Drills and Exercises

As physical therapists, chiropractors, trainers, strength coaches and physical educators, we find ourselves discussing exercises and drills, but what’s the difference? Are they the same? Do they produce the same thing? Do they have different rules? Do they produce different outcomes?

An exercise is simply the rehearsal of a movement or a movement pattern to hopefully produce some degree of improved physical capacity or movement refinement. It is also supposed to produce some form of carryover into another activity.

A drill, from the surface, may appear to be the exact same thing, but in reality a drill is more often described as a small segment of a larger scale activity. Drills should actually encompass the equipment, environment or scenario of a particular skill we’re trying to acquire. Where exercise develops the body before it enters the arena, the drill creates a lifelike scenario of an actual event.

This drill, called medicine ball mini-tennis, is not just a tennis drill. The drill uses elastic bands to create a lateral pull while participants play med ball catch-and-throw with two hands. I give a complete description of the drill in the book Athletic Body in Balance.

I find myself wanting to do more drill work and less exercise as I educate, exercise and rehabilitate my clients and patients. I still love my functional exercises; I still do the chops and lifts; I still do single-leg deadlifts. I still do most everything you have ever heard me speak about or write about, but if I can envision two or three of those exercises being embodied and executed in a drill, I can usually enhance participation and compliance by pointing the user in the direction of something that looks more realistic and lifelike. I would never do this in a situation where serious movement correction or supplementary exercises are needed. However, by creating a situation that forces appropriate mechanics, the drill can often create an opportunity for greater volume, intensity and frequency of a pattern that needs to be repeated.

I learned this early working with tennis players at a time when most were migrating toward an open stance in which the chest and pelvis faced their opponents straight on instead of the old style of tennis where the player would step across the body to execute a shot. They would step in front of the body with the left foot for a right forehand shot or step in front of the body and perform a lunge with the right foot forward to hit a backhand. This closed stance put a much greater coil on the hips and created powerful shots coming up from the legs. Modern tennis produces stronger and stronger athletes who do not necessarily need to cross the body to generate power, but when younger players emulate this technique without the sound fundamental core stability, we found we had to do core training exercises with these young tennis players. The aha moment is, ‘Why not go back to closed-stance play?’

I have even done this with ranked professional players who have an excellent game. I have instructed them to go back to closed stance and double-hand tennis play. Now to a robust male athlete, this is basically like taking a Tour de France rider and asking him to use training wheels. However, something is produced. The individual does the equivalent of multiple chops, lifts and lunges executed in the environment of competition while at the same time working on their sport skill.

John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, created skill stations and made his players rotate between the skill stations so that while they were performing skills they were also tapping in to a certain degree of physical capacity. The skill station actually provided a conditioning drill—and the conditioning drill created fatigue. The only skill that is really going to get executed in sport, in many cases, is going to be under a certain amount of stress or physical fatigue. Wooden’s skill stations produced a lifelike situation. John Wooden was not able to lean on the programming of a strength coach or the vast exercise equipment athletes have today. He needed to create drills that supplemented the lack of time or equipment he could do with exercise, and this did not hurt him at all.

Often we try to do many exercises when really we could fast-track to a drill. The problem is, when is the right time to progress? I have always used the movement screen as my baseline. When mechanics are available, drills can stimulate appropriate usage and fast-track functional movement patterns. It can create a motivating factor that sometimes is a little bit boring when dispensed with a sheet full of exercises.

I also had an opportunity to work with my daughter’s high school volleyball team. The winter traveling league was looking to improve leg strength and jumping ability. Sitting in the stands with my family last season, we noticed the girls on our team did not really engage their upper bodies when they jumped. They did not cock and throw their arms to help facilitate the reactions that would help improve jump height. Instead of coaching them to use their arms more, I simply gave them a drill that was first shown to me through some videotapes by Vern Gambetta. In his plyometric continuum, Vern suggested that we should not do large amplitude plyometrics if a child could not jump the length of the body. What a wise and simple drill to demonstrate to athletes what they need to incorporate!

One of the first things my wife and I did was to line up each of the girls to see if she could jump the length of her body. A third of the girls easily jumped beyond a tape marking across the floor the top of the head length. Some girls barely made it to the line and some girls fell short of jumping the length of their own bodies. Immediately I had categorized the group of girls into those who were competent, those who were right on the edge and those who needed some work. Those who needed work still got plyometric activity, but it was in the form of jump rope and squatting movement-pattern correction. In a single session, they were picking up six to eight inches of improvement on their standing long jumps. Since these girls had deficient long jumps, they had the greatest amount to improve. The girls who could jump longer than their own body height immediately proceeded to a box jump that was sound for them and safe for plyometric power jumps.

The whole point was that we did not coach jumping. We created a natural drill that imposed the authentic need to engage the upper body. With enough time spent engaging the upper body, the natural reaction will occur. We created a circuit using push presses (for more information on push presses, look at our new DVD, Dynami), jump rope (look up rope jumping in Athletic Body in Balance), squat corrections (part of the Functional Movement System’s criteria) and plyometrics (you can find this information nearly anywhere for basic jumping).

At the end of the session as I talked to the coach, we discussed the circuit setup. Jumping was by far the biggest issue for this team, but they also had another issue. They were not really consistent on their service, so as they rotated between the conditioning stations, they did a service drill. They could not move beyond the service drill until they dropped five serves at the appropriate mark or area they were hitting. This demonstrated how physical fatigue and execution of the skill must be practiced together and should not be separated if improved athleticism is the goal.

Whether I am rehabilitating an athlete to return to sport or activity or training someone to enhance their performance, I always scan the movement patterns and create exercises that would correct or enhance those movement patterns. But when I see a common thread that could allow me to delete three or four exercises and impose one drill, I do it every chance I get. I love being a coach and I love seeing people get engaged with an activity. Disengagement during exercise is one of the biggest problems in physical fitness and training today. Total engagement is how the mind and body learn to work together. This total engagement is sometimes stimulated better by a lifelike drill than an exercise. The problem is we have to know when to use the drill. If the athletes have movement deficiency and a lot of movement dysfunction, this must be corrected first. Clean the canvas, and then paint a new picture.

In effect, movement screening actually gives me a template for whether I am going to do to a drill or stick with a corrective exercise, but the goal is to get to a drill as quickly as possible because this produces an accelerated learning environment. If you want to know understand more deeply, look at the books, The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated. These activities that create a high degree of engagement seem to be the most conducive to improve motor learning and advance a physical skill.

Gray Cook Radio

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Episode Forty-Four:

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We Can’t Do It Better Than Nature – More from Gray on Physical Education and the Benefits of Failure

Episode Forty-Three:

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Gray’s thoughts on the current state of Physical Education

Episode Forty-Two:

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Gray’s first thoughts after the Stanford event with Stu McGill and Craig Liebenson

Episode Forty-One:

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To Stanford, with Stu McGill and Craig Liebenson: Gray’s thoughts on their upcoming event

Episode Forty:

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Pavel’s new book Simple and Sinister is out. Gray’s listened to it twice (so far!) and has some thoughts.

Episode Thirty-Nine:

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Today Gray talks about balance, and give some suggestions for regression drills.

Episode Thirty-Eight:

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Important things to think about in breathing

Episode Thirty-Seven:

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No moving parts? What the heck does that mean?

Episode Thirty-Six:

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What’s Gray talking about when he says functional dysfunction?

Episode Thirty-Five:

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Whenever we do something, we should start with why. Gray expands on that idea in this recording.

Episode Thirty-Four:

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Here Gray discusses Exploring Functional Movement with Erwan Le Corre

Episode Thirty-Three:

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What’s the thinking behind the Key Functional Exercises lecture?

Episode Thirty-Two:

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Play, Practice or Train—what’s the difference and which should we be doing when?

Episode Thirty-One:

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When do you use the FMS? When the SFMA or the Y-Balance Test? Would you sometimes use both? Gray presents the strategy in today’s new Gray Cook Radio.

Episode Thirty:

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Have you watched Gray coach half-kneeling positions, then seen other FMS instructors use different cues or appear to be looking for something different? Gray addresses this confusion in today’s new Gray Cook Radio.

Episode Twenty-Nine:

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Asymmetry is one of the most talked about aspects of movement screening and corrective exercise. In this short discussion, Gray explains why, and also expands on the topic in this piece, which includes a new video clip from the Applying the Model DVD set.

Episode Twenty-Eight:

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A recent query on Gray’s Facebook page triggered his expanded thoughts on using the FMS in a group setting, whether that be teams, fitness groups or bootcamps. Mark Snow expands on the topic in this movementlectures.com talk: Using the FMS in a Group Setting.

Episode Twenty-Seven:

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In a follow-up to the earlier segment on stability vs motor control, in this episode Gray explains balance, and how it relates to motor control

Episode Twenty-Six:

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What is Movement Education Group? Click to visit movementlectures.com

Episode Twenty-Five:

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Stability training has been a popular training method in recent years, but are we thinking about it correctly? Is motor control a better concept?

Episode Twenty-Four:

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The benefits of barefoot training are many, but some of the results are conflicting. Why train barefoot—and when is it best not to?

Episode Twenty-Three:

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What does Gray mean when he says, “If you can’t touch your toes, don’t deadlift”?
And for more, read this: What’s in a Toe Touch?

Episode Twenty-Two:

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What do you do when someone can’t perform a test due to a physical limitation?

Episode Twenty-One:

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Here Gray describes the “Three Rs” concept of fitness and rehabilitation

Episode Twenty:

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Let’s see what Gray has to say about exercise and chronic pain

Episode Nineteen:

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Today Gray tells us about his summer MovNat experience and his conversations with Erwan LeCorre. Here’s where to find Erwan and his MovNat workshops.

Episode Eighteen:

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Today Gray talks about his work on the Golf Digest golf combine

Episode Seventeen:

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Now here’s a fun one: Gray’s take on isolation exercises—What’s a bodybuilder to do?

Episode Sixteen:

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Today Gray talks about his Perform Better Pre-Conference Workshop. The full transcript is also available here.

Episode Fifteen:

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In this episode we discuss the workout, specifically where do correctives go and when do we re-introduce sports training after a problem is found in the screen.

Episode Fourteen:

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Let’s talk about brain science and a few popular books that teach it. The books Gray discusses are Brain Rules, The Talent Code, Talent is Overrated and Spark

Episode Thirteen:

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Whatever happened to kettlebell snatches? And other tidbits kettlebell

Episode Twelve:

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What exactly is dry needling? What does Gray use it for?
The dry needling school Gray mentioned is KinetaCore.

Episode Eleven:

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Last week’s coverage of breathing and heart rate variability wasn’t enough. Let’s get a little more.
The monitor Gray talks about is the Polar FT80, and Polar’s overview of HRV is here. He also mentioned an iPhone ap called Ithlete, which you can find here.

Episode Ten:

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In this episode, Gray begins to develop the topic of breathing

Episode Nine:

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What to expect from a Functional Movement Screen Workshop
Here’s a link to the Functional Movement Screen workshop information.

Episode Eight:

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Does Gray have a Daily Desk Jockey movement prescription?

Episode Seven:

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What’s on Gray’s bookshelf as we move into spring?
Here’s that bookshelf link:On My Bookshelf

Episode Six:

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How do body proportions factor into movement screening?

Episode Five:

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Planks, pushups, core firing and more

Episode Four:

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Here Gray explains the difference between stability and motor control

Episode Three:

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Dan John asks: Tell us more about the concept of self-limiting exercise

Episode Two:

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Why does Gray suggest the heels-in, toes-out stance in club swinging?
In the discussion: Club Swinging Essentials DVD

Episode One:
In episode one, Gray describes how to move to a higher weight in the Kalos Sthenos GetUp

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In the discussion: Kalos Sthenos: Kettlebells from the Ground Up DVD

Kid’s Got Game

Practice does not make perfect—perfect practice makes perfect.

(Click the play button. Video starts after a 10-second ad)

The Weakest Link: Can’t We Just Cover the Correctives in the Warm-up?

“Why can’t I just have a well-designed program filled with a lot of the corrective exercises done as  part of the warm-up, covering all the bases instead of screening and worrying about the weakest link?”

I recently responded to this question in an interview with Anthony Renna on Strength Coach Podcast and expanded on the conversation on Strength & Conditioning Webinars. Here are my thoughts.

1. You can! You are the pro.
2. I wouldn’t, because current data suggests that each group under your care will have unidentified health risks with movement patterns common to activity, exercise and athletics.

  • Movement-based pain—1 in 5 is usually a conservative distribution
  • Serious movement dysfunction—asymmetries and limitations within functional and fundamental movement patterns identified as indicators as risk factors even though they do not produce pain
  • These are the FMS scores of 0 or 1 and a score indicating asymmetry.

3. If, however, the FMS scores indicated a minimum of two on each test with no asymmetry, I would have no problem with a standard movement preparation for a group. But remember, movement preparation and corrective exercise are not the same thing. This means that although part of your group would receive a beneficial package of movement preparation, another part of your should not expect significant corrective benefit.

  • Individuals with 0s need a responsible musculoskeletal assessment.
  • Individuals with 1s and asymmetries should focus specifically on their dysfunction since evidence suggests that corrective exercises that focus on the most dysfunctional pattern actually provide positive influence on other patterns.
  • A general movement preparation session would not provide enough time, attention or effort to expect an efficient and effective change in dysfunction.
  • On page 245 in Movement, Functional Movement Systems, we discuss fundamental similarities and differences of each. These topics create some confusion, so we felt the need to outline and discuss each topic in detail. I would suggest reading Chapter 11 to understand our platform on the subject.

It is entirely possible to provide groups with a functional warm-up and movement preparation, but you should not assume all would receive efficient and effective benefits. Individuals in the group with minimum of 2 on all movement patterns and no asymmetries would do well with a general movement preparation warm-up based on the FMS. With this template you can expect it to provide a adequate review of functional and fundamental movement patterns. But you shouldn’t expect the general sampling of movement preparation to serve a corrective capacity for those individuals demonstrating screens below screening minimum standards—including 0s, 1s and asymmetries.

  • Movement preparation should prepare the body and mind for movement. It should be based on the needs required of the neuromuscular system and cardiovascular system, and explore the specific mobility and stability requirements of the task to be performed. Some tasks require more steady-state cardiovascular activity and less neuromuscular adaptation. In contrast, some activities require significant neuromuscular adaptation and sporadic cardiovascular loads. Some activates predominantly utilize certain movement patterns while others require transitions between multiple movement patterns. Movement preparation should be activity-specific and performed on individuals who meet minimum movement competency standards.
  • Corrective exercise is a form of exercise that targets movement-pattern dysfunction. It is specifically directed at mobility, stability and coordination problems. Corrective exercise should be dysfunction-specific and performed on an individual with a specific movement pattern deficiency.

As you can see, the delineation between movement preparation and corrective exercise requires some form of screening. Our experience with movement screening goes back to the late ’90s, and we have constantly observed situations in training groups where standardized programming is questionable for about one-third to one-half of any group regardless of activity. Some have actual health problems (0s) and some higher risks factors associated with movement (1s and asymmetries). Conventional fitness wisdom looks at this group as a single unit. Movement screening separates the single unit into three groups, potential health problems, dysfunctions with a priority of corrective exercise to reduce risk during training, and those ready to train.

  • Unfortunately, fitness and conditioning groups are categorized mostly by activity, not by equal levels of movement competency and physical capacity. The common activity is the focus and binds the group, but they are scattered across a wide spectrum when we consider ability and capacity.
  • The solution is to separate the group into platoons or pods. The subgroups are initially based on movement competency. Once minimum movement competency has been established, they can be grouped by physical capacity.
  • This does not mean groups cannot train together or do certain activities as a single large unit. It simply suggests that the most efficient and effective forms of corrective exercise can be dispensed to sub-groups with like problems. The subgroup can then rally around a common corrective goal so they can advance forward to join a more advanced subgroup.

My intent with this information is to offer options that will improve safety and responsibility, as well as improve outcomes. I’m not trying to kill group programming or make everything individualized. There is a middle path.

Subgroups have always been the best way to manage large groups. The FMS provides an initial grouping system that promotes safety, specific corrective solutions, and can be used to test and retest credibility. It may cause you to rewrite parts of your training program, but don’t consider it a different operating system—it’s just a newer piece of software.

Don’t be put off by the idea of the initial screening time factor. The time costs on the front of programming are repaid the backend. The group will arrive at their common goals faster. It should not bother you that some will start on slightly different paths to arrive at the correct place and on time.

Remember the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare. It’s about how you finish— no one remembers how you start!

Damn Detours

A detour may actually be the quickest path to your destination.

Yes, you read that comment correctly. I hate detours and absolutely despise delays, but are the two the same? No—they are not.

A detour is a diversion from a more direct route. It simply means the conventional path to a destination is blocked, impassible or just not safe, and that an alternate route is necessary. The rerouting is actually an effective time-saver out of harm’s way if you consider the big picture. The problem with the detour disappointment response is perspective. All we see is that damn sign telling us we need to follow detour signs. If the signs are placed correctly, we never get to see the predicament that caused the detour. We are kept at a distance to ensure our safety, but the problem is just ahead even though we cannot see it. It’s out of our perspective or in the future, so to speak.

There is a delay in the preset schedule from the original plan of events, but imagine for a minute that you ignored the sign and forged ahead, only to be stopped by those working on the problem and instructed to backtrack to the ignored detour. That brilliant act cost even more time, and that is the best possible outcome because ignoring the detour could cost much more than time. You could meet the forecasted danger head-on—you could actually become a part of the problem. The detour doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

Now think of the all delays in our pursuit of health, fitness and athleticism. We despise those nagging injuries and scheduling conflicts that cost us valuable workout time. Compound that with the new paradigm of movement screening and assessment. Wow—great… one more delay, thanks a lot!

Many exercise and rehabilitation professionals see screening and assessment as a delay, but I urge them to consider it more as a detour. I also encourage them to learn to speak about the detour in an intelligent and authoritative way. They must develop a command of the new paradigm because the population is changing right under their noses. Movement patterns are eroding and the increased exercise risk can cause unnecessary delays in training and in the pursuit of active athletic lifestyles.

I recommend they get on a path to develop skills with movement appraisal and correction so they can actually see that the detour is a very short delay—under the direction of a competent professional. I teach them to aim the corrective exercise at the weakest link and show them how to quickly retest to identify positive changes in movement. Many misinterpret the intention and assume they must endure months of mind-numbing corrective exercises simply to move a little better. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you know what you’re actually trying to correct, things move quickly and the feedback is clear, but when you randomly sample a general movement preparation program across a diverse group, there is no way effective change can happen at an efficient rate.

The intended purpose of the preliminary battery of movement testing referred to as movement screening (in exercise populations) and assessment (in rehabilitation populations) is to actually get the subject to the desired destination as soon as possible. Unfortunately, some misinformed professionals think these measures are just another way to force corrective exercise and movement preparation, to encroach further and further into workout time and somehow perpetuate the further softening of America. Not even close! They are designed to get everyone to the hard-ass workout time as soon as their butt can take it—and not a moment sooner!

When screening and assessment systems identify a major functional movement deficiency, they provide the professional the criteria to jab a detour sign in the ground. They need to be able to say with authority, “We need to redirect our focus if we are to hit our target.”

The systems help the professional state simply and plainly that a fundamental movement problem will actually impede the push to improve physical capacity. This is because a significant movement problem has been identified at the perceptual and behavioral level. It means that underlying mobility and stability problems can be present or that dynamic patterning requires resetting and relearning. Movement dysfunctions can compromise safe and aggressive conditioning, because they can cause compensation and poor technique regardless of cueing and coaching.

Remember, an average score on a movement screen is acceptable. No one is shooting for movement perfection. The act of screening is to identify risk and severe movement problems before they can compromise safety and complicate programming that targets physical capacity. The act of prescreening movement patterns is a systematic tool to forecast something up ahead that could potentially cost much more time than the simple detour. The detour’s sole purpose is to deliver you to your destination on the safest and fastest path considering the current situation.

Pre-exercise screening and assessment is not a delay; it only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it will not even suggest a detour. When it does suggest a detour, follow the sign. In the long run, it will actually save time!