Why I Hate the Term “Movement Quality”

In the fitness industry, it’s funny to hear the phrases that flow in and out of our vocabulary over the years.

And one phrase that’s been around far too long is “movement quality.”

I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, let me tell you a quick story…

A few weeks back young Nikki (our new coach at IFAST) was going through the rigors of staff training.

She had questions about coaching movement like hip turns and lateral acceleration to our young athletes, but I had this inkling she was getting ahead of herself.

So I asked her a simple question:

“Why do you do a hip turn?”

And after she thought about it for a minute, she didn’t have an answer – which is 100% fine and made for a great learning point.

In Nikki’s case, she knew the exercise – but didn’t understand the context or rationale behind it.

So one thing we have to remember is that when we start throwing out terms like movement quality, context is key.

When you start to understand context, you start to understand how two people with different backgrounds, and who coach different types of clients/athletes, could have completely different ideas as to what quality movement consists of.

So let’s dive in and talk about how we can gain a better appreciation for movement and how it’s coached!

Movement Quality

Let’s start with a big statement:

“Movement quality” – without context or clarification – isn’t a thing.

Now I realize every trainer and coach out there (myself included) will tell you they focus on “movement quality” in their sessions.

But let’s start with the obvious:

If someone doesn’t talk about movement quality, does that mean they’re not coaching their clients or athletes?

Or that they don’t care about how they move?

Of course not.

Now we may not agree with HOW they’re coaching, or we may think their standards of “quality movement” are different from our own, but I can assure you pretty much every trainer wants their clients to move well.

So at a base level, the term is dumb because everyone wants their clients and athletes to move well.

But here’s the bigger issue…

The term movement quality – by itself – tells us absolutely nothing.

The conversation has to go deeper, and it comes down to what YOUR movement model looks like.

Movement Models

A movement model is how we want a specific movement to look or feel.

For instance:

  • What does a “perfect squat” look like to you?
  • What about a bench press?
  • A deadlift?

Whether you realize it or not, you have a model of how those specific exercises should be executed.

Now let’s bring this back to our concept of movement quality…

Let’s say we have two high-quality coaches who work at opposite ends of the spectrum.

One is working with elite-level powerlifters, and the other is coaching gen pop clients and athletes.

They both believe in and subscribe to focusing on “movement quality.”

Yet in the powerlifting case, the athlete squats with a wide stance, arches hard, and sits way back to squat.

On the flip side, the gen pop trainer might have his clients squat with a moderate width stance, uses a blend of internal pressure and muscular contraction to create stability, and sits down vs. back.

Is one right and the other wrong?

Is somebody’s model superior to the other?

From their lens and perspective, each one is focusing on “movement quality” – but their model of ideal movement is drastically different!

Now that we’ve cleared that part up, what differentiates movement models?

Why would you choose one type of squat versus the other?

It all comes down to….

Movement Goals

While we love to talk about movement quality, I really feel like THIS is where our discussion needs to begin.

Before we start talking about movement quality, and before we even talk about movement models, we need to talk about movement goals.

  • What do you want THIS client or athlete to get out of training with you?
  • What are THEIR long-term goals and aspirations?
  • What sacrifices are THEY willing and able to make to achieve said goals?

Once you start to understand the goals of training, it becomes that much easier to unpack and describe your movement models, and what movement quality really means to you.

So with that being said, here’s a simple graphic to solidify this thought:

Now let’s briefly look at each level:

  1. You must identify your (or your clients/athletes goals) FIRST. This will drive the decision-making process going forward.
  2. Now that your goals are in place, build movement models that support your goals. In what ways can you maximize performance, while minimizing injury risk?
  3. And last but not least, once you’ve determined your goals and movement model, now you can safely explain what movement quality means TO YOU.

But you want to know the coolest part of this?

When you look at things through this lens, now you can have a rational conversation with someone that may have a totally different viewpoint on training than you.

For instance, while I don’t coach my clients or athletes to squat/bench press/deadlift like a powerlifter, I 100% understand why they train and coach the way that they do.

Quite simply, they have found a way to maximize their performance that works for them.

So I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to train/coach people the way they do, which is fine.

We’re all grown-ups here, right?

But by learning to be objective and understand their movement goals, I can better understand their model of movement.

And ultimately, I can understand their perspective and learn from them in the process.

Summary

Like I said up top, movement quality is a pretty dumb phrase – at least on its own.

Instead of staying superficial, let’s dig deeper.

Let’s start to talk about movement goals, and how to build movement models and strategies that will help us accomplish those goals.

But most importantly, let’s strive to better understand where other coaches are coming from, so we can have better discussions and the entire industry can grow as a result.

All the best,
MR

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