Defining Movement in a Basic Strength Training Program

Contributed by Miguel Aragoncillo B.S., CSCS, HFS –

Sure you can throw a ball fast, or perform a perfect flip, or sprint at a blistering speed, but can you stand with on foot in the air without toppling over? What about doing a push-up with flawless technique?


These examples are merely illustrations as to the idea of what human movement entails. That is, many youth athletes today are growing up without these fundamental movements engrained within their system.

Within the athletic development paradigm, I feel as if my role as a strength coach is vital towards complimenting the idea for fundamental human movement. (Dr. Jon Herting wrote a great introductory article towards the idea of mastering fundamental movement.)

As a coach, a human should be able to do these things competently within a strength training program:

Perform a pushing movement.

Perform a pulling movement.

Perform a squatting movement.

Perform a hip hinging movement.

Resist rotation, extension, and flexion about the axis of the “core”.

Failing to do any of these movements will inevitably raise an eyebrow towards the basis of your fundamental base of movement patterns.


(Photo Credit: Gray Cook’s Movement)

My mindset for practically any athletic endeavor is to reverse engineer the desired goal.

Identify the goal.

Assess any limitations towards achieving said goal.

Provide an intervention of minimal effective dosage.

Re-assess in order to identify that your intervention was the appropriate “treatment”.

Many parents, sport coaches, and even strength coaches desire for their athletes and kids to succeed. When asked what success means for any athlete, the general answer involves throwing harder, running faster, and being stronger than the other kids.

The youth athlete has these options for creating success for themselves:

If they are not trying with maximal exertion in a competition setting, then they must put forth more “effort”. To simplify the issue, if an athlete is putting forth 75% of effort, I can assume that they are only “activating” 75% of key muscles and motor patterns that they can activate. A simple request for them to internally put forth more effort (>75%) will yield an increase in more effort (and thus, more firing for those muscles and patterns that are in question).

Or simply put, assuming you are not jumping as high as you can, if a coach asks you to jump higher, you can easily jump higher than your previous attempt.

Improve sports specific ability. This is where most of today’s youth athlete mindset is at with regards to sports development. While improving sports specific ability is obviously possible at almost any age, one has to question the implied thought process of whether or not a focus on early sports specialization has any deleterious effects not only mentally but also physically as the youth athlete becomes a not-so-youth athlete (collegiate and onwards). Many thoughts on this have lead to the development of a model called a “Long Term Athletic Development” model. Essentially, this model looks to develop an athlete along a continuum, as opposed to “peaking” early on in life as the best athlete on a U12 team, or the fastest pitcher at age 13.

Increase general strength qualities in order to improve specific performance. While I may employ a bias due to my position as a strength coach, I believe I have a great influence on how this option has a greater influence on all of the other subsequent options or qualities of what determines success. If an athlete is only exposed to a certain amount of movements due  to specialization as a single sport athlete, there may be gaping holes in their fundamental movements that can be holding them back from success.

Human Movement

On a basic level, almost every sport can be reduced to a few key components of successful movements. Yes, throwing a baseball is a very sports specific movement that can either be augmented with training, or reduced by injury or incorrect training parameters. The same can be said for a golf swing, basketball shot, running a slant route, and so on and so forth.

The idea is that these movements are all very specific, yes, but they all draw from a similar “well” of fundamental movement.

In reality, developing this “well” – or capacity for movement patterns – should be developed early on, and then improved and reinforced as you get older. I liken thinking about “capacity” for movement similar to one’s own vocabulary while developing – the more you practice a fundamental level of words and phrases in different contexts, the more likely you are to expand your repertoire of phrases in everyday conversation.

If you have a limited “vocabulary” of movement patterns, the less likely you’ll be able to express a wide range of movements in a competition setting – not to mention the specific physiological issues involved with performing a specific movement over and over – all before your senior year of high school.

Identifying Fundamental Movement in a Strength Training Program

To expand on the general strength qualities necessary for a youth athlete’s success, I follow the paradigm that there are several movements necessary to develop within an exercise program crucial to developing as an athlete and human being.


Gross   Movement Patterns

Example of   Movement

Push Push-Up, Chest Press
Pull Vertical pulling like pull-ups or Horizontal pulling like dumbbell rows or cable rows
Hip Hinge Deadlifting, or Kettlebell Swings
Squat Front Squat, Goblet Squat, Back Squat
Single Leg Lunge or Hip Hinge Reverse Lunge or Single Leg Stiff Legged Deadlift
Anti-Rotation/Extension/Flexion (of core) Front Plank, Side Plank, Dead Bugs or Bird-Dogs

Notice that none of these items involve bench pressing or back squatting for maximum weight, While these two examples are great exercises, these exercises are not mutually exclusive to success for a general youth athletic training program (suffice to say, if a youth athlete is attempting to specialize in weightlifting or powerlifting – which specializes in specific lifts – then this is an exception to the rule, but even then the idea still holds water as I am looking for long term development.)

Assessing Limitations & Individual Differences

It is again, insufficient to assign random choices and amounts of these exercises towards the goal of improved movement and increases in performance. Ideal scenarios involve utilizing a fair amount of these strength exercises, with zero backlash for chronic overload or injury to soft tissue (muscles), especially as athletes grow older.

Real world scenarios involve assessing where an individual athlete displays now, determining the most limiting factor towards fundamental movement, applying a “treatment” through an exercise program (often with time restraints and equipment logistics), and then reassessing after a short (or long) period of time.

With that said, imagine this very likely scenario from a group of pitchers on a youth baseball team:

Youth Pitcher A (Starter)

13 Year Old, 5’ 5”, 120lbs

-Has never strength trained before.

-Displays shoulder and hip limitations.

-Pitches year round in an attempt to “get better” at pitching.

-Displays joint laxity, and feels “tight” around the shoulder after a bout of pitching.


Youth Pitcher B (Starter, and Position Player)

13 Year Old, 6’1” 145lbs

-Has worked with a personal trainer to “get stronger”, so is familiar with basics of weight lifting.

-Displays shoulder and ankle range of motion limitations.

-Pitches minimally as he also plays other positions.

-Plays basketball and football as well.

-Shows general tightness, found throughout the specific assessment.

Two athletes of the same age… however both are in very different positions with regards to sport position, sports played, along with experiences in the weight room. Also, athlete A displays as not peaking in terms of height, while athlete B is certainly tall for his age. Further, the first athlete displays signs of general hypermobility, whereas the second athlete displays more muscular tightness.

Further, it would be folly to utilize the same program to increase athletic performance gains because it may or may not provide enough stimulus for neuromuscular growth, and may even short change the athletes. Giving these athletes the same exact exercise regimen would be underestimating the need for both athletes to train individually to their specific differences.

In closing…

The purpose of this article is to give an introductory look as to how I approach the fundamentals for human movement, it is imperative to take a step back and appreciate what exactly I am proposing.

With every goal, there is a cursory thought process. For example, many believe that in order to run faster, you need to run more. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, since many goals similar to this actually have detailed and specific backgrounds that can be fleshed out for optimal performance.

An objective look at how to achieve a specific goal for sports performance is what I am proposing. However, at the same time, my own method is derived from learning from others, mentors, teachers, physical therapists, strength coaches, massage therapists, and other personal trainers. If using ladders will increase an athlete’s 40 yard dash time, or a pitcher’s velocity, I will do that. However, such is not the case.

With that being said, providing the appropriate movement intervention when an athlete is missing said movements is crucial to reestablishing normal movement pattern orientation. However, I’m very interested in learning when to apply the specific movement pattern at what specific time, with which specific individual. On that same note, it is nearly impossible to determine what your youth athlete needs from an article that you read online, and it further shows the necessity that education for everyone on all ends need – from the parents helping their children, to the sports coach developing a team, along with the strength coaches who owe it to their athletes to improve performance.

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