Developing Your Model for Movement Quality: How one of our interns learned what lifts were supposed to look like

Note from Lance

Today’s post is brought to you by former IFAST intern Cory Hecht.

You could tell that when he started his internship, he was a little overwhelmed with all the “things” going on that the coaches were seeing. He wanted to be on that level. He wanted to see those things. That’s what made him a great intern.

Cory sent me an article he wrote to help sort out his thoughts, and I asked him (nicely, of course) if we could post it up on IFAST University because I think it’s so helpful for new coaches… and even those veteran coaches who want to see how one of those Ivy League nerds thinks about movement.

He walks you through how he organized his thoughts, how you can reconcile seemingly contradictory statements, and even the SPECIFIC things he means (check out his cheatsheet).



As a new coach entering the performance industry, you are bombarded with a ton of information that is often times difficult to make sense of.

  • How do I know this is correct?
  • I think this article conflicts with what someone else told me.
  • My mentor says X, but this coach says Y.

Sifting through this abundance of information can be a real struggle. As I spend more time in this industry, I realize that no one has all the answers. Much can be gained, however, from understanding multiple perspectives on training. These usually come from experienced coaches who have developed their own philosophy. We often do not hear about the underlying framework these philosophies operate off of, but instead how they are applied within an already established model. Thus, the receiver of this information also needs some type of model so they can take this information and apply it themselves.

One of the most important ideas I’ve learned is that you can’t take bits and pieces of what everyone else does and attempt to fit it together without some sort of underlying framework. That will never work. You need to be able to take your experiences and knowledge and fit it in your own model. The thing is, you need a model to work off of. This model you establish will be what you have to go off when it comes time go coach. It will never be 100% right, but can be as close to right as you would like.

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” – George Box.

There is still a lot we do not know about training.  The human body is a complex system constantly adapting to its environment. However, we can boil down understanding movement quality to a couple of important items that when put together will set you up for future success. The key is that none of these items work in isolation. The more connections you make between them, the quicker your model will grow. If you don’t have a foundational understanding of the principles, you will have difficulty taking new ideas and fitting them into your existing model. If you understand the principles AND how they fit together you can easily take something new and fit it in. Your model will begin to grow at an exponential pace. Here are some of key takeaways that have helped me establish my own model for what I deem quality movement.

1.) Learn how to coach the basics

This kind of goes without saying, but you need some type of image in your head for what each exercise should look like. Once this is established you can look at the person you are training and see where their form deviates from what you’d expect. Let’s take an RDL for example. I probably want my weight over the center of my foot, a little bit of knee flexion, a ribcage that remains stacked over a pelvis throughout the lift (let’s call this a “neutral spine,” even though we can never know for sure) and both hips loaded equally. If I can visualize this in all three planes of motion, as soon as someone strays from this, I know what I need to coach.

2.) Start to connect the basics together

Let’s now add another layer to this. So you have an idea of what a squat, row, deadlift, pull-up, split squat, etc. should look like. As you go through your model of what these exercises look like, you may start to notice some similarities and differences. Take note of this because it will become your foundation for assessing movement quality across the board. For example, like in the RDL, I’ve seemed to notice that in the sagittal plane, most exercises require a “neutral spine”. Thus, I probably want to obtain this position in a majority of the exercises I coach. This can be applied to all three planes of motion. Taking a look at the frontal plane, I notice that during a squat both hips usually remain the same height. In a majority of cases I probably want clients to achieve this in something like an RDL as well.

3.) Put this in the context of triplanar control

In a perfect world all of our clients would be able to control all three planes of motion in every exercise they do with no problem. However, this is usually not the case. But, if I know what “control of each plane” looks like during an exercise, I understand what is occurring during each movement and can potentially coach them out of it. Let’s use a squat for example, triplanar control characteristics would be a “neutral” spine in the sagittal plane, my weight distributed equally on both legs as well as hips equal height in the frontal plane and my hips not rotated to either side in the transverse plane.

If I have these markers in my head and I notice something is off, I can easily figure out what the issue may be. From here, I can check to see if this occurs in other exercises and now I’m starting to piece together some compensatory strategies, or movements that deviate from the norm, my client has that I may want to address. Sticking with the squat let’s say a client is shifting to the right and bringing that hip up higher. I also notice this occurs in their RDL. I can now conclude with some degree of certainty that they have trouble loading their left hip and constantly shift to the right.

4.) Learn dynamic anatomy

To piece it all together, I need some way to know what might cause these compensatory strategies to occur. This will likely be related to the position my muscles are in during the movement. Here’s where understanding your anatomy comes into play. If you’ve taken an anatomy course, you’ve probably learned the muscle actions in anatomical position. Unfortunately, when there’s a live human moving in front of you, 99% of the time they won’t be in that position. Thus, we need to understand what position muscles are in during the movements we coach and how compensatory strategies can make it harder for certain muscles to produce enough force to achieve triplanar control.

For this, let’s use a very simple example of a Lat Pulldown in the sagittal plane. If I am looking for sagittal control I want to achieve that “neutral spine” position. As soon as I go into excessive thoracic extension, a common strategy you may see, I lose that. Understanding dynamic anatomy, I know my lats act as thoracic extensors and will now be in a more concentrically oriented position (the muscle will be shortened throughout the movement). On the flipside, my abs will now be in a more eccentrically oriented position and will not allow me to achieve that neutral position. I now know I need to cue them out of extension and get some abs in the front to keep them out of it.

This is just one example, but can be applied to every exercise. Sadly, there is no book out there that goes over this in detail. Trust me if there was a book I would know, I have asked this question countless times. It comes down to being able to visualize the movement and understand how each muscles position changes as the position of joint changes.

5.) Use your progressions/regressions to obtain control

Now that you’ve analyzed multiple exercises, came up with your conclusion on the compensatory strategies your client uses, and understand positionally what is going on, it becomes a matter of exercise selection. This is assuming you would like to address the compensatory strategy. Here’s where your exercise library comes into play. You need to choose something that allows them to achieve the position you would like, and continually progress it so it cleans up movements at higher intensities.

Let’s go back to our Lat Pulldown example, you want them to achieve that “neutral spine,” but they are having trouble feeling their abs and getting into that position. Going through my exercises, I may pair the Lat Pulldown with something like a Deadbug that provides context as to the position their axial skeleton should be in, and what they should be feeling throughout the Lat Pulldown. Hopefully it cleans up the movement and you are good to go!

Putting It All Together

Provided here is simply an outline that allows each of you to fill in the blanks as you see fit.

  1. Learn how to coach the basics
  2. Start to connect the basics together
  3. Put this in the context of triplanar control
  4. Learn dynamic anatomy
  5. Use your progressions/regressions to obtain control

The more compensatory strategies you can identify and the more you understand positionally what is occurring during these strategies, the easier it will be for you to improve the movement quality of your clients. Once these connections are made and the blanks are filled in, it is remarkable how quickly you can make an impact. You now can establish a cohesive model and easily take that once overwhelming amount of information to decide whether you want to fit it into what you already have.

I’m hoping this article leaves you with more questions than answers. In an effort to help you not leave with TOO many questions, though, I wanted to put down on paper some examples of how this outline translates into coaching.

How do you get a good sagittal plane position at the pelvis? Frontal plane position? What about in the thorax? I have four exercises for you.

What are some cues you can use for these exercises? These are my favorite.

How do you know when you have triplanar control? Here are the things I look for.

What is the dynamic anatomy? What muscles are concentrically oriented? Eccentrically oriented? This is how I picture my anatomy.

What does it look like? I’ve got a picture for you.

To grab it, click below.


Final Thoughts

I have fortunately had some great mentors that have helped me work through these ideas. Constantly having to explain the thought process behind my statements, think through my own questions without being provided an answer, and work under some great coaches has made it possible for me to see the importance of following these steps when it comes time to go out on your own and coach. This sets your ceiling extremely high in terms of developing valuable skills that will make you the best coach possible.

Is your model similar to mine? Or is there another way you like to look at things? Did you find the PDF helpful? Let’s discuss! Leave a comment below so we can all keep getting better.

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Published by Cory Hecht

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