Look Before You Step: Progression in Program Design
Many sport professionals may get caught up in progression during program design. Personal trainers, strength coaches and athletic trainers may all be guilty of this at one time or another.
I say this with confidence because as both a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and current graduate student in pursuit of my master’s degree in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine with the University of Idaho, I am guilty of both.Whether working with patients or progressing to sport-specific movements with clients or athletes, we must not overlook the fundamental patterns that comprise the foundation of movement.
As children, attempting to run without first learning to walk was unsuccessful rather a child requires sound progression, allowing the body time to adapt. If the child started walking too quickly the child fell. Maybe the child needed to crawl bit longer, using objects to lean on while building the neuromuscular awareness to eventually stand on two feet.
This concept pertains to every program decision we make. Moving too quickly can cause unwanted compensation and reinforce poor movement patterns while too small of a challenge fails to elicit the desired response. Consider a youth baseball player learning to hit. At the most elementary level the youth starts with dry swinging drills using a mirror. Coaches may use various cues and make verbal adjustments, letting the athlete feel and see the changes. The logical progression utilizes tee drills and so on. If this athlete has no background, it would not be advantageous to move from tee work to live batting practice, skipping a drill such as soft toss.
There may be too much input to a system that has not been properly conditioned. If this same athlete maintains proper mechanics on the tee but quickly breaks down during soft toss, the athlete should regress
to tee work until proven the athlete can maintain technique through both lower level drills before progressing.
Applying this concept to our fitness and performance enhancement population is very simple. Using a standard bodyweight squat as an example, if the client cannot maintain a neutral or slightly lordotic lumbar spine, why progress to vertebral loading?
Similarly, if a client or athlete cannot demonstrate control and balance during a forward lunge, why progress to unstable surface training? Progressing too quickly on either example will force the body to find the path of least resistance. Compensation in an unloaded environment will not correct itself when a load or unstable surface is introduced. Poor movement patterns are reinforced, facilitating dysfunction and increasing injury potential.
These are general but important concepts to keep in mind while creating and progressing programs for all populations. The most powerful tools clinicians and trainers possess is observation. Watch clients or athletes as a whole. Take a step back and grade their movements while asking if the individual is ready for a new challenge or if the client should return to a simple movement, remembering to take small steps before beginning to run.
Stephen C Gamma is a first year graduate student in the Master of Science in Athletic Training program at the University of Idaho. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development. Accolades include the 2010 Appalachian League Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.