Power Athlete is built on principles, not philosophies, to drive our training and programming. If you’re like me and work with the GenPop, applying the same program looks very different from class to class and person to person. If you tried to apply the same standard to everyone, you’d be in for a rude awakening.
How you train these clients, and how you apply stress and cue up athletes, leads into exploring one of Power Athlete’s principles: Individuality.
Trees Make Up the Forest
First, a quick Exercise Science lesson. In terms of human movement, there are three axes (X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-Axis) about which our bodies can move, and three planes (frontal, sagittal, and transverse) we travel in when moving through space. At Power Athlete, we load movement in these axes and planes through 7 Primal movement patterns: squat/hinge, step, lunge, vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, and horizontal pull. These aren’t primal because they’re gluten free; they are primal because these patterns represent the foundation of ALL human movement, and we believe that everyone needs to be able to execute these movement patterns proficiently, along these axes and planes, through space.
With that in mind, we can now define the principle of Individuality: we’re all the same, but we’re all different. We’re all the same in the sense that, regardless of the person, their goals, their background, etc., this need for proficiency of movement applies to everyone. But we’re all different because…
No Two Trees are Alike
Like I touched on earlier, everyone who walks into your gym comes with different experience and capability levels. Some are superstars who need little-to-no direction, while others are completely green to building the human machine. Think through the last class you coached, and I’m sure a couple examples pop right into your head. If you just blanket program for these folks, without taking the time to assess them as an individual, you’re doing them a disservice (or worse), and leaving a huge pitfall in your program. In this way, we’re all different.
Assess the Mess
So when one of these trees walks through your door, what’s the first step? It’s something we all do already as prudent coaches (I hope), but just to put a name to it: assess. Maybe it’s a set of questions you ask, or a basic movement screener you put them through. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the method, it’s your opportunity to take note of how this client moves and what they can do…and more importantly, what they can’t do. When you do encounter a movement they can’t do, it’s time to do another assessment and figure out why they can’t; these “whys” we term “limiting factors”. And, once you find them, you have one job: attack them. They represent weaknesses in the system, and you know what we do with the Weak here at Power Athlete.
What’s the Intention of that Flexion (or Extension)?
Coaches, pop quiz: an athlete approaches you before a workout and says “I can’t do pull ups, what’s a good sub?”. How many of you, without even thinking, immediately went to ring rows?
The above scenario is more than familiar to you if you work the GenPop; hell, it’s familiar regardless of what population you’re working with. You’re job is to find those limiting factors in your clients and athletes, and figure out the best way to attack them until they are limiting no more. But, finding the appropriate movement option that preserves the intention of the programmed movement ,to get the desired stimulus AND attack these factors, requires more than just some “standard” options. When looking at substitutions, here is a quick 3-step process to determine the best road to take.
What’s the Primal Movement Pattern being stressed?
Remember those 7 movement patterns earlier? Try looking at the programmed movements through that lens. Where does that troublesome pull-up fit? Looks to me like a vertical pull . Can’t deadlift from the floor due to a back injury? What’s a deadlift but a weighted hinge. Clean and Jerk? A dynamic hip hinge to extension, followed by a vertical press. Stop looking at movements, and start looking at movement.
Does the alternative movement still preserve the original intention?
The athlete can’t do pull-ups (vertical pull)…so you give them a ring row (horizontal pull). They can’t do dips (vertical push), so you just have them do push-ups (horizontal push) instead. To quote an ancient Chinese proverb, activity does not equal achievement. It’s not about just finding a substitution your athlete can do to get sweaty; it’s finding a substitution that will directly ATTACK the limiting factor they are struggling with, to help them clear this hurdle. Bottom line: if your suggested substitution isn’t the same movement pattern, throw it out.
Is there a progression?
Is there a logical progression from the option you provided, to the full variation of the movement? You can do all the ring rows you want, but you won’t strengthen your pull-up. And push-ups will never help prepare your athlete to get into the proper body position for a dip. Can you think through a progression your athlete or client can work through, using the options provided, that will get them to their end goal? If not…well…you get the idea.
Helping Them Learn Good
Master Splinter knew that our Heroes in a Half Shell (or…Heroes On a Halfshell?) each had a different personality: Leonardo led, Donatello did machines, Raphael was cool but rude, and good old Michelangelo was a party dude. Do you think he taught the ways of the Ninja to all of them the exact same way, with the same cues, tips, and feedback? If he did, Shredder would’ve won. Individuality doesn’t just relate to how a person moves, but also how they learn to move. I’m sure we all got the lesson in school about how some people are visual learners, while others just need to read the textbook. The same principle applies here: some people with great kinesthetic awareness only need to be told what muscle to activate and what position to be in, and they’ll get it. Others need a visual demonstration of the movement, and some others may need tactile cueing to get them into place. Bottom line, every athlete you see needs the information (they’re all the same), but how they learn, interpret, and internalize it is all different, and it falls on you, Coach, to speak the language they understand.
A Group of Individuals
A well-balanced program will include the seven primal movement patterns, and stress them across all three axes and planes. Our goal is to get all of our clients and athletes to become masters of movement; everyone starts their journey at a different spot though, and it’s our job to figure out what is standing between where they are now, and where they need to be. We assess their movement, determine their limiting factors, and then attack them with a fury of 1000 suns until they are just smoldering heaps in the rearview mirror. Do this, and those individuals will all be moving like pros.
EDUCATION: Power Athlete Methodology – Level One
BLOG: Gen Pop Onboarding by Ben Skutnik
BLOG: Principles of Training: Science vs. Practice by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Gen Pop Training: Overload Principle by Adam Campbell
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Episode 306 Vernon Griffith
Adam grew up a lifetime athlete, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, and practicing martial arts, earning his black belt at age 12. While in college, he decided to join the Navy and earned his commission in 2008. While on active duty earned his CrossFit Level 1 in 2010 and CrossFit Football certification in 2012. He was part of the first class to go through the Power Athlete methodology course, and the first group to earn their Block One certification in September 2017.
Adam continues to stay active, earning a spot on the All Navy Rugby 7s team in 2023 and playing Rugby for a local men's club in San Diego, California.
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