Jonathan Messner, MS, CSCS

I think it is important to admit when you are wrong.
I do it all the time.
“Daisy, I’m sorry. I thought by ‘double date’, you meant that I was taking both you and Chastity out.” You know, that sort of thing.
As a trainer, I have probably apologized more to my clients than any other trainer in the history of man. I have told my clients on numerous occasions so-and-so exercise that we did sometime in the past was probably not the best for them.
What makes my job so difficult is that I am trying to create a “training norm” (or template, or system, or whatever you want to call it) in a profession that continuously shifts what it considers its norms on an almost daily basis. It seems as though every other week you have another expert throw something new on the table, which, don’t get me wrong, is great. It’s just that it was so much easier when everything could be solved with gluteal activation.
And this leads to confusion, which makes me sound like a trainer with a split personality disorder:
Eden is not going to squat today because it might exacerbate her already very-lordotic posture.
What was I thinking yesterday? Why didn’t I ask that chick out? Also, Eden will squat today because IF I COACH IT RIGHT (another article maybe? Hmmm?) it should help straighten out her spine a bit.
Now, contrary to popular belief, I was not born with dumbbells in my hands (that’s impossible really) or this split-personality disorder. It all started long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Eight years ago at The Atlantic Club, to be precise…

What the Hell was I Thinking

I Don’t Know a Damn Thing
I started training as an afterthought to running. Needless to say, I didn’t know much, and that scared the hell out of me.
Being an anal runner who planned every training day for the entire year in advance, I decided I needed a personal training plan. I think a major failing of most trainers is that they don’t have a plan and I can honestly say I did this right. A plan is based on a philosophy, and even though my philosophy was crap, at least I had plan. Speaking of philosophy…

Simple Minds Rule the Day
Train muscles! Perfect! What better way to train muscles than on the twenty-piece Technogym circuit that we had setup at the health club! However, there was a slight snag with my plan.
You see, you have both pectoralis major
and pectoralis minor and how many heads to the deltoids have? The more muscles I discovered the more exercises we had to do, and not all these muscles were trainable on the circuit. Gasp!

Train Movement, Not Muscles
Then I picked up Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook, which sort of made sense of everything, but at the same time confused me even more because now I got this dude talking about movement patterns. What the hell are movement patterns? Before I read Athletic Body in Balance I was confused like an ape that is told it has to eat apples instead of bananas. After reading Gray’s book, I was confused like a trainer reading this article wondering what the hell apes, apples, and bananas have to do with training.
With confusion bombarding me from every direction, I threw caution to the wind, put my foot down, and decided the only way to learn was to (a) start talking to trainers about what they were doing with their clients and (b) start implementing more movement-based exercises (squats and deadlifts) into my programming. I felt like a horse jumping over a tea bag.
But then I got to thinking… why squat when you can:
- Squat and shoulder press
- Squat and row
- Lunge and chest press
- Reverse lunge and pulldown
- I could keep going but I think you get the point by now.
- I do love bullet points though.
- How bout one more!
I figured the more movements I could string together in one exercise was proportionate to my level of expertise as a trainer. I felt like I understood what
functional training was; it was moving in a functional manner- which really doesn’t make sense because when was the last time you saw someone squat and then shoulder press a bag of groceries. (I actually consider squatting to be the most functional exercise, however, I feel it can get diluted with compound movements.) I also felt like I was at the point where I had some handle on what it meant to be a personal trainer.

What’s This Thing They Call The Core
And then I read Functional Training for Sport by Coach Mike Boyle, and realized that a lot of what I was doing was wrong because I was ignoring the basics.
- I was having clients squat to one arm press with a bicep curl triceps pushdown who could not squat properly, let alone who had crappy posture.
- I was having clients perform goodmornings who could not stabilize their spine.
I learned that possibly the most important part of working with the human body other than bringing it into some sort of balance with the world, is the ability for the hips to move while the lumbar spine does not. Teaching this was very difficult for me at first, probably because those exercises
seemed excruciatingly simple:
Abdominal bracing is stupid. Lets squeeze our stomach. Weeeeeee!
Better yet, lets touch our butts while we exercise to get them to work better. (Its called palpating the muscle, stupid.) What the hell is gluteal amnesia anyway? This is going to lead to a lawsuit...
But then that light bulb magically appeared over my head, and my entire view of exercise seemed to shift a bit. It’s kind of like beer-goggling the ladies at the pub. At first you’re not interested, but then you are interested because they are beautiful and you can’t figure out why you didn’t feel that way before. And the next day is ruined because your head is killing you.
When I started applying what I learned in Coach Mike Boyle’s book , I can honestly say I was on, what I currently perceive, to be the path.
By teaching exercises such as bracing, bridging, and quadruped hip extension I started to learn- or more appropriately see- the rhythm of the lumbo-pelvic region with different body types, (lordosis, flat back, etc.) and how that rhythm affects movement patterns.

Train Movement Patterns (didn’t we already kind of do this one?)
Around the same time as my ass-touching escapades, I also started looking more closely at simple movement patterns. The trainable patterns I identified based on reading various sources where:
- Squat
- Bend
- Push
- Pull
- Rotate
- Lunge

“Movement patterns or primal patterns are instilled in us before birth and are universal, applying to everyone all the time. These patterns are a constant throughout civilization and a precursor to all forms of movement. Squatting, bending, pushing and pulling are examples of movement patterns. Sitting on the couch playing video games and drinking a bud is not considered a primal movement pattern.” (Messner,
Step Inside My Head)

It wasn’t so much that I started to pick each of these patterns apart like a surgeon- that came next. Those patterns where in fact, much like the Technogym circuit I originally had my clients workout on when I first started training. Everyone learned every pattern regardless of his or her history. After all, we are all human beings with the same basic musculoskeletal makeup, right?

This is Ridiculous
(my current training)
Well sort of.
It’s complicated.
And I think the thing that best defines what I am trying to say is something called compensatory motion. Compensatory motion is when the body cheats to move. It uses muscles at the wrong time, in the wrong order. And it happens all the time. ALL THE TIME (in case you missed it the first time.)
It isn’t so much about adhering to this strict protocol for Homo sapiens. It is about adhering to a philosophy. Something I discovered a long time ago but had to relearn recently.
And that philosophy has something to do with mastering the basics of hip mobility and lumbar spine stability. Everything else to me, is just icing on the cake.

The Never Ending Story
The more I learn, the less I know. Which is funny because when I first started training I knew nothing.
I’m sure there is a lesson in that but I am too man to admit it.
I don’t know if we will ever find the answer that we are all looking for. It is so easy to give up in this day and age because whatever it is we are doing can be so overwhelming. And I’m not going to sit here and be the karma-police and tell you that it is better to keep looking for an answer that doesn’t exist than it is to just coast on by.
But what I will tell you is that my clients who once had back pain, don’t anymore. And I would like to think it has something to do with the fact that I am constantly changing (I would like to think improving) my training methodologies based on what I read and what I see.
Speaking of training methodologies, a double date means two dudes AND two chicks? What fun is that?