The Joint By Joint Approach: Not Just For Stoners

Let’s talk about the Joint by Joint approach, shall we?

Now bear with me here, I’m gonna get a teeny bit science-y, but I promise to keep it simple(ish).  As an owner of a human body, this is going to be helpful for you to know.

The Joint by Joint Approach is a term coined by world famous strength coach/ wizard Mike Boyle. Coach Boyle developed the idea after a conversation with physical therapist/ viking warrior Gray Cook (founder of the Functional Movement Screen, my favorite screening tool).  A conversation with Cook about his theories of human movement led Coach Boyle to predict that the future of training will rely on an understanding of and appreciation for the unique mobility and stability needs of each joint. Furthermore, the primary need for mobility or stability in a given joint tends to alternate throughout the body.

Um… not the kind of joints I’m talking about.

But thanks burnout guy.

Now go back to skateboarding.

Before I break this down further, let me state the obvious: all your joints need mobility AND stability. Sometimes the Joint by Joint gets criticized because people feel it doesn’t take this obvious fact into account.  I think this is an unfair criticism.  By no means is the Joint by Joint saying that joints only need one or the other.  It’s merely making it clear that some joints need a certain amount of mobility to do their job properly and other joints require more stability to do their job in the body.  I would go into this further and talk about mechanoreceptors and Charlie Weingroff’s Core Pendulum theory, but all you would hear is BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH…

Confused yet?  Let’s unpack it further.

Sooooo for instance, your ankle joint needs mobility.  If your ankle’s are stiff and don’t possess a full range of motion (particularly moving front to back), it’s going to make it hard to move well.  And while your knees hinge front to back, it’s also important they have stability so they don’t move from side to side or twist.  If you’re ankles are tight, your knee health could eventually be compromised because your knee will have to provide motion that your ankle can’t provide (by twisting or moving side to side: wah wah).

Next up are your hips.  The hips need… mobility!  If you hips are stiff and tight, the body will get the range of motion elsewhere, often from the the low back (hello low back pain).

The low back (specifically lumbar spine) needs stability, so it can resist motion and provide support for the limbs to produce force and transfer energy from the ground.  The upper back (or thoracic spine) needs mobility, which most of us lack because we spend a lot of time hunched over computer screens reading my newsletters.  Your scapulo-thoracic joint (where your shoulder blades get friendly with your ribcage) needs stability.  A stable scapulo-thoracic joint provides a base for the shoulders and arms to do stuff… pick up heavy weights, press kettlebells over your head, give high fives to strangers who look like they need some cheering up, lift up drunk girls and take them out of the bar before they get into fights, etc.

Now to be clear, this is a waaaaay simplified version of the Joint by Joint.   Even so, hopefully it gives you a basic understanding of what I believe to be one of the guiding principles of a well rounded training program.  For trainer types, feel free to check out Coach Boyle’s original article, which in addition to be a more in depth and science-y analysis, provides some solid ideas for how to implement this theory into your program design.  It’s an oldie but a goodie!


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