Before I get into the summary of the 4 days I spent in Austin a few weeks ago, I want to explain an angle I use in my own continuing education. At least once a year, I try to attend a seminar or read a book on a topic I think I disagree with or am skeptical about. Most of the time it’s a book or DVD since spending $30-50 on something that I think it garbage is a better choice than spending $300-500 plus travel, etc. to sit through a bunch of dribble.
My thinking is that there’s value in cementing something as really wrong, or finding out that I was wrong in my initial impressions. Either way, it’s a Win-Win. It is refreshing and honest to find out that initial impressions are wrong when you think there is gravity to something only to find out it’s not really there. That’s not a bad thing.
So for some time, I have been critical of a few components of what I know of the Gary Gray system. One of the things I find offensive is the silly attempt to disagree with McGill’s work, which is almost amusing when Tiberio says something to the effect that McGill’s work is only applicable to a fixed sacrum, and the sacrum is never fixed in “function.” They don’t do crunches, which is good, but it’s because being on your back is not “functional,” not because there is a concern for repeated and/or loaded flexion. Similarly the notion of bad movement occurs in real life and sport, so that is grounds to train bad movement for this elusive expression of “neurological preparedness.” I’ve gotten into these issues in the past on my Website and others. The links are below. I just don’t get it, and it’s gotten to the point where I call professional patience. It’s my way of giving up, as I don’t think I can continue the conversation with some of the points and counterpoints I can make which aren’t even really abstract. There are truths in our profession. There are some things that do not allow for debate or interpretation.
At the same time for several years after first seeing Todd Wright speak, there have been many components to the Gary Gray system that intrigued and interested me. In fact, Gray Cook in front of the room has said that he was widely influenced by Gary Gray, and I can see and express the similarities very easily in the FMS system that seems so stark and different. In comfortable conversation, I’ve messed with Todd and Logan saying that I agree with about 87.5% of the system. The fact of the matter is that there are more similarities than differences, but the shroud of silly terms and jingles and the apparent disregard for relative compensatory flexibility make the Gary Gray program like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Everybody has an opinion, right?
So around this time last year, I had a SmartStep event in Austin, and Todd welcomed Daniel Martinez and I to see the facility @ the Irwin Center @ Texas. A few hours that first day turned into 3 days and basically my own personal mentorship into a lot of the things Todd does @ Texas and Train 4 The Game. From that point, it was clear to me that whether it was the different voice or the packaging, this was the Gary Gray stuff done the right way. Aside from the education, his volunterns (technically volunteers because interns @ UT have to have some sort of school affiliation I think) treated Daniel and I with such hospitality that I had to send them a gift card to Twin Peaks despite Todd’s protest. Slow down now, Twin Peaks is southwest version of Hooters. Nobody ever hear of a gift card to a strip club.
Continuing to follow Gary Gray’s stuff on the Internet and then seeing Todd and Logan again present @ Perform Better-Providence, when Todd announced the Vertical Core Seminar, I immediately cancelled my plans to attend FAKTR-PM, a manual therapy seminar in NJ that same weekend. I remember readings Andy Twellman’s articles on StrengthCoach.com, and I voted for it that they need to do a DVD or course because they were doing things in a way that needs to be exposed. Last summer I told Logan Schwartz, the women’s basketball coach @ Texas, that they have something that I don’t have, and I want it. That is how impressed I was with the movement skills. When I was down in Texas the year before, when I was doing the movements, I was like, “This is teaching athleticism.”
So with all of this in mind, this whole weekend went down after about a week and a half into my new job with the Marines, which is pretty much living hell so far, it was a much needed diversion on many levels.
All right, so Anthony Renna (SCWebinars.com) set up our flights on Wednesday to get in around the same time. Picked up the rental car and Josh Ford from Canada and zipped over to the hotel. As my Facebook will attest, I try to eat at indigenous restaurants when travelling, so I was happy suggest the aforementioned Twin Peaks for dinner. Our waitress was, if I remember correctly, the 2-time defending Twin Peak Calendar Girl. And I ordered Rocky Mountain Oysters to add to the list of unique foods I’ve eaten.
Day 1 of the course began with Todd talking about how his own evolution as a clinician came to be. Todd is one of the best speakers I’ve heard via a combination of an everyman tone, quality information, and a high profile body of work that lends credibility. One of the best lines as usable advice was this, “Get good when you don’t need money.” I have been so lucky in my career that my jobs have afforded me both time and funds to continue my education. I understand that continuing education costs money, a lot of money. So while it may mean sacrificing other pleasures, the message is that it should pay off in the end. Todd’s first basketball job had no salary but unlimited continuing education. Todd probably has the best and most powerful S&C job in D1 basketball. Is that realistic for everybody? Not sure, but I know it’s impossible if you don’t try.
At some point, I think Todd caught me talking to myself as he was talking about James Thomas. James is a player we’ve both had in the past, and he was the watershed case that led Todd to believe in not just the Gary Gray model, but the whole what is known as regional interdependence. It was a situation where some foot mobility training was the fix for James’ back pain. When I had James in Philly the following year, I wasn’t nearly as keen as I am now to regional interdependence. But when I had his right shoulder pop doing a high pull in a pre-game lift, and now know that his left foot as the problem, it makes very special sense. James Thomas is a player I too will never forget. I remember the miserable feeling I had having him get hurt in the weight room, rule #1 to never allow, as a non-guaranteed guy trying to hang on. This is the same player and same special impact for both Todd and I.
Todd went on to talk about all the definitions and components to how the model looks at movement. Yeah, I could do without the little names, but I guess there’s value to be definitive in how a movement is challenged. And of course Challenge is one way to “load” up a movement. I’m talking about drivers and tweaks and enhancements. <rolling my eyes>
He talked about the key mobility zones of t-spine, hips, and ankles. He talked about the value of the foot, which is nothing to roll your eyes at. I certainly do not believe that bottom-up fixes everything, but I also don’t believe bottom-down fixes everything either. The Joint by Joint prevails in his message as well, as does the Core Pendulum. I do think there is a comfort level into outside-of-neutral scapula, lumbar, and knee that is not appropriate in my opinion, but he didn’t really get into it the whole course. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it worked out in a very healthy way.
Todd continues to outline the exercise system that they use. It is a combination of static vs. dynamic, positions and/or changes in all 3 planes, each with the arms and legs, and infinite directions of locomotion. There are infinite combinations of all of the above that you can tailor to a specific need-based activity, maintain general, or support corrective exercise. I like the progressions that are afforded and even regressions in using the stretching Cage to maintain overpressure where you don’t have mobility integrity, but use other body parts to drive the mobility. This is very much in my view of “stretching:” get up to the barrier in some level of loaded and use other motion(s) to integrate the new length into a stable mechanism.
I especially appreciate the combinations of upper quarter dynamics performed in conjunction with lower quarter dynamics. I like how this can take the FMS corrections to the next step of bodyweight movement.
Bodyweight movement is an interesting choice of words because I think a lot of discord not only with the Gary Gray system but many other prominent systems is just semantics. I am very comfortable explaining the differences between something like Squat the movement and Squat the exercise. Movements are baseline actions that may or many not have biomechanical integrity. In fact these outside of neutral “movements” like touching your toes and rounding the back in a bodyweight squat are very necessary to possess in terms of gaining mechanoreception at the joint levels.
I bring all this up because the Gary Gray stuff would say everything is movement. They have an entirely different hierarchy, again with their own terminology, for fundamentals. These fundamentals have some things like squat that I would consider a fundamental, and others like hopping and skipping that I would not. That doesn’t make them unimportant. Remember I am glowingly positive of all the skipping I learned. But to use skipping, hopping, pivoting, and jopping as your primary pattern may leave something behind. Todd mentioned he may be reconsidering the developmental sequence, which I think is very positive simply because even if you don’t believe in NDT or DK, you are going to ensure you have the proximal core before you introduce the impacts of gravity and the knee/foot/ankle.
Here are some bullet points, some paraphrased, from the morning that I would like to comment on…………….
**Isometric core training promotes a rigid t-spine, hip, and foot.
Agreed, however, long spine stiffness in the plane may be the weakest link in the chain and addressed accordingly. Planks are not bad. There is a direct to indirect scale of movement and exercise sagittal choices. There are components to function, and there should be room to focus on one part of the chain.
Can we not expect better neutral stability to allow for more mobility in another expression of function?
Plank, Rib Roll, Goblet Squat sounds like a very good core/mobility prep for a lot of people.
**The spine needs relative, controlled motion. Why does it have 24 vertebrae?
Agreed. But I would be very, very clear that certain spinal motions are okay in movement, but not exercise. Training movement may feel like exercise, but the joint by joint should prevail.
**Isometric training teaches the body to resist and counter eccentric loads
**Motion excites proprioceptors which drive function and proper biomechanical control
Agreed, but there are lots of tangible sidebars that can challenge this. It all lies in the type of motion. This is where I chimed in in terms of applying these methods to a rehab setting. You slow the movements down, drop the amplitudes, and rely on static postures. That leaves a lot on the table in all of the exciting movements, but if you’re in rehab, you need to earn the right to get out.
**Enhanced abdominal recruitment and lumbar protection by promoting mobility (mostability – no clue what this means, and I refuse to even type it again) about t-spine, hips, and ankles
–Joint by Joint at its finest. 87.5%. See, I told ya.
I would almost rewrite the Functional Performance Pyramid to change the bottom floor to Functional Fundamentals and add in Functional Movement as a 2nd level. Functional Fundamentals would still be the principles of mobility, stability, and motor control via the FMS. Functional Movement would be jump, leap, skip, pivot, shuffle, etc.. They are all general and very worthy of screen and assessment. And they also qualify the foundation of putting speed and power on top of the system. I just don’t think you can start there when there is something out there to guide you to an even lower level of movement screening. Why can’t we do both and then access the literature from the FMS?
Logan was up next after we headed over to T4TG, which is a fantastic facility. Think long runway with gear along the sides. Plenty of room for the type of training they do. UCS racks, Keiser functional trainers, medballs, VIPR logs, cages, lots of toys, all of which they use.
I love listening to Logan speak. Some people you just like listening to.
**Hamstrings extend the knee
Hamstrings as a hip extender in hip extension take the knee into extension via line of pull and momentum.
**Quads do not extend the knee
I’m not sure there’s a purposeful human or athletic movement where the quads concentrically extend the knee in the open-chain. Kicking is isometric I think. Not really worth the argument. If you are doing knee extensions, Logan says to stop.
**Lumbar Curves are set up to buttress compression.
Boing, boing, boing. Also keep in mind that I think furthering the lordosis of the lumbar or cervical in the -crosses will be compensated throughout the entire spine. Think links of chain. If you mess with the top, the bottom will be addressed. I will have a post up shortly recapping some things I posted on SC.com about this topic.
**Relative Motion of the Spine
I would have preferred Logan was a lot more direct in discussing lumbar rotation. He was correctly discussing that the lumbar spine has to rotate in accordance with rotation anywhere else in the body. The tibial to femoral rotation in gait and level changes must be met with lumbar rotation. Absolutely. Same from the top down. However, if anyone in the room was hearing such things for the first time, the way Logan was presenting it gave me the feel that someone could pick up any piece speaking against lumbar rotation and be like, hey, Logan said it was okay. This CW guy is an idiot. The message should have been categorically do not try to increase lumbar rotation range of motion through end range movements, and do not train end range rotation with load or repetition, i.e. bicycle crunches, russian twist, dumb stuff.
Please read this article by Mike Boyle if you have never read it.
The afternoon session was the Level 1 progressions with mobility drills and stationary matrix drills. Again, the combinations are endless with the directions, 1- or 2-arm drivers with. The low level moves would be steps, pivots, reverse lunges.
I’d also like to add that even though they don’t use developmental patterns, the system lends to using literally any position or choice of locomotion with any of the strategies. In the winter, we had a 9-year old all over the gym doing bear crawl matrix. You can be stationary in half-kneeling and add to the family of chops/lifts and halos. No one owns a movement. I find myself saying this all the time: The shit’s all the same.
The only negative, which really isn’t a negative to me because I think I can coach it, is the seeming disregard for Relative Compensatory Flexibility. If you use momentum in a rotational arm driver to drive the core, I think the core “turns on” to get you out of a bad position. Todd himself will admit though that you can coach the drills however you want.
That evening Daniel Martinez and I had a pre-game meal of some sushi and went to Austin Community College for an Olympic Lifting session with his coach Ursula Garza. Ursula is I believe the only female Senior International Coach for USAW. Through Ursula and Olympian Oleg Kechko, Austin has quite a swell in Olympic Lifting. They have been doing a lot with Crossfit, which is only a good thing in at least some form of insurance that the teaching isn’t the problem with their OL forays.
I’ve played with some skills since going to USAW, but I wasn’t feeling the snatch, so I stayed @ 60-70kg for my terrible technique in clean and snatch high pulls.
Day 2 began with a 630am Bootcamp. I am not much of a bootcamp guy as I don’t much care for the screaming and bravado, but I wanted every little opportunity to pick up what they do @ T4TG.
Bootcamp is bootcamp, meaning it is so hard to blend HIIT variety and good movement. But I enjoyed seeing the context to the stations keeping the same drill just a change in plane or other option.
The morning session of Day 2 was the 3rd workout for me in about 16 hours, and for my dollar it was the best. It was the same locomotion drills that Todd presented @ Perform Better-Providence.
So you have these options
–Walk, Run, Shuffle, Skip, Carioca
—-Any combination of the above
–Moving forward, backwards, sideways, in a circle
—-Any combination of the above
–Any move widened out in stride, width, toe-in/out, or crossing midline
–Any combination of 1 leg doing 1 drill, the other leg doing the other drill
This stuff is straight brilliant. It helps that I can do almost all of the drills like forwards/backwards skipioca, which is carioca forwards, which no one can do 1st try, skipping on every step. The one that I can’t do is skunioca. That is running on 1 leg and skipping in forward/backward carioca. It’s hard to even visualize.
My mind is racing at the ways to set up general warm-ups as all the progressions are built in, and I can even see a group doing different things based on speed. If you keep it general, it can be used for conditioning. Throw a vest on or some light DBs, it’s even more metabolic. How about pulling a sled or a chute with some of these techniques? By this time, I so got what I paid for. The lecture and workout for the locomotion drills are absolutely priceless, they have integrity, and they are downright fun. This is how we will do dynamic warmup @ MARSOC.
I also came up with some better cues that will work for me because as I mentioned before, I refuse to use the Gary Gray terms. I think they just make things more complicated. I’ll live with tweak. That’s about it.
Next was coming back in to hear from Josh Ryan and the evaluation system.
Josh is a veteran of the T4TG system. You can see him in action in a YouTube of some of the movements we’ve practiced up to this point.
Aside from the manual foot evaluation, I understood the evaluation as some of the static positions, basic locomotion (walking) patterns, and Phase 1 matrix with arm drivers. The view is for the weak link in the baseline of patterns.
The test becoming the exercise is a solid approach. Of the models I’m familiar with Sahrmann and DNS employ this approach. My exception taken would be that the upright dynamic positions can be broken down to static and supported positions. I think this is more opinion than anything. I can’t call out this approach. I’d just rather break down a simpler pattern without the complexities or dynamics, bring up the weak link, and re-progress the pattern up where Josh would like us to start.
Back to the gym for a lecture and lab on what the system calls Movement Acquisition. I think this is a programming principle based on the perceived specificity of the individual’s terminal movements. So if you are watching a golfer in a freeze frame of the backswing or a basketball drop his shoulder and dribble left, this is what they call the Transformational Zone.
Again, I’m going to refrain from the jingles and rhymes, particularly because I think it might take away from the importance of this concept. Whether you call it the Transformational Zone (TZ) or not, we are all using this concept of amoritization. We typically hear this term in traditional plyometric training to describe the absorption of force upon landing and transferring it to another direction. This efficiency can be trained and improved. We know this.
So the concept of the TZ is the same in principle in analyzing movements when motion is decelerated and funneled into another direction significant to the movement. This isn’t a concept that I am going to employ right way as I have never been any kind of fan of trying to recreate the specific movement in athletics. But I am not as put off by this strategy as much as foolishness like swinging a weighted golf club or jump soles. There is a blend of general and specific with these crafted moves, but I’m not so sure I’m into them. I think you find those moves in the matrix and locomotion, and I would probably lean to training more of the movements that are NOT in the athletic patterns, rather than the ones that are. I am just leery of sport-specific programming. I’m just not sure it exists.
This evening followed with a group meal that was taken care of for everybody by Chris Poirier at Perform Better. Todd gave us the whole history of T4TG which is really an amazing story that includes getting into their space that originally had graffiti all over it and no lights. They were only open for business during the day until they could afford lights. It’s really qutie a story, and 5’ll get ya 10 that Todd writes a book one day. His life experiences and travels are probably enhanced by his particular story telling ability and delivery, but it’s really hard to make the stuff up that he has gone through. I think people would pay to see the TV miniseries of Todd’s route with freeze frames, and him walking across the screen and breaking the 4th wall. I was very moved by the dinner experience and just listening.
The final day of the seminar was more presentation of the matrix combinations with loaded implements. The lab was set up in stations in using the same principles and the patterns of the stationary, matrix, and locomotion patterns. The 4 stations were using the Keiser Functional Trainer, the VIPR log, med balls, and sandbells. When it comes down to it anything will work. But, and this is a big but, when you add momentum, which is a prescribed principle of this system, to a loaded pattern, you have to have a very keen sense of body awareness to not go into bad positions. I think it was, in fact, during one of these breakouts that one of Todd’s coaches made mention that you will probably pick up your child with less than perfect form, so you should train that free-flowing form in the matrix. I wrote this article some time ago to challenge that notion. But make no mistake about it. These techniques when performed with integrity via the Joint by Joint are fantastic displays of mobility, stability, motor control, and athleticism.
We finished the day with another coaching and service philosophy lecture from Todd, which was a lot like dinner and his introduction on day 1. As a part of the logo for T4TG, Todd had the 4 developed below. The shape is made up of sayings and phrases that have special meaning to him, his trainers, and athletes over the years.
Finally, keeping to my attempts to always hit indigenous restaurants when I travel, Anthony and I knew right where to go on the way back to the airport. Rudy’s, the Worst BBQ in Texas, was the spot. They give you free samples of all the meats and sides at the counter if you tell them you’re a first timer. Then all the folks behind the counter do this little song and dance for you as a rookie. I might have wanted to eat a little bit more, but I had no complaints. Not sure if Rudy’s is on the 1000 places to Eat in America, but I’ll check it off anyway.
Throughout this review, I know I keep reverting to getting my digs in, but I hope my message is clear that this was a fantastic experience, and one that I needed to grow my skill set. The gravity to a movement-based approach is clearly there; I just think there are a couple pieces that go too far. And I think I can provide some science to why I think the way I think. I would love to challenge Todd’s trainers to go through the searching process that he did before he stumbled upon what he has found to be best practice and success. Go to a 2-day course with Stuart McGill. Read Sahrmann’s books. Read Porterfield and DeRosa. Appreciate the difference between the Joint by Joint and the Core Pendulum theories. Then tweak it, challenge it, enhance, and coach it up.
I think T4TG is going to do this mentorship once a quarter. I highly recommend this for clinical, social, and business mentorship skills. These are good people and good information.