Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Using Exercises As Assessments

Most of my clients come from the working-class business world. People that have neglected their health and need an injection of inspiration, challenge, and direction in their training. I would estimate that over 90% of the people that walk through my doors have some sort of low back pain or discomfort. Some may not believe that they have a low back issue, simply because they have programmed themselves to avoid any movements that exacerbate any low back pain. 

After my initial muscular screening, I like to put clients in a various exercises to evaluate movement patterns. Certain exercises give me more feedback to add to the data I've uncovered in the assessments. For instance, I can put someone in a good morning position with a light loaded bar on their back and can tell they are susceptible to low back pain. 

One of the key observations in this drill is the lack of hip hinge that is accompanied with "bending over". Most sedentary people will bend with  the lumbar spine and minimal hip hinge. If there is more lumbar spine flexion (especially under a load),  there is a compromised function. If they are able to hip hinge, I can assume that there is adequate hamstring flexibility, erector length, and strength along the lower back--including great stability within the pelvic complex. Again, this is dependent on the amount of weight used per individual. 

Another tidbit that I can assess and observe, is the amount of "push back" in the hips as the individual bends forward. The good morning exercise is great because it offsets our center of gravity (CoG). Once the lifter bends forward with an additional 90 to 135 pounds on their back,  there is a phenomena that takes place. The body tries to "steer" itself to keep it centered. Just like a ship. However,  the weaker an individual is the more hip extension you will find during lumbar flexion. 

The body compensates for the additional load by counter-balancing. This can be a simple lack of coordination with this exercise. The good morning is a less popular movement because of the risks it carries from lifters adding too much weight or simply not getting the technique correct. I like the good morning exercise--lightly loaded--as a lower back assessment tool. 

Here are key points that I ask myself when trying this out with a client:
Can the individual hip hinge the weight?
Can the individual  flatten out the upper-back? If they cannot, the bar will roll onto the neck.
Can the individual bend forward without pain?
Can the individual bend forward without losing their footing?
Can the individual bend forward without rotating?
Does using a staggered stance change anything?
Can they perform the movement without the load?

As a coach, my job never stops assessing my clients. Juan Carlos Santana once stated that all exercises are assessments. I 100% agree. Exercises are nothing but movement patterns designed to elicit a specific goal. Most functional movements --performed in a everyday life--are exercises in disguise. It is up to the coach to identify the faulty patterns and uncover what the causes are. Once those deviations are expressed, a training program that can improve the function--as well as get the client closer to the goal is most important.

Do you think the good morning exercise is just some outlawed exercise that tells you nothing? Think again. This exercise, as well as others can be great informational resources for any trainer. Don't limit yourself to just the Functional Movement Screens (FMS). Coaching clients through exercises is a feedback process. Knowing what to look for and how to adjust your training program based on what you observe is critical to designing effective programs. This is explained in great detail in my new eBook, 5 Practical Drills that Identify At-Risk Low Back Sufferers:

The book describes 5 every day exercises that I use to pinpoint low back sufferers and the capability that they bring to the table. Today, it is being released with the Shatterproof Spine Instant Download product. Check out the new product:


  1. John, what kind of instructions would you give to a brand new client when introducing the good morning. I have a tough time coaching experienced clients in this exercise.

  2. Hey Brad, I like to teach the good morning with clients using a dowel to align on teh back and also using a wall. I instruct them to hinge forward until their but touches the wall and maintain the dowel to keep the back flat. Hope this helps!

  3. Hey John,

    Great blog post, thanks for sharing!

    It is critical to evaluate the movement patterns and through the analysis we can find the best training method to improve the ability of postural control.

    Keep sharing the interesting stuff.

    - Rick Kaselj


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