Review of the Perform Better 3 Day Functional Training Summit Long Beach
August 6-8, 2010
I just got back from Perform Better's annual festival of brain overload, otherwise known as the Functional Training Summit, and know that I had better start digesting what was dished out over the weekend before it fades into just a collage of extremely smart people. There is no way to try and review each session I attended, as that require a separate hard drive, but there were some themes that connected many of the talks.
The first day started out at the acceptable hour of 9am. Everyone knows trainers hate getting up early more than anyone. Upon walking in we ran into the regulars in the lobby: Robert Dos Remedios, Bill Hartman, Dewey Nielson of Impact Jiujitsu, Craig Rasmussen of Results Fitness, Rachel Cosgrove among others. Free coffee draws them like flies.
While still signing in Steve Cotter, kettlebell coach and all around athletic freak, came by so we after the obligatory bro-hug I asked if he might need some assistance in his 9am hands-on session. I knew the place was going to be packed so I had worn my IKFF coach shirt, and Steve was gracious enough to let me help out. There were about 300 people in the room swinging iron balls the entire hour, which caused me to be quite cautious when attempting to navigate my way around.
Steve is a master teacher, and it really shows in his ability to command and effectively instruct such a huge group. Judging by the smiles afterward, and the line of people waiting to talk to Steve he was successful in conveying some key concepts in classical kettlebell lifting. His presentation focused on the sport lifts of the jerk, clean and jerk, and snatch. Along with that he broke down the form of each and why proper form is key to development, progression, and staying injury free. In other words Steve focused on movements that work the entire body, and stress developing a high degree of movement quality, joint mobility, joint stability, and structural integrity.
Before getting into further specifics, many of the very best minds in the fitness and physical therapy, and athletic training world touched upon the same theme: Movement quality.
If you don't have it, then above all you need to address it.
Since most in attendance are trainers, coaches, physical therapists, chiropractors, the issue is how to express this to clients that may just want to drop a few pounds or look good naked. They may not give a damn at first that they move like crap, so how do we as health professionals get them to care and show why this matters?
I have to admit this is a skill I am still working on developing, as it can be quite challenging in a culture where ideas of fitness are often based on phony digitally altered photos of fitness models and celebrities, and chemically enhanced athletes and bodybuilders.
Gray Cook, father of the functional movement screen,. Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the world's most respected researchers on spine mechanics, Dr. Sue Falsone, director of physical therapy at Athlete's Performance, Bill Hartman, the smartest man in fitness, Dr. Greg Rose, head honcho at the Titleist Performance Institute, Michol Dalcourt, Dr. Lee Burton, Chuck Wolf, Vern Gambetta. The list of presenters goes on but they all addressed the issue of movement quality and why without it not only will individuals not achieve truly good health, but will increase the likelihood of future injury and inhibit physical potential.
Both Gray and Michol Dalcourt used the term “authentic movement” in their talks, which refers to developmental physiology and the study of how humans learn to move in infancy. In terms of fitness what this means is that as adults if we don't practice good movement in exercise we lose it – sitting in chairs or on the sofa for most of the day with little squatting, rolling on the floor, crawling, or other similar movements.
Sue Falsone even had us get into fetal position for certain thoracic spine mobilization exercises, and also mentioned that reclaiming our original mobility is critical to staying out of her physical therapy office. And she had some funny stories about having LA Dodger players hide in the corners to do these exercises so other players wouldn't see them.
Dr. Greg Rose spoke about training rotational athletes (golfers, tennis, baseball etc...), and focused on where golfers break down (the low back and shoulders/elbows). But why they break down is most often because adults lose hip mobility and so are limited in pelvic rotation, which causes gross compensation up or down the kinetic chain, and leads to pain and injury.
In other words everyone that has to move their hips in life, whether it's swinging a club or getting in and out of your car better know where they are in regards to good hip function or else. The same goes for the ankle, and of course the thoracic spine. In other words no matter your activity if the body is not moving properly then problems arise.
Antagonists Don't Exist
Expanding on the movement quality topic for a moment, another interesting idea presented by more than one speaker is the fact that muscles/fascia are task specific, not anatomy specific. In other words if we think of workouts as training this or that muscle instead of particular movements then we are ignoring how the body truly works.
This is in part why bodybuilding style body part splits can and do worsen movement quality and why so many people end up with dysfunctions while doing them.
We often think of muscles working in opposition, such as the bicep and tricep. However the way they function depends on the movement, not an anatomy map. For example Michol Dalcourt gave the example of the anterior and posterior tibialis. We normally think one functions to cause dorsiflexion in the foot while the other muscle caused plantar flexion. Which is true, but only in one plane of motion (sagittal).
But what if you are moving laterally, then what? Well in that case since both of those muscles run to the inside of the leg down near the ankle, then when moving in the frontal plane both anterior and posterior fire together to produce movement. In other words they are synergists, not antagonists. Therefore training that only takes into account plantar and dorsiflexion are missing the boat.
Gray Cook gives the example of when standing from a sitting position the rectus femoris (one of the quads) and three hamstrings fire together to produce movement. Further, neither change length from sitting to standing. Instead of functioning as big movers, in this common movement these large muscles all function as joint stabilizers. This is called Lombard's Paradox.
So while we normally think and train these muscles as antagonists, one of the most common human movements we do many times each day proves that training them solely in that manner is a mistake. There goes your leg extensions and leg curls huh?
Welcome to a brave new world.
Dr. Stuart McGill was one of the most popular speakers of the weekend, and arriving late to his talks meant sitting on the floor. His popularity is deserved as a who's who of superstar athletes and their trainers go to his lab to be trained by him.
In two of his four talks Dr. McGill addressed back pain and methods he uses to assess and address it. The take home is that our spines, particularly our lumbar area, only as so many bends until it fatigues and breaks down, so doing any exercise that involves spinal flexion (crunches of any sort, leg press) are inherently inadvisable. Developing core strength endurance is where most people need to look, so plank variations, chops, farmer carries, and so on are preferred choices in Dr. McGill's toolbox.
To back this up he showed video clips of various MMA stars, World's Strongest Man competitors, Olympic track and field athletes etc... using these movements in their strength and conditioning work, as well as back pain patients using similar movements.
In addition to video evidence one only had to look around the room and see else was listening with rapt attention. Jon Chaimberg, UFC champ Georges St. Pierre's trainer, Dan John, world class strength coach, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove's staff, and so on.
One other tidbit of information Dr. McGill stressed was that he thinks there is way too much focus on squatting with a barbell, and that this puts unwelcome stress on the spine, and that over time this will take a heavy toll. He recommended that people should do more sled pulling and pushing, less squatting.
Some of Dr. McGill said is sure to be controversial to some people, but it was great in how he does not shy away from it, but simply backs it up with years of research in the lab, in gyms, and training thousands of people from back pain patients to world class athletes. In a question and answer session one guy got up and said he was a bit confused about some of the information as his pilates background taught him the body functioned in certain ways and pilates curl ups and other movements attempting to isolate the spine or core in flexion were THE way to go.
Dr. McGill simply replied that in the fitness world there have been too many gurus espousing this or that way with no real science to back it up, so if you want to destroy your spine go ahead and keep doing such movements.
Brutally honest. I Love it.
Old or New School?
Vern Gambetta, who has been in training athletes for 40+ years talked about how nothing is really new, and that what athletes did 100 years ago is just as valid. He showed pictures of baseball players in the 1930's doing planks and trunk stability work, of multi-joint cable movements in 1910, and his first “facility” which produced world class water polo and baseball players that consisted of climbing ropes, a hill to run up, monkey bars, and free weights.
In other words whole body movements that utilized authentic movement. Machines and bodybuilding is where we screwed up. Vern spoke about athletes in the the 19th century that had nothing but simple kettlebells, ropes, and barbells that could put 300lbs over their head. But I love ethnographies of physical culture so call me biased.
Departing from the topic of movement quality for a moment, Bill Hartman, physical therapist and “smartest man in fitness” talked about training field athletes. In particular he spoke about how in his work he found football players and others often are too developed when it comes to strength and need more oxidative capacity in order to maximize their potential.
In other words these athletes, including MMA fighters, often focus too much on high intensity intervals (Tabatas) that use the phophagen and glycolytic systems but ignore the oxidative system. If you've ever seen a fighter gas after 5 minutes, or a football player slowing down in the 3rd quarter then you know what Bill is talking about.
What he isn't talking about here is “cardio”, but specific methods of keeping the athlete working at an intensity level at which they won't tap into the glycolytic system, but where they will progressively improve the oxidative capacity of slow twitch muscle fibers so that over time more ATP can be produced and utilized by the muscles.
What this means is that the athlete will improve their ability to perform a certain task over and over at a higher intensity. Short intervals only in training won't get the job done.
Now whether or not most people will want to endure the type of block periodization programs Bill uses is another matter, as it looks like pure torture. But it works, and his athletes, some of whom were in attendance, have proven it in competition.
In summary I came away with a host of information that is going to be put to use in my client's training post haste, and that everyone reading this interested in the concept of movement quality should immediately go buy Gray Cook's new book “Movement”, along with Stuart McGill's books.
Now excuse me but I have to go move.