Digging into the foundational movements—part 3

Updated: Mar 12

Today we wrap up our conversation about the foundational movements. Part 1 covered what the foundational movements are, why we selected them, and muscles used by them. Part 2 looked into some of the many variations of these exercises and provided examples of how to program them into your workouts if you do not have significant limitations. This final part focuses on programming for if you are someone who does have significant limitations, such as bad joints, poor mobility, or low levels of strength, among others. If you have not read the first two parts, do so now by clicking the linked sections above.

Types of limitations

About 50 percent of the clients that start with us have some kind of limitation. While you might think this only applies to the elderly, injured, or disabled, that is not the case. Young persons—individuals in their 20s, for example—have walked through our door with significant limitations in mobility, strength, technical skills, and other areas. We've even had high-level clients who had mobility issues or other issues that made them prone to injury and reduced performance. Limitations can apply to anyone. Some of the limitations we see are:

  • Minor to major mobility limitations

  • Injuries to muscles, tendons, bones, etc.

  • Amputations of the extremities

  • Poor motor function and/or skill levels

  • Low muscular strength

  • Minimal muscular endurance

  • Insufficient cardiovascular ability

These are broad terms that categorize areas of deficiency. Let's look a little closer at each one.

Minor to major mobility limitations

This category of limitation covers any mobility issues that prevent full range of motion at the joints or flexibility of soft tissues such as muscles. For example, if someone has tight hamstrings due to not maintaining flexibility and this makes them unable to bend at the waist with a neutral spine until their upper body is parallel with the ground, then this is a major mobility limitation. Conversely, if someone has a pin in their wrist which prevents internal and external rotation this is a major limitation. Finally, someone who has a prosthetic leg that does not allow for full range of motion has a major limitation. Minor versions of these issues would result in less degradation of mobility, but would still be a limitation. People with minor mobility issue can generally begin a standard training program.

Injuries to muscles, tendons, bones, etc.

A torn pec, broken femur, severed ACL, and fractured foot are all examples of major injuries. Conversely, if someone has internal damage to an organ, this is a major injury. Each requires modification of a workout program. Even a serious sprain requires significant modification of a workout program. At the same time, we treat major inflammation, pain etc. from non-injuries, such as severe arthritis, as injuries since the modification approach is the same. Minor injuries, such as minor overuse of a muscle, often do not require program modification, or the modification is very limited.

Amputations of the extremities

We touched on this a moment ago, but amputations are a category of their own. Many people who are missing a leg or an arm are often otherwise completely physically capable. However, even if they have a prosthetic, modification is needed. The exception to this might be if someone has a high-end prosthetic that functions like a person's natural extremity. This is often not the case due to the high cost associated with these. Modifications have to be made to the workout program.

Poor motor function and/or skill levels

Persons with these issues lack the necessary ability to complete exercises effectively. It might be due to a lack of activity leading to less integration of the various systems of the body—for example, hand to eye coordination which requires use of the brain, nervous system, and skeletal muscle—, it may be due to inexperience with exercise, or it may be due to difficulty in learning. These persons need modifications to the workout program, at least temporarily.

Poor muscular strength

Poor muscular strength, or being "weak," does not refer to someone who has subpar amounts of strength but can still perform basic human tasks, such as walking, bending, squatting, and lifting something overhead. Instead, this terminology refers to persons whose strength is so low that they cannot perform basic tasks. For example, someone who does not have the strength to squat below parallel and get back up is someone who has poor muscular strength.

Minimal muscular endurance

This one does not refer to if a person can complete a task but rather can a person repeat the task. For example, a person may be able to squat down and get back up and even do so several times (let's say five times), but this person cannot continue past several times. For example, if a person cannot do more than 10 air squats, he or she has a major issue with muscular endurance of the lower body.

Insufficient cardiovascular ability

This one is relatively straight-forward. If a person cannot walk for more than a few minutes without gasping for air, he or she has a major cardio issue. If a person cannot run, even if they can walk a mile or more, without gasping for air, he or she has a major cardio issue.

Addressing limitations in programming

Unfortunately, there is no single way to address limitations. Each modification calls for a different approach. There are parallels, of course, but how we program for a person with an amputation, for example, is different than how we program for someone who cannot perform an air squat due to strength.

The general approach is to start a supporting movement and build up to the standard movements. For example, if someone lacks the posterior chain mobility to perform a deadlift from the floor, then we can complete a rack pull deadlift (deadlifting with the bar in a raised position). If a person cannot squat, then we may choose machine work like leg extensions first to build up strength or have someone perform partner assisted, machine assisted, or self-assisted squats.

If you are someone who has a serious limitation and have no knowledge of how to program for the limitation, you should not create your own program. You need the help of a professional.

Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.. 

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