Elite professionals within rehab and fitness rightfully place great value upon the idea of movement quality. If we can identify and correct the deficient components of movement quality, we are more than likely going to make great strides towards helping our clients’ reach and, in some cases, exceed their goals. Whether your patients’/clients’ goals are to lose fat, increase strength, decrease joint pain or score more points, improving their movement quality will provide a solid foundation upon which to pursue their physical goals.
In order to make an impact on others’ movement quality, it will be very helpful to gain an understanding of the contributing factors , and their proper hierarchy, of this worthy initiative.
Tier 1 – Hardware Integrity
The kinetic chain is comprised of three distinct systems – the nervous, the muscular and the articular. Components of the nervous system are the brain, spinal cord and the nerves. The muscular system would obviously be the muscles and the articular system would be the bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and fascia. These 3 systems can be thought of as the body’s hardware. The nervous controls the muscular and the muscular acts upon the articular. All movements, whether corrective, rehabilitative, fitness, athletic or just moving around the house is fully dependent upon the tissue integrity of each of these 3 systems that make up the kinetic chain. It’s impossible to have optimal quality movement while recovering from a fractured pelvis or an impinged nerve.
Components of the Kinetic Chain/Hardware
Nervous –> Muscular –> Articular
Question: If there is a major Tier 1 issue and you jump to another Tier, what will happen?
Answer: A quick trip to the ER is very possible.
Tier 2 – Software Integrity
After medical professionals have established that there is a minimally acceptable level of hardware integrity for an individual, the next most imperative aspect of optimizing movement quality would be to ensure the integrity of the relationships between the various aspects of the kinetic chain. The relationship between the nervous and muscular systems is called the neuromuscular system. The muscular and articular system relationship is called the musculoskeletal system. Abnormalities at the neuromuscular system and/or musculoskeletal system level will have a dramatically negative impact when attempting to optimize movement quality. Correcting issues at this level is the most impactful way that those of us without the title Doctor before our names can positively affect optimizing movement quality. Approaches to resolving these issues are generally being called corrective exercise.
Since, the nervous system doesn’t directly control the articular system, the articular system is passive. As corrective exercise professionals, we’ll want to focus our attention upon the “active” neuromuscular relationship. Collectively, the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems can be thought of as the body’s software. Assessing and correcting flaws with the body’s software integrity is absolutely the next essential step in optimizing movement quality.
Relationships within the Kinetic Chain – Software
Nervous + Muscular = Neuromuscular system
Muscular + Articular = Musculoskeletal system
Question: If there’s a Tier 2 issue and you skip to a higher Tier, what will happen?
Answer: It will vary greatly due to individual variance (genetics, history, daily stress, etc). On the less noticeable end of the spectrum, you will certainly be lowering your performance ceiling (slightly/moderately/dramatically?). On the more noticeable end of the spectrum, every move you make (not to mention the 24/7 fight against gravity which we call posture) will only serve to reinforce such grotesquely abnormal movement compensations that you more than likely will be living a life defined by countless injuries and confounding pain syndromes that most rehab professionals won’t be able to figure out because MRI’s and X-rays can not take pictures of relationships (neuro-muscular / musculo – skeletal).
Tier 3 – Strength (and fitness)
Only after the body’s hardware and software issues have been resolved should we begin working on Tier 3 if the goal is optimizing movement quality. Tier 3 is general strength or fitness. We must keep in mind that exercise doesn’t fix issues but reinforces. This is why Tier 1 and 2 take priority over Tier 3. Ensure that the body’s hardware and software are in perfect (or as close to perfect as possible) condition prior to adding exercise or you very well could be setting yourself and your clients up for future injuries and your athletes up for sooner than anticipated plateaus.
There are many programs and approaches to Tier 3, but some of the most popular would include: lifting weights, Pilates, yoga, boot camp classes, Crossfit, P90X and many more. My personal favorite is to read and then implement anything and everything written by Dan John and Pavel Tsatouline. There are others out there for sure, but these two coaches have it dialed in pretty tightly. So unless your name is Chuck Norris, LeBron James or Tiger Woods, do yourself a monstrous favor and purchase, read and implement what Dan John espouses in his marvelous book “Intervention” or one of Pavel’s works such as ”The Naked Warrior”.
Question: What if I skip Tier 3?
Answer: Less vitality. Non-athletes will also be at risk for sedentary lifestyle diseases. Athletes will commonly encounter opponents that are stronger/fitter/quicker and will struggle to keep up.
Tier 4 – Athletics and Combatives
After the body’s hardware and software issues have been resolved and a person has a solid strength/fitness base, some people desire (or need) to progress their movement quality as it relates to athletics or combatives. Tier 4 is where you work on the skills and the sport-specific needs that your sport, martial art or combat initiatives require. Common components would include speed, power, skill, reaction time, toughness, etc. Those who train Tier 4 individuals would have titles such as Strength and Conditioning Coach, Muy Thai Instructor, Drill Sergeant, Boxing Coach, Basketball Coach, Football Coach.
If you look closely at these Tiers you may notice that the progression is from non-specific to hyper-specific. In order to survive, you need Tier 1 excellence. In order to live without acute or chronic pain, you need Tier 2 excellence. In order to begin thriving as a strong and vital individual, Tier 3 is the ticket. Want to kick butt and take names? Tier 4 is your area of focus. Just remember if optimizing movement quality is your overall goal (and it should be!), you cannot get to Tier 2 without excellence of Tier 1. Tier 3 begins after Tier 2 is complete, and then finally, Tier 4 after Tier 3.
The Missing Tier?
Currently, the most common paradigm that is currently being followed in the industry has only 3 Tiers. Hardware – Fitness – Athletics/Combatives. Most everybody is currently skipping over the Tier 2 stuff – Software Integrity. Typically, the doctor “clears” the athlete and they go back to practice. The patient finishes their visits to the Physical Therapist or Chiropractor and then they start training for a 5K. The pain subsides and we join a Crossfit gym anyway and push through the pain. Very few consider, let alone pursue, the Tier 2 stuff. Those that do tend to find a path that leads to higher highs and much less time attempting to resolve their aches and pains.
Shawn Sherman, Developer of the RESET system