Tony Gentilcore

Because heavy things won't lift themselves

5 Ah-Ha Moments

kid ah-ha

Sometimes I feel like I’m the dumbest person on Earth.

Not “dumb-dumb” mind you.  I mean, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the human body (how it works, how to make it stronger, etc), I know to pay my taxes, I’ve already made Valentine’s dinner reservations (holla!), I can make a piece of toast without burning down my apartment, and I know my multiplication tables like no one’s business.

So I don’t mean dumb in the literal sense of the word.

What I’m referring to are those times where I read a book, an article, watch a DVD, have a casual conversation with someone, or attend a seminar or workshop and somebody says something so profound and utterly jaw-dropping that it blows my mind.

Or makes my face melt (<— it happens a lot).

And it doesn’t necessarily have to exit the mouth of  some intellectual luminary such as Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, or Captain Planet.

Yay for random 80s cartoon references!

I’ve witnessed some doozies from the most unexpected people.

But in the realm of strength and conditioning – there are a LOT of very smart people, and I’d be lying if I said I felt I was one of them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with Eric Cressey, Bret Contreras, Mike Robertson, Kevin Neeld, Cassandra Forsythe, Mike Reinold, or Bill Hartman (to name a few) and thought to myself, “holy shit, I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.  Okay Tony, just nod your head, say “mmm hmmm” a few times, and pretend as if they haven’t lost you”

Likewise whenever I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the likes of Dr. Stuart McGill, Charlie Weingroff, Gray Cook, Thomas Myers, or Professor Dumbledore speak….I can’t help but feel like the a complete nincompoop.

And don’t even get me started on Shirley Sahrmann’s Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a page or two and immediately got a headache from all the big words.

All of this to say: sometimes I feel really, really inadequate.

But that’s the price you pay when you try to get better; as if it’s a prerequisite – your DUTY – to go out of your way to surround yourself with smarter people than yourself.

A few years ago Alwyn Cosgrove wrote a very popular article on T-Nation titled “5 Ah-Ha Moments,” (hence the very original title of this post) in which he described five instances where the proverbial light bulb went off inside his head.

I thought I’d take today and share a handful of my own ah-ha moments.  Some you’ll undoubtedly recognize, and others maybe not so much.

While I’ll be the first to admit my brain doesn’t work in the same fashion as some of my colleagues – I don’t think I’ve ever come up with an original idea, like, ever – I can “steal” (while giving credit) with the best of them. As such I feel my strongest asset is being able to take complex ideas, water them down, and explain them so that even a cave man can understand.

You’re welcome…..;o)

1.  Joint-by-Joint Approach

Giving full credit to Gray Cook and Mike Boyle, I don’t think anything has influenced my train of thought as far as how I approach assessment and thus, program design, as this concept.

In short it goes like this:  some joint need to be addressed or trained with mobility in mind (ankle, hips, t-spine), while others need to be addressed or trained with stability (knees, lumbar spine, scapulae) in mind.

What both Cook and Boyle noticed was that if you look at patterns, the whole mobility-stability continuum alternates on a joint-by-joint basis up and down the kinetic chain of the body.

The foot generally wants/needs stability. The ankle wants/needs mobility.  So on and so forth as you work your way up.

And it was here where the entire industry slapped their collective hands to their foreheads.

Taking things a step further, when discussing pain and dysfunction in any joint – lets say the lower back – it’s generally accepted that the source of pain stems from either the joint above or below (or both!).

If someone’s hip and t-spine mobility rivals that of the Tin Man – ie: they’re stiff – it’s no wonder why their lower back will flip them the middle bird.

The reason why – again, generally speaking – their back hurts is because they’re asking it to do more work than it’s designed for.  Because their hips and t-spine are locked up, the lower back has to pick up the slack and sacrifice stability for more mobility.

Does the “theory” have its flaws?  Absolutely.  Nothing is 100% infallible.  Even football Jesus, Tom Brady.

But I’d argue the Joint-by-Joint approach has done more to progress the industry than anything in the past decade, and that’s saying a lot.

Sorry Shake Weight.

2.  No One Cares About Big Toe Dorsiflexion.

Seriously, outside of the uber anatomy geeks no one cares.

This was a lesson I learned back when I first started personal training.  To put it bluntly, as a way to try to impress new clients and try to “win” their business I used to put them through all these elaborate assessments and screens to try to show them how smart I was and how I was going to take over the world.

I took them through all the normal screens like a Thomas Test, shoulder ROM, core stability, as well as movement quality tests such as the squat and lunge.

But then I would up the “wow factor” and start talking fascia, contralateral limb restrictions, and even go so far as to test their great toe dorsiflexion to demonstrate how a limitation there could affect their hip mobility!

While research will back-up its efficacy, in hindsight it was a dumb idea.

Here’s a piece of advice to any new trainers who may be reading.  No one – outside of you and your other geek friends – gives two shits about anatomy.  This is especially true with your clients.

All they care about is feeling better and losing 15 pounds.  They don’t want to hear about superficial fascial lines or glenohumeral range of motion deficits or anterior pelvic tilt.  And frankly, they don’t care that you can name all the muscles in the body in alphabetic order or that you were named one of the 50 Best Trainers by NoOneGivesTwoShits.com.

[Of course it's cool and an honor to be named to any list........but just know that a vast majority could care less.]

This isn’t to say that you won’t have more proactive clients who want to put on their geek hat from time to time, but trust me when I say this:  97.45% of your clients don’t care.

3.  Vertical Tibia

This is a concept that was popularized by physical therapist and uber strong dude, Charlie Weingroff a few years ago.

First off: lets address the pink elephant in the room.

It’s virtually impossible not to squat without *some* forward translation of the tibia.  But there’s a huge difference between *some* and going to the point where the knees go so far forward that the heels come off the ground.

Moreover, PAIN is the determining factor here.

If someone walks into my facility complaining of chronic knee pain, and I watch him or her squat/lunge/brush their teeth, almost always I’m going to see an excessive amount of tibial translation and I have to teach/coach them to maintain a more vertical shin angle.

Stealing a line from my pal Mike Robertson: stacked joints are happy joints.

If someone squats to the point where their knees go waaaaaay over their toes, it’s going to cause a ton of shear stress on the knees.

It is any surprise why their knees would be hating them?

Much of the time it’s going to come down to re-engraining a good hip hinge pattern and to try to teach a more vertical shin angle.

I know some will argue that, “well, if you block the knees from going forward, the stress has to go somewhere, and the hips and low back will end up taking the brunt.”

This is true.  But again, there will ALWAYS be some forward movement of the knees. I want to avoid anything that’s excessive.  When someone is in PAIN, coaching a more vertical tibia makes a ton of sense.

4.  Being More Cognizant of Anterior Humeral Glide

There are a plethora of things that can irritate a shoulder.  Poor tissue quality, poor t-spine mobility, poor scapular stability, lack of glenohumeral ROM, poor programming, too much bench pressing, and too much overhead dwarf throwing to name a few.

While many like to gravitate towards the more inane things, I’d make the case that most fail to see the forest for the trees and would be better served taking themselves through an exercise technique audit.

Take the cable row for example.  One of the more glaring “mistakes” we have to correct at CP is guys going into too much glenohumeral extension when performing their rows, essentially allowing their elbows to go way past the midline of the body, causing the humeral head to glide anteriorly (forward), and placing a lot of undue stress on the bicep tendon.

Eric Cressey does a fantastic job of explaining this whole idea in more detail in this video:

 5.  Nixing the Sleeper Stretch

I received an email the other day from a trainer asking what we do at CP – other than the sleeper stretch – to increase internal range of motion in our baseball players (or general population clients as well).

Apparently he had been doing sleeper stretches with many of his athletes and clients with little or no results.

While there are exceptions to the rule, we haven’t performed a sleeper stretch underneath our roof in like four years.  For a few reasons:

1.  Outside of most people performing it incorrectly, there are just better ways to garner more IR other than people cranking on their shoulder.

We can look into tissue quality in the pec minor and lats, focus on more t-spine mobility, and even toss in some dedicated anterior core stability work and breathing patterns and often see a (transient) improvement.

2.  You also have to recognize that a lack of IR is just a measurement and oftentimes a completely NORMAL adaptation.  It’s not uncommon to see right-handed throwers with less IR on their dominant arm compared to their non-dominant side.  And this sentiment mirrors those in the general population as well.

3. The more important thing to consider is TOTAL ROM between left and right sides. If there’s a huge discrepancy or asymmetry between the two, that could present as a bright, red flag that may need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The answer isn’t to crank on their shoulder like you’re trying to jam a square peg through a round hole. Sometimes you just have to understand that a lack of IR is okay, and sometimes, normal.

Honorable Mention

- Realizing that trying to “win” an argument with my girlfriend – who’s a clinical psychologist – is a pointless endeavor.  Trying to win an argument is pointless either way, but especially when you’re dealing with someone with Jedi mind-trick powers.

- Cueing someone to “keep their chest up” during the deadlift is actually more of an effort to get them to learn how to posteriorly tilt their shoulder blades.  Too much “chest up” may cause them to excessively arch their lower back.

- Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone.  Sorry, but you’re not going to get huge putting yourself through 24-hour fasts every three days.

- Who knew I’d be such a cat lover????

- No matter which way you swing it, bulgarian split squats suck!  A lot.   More than Tracy Anderson.  Okay, maybe not that much.

Note:  by “suck,” I mean they’re a fantastic exercise…..they’re just not fun to do.

Did I just blow your mind? Make (or ruin) your day? Leave a comment, then share this with EVERYBODY.
  • Emily

    Good post Tony. ;) I have many Aha! moments….like every time I read something of yours or Dan John’s, Boyle, Cressey…you get the point. ;)

    Not so much a aha moment but just a anecdote I think you would appreciate. One of my clients was hit by a car about a month ago. She is 68 years old and the most active 68 year old I have met in my life!!! She is an absolute beast. ;) She WALKED away from the accident. No broken bones. No fractures. Nada. She weighs all of about 100lbs soaking wet BUT she has been training at my place since July and the doctor told her that the only reason she walked away was because she was in such great shape. She’s doing PT now and has recently returned to train with me, keeping everything within reason (I have to watch her though because she was doing planks two days after she was hit!) She loves her PT and he is very curious about my place because everything he is giving her she tells him that she is already doing that with me. “Clams? Oh we do that. Fire hydrants? Oh, we do that. Glute bridges….yeah, that too.” He’s like, “So, where do you train? No one does this work with their trainers.” Uh, we do. ;) My clients know how to MOVE. And they are learning how to move better and better thanks to coaches like you Tony and Eric and Mike…. You are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate how much you GIVE to all of us through your posts and videos. Thank you for helping me become a better coach to my clients.

  • Barath

    You should give yourself more credit, Tony – you’re a pretty smart dude yourself. Also, you’re taller and better looking than Eric or Mike, so there.

  • Matt Kramer

    Great article, Tony! But it’s “nincompoop” not “nicompoop”, you nincompoop.

    Still everyday you make me feel like a
    nincompoop with your knowledge, so I had to take the shot when I had it! m/ m/

  • Shane Mclean

    Just had to put the shake weight in their didn’t you? Point 4 is the biggest one for me, thanks to you and Eric.

  • Joe

    Do you mean bulgarian splits squats suck as in they are bad exercise for many people or just difficult?

  • Eric

    What is a good external cue to focus on posterior tilt of scapula for deadlifts? Instead of chest up. I like “show your logo to the mirror” and have also used your “make juice with your armpits” cue to some success but wonder if I’m encouraging too much lumbar extension with my athletes.

  • http://bachperformance.com/ Eric Bach

    Awesome list, I’m completely with you on the sleeper stretch. It never seemed to address the other issues like tissue quality restrictions etc.

  • Bob Gorinski

    Excellent post Tony.

    A few geeky notes though:

    Sometimes manual mobilization/manipulation of the shoulder into IR with a gentle posterior glenohumeral glide and/or traction does wonders. But this is definitely a different animal than someone cranking on their own shoulder.

    I do a lot of foot/ankle specialty these days. You may want to reconsider the big toe issue. I hear ya, that most clients simply want to get on with life, without the anatomy lesson. But your chronic plantar fasciitis, ITB tendinopathy, etc. clients may indeed want to hear a little more about the big toe! They often present with a great toe avoidance / lateral push off walking and running pattern that introduces a ton of aberrant motion into the kinetic chain.

  • Logan Mathis

    Hahaha great post Tony :) That was pretty funny (“I already made Valentine dinner reservations and I can make a piece of toast without burning down my apartment”) and I love the fact that you referenced my boy Tom Brady in this article. I am a Ravens fan but he is my favorite player. Oh and I love number 2. That is so true. it is a wow factor but at the same time, only geeks know that stuff haha. Good post!

  • Sara

    The joint-by-joint approach was definitely an Ah-Ha moment for me too. I first heard about it from the Titleist Performance Institute, of all places…..I’m not even a golfer!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Smart dudes over there!