When young athletes first venture into the weight room, many of them perform lifts they aren’t ready for with more weight than they should be using. The result is ineffective, risky workouts that are largely a waste of time. I get it—as soon as athletes get in the weight room, they want to run with the big fish and get after it with lifts like Squats, Bench Presses and Deadlifts. But the truth is that very few athletes are ready to tackle such exercises right off the bat. That’s why regressions are so darn important. Here’s why regressions are a major difference-maker in athletic training.
Rebuilding Your Foundation
The word “regression” sounds like a bad thing. I get that. Athletes are obsessed with progress, and they relentlessly push forward in pursuit of their goals. But here’s the thing—regressions help you achieve all of your athletic-related goals faster.
“Athletes as a whole will oftentimes view a regression as a shot against their ego, when the opposite is true,” says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS and owner of CORE in Brookline, Massachusetts. “If you take the time to fix faulty or aberrant movements, it’s only going to make you better in the long run.”
As a society, we don’t move all that well. Our lifestyles lead to postural issues, muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns. One problem many young athletes live with is anterior dominance, meaning that the muscles on the front of their bodies are significantly stronger than the ones on the back. Anterior dominance has become the norm in our society due to a couple of factors.
For starters, think about the position your body is in during most of your daily routine. Whether you’re driving your car, working on a computer, sitting at a desk or staring down at your smartphone, your body is forced into a similar position. Your neck is craned in front of your chest, your shoulders are rolled forward and up toward your head, your hands are out in front of you, and you’re probably bent forward at the pelvis with a rounded back. Over time, this hunched position tightens the muscles on the front of your body (e.g., the hip flexors and chest) and lengthens the muscles on the back of your body (e.g., the upper back). This stressful position has become a dominant aspect of daily life as people spend increasing amounts of time on their laptops, iPads, smartphones and other devices.
One byproduct of anterior dominance is excessive anterior pelvic tilt.
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“Over time, athletes can adopt an exaggerated posture where they go into what’s called excessive anterior pelvic tilt; their pelvis is rolled forward and their lower back is arched pretty hard. What that does is it decreases hip motion and increases spinal motion. When they try to get into a hip hinge pattern like a Deadlift, they move more through their back than their hips,” says Tony Bonvechio, CSCS and owner of Bonvec Strength.
Trying to properly perform exercises like the Squat or Deadlift with those existing issues is almost impossible. It’s not because a person is a bad athlete; it’s just that they have to retrain their body to move the right way before tackling big, explosive exercises.
“[Coaches often] try to overload the system too much too quickly, and then we wonder why athletes succumb to injury. The biggest thing is developing a sound base, sound biomechanics and movement quality. Can they even get to a certain position that we’d like to load the joints in?” says Matthew Ibrahim, CSCS and licensed manual therapist at Boston Underground Strength Training. “I wouldn’t build a house on quicksand. I would build it on a solid foundation. I liken that to movement and training.”
Regression is Progression
Regressions are all about building a strong foundation. When that foundation is in place, you’ll become a much more explosive, stronger, faster and healthier athlete than you could ever be without it.
So, what actually is a regression?
“A regression is scaling back an exercise. Take the Squat, for example. Let’s say we’re programming Barbell Back Squats and an athlete is not demonstrating the ability to perform the lift with pristine technique and form. A regression would be to load them in a Goblet Squat where they’re holding a dumbbell in front. That allows for better positioning and it forces them to work on their anterior core stiffness, among other things,” Ibrahim says. “Regressions are all about scaling back to meet the athlete at their current skill and ability level.”
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Regressions also make use of significantly less weight, allowing an athlete to learn the form and movement patterns without fear of getting injured. “[Regressions] are also loaded a lot lighter, so even if an athlete doesn’t get it right the first time, the load is so light that it’s not detrimental,” Gentilcore says.
Ready to Rebuild
Unless your exercise form is already totally pristine, you can benefit from regressions. Even if you’ve already been in the weight room for a few years, regressions can help you take a step back and clean up your form. Think of it like laying a sturdier, stronger foundation for the structure that is your overall performance.
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Here are some common regression routines for popular exercises:
If you’d like to regress the Barbell Deadlift, start by . . .
These exercises teach you how to brace your anterior core and keep a stiff spine.
These exercises teach you how push your heels into the ground and move through the hips while bracing your anterior core.
- Then progress to Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts
This exercise approximates the movement of a Barbell Deadlift without requiring quite as much range of motion or quite as heavy a load.
Though these exercises require slightly less range of motion than a Barbell Deadlift, they can be loaded similarly. For athletes with certain body types (tall), these lifts might actually be more appropriate then Barbell Deadlifting from the floor. Other athletes may progress to Barbell Deadlifts with light weight.
If you’d like to regress the Barbell Back Squat, start by . . .
This exercise is a great way to diagnose any issues your body might have in the Squat movement pattern. Having a fitness professional watch your movement and assess you can be extremely beneficial.
This exercise teaches you how to brace your anterior core, improve your hip mobility and reinforce the Squat movement pattern with a load.
This exercise further trains anterior core stiffness throughout the movement pattern, typically using a heavier load than Goblet Squats. After this, you’ll probably be ready to perform Barbell Back Squats with a light weight.
If you’d like to regress the Hang Clean, start by . . .
- Performing Hands-Free Barbell Front Squats
This exercises teaches you how to go through a range of motion with a barbell over the deltoids.
- Then progress to Barbell Front Squats
This exercise teaches you how to go through a range of motion in the Hang Clean catch position.
- Then progress to Jump Shrug Cleans
This exercise teaches you how to perform a large part of the Hang Clean motion with a light load. After this, you’ll probably be ready to perform Hang Cleans with a light weight.
If you’d like to regress the Bench Press, start by . . .
This exercise teaches you how to perform an upper-body push movement while creating tension throughout your anterior core.
This exercise teaches you how to perform an upper-body push movement but allows for more freedom through the shoulders. For athletes with shoulder issues, it might not make sense to progress to the Barbell Bench Presses after this. For those who can, progress but start with light weight.