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The Circular Strength Training® System’s Integrated Approach To Joint Mobility & Health
In my early teens, my grandfather did everything he could to encourage me to participate in sports and physical conditioning. As he put it, he was trying to keep me out of trouble, but he set me on a path of physical culture which has shaped my personal and professional life ever since. A fascination with movement and with physical development led me first to a career as a ski coach. Then, as I continued my own journey of strength and conditioning, and began to take care of the training of my ski athletes, I eventually grew into my second career as a trainer.
Although I was loving every minute of it, and from all outward appearances was fit and healthy, a few years ago I have to admit that I was pretty banged up. I was strong and had good endurance. I looked good. But I started to realize that my training methods were not going to be sustainable in the long term. Among other things, I was dealing with cyclical bouts of shoulder impingement troubles. I lacked hip mobility to the point that I could not sit on the floor with my legs stretched out in front of me and keep my back straight. Things were starting to give. It was at that point that I ran across the work of Scott Sonnon, founder of the Circular Strength Training® system.
I’d never seen anyone move the way Coach Sonnon did, with such fluidity and ease. But what caught my attention was his insistence that anyone could move that way by following his systematic approach to health and fitness.
With two decades of conventional training experience under my belt, at first I was still a bit reticent to fully launch into this new “health first” training paradigm. I figured I would just order some material from Coach Sonnon and add it in to my existing training. But my aches, pains and limitations finally overcame my fears and I decided to jump straight into the deep end and fully engage in my practice of Circular Strength Training® (CST).
Within weeks my shoulder was noticeably better. And as the months went by I was amazed at both my increasing mobility, but also at the overall functionality of the strength and conditioning I was building through the unique mix of modalities brought together through CST. Nowadays, I receive comments daily from clients about the quality of my movement and my impressive level of mobility and flexibility.
A Multi-Pronged Approach
The secret to my success was in Coach Sonnon’s mult-faceted approach. CST addresses the health of the joints through its Intu-Flow® family of movements. The proper balance of the muscle and connective tissues are tackled through the Prasara Yoga wing of the system. And finally the entire unit is put under load using various tools in order to strengthen the entire body through its fullest range of motion. The signature tool for this wing of the system is the Clubbell®.
Recovery Is Training
Many people make the mistake of regarding recovery as a secondary thing that we do outside of our training if we have time. On the contrary, to make optimal progress, with minimal breakdown, and maximally reduce our risk of injury, recovery must be considered an integral component of the training process and be scheduled and periodized appropriately.
“You’re As Old As Your Connective Tissue”
The above is a quotation from Coach Sonnon. Our current understanding of the body’s system of locomotion has come a long way in a short time. Gone is the idea that each muscle works in isolation in a lever based system. We now know that the entire body is enveloped in a continuous network of connective tissue known as fascia. This creates a sea of tension pulling in against the bony struts pressing outwards. Where this network of fascia is tacked down to the skeletal system, we can think in terms of muscle origins and insertions. Packed within this system of fascia is the electrically activated goo we know as muscle tissue. And when we move our bodies in space, we are activating tissues all along lines of tension bound together by this facial net.
Bags Within Bags
As we develop from our earliest embryonic state, we form what can be thought of as a double bag of connective tissue. The innermost bag surrounds the bones and joints and goes by the terms periosteum and joint capsule respectively. The outer bag is what we generally refer to as myofascia (fascia of the muscles) and it contains all our muscle tissues.
The Health Of The Inner Bag
It is primarily with the health of this inner bag that the Intu-Flow Joint Health and Mobility wing of the CST system is concerned. Joints, with few exceptions, have no blood circulation. The only way to wash out toxins and flush in nutrition is through the synovial fluid. It is only through moving the joint systematically through all of its degrees of freedom that we can wash it adequately with this synovial fluid. And if we do not move them, they can also become compressed, further decreasing the availability of nutrition to the joint. Over time, joints will become dry and brittle if this is not addressed.
For this reason alone, not only do my clients use Intu-Flow daily as part of their warm-up routines, they have days where training is devoted exclusively to joint mobility work.
Owning Your Range of Motion
In addition to washing out the joints, Intu-Flow® is also arranged in a systematic way which allows us to regain control over our natural movement patterns. The sequence of movements in the system is specifically arranged to follow the developmental pattern of the nervous system. Thus, consistent practice of Intu-Flow® allows you to gain full control of the range of motion you possess at each joint. Stretching a joint may give you more range, but if you can’t actively control your movement through that new range, then you do not own it. Intu-Flow® allows you to take ownership.
Not long ago, I attended a MAT Jumpstart course. Throughout all the muscle testing, the instructor was blown away by both the range of motion I had and the control and strength I possessed at the extreme ranges at each joint. The sole exception was my ankles. It wasn’t until afterwards that it dawned on me that I had been neglecting my ankles in my Intu-Flow® practice during the previous months. This realization brought home just how important this part of training is. It is easy to neglect something so seemingly insignificant as ankle circles. But if you think about the importance of your ankle stability and mobility in almost any physical movement, you can imagine what consequences may arise from such neglect.
We Move Not Only In 3 Dimensions, But In 6 Degrees Of Freedom
The fitness industry has made great strides in recovering from the two dimensional paradigms of the bodybuilding craze towards a 3 dimensional approach to exercise. But in reality the human body moves in 6 Degrees of Freedom. This concept is most eloquently explained in the field of aeronautics. Essentially, if we take the three axis of conventional movement plane descriptions, we can think about moving both along and around those axis in order to take advantage of all 6 degrees.
- Heaving: Moving up and down the vertical axis
- Surging: Moving along the front-to-back axis
- Swaying: Moving along the side-to-side axis
- Yawing: Moving around the vertical axis
- Rolling: Moving around the front-to-back axis
- Pitching: Moving around the side-to-side axis
Applying The 6 Degrees of Freedom to Each Joint
By looking at each joint within the framework of the 6 Degrees of Freedom, we take advantage of a powerful tool. Instantly we are able to assess and address the range of motion restrictions that may be inhibiting our sports performance, increasing our risk for injury or affecting our health.
Let’s take the example of pelvic mobility. Take a look at this YouTube video in which I am tilting the pelvis around the “X” axis (pitching).
This would be an example of Pitching from the 6 Degrees of Freedom. Let’s say this degree of freedom shows a restriction when tilting the pelvis to tuck the butt under. This is the first cue which allows us to cascade through the rest of the system.
From there, we would use various Prasara Yoga movements to flush out the cause. We might start with some form of Pigeon pose to assess whether the hip flexors are tight. If not, we would check the firing of the gluteals through something like the Shoulder Bridge.
At each stage, we are checking back to the Intu-Flow movement to assess any progress. This process would continue until we found our culprit. At this stage, it is important to go one step at a time to make sure you know which exercise is making a difference in the performance of the reference Intu-Flow Joint Mobility movement.
Bringing It All Together
Whatever Prasara movements are found to improve the original mobility movement restriction will become part of the overall re-balancing plan. The mobility work continues in order to ensure control over whatever ranges of motion are opened up and to control whatever strength is developed through the complete range of motion.
Also, as control of the ranges increases, and the basic Intu-Flow® Joint Mobility exercises become ingrained, we follow the path of Increasing Sophistication in order to make each Intu-Flow movement more and more challenging on a neurological level. In this way, we go from work capacity to work sophistication and eventually to work specificity. The latter step involves programing movements specific to the lifestyle or sport requirements of the individual.
The final component of the process is to add appropriate load to these ranges once they are completely under pain-free control. One of the best tools for this job is the Clubbell®. This tool has several advantages in the framework of a health-first system. First off, it provides significant distraction of the joints, which complements the Intu-Flow and Prasara progress. I credit this aspect of Clubbell® swinging with a significant role in the rehabilitation of my shoulder.
Because the Clubbell is such an open skilled strength building tool, it creates a lot of torsion in the body and forces the practitioner to provide all the stabilization throughout the exercise. The more stabilization the training tool provides, the less your body learns about doing this work for itself. And we all know that in life and sport, the body needs to perform on its own.
The Clubbell also allows you to go where no other tool can. As you regain your natural movement capacity through joint mobility and Prasara Yoga, the Clubbell provides the perfect training device for loading difficult to address ranges. As my shoulder began to heal and my range of motion steadily improved, I was able to incorporate gentle exercises which took the Clubbell® behind my back, forcing me to stabilize with the shoulder joint. Then, step-by-step, through the unique CST methods of Incremental Progression and Increasing Sophistication, I ended up not only doing extremely complex exercises through those ranges of motion, but performed those exercises to a level which allowed me to become the International Champion of the RMAX Internal Power Challenge
The Magic Of Synergy
On its own, each of the three major component pieces of the CST system can provide huge benefits for anyone interested in health and fitness. But together, they form a cohesive and holistic paradigm for personal physical culture which can, and does, impart extraordinary results for people from many walks of life and from varied backgrounds. Only by carefully balancing higher intensity training with systematic methods of recovery can we ensure consistent progress towards our physical goals. Recovery is part of training and must be treated as an essential component of the overall program design. Methodical use of the three wings of the CST system will ensure that balance.
Adam Steer is a Circular Strength Training Head Coach If you’d like a ton of free information about Circular Strength Training®, head over to Adam’s Better Is Better blog and sign up for the free Kick-Start Package. There are several interviews with Coach Sonnon and other industry experts. There are two e-books, one on CST inspired bodyweight training and the other on Clubbell training. And Conditioning Research readers may also be interested in the exclusive interview with Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat, the definitive guide to Intermittent Fasting.
Adam is a Circular Strength Training® Head Coach. He trains clients in CST through his Momentum Training business in Quebec City, and has shared CST around the globe through workshops in Singapore, Australia, Washington State, Philadelphia and New York City. You can check out Adam’s bio here .