What is our perception of this idea?

“We train xyz movement in our workout because in real life, we aren’t in perfect positions and we need to know how to handle being in ‘bad positions’”

Have you heard that statement before? Do you think it’s true?

I can’t say I disagree with it, but I think we go about training it in the wrong way.

I want to talk about training to control and own “bad positions” vs training IN bad positions.

What is a “bad position”?

Are there really “good positions” for the body to be in and are there really “bad positions”?

What I think of when I hear “bad position” is either 1 of 2 things

1). A position that increases the likelihood of damaging tissue and/or is neurologically threatening
2). A position that is less efficient

I doubt people are really worried about the real world “risk” of being in a position that is less efficient than another, so I am going to assume we’re talking about a “bad position” as one that opens the door for injury and how in real life, we need to be able to control that.

The “bad positions” I most commonly see during people’s workouts are

  • Rounded low back
  • Knees diving inward
  • Necks being jutted forward (think top of an American kettlebell swing)
  • Heels coming off the ground in squatting

What is likely to get damaged/irritated in a “bad position”?

Tissues differ in the time it takes for them to heal due to differences in their blood supply and cellular makeup. Muscles and bones are relatively fast healers with a good blood supply. Ligaments and discs are relatively slow healers with relatively poor blood supply. This means that your time frame, quantity, and load for training those tissues will be different from each other.

A bad position that is likely to damage tissue and/or is neurologically threatening is one that stresses the slow healers. Basically you are stressing ligaments and discs more than in a “good” position.

What is training “bad positions” vs training IN bad positions?

What are some examples? Think about your feet and ankles. In a normal double under or single under you land on your feet normally. There is not a ton of load through ligaments that is likely to cause damage. Say you landed on the sides of your feet, simulating how you would sprain an ankle. That is a “bad position” by our definition because it is more likely to cause ligament damage.

Some people argue, and I agree with them, that you can “train” that position so that it’s not perceived by the brain as dangerous and to improve the strength of the passive connective tissues.

The position in and of itself, an inverted ankle, is a normal range of motion the ankle should have. So the position in and of itself cannot be “bad” since it’s a normal to have it. But it would be “bad” to train it in that position during a double under. See the distinction?

Why am I explaining this about the ankle? Because it’s more obvious than other areas of the body. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that doing double unders on the sides of your feet is a good idea when training metabolic capacity or training jumping skills.

Yet these same people will argue that we should train GHD situps in a conditioning workout. In a GHD sit-up the low back is going to be rounded at the top and fully extended at the bottom. When the question comes up about why this movement is used, the answer is often “because you have to train bad positions because those come up in real life”.

I get it. I do. I don’t disagree we should be able to control our spine through its full range of motion. But are we training to be “strong in bad positions” or are we really training IN bad positions?

What are your goals?

What is your goal for your training session today? If you are training to improve your strength or metabolic conditioning, you should be doing it in good positions that have the least potential for injury.

We agreed “bad position” was one that opens the door for injury and stresses the poor healers. Why, then, if you are training your metabolism or maximal strength would you want to open the door for potential injury? To train maximal strength and/or metabolic capacity requires high loads and/or high reps. Is that really the best way and time to train your “poor healers” for resilience? Do you really want to subject them to high loads and high reps when the purpose of your training is to improve metabolic capacity or strength?

As Dan John has been quoted saying, “Your goal is to keep your goal your goal”. Don’t forget what your goals for that particular training session are.

If anything, the metabolic conditioning and strength training sessions should be focused on resisting leaving a “good position” vs training control in a bad position.

Let’s use the low back as an example again. Instead of repetitively training the low back to work through its full range of motion while attempting to improve overall conditioning and/or strength, we should use movements that train us to not leave what we would consider a “good”, “neutral” position of the low back and save the “bad position” movements for when we are specifically training the poor healers to improve their resilience.

Example of movement I wouldn’t use in metabolic conditioning: GHD sit-up

Example of movement I would use in metabolic conditioning: kettlebell swing/deadlift/clean (given good technique of course)

Catching cleans with bad form in a metabolic conditioning workout and saying you are “training to resist bad positions” is a bad excuse to be lifting with bad form.

If you aren’t sure why rounding the low back repetitively is maybe not the best idea, make sure to read this article

So when WOULD you expose yourself to bad positions?

Clearly “bad positions” exist in real life. You have to move a couch and you are forced to round your back to pick it up. You are going underneath the sink to fix a leak and have to twist awkwardly. You step off that curb we talked about earlier and your ankle rolls. There is no denying those situations exist and we need to train for those to avoid injury. But it makes no sense to train for those during the same session we are training something else. You are playing with fire.

Training bad positions should be done in a session where your goal is to be resilient to bad positions. That seems obvious, right? The time to train “bad positions” isn’t with 300lbs on your back or when you have 200 reps to do.

Saying you are doing GHD sit-ups in a conditioning workout because you want to train bad positions in your spine pretty much makes as much sense as back squatting with weight and letting your knees drop in together. There is a time and a place, but we need to choose wisely.

When exposing yourself to these positions, it should be in a very controlled environment and done very slowly. We are talking months to several year progressions here. My best advice: proceed, but proceed with caution. This is an area that has a few people leading the way (Ido Portal being the first one that comes to mind) and I can’t wait to learn more from them about their progressions.

But for the time being, I will keep my metabolic training and strength training separate from my “bad position” training. What about you?

In a follow up to this article, guest blogger Zack Finer from MoveSkill will tell us HOW he goes about training “bad positions” with more specific details.


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