CrossFit, Mobility WOD, and various strength and conditioning/sport performance programs and applies to all adults (≥18 years of age). This is my training philosophy:

  • Eat real, nutrient dense food: lean meats, copious amounts of vegetables, nuts and seeds, fruit and starch in moderation, and avoid consumption of processed carbohydrates and sugar
  • Eat to support activity and lean body mass
  • Cultivate and maintain a foundation of cardiorespiratory endurance (i.e., regularly run, bike, swim, row, etc.)
  • Develop competency and consistently train functional movements: Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Jerks, Cleans, and Snatches
  • Develop proficiency, practice, and train foundational bodyweight skills: Pull-ups, Pushups, Dips, Rope Climbs, Handstand Holds, Hollow Rocks and Holds, Pike-ups, L-sits, and Splits
  • Train between five and six days per week at high intensity
  • Variance in duration, domain, and equipment is essential in generating adaptations
  • The majority of conditioning sessions should range between five and 15 minutes, but go long (30–60+ minutes) at least once per week
  • Following training, perform 15–20 minutes of basic maintenance (mobility and flexibility exercises) to alleviate pain and stiffness, improve range of motion and position, enhance performance, and increase longevity
  • Express fitness in life; get outside the gym and be more human

ASSESSMENT

Having created a fitness recommendation/prescription, we can now discuss pre-participation screenings and movement assessments. It is essential that all individuals complete a pre-participation screening questionnaire prior to engaging in exercise. The purpose of the screening is to identify risk factors that could lead to an exercise-related cardiovascular event or musculoskeletal injury, and to protect you as the owner, coach, or trainer, from possible legal action that may ensue after an event. Pictured below are two examples of the most common pre-participation screening questionnaires:

AHA and ACSM Pre-Participation Screening Questionnaire
NASM Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q)

In addition to a pre-participation screening, every athlete and/or client that walks through the door should undergo a movement assessment. The purpose of the movement assessment is to identify biomechanical faults and musculoskeletal deficiencies (i.e., can the athlete or client move well and put themselves in good positions/shapes). The Functional Movement Screening (FMS) is one of the most widely recognized and commonly used assessments. However, the system in not practical when working with large groups of athletes and can be tedious and time consuming. Furthermore, although the FMS claims to provide a means to identify quality movement, the scoring system is subjective. One coach may consider a movement pattern to be “optimal,” yet another coach watching the same athlete could identify it as “acceptable.” Therefore, I suggest the following assessment be utilized to determine if an athlete moves well:

The client will only be award a “Yes” if he/she meets all of the movement standards for that exercise. If an individual successfully completes all of the exercises, including the accessory movements (e.g., Deadlift, Front Squat, Overhead Squat), he/she is considered to have the physical capacity to train. The movement standards for each of the exercises are listed below:

Shoulder Press w/ PVC

  • Stance: feet under hips, toes straight forward, weight balanced over the ankle
  • Posterior Chain (Glutes and Hamstrings) and Abdominal muscles are engaged to maintain a neutral spine
  • Hand Position: slightly outside shoulders
  • Front Rack Position: bar rests high on the shoulders, elbows slightly in front of the bar, full-grip on the bar
  • Execution: retract head, press bar overhead until the elbows reach full extension, head returns to neutral position at the top of the repetition

Romanian Deadlift

  • Stance: feet under hips, toes straight forward, weight in the heels
  • Shoulders retracted, chest up, and abdominal muscles engaged to maintain neutral spine
  • Hand Position: approximately shoulder width
  • Execution: keep shoulders retracted, abdominals engaged and neutral spine; slightly bend the knees, push the hips back and allow the torso to hinge forward; full range of motion is achieved when the shoulder is in line with the hip; contract the Glutes and Hamstrings and return to the starting position

Deadlift

  • Stance: feet between hip and shoulder width, toes straight forward, weight in the heels
  • Neutral neck, shoulders retracted, chest up, and abdominal muscles engaged to maintain neutral spine
  • Shoulders overtop or slightly in front of the bar
  • Hand Position: approximately shoulder width, wide enough so as not to interfere with the knees
  • Execution: drive through the heels; hips and shoulders rise at the same rate as the knees extend; once the bar passes the knees, fully extend the hip; throughout the range of motion, bar remains in contact with legs; on the return, keep shoulders retracted, abdominals engaged and neutral spine, slightly bend the knees, push the hips back and allow the torso to hinge forward; once the bar passes the knee and the torso angle is set, flex the knees to return to the starting position

Air Squat

  • Stance: feet at shoulder width, toes straight forward or slightly turned out, weight in heels
  • Shoulders retracted, chest up, and abdominal muscles engaged to maintain neutral spine
  • Execution: push the hips back and down; maintain a neutral spine; knees remain in line with the center of the foot; full range of motion is achieved when the hip crease drops below the top of the knee; drive through the heels until full extension at the hips and knees is reached

Front Squat

  • Stance: feet at shoulder width, toes straight forward or slightly turned out, weight in heels
  • Shoulders retracted, chest up, and abdominal muscles engaged to maintain neutral spine
  • Hand Position: slightly outside shoulders
  • Front Rack Position: bar rests high on the shoulders; elbows elevated to a point where the triceps are parallel to the floor with a lose, finger-tip grip
  • Execution: push the hips back and down; maintain a neutral spine; knees remain in line with the center of the foot; full range of motion is achieved when the hip crease drops below the top of the knee; drive through the heels until full extension at the hips and knees is reached; maintain proper front rack position throughout range of motion

Overhead Squat

  • Stance: feet at shoulder width, toes straight forward or slightly turned out, weight in heels
  • Abdominal muscles engaged to maintain neutral spine
  • Bar supported overhead, balanced in the frontal plane; elbows fully extended
  • Shoulders externally rotated (armpits flaring forward and tips of elbow pointing toward the floor)
  • Execution: push the hips back and down; maintain a neutral spine; knees remain in line with the center of the foot; full range of motion is achieved when the hip crease drops below the top of the knee; drive through the heels until full extension at the hips and knees is reached; keep shoulder active and externally rotated throughout range of motion

To be continued…(Part II)

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