In the realm of fitness we tend to exist in absolutes. By this I mean that there are many tangible things that make it easy for us to know when to ramp it up, or when to back off.
Can't overhead squat without pitching forward? You probably shouldn't hold a bar with weight overhead and squat with it. Squatting hurts your knees? Well, it's not that squats are bad for you, it's that the way YOU squat is bad for you! Better find someone to help you fix it before you end up with a hurt knee or worse. You have back pain? Well, it would probably be wise to listen to your body and fix the source of your pain instead of pushing through it...until it's too late!
Screening general movement patterns--squatting, hingeing, lunging, trunk stability, and rotational stability, as well as pushing and pulling--makes it easy to identify weak links in our body. Possibly the best example of such a screen is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). It is nothing fancy, yet due to it's simplicity, clear set of standards, and the common language it's scoring system has created for professionals, the FMS is a tool that successfully locates weak points in one's armor.
One of the coolest things about the FMS is that it is not only a screen for movement quality, but also for pain. If pain (defined as something that gets worse as the movement progresses, something sharp and shooting, and something that lingers after the movement has finished) is indicated on any one of the seven movement patterns, it's usually a good sign that the painful movement has been compromised, no matter the score. If I have a client who has pain somewhere in their FMS, I refer them out. I don't want to play with fire, because if they get hurt more, the responsibility is mine and mine alone.
As a trainer, treating pain is not my forte. I "treat" fitness. My goal is to help others reach their fitness goals--namely "get lean, tone up, and look better naked". Whenever a client tells me they have goals along those lines, I hear "get stronger, get stronger, eat better, get stronger". Strength is EVERYTHING. Take Lauren Brooks as a prime example. Lauren is a StrongFirst Kettlebell Team Leader. She is an entrepreneur. She is also strong as hell. "I currently weigh between 112 and 114 pounds. In the last several months, with minimal training, I achieved a 62 pound Get Up, 13 Ring Pull-ups, 140 pound Single Leg Dead Lift and a Ring Pull-up with 53 pounds hanging from my feet"--Lauren Brooks Take those numbers out of context and they would be impressive for any person, male or female! There are only a handful of guys I know personally who can do all of the above, and they are all involved in the kettlebell community. Go figure!
My point is, though, is that a woman like Lauren would not have been able to reach such levels of strength if she had many weaknesses in her movement patterns. This is why as a coach I place such an emphasis on doing it the right way before doing it heavy. What's the point of going heavy if form is compromised? In the FMS, the general philosophy is to build mobility first, add stability second, and solidify a movement by adding strength. If I try to add strength to an already dysfunctional movement, I'll only make it worse in the long run.
Let's take another look back at Lauren Brooks, for a second. Lauren could never have reached such absurd levels of strength had she not first taken the time to learn the basic fundamental movement patterns required to do each of those lifts successfully. In essence, Lauren was able to iron out her "weak links" and transform her body in something very well rounded. Yet, once she had done so, her body's potential was virtually "unlocked", making it capable of adding loads upon loads of strength onto her teeny frame.
Let's take this back to the central theme here. You (yes I mean YOU) are only as strong as your weakest link. The FMS will let you know what those links are. Trust the scores and trust your body to make the adaptations necessary to improve them over time. It will take time, diligence, patience, dedication, perseverance, frequency and repetition, but it can and WILL work. The amount of current dysfunction and the presence of past injuries may change the rate at which changes and adaptations will take place, but they will still happen. I am living proof (my first score was an 8/21 when I was 21 years old, and have been through a serious hamstring, hip, back, and shoulder/neck/upper back injuries!) A few years later, I am a solid 16/21 with no asymmetries!
If you haven't read my previous posts about trusting in the process and the five mental cues to bulletproof your brain for training, I urge you to do so now. Read them, use them, write them down in a place you can see every day. Trust them. I did, and they have helped to transform my body in ways I honestly never imagined possible...especially after all of the injuries I sustained!
Through great hardship comes great strength. Rise above it.