The joint by joint theory by Gray Cook

21 November 2012, Comments 1

I’ve encountered a lot of different training principles and regimens. Some I agreed with, some I trashed, while some changed the way I trained and applied training forever. One of those principles is Gray Cook‘s joint by joint training approach. It’s so simple yet it shows just how much damage you can do to your body if you don’t train it the right way. Since I learned this a year ago, I’ve been including it in all of my seminars and have adapted the system to myself and my clients and have seen major improvements in performance but more importantly in dealing with pain and soreness and most importantly, minimizing injuries.

Like I said the theory is simple and makes so much sense when you relate it to sports and everyday movements. Basically, the joints of the human body were made for either Stability or Mobility and going up the chain, each joint alternates in its function. The diagram below explains it better.

What this basically shows is that going up the body, starting with the feet, the joints alternate in the prevalence of stiffness and sloppiness. Which means that if a joint has a tendency towards being sloppy like the knee, it will benefit from stability work. If a joint however has a tendency towards stiffness like the hip, then it will benefit greatly from mobility work.

A great example of how this is being displayed in the sports setting is the number of knee injuries basketball players get every year. I blame this in the over-emphasis of trying to protect and stabilize a supposedly mobile joint which is the ankle. What happens when you try to stabilize the ankle? It loses it’s mobility, and as we can see with the diagram, it should be a mobile joint. When this happens, the knee which is supposed to be stable compensates for the lack of mobility of the ankle. We all know what happens with a hypermobile knee. I don’t need to remind you, but Shaun Livingston will. So what should we do? For one we can increase the mobility of the ankle by training it through range of motion and resistance work. One amazing example of how ankles can be both mobile but also withstand force is found in the video below.

Ido Portal is of course a genetic freak but that just goes to show the capacity of our ankle for mobility.

Now if you’re a regular non-athlete who just likes to work out then how can this theory affect you? If there’s one thing that you will take away from this, let this be it: STOP DOING CRUNCHES. Just take a look at what it says in the diagram about the lower back (lumbar spine), it should be trained for STABILITY. One thing that Crunches promote is spine flexion or mobility in the lumbar spine. Again what happens when you lose the stability of the lumbar spine? The 2 closest joints to it will try to compensate, this will lead to inflexible hips and very tense upper backs, not a good recipe for comfort. Instead of crunches, train for stability by doing the numerous plank alternatives.

Have back pain?Maybe it’s the way you’re sitting down and the length of time you’re sitting down. Check where you are bending from, is your lower back bent? Are you hunched over? These theories also changed the way therapists look at injuries. When someone comes in complaining of low back pain, they don’t look at the lower back, they try to introduce mobility exercises for the Thoracic spine (upper back) and hips. That’s why kettle bell swings (when done properly, which should promote hip mobility. If you’re experiencing lower back pain when doing kettle bells, check your form or train your lumbar spine more for stability) are awesome.

There are countless other examples that can display how the theory works but just by looking at it and seeing your body in a different light, this should give you an idea on what to do and more importantly, what exercises you should be avoiding.

One response on “The joint by joint theory by Gray Cook

  1. […] or martial artist, I’ll personally escort you out. I’ve discussed this in detail in a previous post so I won’t dwell on it. The thing that you need to remember is that the lumbar spine (lower […]

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