Creating Lasting Adaptations (Part 3)


Creating Lasting Adaptations (Part 3)

Austin Einhorn


Few exercises magically “transfer” to sports betterment, despite all of us wishing they would. Simply doing “monster walks” in your pregame routine doesn’t do anything to keep a knee wide during your sport. And who’s to say your knee needs to be wide all the time?

We expend finite energy, time, and tissue on movements and exercises and pray side effects show up in athletics. For a culture that loves to work, that’s an uncharacteristically passive process. Movements are tools and adaptations that we must consciously construct in context. But not just any context, the ones that look and feel like the sport, with similar challenges, timings, and goals.

We’re at the finish line of this series. You’ve gone through all the prerequisites and programmed specific movements for awareness, access, and phases for endurance, strength, and speed adaptations. But now you must integrate the movement changes into sport. This is an active and intentional process and the last step.


Tendon Problems

When you’re working with a tendon case, like the ones I described in part three, your path is simple. You continue to onramp your clients’ intensities but with more sport-specific stimuli. (Read my tendon post.)

Before you helped Alex’s knee tendons feel good again, he predicted knee pain when a ball was in his hands and when he leapt for layups. Now that you helped him become pain-free, he will have prediction errors; he will predict pain, but it never arrives. However, despite all your work and the absence of his pain in your clinic, he may still predict pain on the court, and those predictions will still change his movement! He will avoid formerly painful positions. You may need to remind him, “Bend your knee again!” as pain will have caused him to avoid it. He needs to experience pain-free knee flexion for it to become an available movement option again.


Movement Problems

Too often, coaches ask athletes to perform techniques their bodies can’t afford. “Extend your right leg more. Drive!” says the pitching coach to the athlete who is protecting an oncoming labral tear by avoiding hip extension. Or he avoids hip extension because his psoas lacks the strength at lengthened positions. Regardless, this pitcher can’t afford to extend his right leg more. He could, with the right gym program. Maybe you give it to him since you’ve read the previous three posts.

When you try to change someone’s movement in sport and training, like how I changed Travis Boak’s lumbar flexion, you need an intentional process, as opposed to the wishful thinking that monster walks change movement in sport.

In the gym, Travis and I worked on segmental lumbar flexion in a few different orientations, “saturating” the movement pattern. We did it supine with the slowest sit-up ever and several Jefferson curl variations.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Austin Einhorn (@austineinhorn)


These weighted movements are how you “construct an affordance.” I apologize for using the term “affordance,” as I hate using jargon. But this one time is appropriate. There are different kinds of affordances; we’re talking about physical ones. Can your client afford the positions you want? Do they have the physical capacity to move how you instruct? Can they do it during fatigue? With external weight? What about at speed and in sports?

Travis Boak could round his lower back, he had access. But his body chose not to. He lacked the muscular capacity to control the movement. So, we trained it up, and he got the unlock. Not only did Travis report feeling more “free” after our gym work, but this movement had a skill advantage, too.

In Australian Rules Football, Travis has to pick the ball up off the ground while on the run. If he kept his spine all perfect, straight, and neutral, the way so many people preach and fear-monger, the only way he’d pick up the ball is by slowing down immensely and squatting. If the game asks that of him, sure. Go for it, Boaky.

But if he needs to be fast while stealing the rock from the grass, rounding his back is a necessity—his pelvis hasn’t closed down on his femurs. He can still flex his hip and keep running.

I rarely make statements like this, but all AFL players should have the physical capacity for lumbar spine flexion. They must train it in the weight room if they’re going to tolerate it at speed countless times on the field. It’s not just about their low back muscles but also their intervertebral disks, hamstrings, hip flexors, and, to a lesser extent, their quads.

The lumbar flexion exercises gave Travis the capacity to do the thing he needs to do every game day: round his back. They also distributed the load throughout his entire spine instead of just his thoracic, which he had complained about.

Out of the weight room and onto the field at the foothills of Boulder, Colorado, I introduced a ball and opponent and asked him to slowly round his back while jogging to pick up the ball. The opponent didn’t even do anything. Just standing there is enough at the early stages of skill integration.

“Holy shit!” he exclaimed, “It’s like my arms are way longer. It’s so much easier to grab the ball.” I’d ask him to repeatedly flex his lumbar spine to grab ground balls in several simple scenarios, the same way I asked him to round his back in different ways in the gym, twisting and side-bending this way and that.

The goal is the lumbar flexion, not grabbing the ball. So I was elated when he missed the ball but rounded his back. He must keep this internal focus during increasingly complex scenarios back in Australia until it’s a mastered and subconscious tool. It becomes one more tool in his toolbelt, increasing his movement options. It just also happens to make him feel better, too.

Other athletes may need these qualitative movement changes to stay healthy, but the process is similar.

You must create scenarios for your athletes to choose new movements in sport contexts. They must learn to pair the new movement with sport-specific perceptions and stimuli. Slower situations allow them to dart their focus around, from the new movement goal to the sport goal, from lumbar spine flexion to dodging an opponent. As your athletes get proficient with the new movement in context, you can speed up the drills and add more people, increasing the complexity of the task.


Let me summarize four blog posts into three bullet points:

  1. Create awareness and access to a new movement. Then, spend weeks and months ensuring it is available under fatigue with the training progressions I’ve outlined.

  2. Understand the contexts where you’d like the movement to arise or where it’s necessary, and start manufacturing those scenarios. Ask the athlete to repeat what you’ve practiced in the weight room on the court or field, focusing on the movement as much as the drill.

  3. As your athletes become proficient with the new movement, it becomes an option in increasingly complex and fast sport scenarios. You’ve constructed an affordance.


On occasion, new movements will spontaneously emerge. But, again, I wouldn’t trust my health and career to a process out of my control. I’m going to do what I can to reduce risk and increase my chances of success.


Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *