Strategy

Successful exercise selection and session organization includes both the ability to choose the right exercises for a specific individual within a specific context and to coach that individual through the proper execution of those exercises.

Thus, exercise selection by the coach requires both establishing a strategy for decision making and strategies for proper execution.

Let’s talk about strategy….

Decision Making Strategies

Our job as fitness professionals and performance coaches is to determine what matters.

Determining what matters usually comes from what others tell us to care about. It requires ample amount of time and effort to discover it for ourselves.

Discovering what matters in fitness, performance, and movement involves the development of training principles. Principles provide a framework for guidance in decision making.

An important aspect of being a coach is deciding what exercise the athlete or client will perform and the usefulness of that exercise based on the individual and context. A strategy for successful decision making is to develop a process.

Developing a process involves a series of questions, in which the answers lead you to determining your decision. Decision making and determining what matters involves working backwards from a desired outcome.

If you are reading this article, your desired outcome for athletes or clients is improving performance and/or fitness. Start with the desired outcome and ask questions leading towards the outcome.

  1. What performance improvements am I aiming for?
  2. What exercises are going to be supportive towards performance or in conflict?
    • For example, are you enhancing or dampening the rotational abilities of your rotational athletes?
  3. What do I want this exercise to accomplish? What response will the exercise make in performance qualities?
  4. What do I know about this person? What is the best option for this individual in this context?
  5. Is there an identified barrier to performance?
    • What problem would this exercise aim to solve?
  6. Is the decision I made effective? If not, what changes do I need to make?
    • Why was the decision ineffective? How did I deem it to be ineffective?

Establishing a strategy for decision making involves developing a model. A model that encompasses principles is a strategy for decision making, reviewing those decisions, critiquing, and modifying your decision making.

Review of your decisions is always necessary because there are consequences to your choices and responsibility in reducing the possible side effects that elements of training may bring to someone.

The above picture is my performance-based model.

A model will provide guidance, structure, and assist in creating simplicity from the complex.

The performance-based model starts with improving performance then works backwards to determine what exercise and execution strategies will be most beneficial. Elements of performance include qualities such as speed, power, endurance, and strength.

The skills associated with those qualities that may, or may not be valuable for performance, include the ability to create force, create force quickly and repeatedly, rotate, change levels, transition from leg to leg, and change direction.

Let’s break this down…

Improving performance has two pathways:

  1. Elements of specificity in training involves activities aimed at acquiring a specific adaptation. Decisions within this pathway are related to performance qualities and skills. Decisions involve emphasizing or deemphasizing variables such as duration, loading, tempos (timed duration of phases of movement), speed of movement, and direction of movement that provide direction towards a performance adaptation.
  2. Elements of variation in training involves reducing barriers towards performances. Barriers may include limitations in range of motion (i.e squat depth), speed, rotation, change of direction, or physical pain symptoms with specific movement or increases in training volume. The goal is to improve performance qualities and skills without pain or reductions in training volume.

Creating a strategy to both address barriers towards performance and enhance performance qualities should be the goal with exercise selection. Elements of specificity and variation that I deem to be important through knowledge and experience are articulated within my training principles.

My training principles guide my decisions about exercise creation and execution. Lastly, there is a feedback loop within the process in order to analyze, review, and make adjustments based upon responses and effectiveness.

Strategy is about being very specific about what you want to accomplish from the exercise you select. Strategy is the plan of action towards achieving a desired outcome. The plan of action can put you on a trajectory towards a specific aim or the removal of a barrier towards that aim.

The execution will seal the deal.

Execution Strategies

Once we have created a strategy towards your desired aim, we have to coach.

Execution strategy is the way you want your clients or athletes to perform the exercise:

  • What do I want the individual to focus their attention on during the exercise?
  • What starting component of the execution is required in order to meet the intent of the exercise?
  • What external objects may be needed?
  • What modification to the exercise may be needed based upon the individual and the context?
  • What cues would be most effective?

The way the exercise is executed is a result of making the right choice for exercise selection, coaching quality, and the effort of the individual. The execution will determine the effectiveness of the exercise, the potential for change that it may provide, what performance quality or skill is improved, and what side effects may emerge.

Strategy Implementation

The strategy for exercise execution will determine what tool you will need for a pattern in order to influence the outcome.

For example, the squat pattern includes tools such as a Zercher squat, kettlebell squat, barbell front squat, 2-kettlebell squat, safety bar squat, or barbell back squat. Each tool has a purpose and can be used as a strategy towards an outcome.

Accessories related to your strategy may include the use of a wedge or slant-board to elevate the heels or a box to reference depth.

Remember, there is no one way to do things, there are just strategies. We can apply tweaks or subtle changes to any exercise in order to create a successful outcome.

You don’t have to be married to just doing things one way or labelling exercises as necessities or requirements.

In group fitness or team performance environments, using various strategies within a movement pattern may be the key to individualization!

For example, you can write squat on a team program but several athletes may be safety bar squatting, some may be Zercher squatting, some may be kettlebell squatting, or some may be using a wedge or slant-board to elevate the heels.

Each athlete is performing the squat pattern but the strategy is different based on the specific individual and context.

Strategy Implementation Examples

Squat Pattern Strategies

1) Heels Elevated Squat and Zercher Squat

  1. Purpose or Problem: Improve squat depth or to maintain ribcage stacked over hips in vertical position.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will improve squat depth and technique?

Elevating the heels using a wedge or slant-board (it may be more effective for feet to be fully on slantboard) can be an effective strategy to bias plantarflexion to support an improvement in squat depth and technique. Elevating the heels can support maintaining a stacked position of the head, ribcage, and pelvis to descend straight down and back up.

Lack of depth in the squat, or an unsuccessful technique, can negatively impact accumulating training volume. If the squat exercise is used as a tool to develop fitness qualities (not necessarily a necessity) than lack of depth and unsuccessful technique represents a barrier to performance.

Choosing a Zercher squat may also be an effective strategy to improve squat depth by placing the load anteriorly and biasing an arm position that will support maintaining a vertical stacked position of the head, ribcage, and pelvis.

2) Safety Bar Squat

       

  1. Purpose or Problem: Progress loading while maintaining squat depth and technique. The upper body may become the limiting factor to support anteriorly loaded implements such as kettlebells and barbells.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will increase loading while maintaining successful squat pattern?

Choosing a safety bar with front handles may be an effective strategy to achieve progressing with load in the squat pattern while maintaining technique.

Strategy for cueing may be to maintain elbows forward, allow knees to drift forward while maintaining heel contact, and descend straight down. The front handles will bias supination while a barbell back squat will bias pronation, which can be included in consideration for strategy and outcome.

Hinge Pattern Strategies

1) Toes Elevated Deadlift

  1. Purpose or Problem: Currently unable to hip hinge or unsuccessful deadlift technique.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will improve successful hinge pattern?

Choosing to elevate the toes with a wedge or slant-board will bias hip motion backwards. Elevating the toes may be a good strategy to use as a teaching tool and allow people to sense their hips moving backwards in space.

2) Hip Hinge to Wall

  1. Purpose or Problem: A new client with low training experience and need a teaching tool for the hip hinge pattern.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will provide the individual with reference for moving their hips backwards in space?

Choosing to perform a hip hinge in front of a wall will provide a reference for the individual to feel something behind them while they move hips backwards. Cue to move hips back until they feel the wall or try to touch the wall behind you with your hips. 

Horizontal Push Pattern Strategies

1) Supinated Grip for Pressing

  1. Purpose or Problem: There is a barrier to performance due to external rotation limitations.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will bias external rotation?

Choosing to perform a horizontal press with hands supinated will bias an external rotation strategy for accessing movement and reducing barriers to performance. A barbell will emphasize a pronated grip that will bias internal rotation.

2) Heels on Wall Low Incline Press

  1. Purpose or Problem: To maintain or attain a pelvis tucked position, hip flexion, a favorable overhead press, or a position that will favor the ribs staying back, down, and in during an overhead activity.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will bias a favorable rib and pelvis position and scapula movement during an overhead activity?

Choosing to perform an incline horizontal press in a supinated grip and feet on wall will be a strategy to consider rib and pelvis position during the exercise.

Cueing the client to have the elbows in front will assist in keeping the ribs back, down, and in. A position that provides a favorable ribcage and pelvis position may allow for the scapula to move and support overhead activities.

Supporting or reducing pain during overhead activities may improve performance with overhead or throwing athletes.

3) Ground Elevated Press

  1. Purpose or Problem: Maintain or attain a pelvis tucked position and congruent relationship between the ribcage and pelvis during the horizontal press.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will provide a successful outcome based on the intent?

Choosing to perform the horizontal press in a position of more hip flexion by elevating the ground with boxes or placing the feet on the bench will be a strategy to account for pelvis and ribcage position.

A position of hip flexion will support low back contact with the bench and reduce the likelihood of using the low back as a strategy to move the load. Considering pelvis and ribcage position during the press exercise may also support scapula movement.

4) Hookyling Floor Press

  1. Purpose or Problem: Reduce range of motion during the horizontal press or reduce shoulder pain with horizontal press activites.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will provide a successful outcome based on the intent?

Choosing to perform the horizontal press in a hooklying (supine with feet flat) position will reduce shoulder range of motion as the floor will prevent the arm from moving below the level of the body.

Vertical Pull Pattern Strategies

1) Bilateral Pulldown with Supinated or Pronated Grip

 

  1. Purpose or Problem: Shoulder pain with overhead movement, increase to scapula movement, or to place client in a position that will support maintaining a congruent relationship between the ribcage and pelvis during the exercise.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will provide a successful outcome based on the intent?

Arm position or grip position relates to rotational biasing which can impact shoulder pain and scapula movement during an overhead movement.

Choosing to perform the vertical pull with supination will bias external rotation and pronation will bias internal rotation. A supinated grip with elbows forward can also provide assistance in maintaining a down, back, and in will support maintaining a congruent relationship between the ribcage and pelvis during the exercise.

Pairing the downward movement with an exhale and the upward movement with an inhale will provide expansion and compression of spaces. Pairing respiration can be an avenue to improve shoulder pain and scapula movement with overhead activities. 

2) Alternating Pulldown with Supinated or Pronated Grip

  1. Purpose or Problem: Shoulder pain with overhead movement or having the intent to emphasize alternating movement of the upper body.
  2. Process: Work backwards to find a solution for improved performance.
  3. Strategy Selection: What strategy will provide a successful outcome based on the intent?

Alternating arms during a pulldown from left to right sides can emphasize rotation elements of the upper body by expanding and compressing opposite spaces.

Pairing respiration with alternating movements can be an avenue to improve pain with overhead movement, improve scapula movement, and bias rotational abilities. 

Summary

People come to us for the ability to decide what matters in fitness and performance.

Thus, we have to discover what matters to us and ‘WHY’. Development of your training principles and model will support you in discovering the ‘how’ and ‘why’ for better decision making. Better decision making is strategy selection.

  • What strategies do you value and why?
  • Are those strategies in the best interest of your athletes or are they only ones that you know?
  • Are these strategies sustainable?
  • Do they provide long term learning opportunities or short term gains?
  • Can you add elements of progress to the strategies you choose?

The value of knowing the most effective strategies comes from determining what barriers exist between your client and fitness or your athlete and performance.

Performance can be improved by emphasizing certain variables within your planning and reducing limitations. If your exercise selection were able to include both, rather than one or the other, you would have an advantage.

Want to Learn More?

The MBT Strategy: Training Principles and Implementation online course will dive deep into elements of this article, provide you with a framework for decision making, and direction for implementation.

The course will take you through action steps to help you create your own training principles and model, and help you implement these within your own context. The course also provide hours of exercise videos, coaching tactics, and program design lessons. In addition to the course, the mentorship includes personal communication and community based discussion boards. Click here to check out the MBT Strategy Course Preview Page

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  1. The “slant” plate that is pictured, what brand is it? I’ve looked at several sites and none are as substantial as the one you’re using.

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