Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out season gym time: Functional Movement Systems

Among my out-season gym goals are to (1) fix weaknesses and imbalances and (2) add in core work. I wasn't sure how to approach either. I didn't really know for certain what my weaknesses were (though I had guesses) and I was a little overwhelmed by all the options for core work and the mixed opinions on what is worthwhile and what is a waste of time.

I mentioned this to my trusty runner friends Carla, Kristen, and Michaela at the Weight Club, and they suggested I talk to the fitness coordinator and trainer there who has experience in Functional Movement Systems - DeWayne Moore. He had helped others to retrain non-optimal movement patterns that had led to injury. I contacted him for help, not knowing what to expect.

I should preface this post by saying that my first years in the gym (early 90s) were as a competitive powerlifter. So for me,

gym time = moving heavy weights to failure

I like heavy stuff! I was not prepared for how challenging things could be just dealing with my own body and no (or little) extra weight.

My first meeting with DeWayne involved a battery of tests to evaluate my movement and flexibility. I had to follow directions (a challenge lol) to lunge, step, squat, and move arms and legs various ways multiple times as he evaluated my movement patterns. The idea was to prioritize issues and address the most pressing ones first -- for me it was core and shoulders first, and we've since moved more to core and hips.

DeWayne prescribed a series of stretches and movements that became my "homework" until the next meeting where he would reassess. Thus began this sequence of evaluate - prescribe - retrain - re-evaluate.

(I have not read up on Functional Movement Systems at all aside from finding the link; I thought it most useful to present my raw interpretation of the process.)

The movements I am doing require simple equipment - like a mat, foam roller, stretch cord, stability ball, pvc pipe, and small free or cable weights. The trick I am finding is doing them correctly, breathing "normally" and using my core down to my glutes to stay stable. Otherwise, if I don't, I'm just letting the strong stuff continue to bully the weak!

I thought I had a pretty vast "library" of exercises after all these years at the gym, but 80% of the things I have learned from DeWayne I had never done before. I'm learning too that the nuances really matter - the direction your toes are pointing, alignment of knees, and maintaining a flat back and engaged core.

I am appreciating just how important flexibility is. I was struggling to maintain alignment in an overhead squat holding just a token 5 lb plate. After taking a few minutes to stretch the soleus and shoulders it was noticeably better.

Retraining the body requires a few tricks. My right knee has a tendency to collapse in -- a fact I have since noticed is also an issue on the bike. When I am doing things like split squats or step-ups, I am using a band around that knee (top photo DeWayne is helping with this, but it's anchored to an upright when I train alone) that pulls the knee inward, causing a natural tendency to then keep it out. Cool trick!

To summarize, I am doing a lot of....

....stretching and rolling (takes time to do it all right)


...asymmetrical movements that require the core to be on task to stay balanced

...and movements that demonstrate my lack of balance and lower leg stability ;-)

(me not falling over)

All kidding aside, I'm really enjoying this change up from my old gym habits. It feels good to be doing things with a purpose and seeing and feeling results. And if the regular bouts of sore glutes serve as an indication...I'd say things are working. My lazy butt and lazy core have received notice that the vacation is over!

(Photo credits: Bryan Walsh)