How Do YOU Move: Putting it All Together

By Paul Oneid

If you have read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, you will have a good understanding of the systems involved in creating human movement.  You need this deeper understanding to optimally perform in training.  Manipulating these systems to achieve the desired outcome will allow you to unlock strength that you didn’t know you had.  Those desired outcomes are specific to the demands of the situation and vary from individual to individual.  Every person requires a slightly different manipulation of the systems to achieve the same outcome.  Although the focus of this series is powerlifting, the information discussed can be transferable to any avenue.

Needs Assessment

The movement outcomes are the specific to the sport.  They are the movement demands placed on the athlete.  The movement demands of a powerlifter include:

  • The ability to achieve positions in accordance with the movement standard
  • The ability to absorb force/ store energy
  • The ability to express high amounts of force production
  • The ability to produce high rates of force

Now that we have identified the needs of a powerlifter, we must look at the factors involved.  We know that movement is controlled through interactions of the musculoskeletal system and the central nervous system.  How we manipulate those systems will influence how well we perform under the barbell.

The ability to achieve positions in accordance with the movement standard:

Plain and simple, a lifter needs to squat to depth, achieve a solid set up in the bench press and perform the deadlift with a neutral spine.  For the sake of sport performance, that is all a lifter needs to be able to do.  Now, this is not to say that more mobility is not required for quality of life, but for the sake of the sport, a powerlifter only require so much mobility. Why is this important?  As we know, mobility is the interplay between flexibility and stability.  So, if we increase the flexibility, we will run the risk of reducing stability.  If we increase stability, we run the risk of losing flexibility and compromising our ability to hit positions.  It is a game of give and take.  As a powerlifter, we want to maximize our stability while maintaining mobility.  We need to be as stable as possible within the range of motion of the movements we perform.  Powerlifters don’t need much flexibility.

The ability to absorb force/ store energy:

A high level of stability means it requires more energy to create a change in joint angle.  Athletes who embody this are often seen as stiff, or rigid.  The fact is, the “stiffer” an athlete is, the more energy that can be stored within their muscles as they increase in length.  Muscle is elastic in nature, so think of stretching a muscle as stretching a thick elastic band.  The stiffer the band, the harder it is to stretch, but the faster and more forcefully it can snap back on you.  Ask a room full of people who can hit depth in a bodyweight squat with a neutral spine. Then ask how many of them can do that with 800lbs on their back.  These will not be the same people with hands raised.

The ability to express high amounts of force production:

Powerlifting is a sport based on who can move the most weight in the squat, the bench and the deadlift – who can overcome the most external load. Now, this ability is acquired over time.  Through increases in muscle size and neurological efficiency, the lifter increases their top end force production. A proficient powerlifter needs to be able to recruit as many of their muscle fibers as possible at the same time to move the most weight possible.  From a mechanical perspective, our understanding of the sliding filament theory tells us that the muscle fibers need to be aligned in an optimal way to bind one another.  If we are too short, or too long, meaning too tight, or too flexible, we will not be able to produce the highest amounts of force.

Production of force does not necessarily equate to expression of force.  Many very strong lifters fail to execute big lifts simply because they cannot transfer force through the ground into the barbell.  The ability to express high level of force production depends on the ability of the athlete to avoid movement faults, or “force leaks” within the kinetic chain.  How well an athlete braces and stabilizes the torso will determine how much force is lost from the extremities.  Proximal stability and distal mobility is the key.  This is related to the movement proficiency of the athlete from a motor learning perspective, as well the isometric strength of the sore musculature.  How well an athlete can create stiffness in their core determines their ability to lift big weights.

The ability to produce high rates of force:

Building on the previous point, our muscle fiber orientation must be optimal to produce maximal force.  Our fiber orientation must also be optimal to bind quickly.  If a lifter is not optimally prepared, the stimulus from the central nervous system will take too long to trigger a muscle contraction.  The faster a lifter can stimulate their muscles to contract, the higher the probability that they will lift the load.  As a rule – you must be faster than you are stable.  Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t need stability, in fact it is quite the opposite.

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Take for example a lifter who is capable of very high levels of force attempting to lift a heavy external load.  If they fail to produce force at a high enough rate, their supporting muscular (core) risks fatigue and technique breakdown.  So, the athlete was not stable enough to support the load during the length of time it took for the force to be produced.  They failed to express the high levels of force they can produce. Based on this example you can see that different types of lifters will encounter different issues, which will inevitably dictate their maximal lifting capacity.

Practical Application

How we prepare for a training session will be dictated by our unique needs.  Like a training protocol, a movement prep should be tailored to the specific athlete.  The outcomes remain the same, but the way you achieve them will vary by individual.  If you have read 10/20/Life, this is not new information, but it will provide you with the physiological justification for why we advocate performing a warm-up the way that we do.

General Warm-Up:

We must prime the system for the work that we are about to do.  A general warm-up increases blood flow, wakes up the nervous system and improves joint lubrication.  Blood flow to is important for optimal tissue mechanics.  The metabolism revs itself up and the CNS begins to send signals at a higher rate.  This is the most important part of a movement preparation.  The general warm up can last anywhere from 3-15 minutes depending on the individual and their particular needs.  An individual who works at a desk will need longer to get moving than someone with a more active lifestyle.  As a rule, you should get a sweat going and by the time you are done, you shouldn’t have any gross movement restrictions – you should be ready to start moving.

Core Stiffness:

This portion of the warm-up will enhance the proximal stability component of the training demands.  We cue the core to be stiff by performing isometric movements which challenge specific patterns.  Anti-flexion, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion and anti-extension movements are performed to send signals to the CNS to reinforce those areas.  We send feedback to the CNS to enhance muscle tone to the core.  As you know, the more neurological tone in an area, the faster and harder those muscles will fire.  This is essential when moving big weights.  Our ability to achieve and maintain proximal stability will dictate our ability to transfer force from the extremities and ultimately express that force onto the barbell.

Weak Points/ Corrective Exercise:

Here we address any pre-habilitation movements that may be required.  Many lifters have imbalances, or specific joint instabilities.  Once the core is stiffened, we can begin to address those.  Very rarely do we advocate myofascial work, or static stretching before training.  Static stretching and myofascial release provide an inhibitory stimulus to the CNS.  This means that they reduce neurological tone to the affected areas.  This relaxes the musculature and decreases its ability to contract quickly and forcefully.  This is the opposite of what we want to do prior to lifting weights.  The only exception would be a chronic issue in which the inhibitory stimulus can positively effect the movement pattern.  This is individual specific and dose dependent, but it is also a topic outside the scope of this article series.

An imbalance can be caused by a number of factors, but in most cases they are addressed in the same manner – we move.  By performing specific movements to target our weak areas we increased blood flow to those areas, we increase neural tone to those areas, we increase training load to those areas and finally, we take advantage of reciprocal inhibition to down regulate the opposing tissues WITHOUT stretching them, or rolling them.  Take for example a lifter with poor external rotation in the hip. By performing hip external rotation movements, such as clam shells, we repetitively contract the hip external rotators. As we do this, we are increasing blood flow and neural stimulus to those areas.  We are telling our CNS that this is the movement that we require.  At the same time, the hip internal rotators relax to allow the external rotators to work more optimally.  This is evident by observing a series of 10 clam shells.  The 10th repetition will have significantly more range of motion than the first.  Not only that, but chronic exposure to this movement pattern will result in a more permanent improvement in movement capacity, as well as an increase in strength to those areas because of the additional training load placed upon it.  If you do 30 clam shells a day for 1 month, you will have performed 900 clam shells.

The movements that are used will depend on the needs of the individual. Some lifters may not require any corrective exercise, or have any glaring imbalances, while some may have many.  This is entirely dependent on their training and injury history.  If you are in doubt of whether you require additional corrective exercise, seek out a physiotherapist/ physical therapist etc. that you trust for an assessment.  Even if you aren’t limited, or in pain, you may be able to optimize your movement.

Get Moving:

Here is where we include movements that are specific to the training focus of the day.  Again, the movement choices will depend on the movement needs of the individual.  Choose movements that will challenge the areas that need to be working optimally.  The goal of this portion of the warm-up is to continue to increase blood flow to the appropriate areas, cue the central nervous system to increase neural tone and to optimize cross bridge alignment.  We do want to go through slightly larger ranges of motion during this portion of the movement prep, but we do so in a dynamic fashion, not a static one.  We have previously stiffened our core and addressed any imbalances, now we must integrate everything into the system as a whole.  Ideally, you will continue to choose movements that accomplish these goals while also challenging your movement deficiencies addressed in the corrective exercise.  Using the above example of poor hip external rotation, you could perform goblet squats with a light band resistance around the knee.  This would provide additional neural feedback to engage that musculature while integrating it into a more global movement pattern. For an extensive list of movement choices, refer to the warm-up section of the 10/20/Life book.  Once you are done this portion of the warm-up you are ready to get under a barbell.

Specific Warm-Up:

This is where you get under an empty barbell.  Performing 20-50 reps with an empty barbell before increasing the external load will continue to build upon the previous work done within the warm-up.  From here, you may begin to increase the load, building to your working sets.  Core stiffness and proper movement execution is emphasized throughout.  We just worked very hard to establish optimal mechanics, so this is the time to display them.


While it isn’t important that you know everything about the way the human body works, it is important to understand why certain modalities, or methodologies are more advantageous than others.  The ultimate goal for any athlete is to continue to improve over time and avoid injury.  In a sport where loads are being moved that cannot even be conceptualized by the general population, the room for movement error is very small.  It is important that you are able to perform the movement to standard, while putting yourself in the most advantageous position to produce maximal force as fast as possible.  Nothing more, nothing less.  We accomplish this by warming-up, or optimally preparing for the demands of our sport.  We get warm, stiffen our core, address weaknesses and then integrate our musculature into global patterns prior to getting underneath a barbell.  Once we are ready, we fine tune our mobility into the specific demand of the day.  If you have read this entire series, you should be able to effectively explain why you do what you do.  If you can’t, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

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Paul Oneid

Paul is an elite level raw Powerlifter with personal bests of an 805lbs squat, 440lbs bench, 725lbs deadlift and a 1960lbs total in the 242lbs class, as well as an 800lbs squat, 430lbs bench, 700lbs deadlift and 1930lbs total in the 220lbs class. Paul brings a deep educational background to the team as he has earned Master’s degrees in both Sports Management and Exercise Science. He is a former D1 Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach, who now works as a Functional Rehabilitation Specialist in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Paul provides coaching services in the areas of training and nutrition through his company Master Athletic Performance and is also the co-founder of a technology company, 1-Life Inc. Stay tuned for more information on that in the future!
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