Building Blocks: Part 1

Now that we have set ourselves a SMART goal, we need to figure out how we will make it. Many of the young and novice athletes walking through the gym doors will approach the squat racks without a solid base of support, strength or technique required to safely and effectively do the exercises.

Fortunately, there is a “map” these athletes can use called the Integrated Fitness Training Model (or IFT Model). This “road map” will allow any athlete of any level of fitness and experience to progress towards his/her goals in a logical and safe way. The model takes the athlete (or anyone wishing to gain better fitness) through the progressions required when going from an untrained, unconditioned or even an injured state (termed the Health stage) to the required level of fitness (also termed the Performance state in elite athletes). The IFT Model can be further broken down into four phases; the Mobility and Stability phase, the Movement phase, the Load phase and the Performance phase. For now, I’d like to highlight a few key aspects of the first Mobility and Stability Phase.

All athletes and even people new to exercising generally begin in the stability/mobility phase and then progresses on to the movement phase followed by the load phase and finally the performance phase. It is important to make sure that the sequence of phases is followed correctly to avoid injury as will be discussed later.

The stability and mobility phase is where the athlete ensures that the various parts of his/her body (also called the “links” in the athlete’s “kinetic chain”) that are supposed to be mobile are mobile (eg ankle, hip, thoracic spine and glenohumeral spine) while the parts of his /her body that are supposed to be stable are stable (eg foot, knee, lumbar spine and scapulothoracic spine). A key factor of this phase is core work. Without going into too much detail, the “core” is made up of a ring of muscles that are situated underneath your abdominal muscles. These muscles can be thought of as a corset or garter belt that supports and helps hold erect the upper body. The simplest way to describe the function of the core is to imagine a sealed tin (can) of baked beans. While the tin is in good shape, one could stand on the tin (or an athlete can place a weighted bar on his/her shoulders) and this small tin would be able to support even a large weight while keeping its contents safe and sound. However, if the tin has a dent in its side (or if an athlete has a weak core) when it is loaded, the can will crumble and the beans inside will be smashed. The best way to work on these core muscles, initially, is with bridging, planks or any activity where by these core muscles are activated for prolonged periods of time.

The idea of working on stability and mobility may seem trivial, but getting these basics wrong can often lead to recurring injuries and chronic pain. Here is an example, your left knee (stable joint) may have to increase its ability to move from side to side because the left ankle (mobile joint) does not posses the required mobility to do its required tasks (even walking). This increased mobility of your knee to move from side to side instead of simply moving backwards and forwards (flexion and extension) means it now has decreased stability. This decreased stability in the knee could lead to ligament damage in the knee although the “root of the problem” lay in the ankle. Which could be why, sometimes, even after a knee surgery and some “time off” knee injuries and various other knee issues can keep resurfacing.

Mobility and stability work should not however seem like a daunting task, rather as preparation for more complex and dynamic movements. Once the novice athlete has become used to the movement patterns associated with this phase, they can be incorporated into every workout as part of both the warm up and the cool down. It should be noted here that even as the athlete progresses to the other phases of the IFT Model, mobility and stability.

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