Redefining “Dysfunctional”, and Finding Pieces to the Puzzle

A funny thing keeps on happening as I continue through the off-season for many of my clients: many individuals still have some sort of dysfunction present on a neuromuscular level.

What I mean by this is that despite the advanced assessment process, despite auditing how someone moves, and despite controlling for as many variables as I can from an exercise selection point of view, some people will still present with dysfunction.

Why is this? Isn’t the point of pursuing options like working with myself, and many other professionals on the continuum, to help improve functioning for whatever the individual desires/needs?

When it comes to the neuromuscular dysfunctions, I see many present with dysfunction with respect to cervical range of motion limitation, thoracic flexion/extension/rotation limitations, and pelvic stability issues.

These items can lead to a dysfunctional scapulohumeral rhythm (a dysfunctional rhythm is still, well… a rhythm), along with a lack of inability to negotiate gravity in an authentic manner in whatever capacity you choose to perform, among many other items that many professionals can point out as “dysfunctional.”

But what is the origin of said abnormal pattern?

Movement is not the only system that can be defined as “dysfunctional.”

If I were to say the reason you are dysfunctional is because you play a specific sport, that would be an incomplete statement.

Playing a sport is not the real reason – many people play sports without dysfunction.

What is the Real Reason?

Some dysfunction can be due to necessary adaptations as a function of playing your sport, some are due to psychological/behavioral triggers, and others due to other things altogether.

I can play hockey for an hour, but I won’t develop a “dysfunction” comparatively to another person that has played hockey their whole life. In fact, my dysfunction might be that I play the sport of hockey poorly!

Back to my original point, many of the individuals I see are professional athletes. They do almost every rep under our eye, and they are being corrected to the next degree.

What gives? Why would these individuals still display a lack of full range of motion from Point A (end of an in-season) to Point Z (end of the off-season)?

Off-Season - Stress

You’d expect there to be a radical change from a neuromuscular point of view, when in fact I am attempting to do an accumulation of these items:

  • Improve neuromuscular movement quality from a full in-season
  • Improve fitness qualities of strength, speed, power, and endurance to support a future pre-season and in-season
  • Induce recovery methods via nutritional protocols and resting strategies, at appropriate times!

Playing “Who Done It?” with Dysfunction

The above dysfunctions could be due to many things:

  1. Fatigue and thus overuse of incorrect neuromuscular patterning (running too much without considering the tonic/phasic relationship of gait)
  2. Lifting too much without appropriate technique, which could lead to inappropriate mechanics, or altered kinematics with respect to everyday functioning
  3. Lack of appropriate equipment necessary to support a given task – running shoes to give an appropriate reference for your feet, ankles, and hips, appropriate cleats to push off with enough friction if playing baseball, or even the right headwear to support certain dance moves (headspins, for example).
    Equipment - Random Musings
    Cleats, Shin guards, Motion Control shoes, or even Headspin beanies could be pieces to the puzzle


  4. Essentially if you play a sport, you will eventually need to practice that sport at some point when transitioning from your off-season to pre-season/in-season phases… and accumulated stress from practices, sessions, will happen. This sudden onset of stress from the reintroduction of neuromuscular patterning is necessary in order to get better at your sport specific skills.

Viewing the Forest for the Trees


If someone has enough requisite fitness qualities, you may need to develop their sport specific skillset.

An Optimal Performance Pyramid

For example, I would consider my strength qualities to be relatively high in comparison to another individual with respect to powerlifting standards.

However, in order for me to develop the requisite fitness qualities necessary for me to play hockey for example, that extra strength won’t help transfer towards the endeavor. Thus, I’d fatigue a lot faster than someone else who has an exceptional aerobic capacity, and I would tire out trying to learn sport specific items that much faster.

Gym Logic

If someone is not strong, but technically sound from a sport specific point of view, well then get them stronger to support their technical output.

Essentially, if you move under load (a weighted barbell, for example) incorrectly, you are going to kick on a specific type of patterning. The following things can theoretically happen when performing movements in a gym:

Gym Logic

Using or Not Using the Appropriate Equipment

If someone needs equipment in order to perform better, allocating the best equipment will help deliver a better quality of performance. I don’t mean this as in the sense of “Go and get the new Jordan’s,” or even in the context of “MOM! I NEED THOSE SHOES!

I’m including legitimate and appropriate equipment use in the context of these questions:

  • Will the equipment in question allow you to deliver a better force production towards whatever endeavor you choose?
  • Will the equipment in question allow you to deliver a better force absorption towards your chosen endeavor?
  • Are you more efficient with the equipment?
  • Are you less efficient with the equipment?

At the same time, to continue with the Devil’s Advocate, perhaps you don’t need to use certain equipment to further instruct or teach a specific lesson or skillset that you may have overlooked from a fundamental level. In other words, perhaps the equipment you have been using in the past have been a crutch for a lack of sports specific technique.

For example, not using a belt in powerlifting has been anecdotally beneficial for myself and others, and when putting the belt back on after a certain amount of time, there is increased strength that is observed.

Sudden Stress

If someone has a sudden onset of stress from, well quite literally anything, how can you manage it?

  • Do you have a recovery plan for if someone goes on a 8 hour flight across the country, and they need to play about 2 hours right after they get off the plane?
  • What happens if the person has next to no sleep because of family responsibility?

The following solutions for a sudden onset of stress come to mind:


  • Mindfulness, or meditative practice
  • Create a robust aerobic engine (doing so for weeks or even months) in anticipation of systemic stress to allow for better parasympathetic functioning in the face of a sudden sympathetic stressor
  • If systemic stress causes a lack of mobility to occur, choose series of exercises that will circumvent this lack of mobility that may be necessary

I bring up all of these seemingly minute details because I am attempting to explain that as a strength coach, personal trainer, or whatever other title you can give me, sometimes I do not have access to the whole picture that is often viewed as a large jigsaw puzzle.
Jigsaw Puzzle

I can see parts of a cloud, and I can see some trees, but when I’m attempting to fill in the corner of the puzzle, I can’t fill it in when I don’t know even know what it looks like.

Now, imagine a jigsaw puzzle that has a certain window of opportunity to be completed in – and you are all of a sudden on a time crunch, with limited resources!

We Are All Pieces to the Puzzle (Whether Or Not You Realize It)

For what it is worth, we (collectively) as a profession are all parts to a much larger puzzle.

  • Those of us that crush our athletes through “extraneous” work and drills are attempting to fill in their pieces of the puzzle with what they believe works by violently thrashing the table around, hoping the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fit.
  • Those of us that don’t create resiliency for our athletes by excessively giving fluffy exercise intensities and selections are likewise attempting to fill in their portion of the puzzle. They do so delicately, and with great precision, because to them every green piece looks like a part of a tree.
  • Unfortunately, they forget that they have the rest of the picture to complete, and they feel satisfied that they placed one piece of the puzzle in the correct spot, yet there are 9,999 more pieces to place down to complete the puzzle.
  • Those of us who attempt to improve recovery through nutritional and/or therapeutic modalities are necessary, and yet again are still just one piece of the puzzle. I hope this analogy makes sense, as I can keep on going on!

And to push this issue even further, if you have the capacity to carry a piece of the puzzle to fill in the larger picture, do you even have the ability to communicate to others who are on the other side of the puzzle to make sure you’re in the right spot, at the right time?

What happens if you recognize that a piece of the puzzle is missing from the whole picture? Do you know who to call to help fill that piece in, even if they aren’t part of your specific group of friends trying to help fill it in?


I find that the more I seek understanding of a certain topic(s), I uncover more questions that I didn’t even realize were relevant questions at the time.

As always,

Keep it funky.


Musings and Things to Read – 7.15.2015

Hope your summer is going along swimmingly! Here are some of my thoughts as many of our college and high school athletes are coming mid-way through their off-season training.

Movement Doesn’t Tell The Whole Picture

Biomechanical (in)efficiencies do not equate to physiological competency.

  • Just because you move well in isolation outside of your sport, does not mean you have enough fitness qualities to do well in your sport.
  • Likewise, just because you move poorly according to a standardization of movement, does not equate to the demands of your given sport.

After assessing, working with, and surrounding myself with collegiate and professional players from several different organizations and sports, I can confidently say that elite athlete =/= elite health.

Sometimes offensive linemen need to weigh a lot in order to defend the quarterback.

John Moffitt

Or you may play rugby, so you will need to have more natural weight, because you don’t have any pads while you’re in a scrum.

Or you might have contact/non-contact injuries, so from an orthopedic point of view you are “not healthy”, but you are playing at an elite level.

(See an article that was floating around during the NBA Finals this year: Lebron James and his intense recovery routineIn this, it talks about how he replenishes fluids immediately after a game, receives massages during flights, and other items that help him accomplish a lot on the court.)

Interestingly enough, based on this research article talking about low back pain and passive hip range of motion, I’d expect many of our athletes to walk in on crutches. However, passive hip range of motion can be limited for many reasons – tissue quality, inefficient joint mobility, or neurological guarding (protective tension).

Sometimes (not always) a few warm-up drills, jumping rope, and skips and marches can improve movement within the affected joints – often due to transient warming up, synovial fluid coating certain joints, and generally speaking better blood flow!

Exercise Programming: A Few Limiting Factors

Exercise selection to improve fitness qualities (speed, strength, endurance, and power) may be simpler than imagined. An exercise program should take into account two general guidelines: timeline, and limiting factors in an athlete’s development.

  • Creating a block of exercise programming for an individual who has 12 weeks of uninterrupted exercise time has the ability to be exposed to multiple stressors with which they can recover from in a positive manner.
  • On the other hand, creating a exercise block for an individual who has 6 weeks of exercise, with 1 week of vacation in the middle of those 6 weeks (so really 5), will have to readjust how they approach said training block.
  • This is not to mention training age, biomechanical movement qualities, physiological capacity for movement, sport specific skillsets necessary, and injury history, among many other items.

Personal logistics, ownership of goals, and accountability are largely underrated when it comes to success in any individual’s life.

Cressey Sports Performance’s 8th Anniversary

Monday was CSP’s 8th Birthday!


Tony wrote a great blog about some of the origins, along with various milestones that many of our clients have done, not to mention how cool it is to look back in hindsight at the amount of professionals we’ve all worked with in recent years.

Looking back at my personal story with respect to Cressey Sports Performance, it is always interesting to see how I came about working here.

If I didn’t have the internet, I wouldn’t have come across any articles from Eric Cressey from any of his mediums at the time. That, on top of working a lot after interning in the Fall of 2012, helped put my foot in the door towards getting hired at Cressey Sports Performance. It’s been a fun ride so far!

*insert cheesy smile*
*insert cheesy smile*

As always,

Keep it funky.


Musings & Things to Watch and Listen To – 7.4.15

Happy 4th of July!

Today I want to cover identifying limitations with the toe touch, improving understanding of the handstand, and other items with respect to individual movement qualities.

Elite Training Mentorship – Improving the Toe Touch

ETMWhen I take individuals through the movement assessment process, one quality that often goes overlooked is the ability to touch your toes. There are many aspects involved with improving the “toe touch”, and this webinar I created dives into the logic behind what is involved touching your toes.

Toe Touch (Side & Post)

Many athletes (and former athletes) are often very surprised when they can touch their toes after going through a few of our exercises; I vividly recall one individual who touched their toes for the first time in over 15 years! This is the sort of stuff that excites me. Now that individual has a lowered psychological fear towards falling, tying their shoelaces, picking something up off the ground without fear of back issues.

If you work with any athletes or general population folks who have issues touching their toes, check this webinar out that I created on Elite Training Mentorship! I believe it will be very informational for coaches and trainers out there who are looking to improve results for your clients.

Enhance2DanceTV – Episode 7 – One Limiting Factor for the Handstand

Many talk about shoulder strength, core strength, alignment – all of these items are great, especially when it comes to improving your handstand skills. However, when it comes down to it if you are going to be upside down, you are going to fall. If you can improve your ability to fall with grace, your abilities to improve your handstand abilities will improve twofold.

Check out the newest episode of my dance development program, where I go over this one very undervalued factor when learning how to develop your handstand!

Physical Preparation Podcast – with Mike Robertson featuring Patrick Ward

I find myself listening to various podcasts throughout my week – Tim Ferriss, EliteFTS Sports Performance with Mark Watts, and Iron Game Chalk Talk with Coach McKeefery, to name a few. I’ve engrained this habit from an often long commute up and back to work, often when I’m working multiple jobs, just to keep my head in the game when it comes to strength and conditioning.

Mike Robertson continues to push interesting and thought provoking content out there on the interwebs, and this is no exception to the stream of info that he provides.

Mike Robertson


Patrick Ward is an interesting individual, and his personal journey along with insights into sports data always makes for an interesting 60 minute car trip, to say the least.

Give this among other podcasts a listen to vary your daily thoughts and inputs!

As always,

Keep it funky.