It’s the corner stone phrase of many of the top trainers, coaches and therapists I know, and I think there is definitely a lot of truth to this. If you watch the development of a baby then you can see the progression of crawling before you can stand, before you can walk, before you can run. It seems to hold true that to progress in terms of movement development then some level of mastery of certain skills are very important.

So if mastering the basics are so important why do I prescribe a lot of different and seemingly random movements into mine and my clients training programs?

You don’t master a skill by performing the exact same movement over and over again.

I think of mastering the basics as a goal rather than a starting point or a set exercises you have to do. The first thing I do is to clarify what movements are important and this depends entirely on the client I’m training.

Rather than talk in abstracts lets consider the squat as a basic worth mastering, and to be more specific than that lets look at the back squat and I’m programming for a powerlifting client

Would the only exercise you prescribe to help a back squat be a back squat?

Would the only exercise you prescribe be a back squat to help the back squat?

No, chances are you will prescribe a variety of different squats to help. Front squats, goblet squats, overhead squats, hack squats, split squats, sissy squats, sumo squats. If you’re doing this then that’s a good strategy, and holds to what the science says about skill development. Define the skill and then practice in a variety of environments.

What I do is take things a little further and look at the movement in a little more depth. I think of the squat as vertical displacement down of the centre of gravity before coming back up, so any movement in that direction will constitute a squat. I look at the demands of that movement on each joint and look at what I can do to change this. Can I alter the foot placement to challenge what’s required of the foot and ankle during a squat? Does one hip struggle to load and cause a weight shift, what can I do to develop skill loading that hip in isolation before placing it back into the squat movement? Can my client  regulate tension in the core/torso to effectively move up and down or do I need to prescribe a few exercises to develop this?

Putting all these things together creates a program helping the client in front of me “Master The Basics” whilst also keeping the sessions fun, innovative and interesting.

Once you’ve significantly improved on the basics you can then more effectively and safely load the tissues to drive adaptation and structural change.

Coaching is so much more than getting you to perform and count reps of the same movements over and over again. Mastering the basics is important so my advice is to hire someone who truly understands the movements you need for your sport/lifestyle and then has the understanding and awareness of whats involved to help you improve.