Are we watching the right stuff?

The importance of joint actions to trainers, what they tell us and why they matter

When you watch someone performing a row what are you looking at? Are you seeing whether they finish with a shoulder extension or are they adding on a bit of scapula elevation or wrist flexion / extension? Is their hip extension really a hip extension? How much of it is lumbar extension and when / why does that take over?

Has your screening assessed how well they do that test or if they have the shoulder extension to get the most out of this piece of equipment? What about their shoulder flexion? Have they got the capacity to get the most out what’s being asked of them in this group exercise class? What about the program they’ve downloaded or the exercise you want to try from Instagram? Is it a good choice for them or should they be doing it in the first place?

So much attention is given to the right muscles and the right exercises and remarkably little focus to the interplay of joints within a compound movement. When you get comfortable with joint actions the exercise selections, intensities, regressions and progressions start to take care of themselves. With 600 muscles to take care of it can seem like a headache. It doesn’t need to be that way. Take care of the joint actions and the muscles will come along for the ride. If anything gets left behind, don’t worry, the compensation will usually get telegraphed by – you guessed it – a joint action. You’ll have a very good idea if you are looking more at levator scap or medial delt, or quadratus lumborum or glute medius. The athlete will feel a powerful difference in execution. They’ll thank you (and come back to you) when they can really feel it in their quads / abs / glutes for the first time. If it has been a habitual cause of pain, when they stop feeling that, they’ll thank you for that too.

So how do you break the bad news? How do you tell someone their front squat dream is over? How do you tell them that they’ll just have to miss out on the benefits of the handstand? 

You don’t.

Joint actions will tell you where and how to tailor that exercise to them. That way, they reap all the benefits they can from it. What about the classic version? Has that ship sailed? Very often, no. How do you get it back? Hate to sound like a broken record but, joint actions. Look at what they’re lacking and where they’re lacking it. Program it back in and give it back to them. 

At anatomy gaps we personalise all our primary lifts and secondary lifts to make sure our clients and athletes get the most out of both. They can take all the positive benefits of targeted adaptation while avoiding the negative collateral damage that some feel is inevitable in a big lift. The secondary exercises can help plug in the gaps in ways that improve range of motion while optimising the improvement ceiling for the primary lift. This is made even easier with a simple programming template that refracts any goal through the prism of joint actions. 

Next time you’re watching a set, ask yourself if you are looking at the things that matter, checking that the right tissue is being targeted and used, whether the exercise is appropriate for the person, let alone the weight, and whether you have given them what they need most.

Joint actions will answer all these things. Learn what they look like and learn what they are called. Learn what they are trying to do and how you can work with them. You can customise for the athlete, while taking care of the demands of the sport, or make personal training personal on an anatomical level.

For user-friendly templates for programming with joint actions, skills to customise primary lifts to the individual and correct deficiencies through strength with secondary lifts, find out about an anatomy gaps Foundation course in your area.

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