As I sit here writing this, we have collectively put together 155 posts of strength and conditioning and physical therapy content on our Instagram page. That is 155 different exercises, drills, assessments, concepts, or principles that you could take and use in your training or therapy practice.
Now, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of different social media accounts and websites that are producing mass amounts of information to consume and apply. With this endless supply of information, there is no doubt that you have asked yourself the question:
“Oh that looks cool, but, how do I use this?”
I think we have all been a victim of seeing something new and innovative on Instagram and immediately trying it out in the gym. That’s all well and good, but if you are a professional and apply that same process with your own clients or patients – you are not doing your job very well.
You have to have a system, or at the very least a process to go about implementing new exercises or ideas into your training or rehabilitation program. Here is the system that I use to determine what, why, how, and when to use new things you have seen floating around from other professionals.
1. Develop a Lens
In a perfect world you should have a strong foundation in understanding the core concepts and principles of your given field. Whether it be strength and conditioning or rehabilitation, you need to know how the body works, how it responds to stressors, and what does what. This foundation, along with your experiences, will form the lens that every new concept or exercise that you see will have to pass through in order to determine whether or not it is useful or a bunch of crap.
Don’t blindly try something that you see without first running it through your lens to determine whether or not it actually makes sense. While that seems overly obvious, the number of times that I’ve seen this makes it worth stating.
2. Try it Yourself First
One of my favorite things about my Athletic Training classes in school was that we acted as both the clinician and the patient for everything that we did. Any modality, exercise, or assessment – we got to experience it from the eyes of the patient. I cannot tell you how valuable this really is.
It is logical that you wouldn’t go to a doctor that is smoking a cigarette out front to manage your health and you wouldn’t consult an architect whose house is falling down design your dream home. Yet, clinicians and coaches will often prescribe an exercise that they have not tried themself or simply cannot even do.
If you are going to coach someone on how to do something without ever having the experience of doing it yourself, you are missing out on a ton. Troubleshooting someone’s squat is a whole lot easier when you have had a bar on your back hundreds of times. That new overhead mobility drill is a lot easier to modify and coach when you felt the same pinch in your shoulder when you did it wrong the first time.
We are in a field that is much more monkey-see-monkey-do than it is those who can’t do teach.
3. Determine the ‘Why’
Knowing why you are doing something is much more important than what it is you are doing. Sure, you have to know what it is and how to do it, but you cannot fully understand it until you know why you are doing it.
If you come across a different variation of a rotator cuff strengthening exercise that differs from anything that you’ve done before, ask yourself why they are doing it that way. Why did they do it supine instead of standing? Why did they use a band instead of a cable?
Understanding why you would do something makes it infinitely easier to put it into a client’s program or being able to modify, regress, or progress a given exercise on the fly.
4. Evaluate Where it Fits Into Your System
After you know why you would use something, you can then get into the what and how you would go about implementing it. In order to do this, you need to have a system. A system guides the way you practice. It makes things much more objective than subjective. Most importantly, it provides the framework for how everything you do, is done.
Your system needs to be founded in science and be flexible to new evidence and experiences. When you come across something new, you have to know where it fits into that system. Just because you saw a great new deadlift variation doesn’t mean your 81 year-old client ever needs to do it.
Whenever you see something new that you think has a place in your system, you need to apply it to those who would best benefit from it. Just because it helps some does not mean it wouldn’t cause harm to others.
Mike Boyle has an elaborate spread sheet with all of the regressions and progressions of any movement pattern that the coaches at his gym use. It is a phenomenal system that is ever changing based on new evidence and experiences. It won’t drastically change over night, but will continue to be refined and bettered. This is only because there is a system established, an understanding of why everything is being done, and how it can best be implemented.
5. Apply and Modify
New exercises and ideas that have been taken through all the steps above are now ready to be applied to your client or patient’s program. You know why you are doing it, when to do it, and how to do it. You can coach the hell out of it and justify why you are doing it.
But, that doesn’t mean that it will always work. There are many times where I come across something new, run it through my system, have a situation where it would (in my eyes) be absolutely perfect and it doesn’t turn out well.
For example, I had a client that struggled with any single leg hip hinge exercise. Her balance and coordination wouldn’t allow her to do any regression that I threw at her. I then saw a drill from another coach on Instagram, tried it out on myself, thought it would be perfect for her, gave it to her, and had no luck. But, because I knew why I was doing it, I modified the drill by adding some counter-weight and boom – she was able to do it perfectly.
We should all continue to learn and take advantage of all the resources that are available to us. But, don’t make the mistake of just throwing new things that you see at your clients or patients.