The following is a guest post by Geoff Girvitz. 

If you're in the business of helping people, your job has just as much to do with pulling them back as it does driving them forward. By being selective about where a client develops strength, you'll be able to accelerate their progress and minimize the likelihood of injury.

In this article, we're going to focus on people with little to no training experience. Not superstars. Not athletes. Newbies.

When you help someone achieve things that they never would have even considered trying - let alone thought possible - it's an amazing feeling. That's one of the joys of working with the general population.

Working with beginners is also something that forces you to hone your skillset in a way that training athletes never will. They simply do not have the motor fluency that athletes do. Demonstrate a movement to a talented athlete two or three times and they might perform it better than you. Demonstrate a movement a 100 times to a beginner and you might still find them struggling.

This will force you to break each movement into its parts before teaching the whole thing. It will make you better.

Another benefit is that newbies will get stronger from just looking at a weight. It's easy to help them progress. Some argue that it doesn't matter what you do because they'll enjoy a training effect from anything.

It does matter, though. Newbie gains don't last forever. That's why we have to be sure to focus on mechanics and strengthen the postures and patterns that they'll need to perfect. Yet we also have to keep them weak in some areas.

Sound contradictory? Let me explain:

To apply strength, we have to be able to direct it from one place to another - easing off the throttle in some places to facilitate movement, and tightening it up in others to prevent movement.

Too much strength and you become a statue. Too little and you become a puddle of goo.

Neither situation is optimal. We want enough mobility to go through a complete range of motion but enough stability to maintain structure at any given point.

So how can we take someone who has never trained before and ensure that their strength development takes place in the right sequence? We squeeze it into narrow corridors.

The Corridors of Strength has a 1950s feel to it and should probably be read aloud with a full echo effect. However, all it really refers to is the process of carefully selecting what patterns and positions we strengthen.

At my facility, one of the things that I'm proudest of is how quickly we bring a beginner to a relatively high skill level. We do this by selectively channeling strength into only the right places.

Let's take a plank as an example.

Set up the position and hold it. Simple, right?

Rocking the plank

Simply holding a position is not enough. To plank properly, we have to be sure that stability is coming from the right places. Compensations might include the following:

  • Overly protracting the shoulders
  • Falling into full scapular retraction to rest on soft tissue structures
  • Hyperextending the lumbar spine to rest on the bony approximations
  • Anteriorly tilting the pelvis
  • Flexing any part of the spine
  • Hyper-extending the neck
  • Rotating the hips
  • Elevating the shoulders
  • Breathing with the chest/upper traps/scalenes instead of the diaphragm

You certainly wouldn't be the first to say that I'm being picky about how this simple position is held. But consider the needs of your clients. More specifically, consider what their default postures might be.

Someone who spends all day behind a desk with their shoulders hunched forward will be stronger in this position than they will be with good posture. If they protract their shoulders when they plank they'll be spending even more time in this position. They'll be also be getting stronger (remember those newbie gains?), but not in the right way. This makes correcting posture an even bigger fight.

Apply this lesson to the other compensations above and you'll see that postural issues take an even bigger foothold when strength is added to them. That's why it's important to develop strength properly - to keep compensations weak and make proper posture and mechanics strong.

Cleaning up these issues early in training will take days or weeks. Waiting until further down the road might mean months or years.

To make the process stick, use whatever tools you've got, from soft-tissue work to reactive neuromuscular training. Break things into simpler positions.  Squeeze those developments narrowly down the right corridors without allowing strength to overflow into the wrong places.

Insufficient mobility should not be ignored. It should be addressed separately from the primary movement. If someone is unable to perform a hip hinge with full range of motion, they have no earthly business deadlifting from the floor. Instead, strengthen the movement only within the range of motion they can demonstrate competency. Attack the remainder of the ROM separately until you're able to bridge the gap.

Insufficient stability will make a higher level of strength impossible to develop. If a person cannot perform a single push-up beautifully, the answer is not more push-ups. It is to force them to spend some quality time in the most challenging part of the movement.

Modify planks and other isometric movements to ensure optimal posture in the most challenging places your client can handle. Attack scapulohumeral rhythm or any other needs in tandem.

When your client is ready, put it all together and you will find them moving beautifully and without strength in the wrong places disrupting movement.

Not all strength is created equal. Build it selectively to create a framework for future success.