Build From the Ground Up

Written by

” I also have questions about training people using CF when you feel the person should be doing something more along the lines of what Jim does but that person doesn’t want to hear that or won’t accept it. I was wondering how you deal with all of that?”

This is a question that I get quite often from owners and coaches at other gyms. I actually copied and pasted that one from an email that I got this morning from someone whom I had met while coaching at the “Train Like a Girl Seminar”. It just happened to work out that it related really well to what I wanted to talk about today.

The truth is, people are generally a pain in the ass. For example, last Thursday night a woman was shot leaving one of the bars by my gym. Apparently, she was leaving the bar with her boyfriend and some guy tried to take her purse. When she refused, he pulled out a gun and whipped the boyfriend, then shot her. It was in the arm, and she was fine. I don’t know how you shoot someone in the damn arm from point blank range. So, I am sure that it is some jackass idiot. Sure, that is way way worse than a guy who constantly argues with you that he doesn’t want to goblet squat, he wants to back squat. The point is that people are all pretty much just varying degrees of awful. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that there is a profession in which you don’t have to deal with any of them.

(Side story: Friday morning I was in the back parking lot with Dr. Quinn and we were approached by a WHAS 11 reporter who was out collecting “reaction” stories. She asked for us to do an interview and I made Quinn do it. Quinn is boring and gave generic answers. I realized afterwards that I should have done it. I could have been a YouTube sensation. I have powerful views and concepts on gun control and overpopulation that I believe could have been a real hit on the local news and then on to YouTube. Maybe even all the way to Tosh.O. Anyhow, I hear they caught the guy, so it is safe again if you guys want to drop by. Latest news said that he was caught trying to use her credit card…. solid criminal.)

pistol squatting on a ricketty ass ladder
Pistol squatting on a rickety ladder

I believe that the answer to this question is education. My number one goal when someone comes to me is that I want to educate them about what  I am doing and why. The more a person understands an idea the more they can buy into your concepts. As a coach, your goal is to build a team. Even if the team is two people, you and your athlete. It is still a team. In order to build a team, everyone must believe in the system and share a common goal.

Phil Jackson compares the building of a team to the 5 stages of Tribal Development from the book “Tribal Leadership” in his book, “11 Rings”.

Stage 1- Shared by most street gangs and characterized by despair, hostility, and the collective belief that “life sucks.”

Stage 2- Filled primarilly with apathetic poeple who percieve themselves as victims and who aere passively antagonistic, with the mindset that “my life sucks.”

Stage 3-  Focused primarily on the individual achievement and driven by the motto “I’m great (and you’re not).” According to the authors, people in this stage “have to win, and for them winning is personal. They’ll outwork and out think their competitors on an individual basis. The mood that results is a collection of “lone warriors”

Stage 4- Dedicated to tribal pride and the overriding conviction that “we’re great (and they’re not).” This kind of team requires a strong adversary, and the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.

Stage 5- A rare stage characterized by a sense of innocent wonder and the strong belief that “life is great”

I happen to believe that Phil Jackson knows a thing or two about coaching people. Sure, the X’s and O’s of basketball are much different that in the physical preparation game, but I believe that being a great coach has much more to do with your ability to create a system and then build a team who believes in that system.

I suppose that point finally brings me to the subject of this article. A sensible 10 step progression that will get anybody into a squat in a reasonable amount of time. I say reasonable just because everyone starts off in a different place. For some people it can take a couple of weeks before they are really strong enough to breathe standing up (correctly) . For others, they are already strong enough, we just need to change the pattern. This, of course, takes much less time.

The biggest thing that Eric has been working with me on since he started with the gym a couple of months ago, is putting the system for improving movement quality that is in my head into fancy spreadsheets in order to create a system that is uniform and repeatable no matter who the coach is. I suppose 13 years as a division 1 strength coach involves a ton of fancy spreadsheet making.

I focus on a pretty simple concept that I picked up at a Charlie Weingroff seminar a couple of years ago. That idea is that the more contact we have with the ground, the greater our ability to maintain correct position. Hence the title, “Build from the Ground Up” This 10 step progression serves as assessment and correction. If you can’t perform movement 8 properly, then keep doing 7 until you can, and so on. The beauty of it is that if you will just stop doing all the things that you are doing wrong, and only do the appropriate movement for where you are in the progression, then it doesn’t really take that long. I had a girl start at the beginning of the summer who couldn’t squat anymore than about 3 or 4 inches, and that was even with her knees diving in, because she was so weak. She was also a college Lacrosse player at University of Kentucky (vomit). When she first started she came in, we did some breathing drills, some glute activation work, and then some conditioning with ropes or something simple. We didn’t even think about a squat. Within about two weeks, we had progressed her into a good full goblet squat. I then let her start coming to the classes and told the appropriate substitutions to make. I came in yesterday, and she was in class back squatting… and it looked pretty damn good.

Is she moving perfectly? No.

Could she still benefit from more “corrective” programming? Probably, yes.

However, if we think about the question at the beginning of the article we can remember what a pain in the ass people can be. When you are in a private gym business and not in the collegiate or professional setting where people have to do what you say, it is important to give people a system that they can actually stick to. I think that by creating such a long progression, we create more milestones to keep our clients motivated and for them to be able to see and understand the progress that they are making. The fundamental concept is that until you are at level 10 of each of the main movements, then your goal is to reach the next step in the progression. Improved movement quality is going to support whatever your goal is. Then, once you get to level 9 or 10, your focus on preparing your client for whatever their personal goals are. Whether it be Crossfit, powerlifting, weightlifting, MMA, etc…

Colin's last heavy snatch session before USAW National Championships this weekend
Colin’s last heavy snatch session before USAW National Championships this weekend

10 step squat progression

1.- Breathing

2.- Psoas March/Glute Bridge

3.- Side Lying Clam Shells

4.- Crawling

5.-Half Kneeling Split Squat

6.- Goblet Squat to a box

7.-Goblet squat against wall

8.- Box Squat

9.- Back Squat/Front Squat

10.- Overhead Squat

The beauty of this progression is that is also works really well as a warmup for a squat day of someone who has the mobility for a good looking back squat, but is still relatively new or untrained. I tend to start all of my warmups for the classes that I teach from the ground and eventually by the end of the warmup we are standing up. I think that it works well for the ability to teach correct movement, as well as working out pretty damn well logistically.

(Spoiler alert… be on the lookout for more movement progressions and how to use them in a corrective manner in late fall with the release of “The Darkside Method of Improved Movement Quality”) Pow!


Ryan Brown is the head physical preparation coach and owner of Derby City CrossFit / DarkSide Strength in Louisville,Ky. Ryan’s focus is on correcting and perfecting movement/motor patterns to get the most out of his athletes. He has competed in CrossFit, Powerlifting, strongman, and currently Olympic lifting. His clients include; elite level power lifters, national level Olympic lifters, pro MMA fighters, college football players, HS athletes, CrossFitters, old broke people, and pretty much anyone else who wants to do something better.

Don’t miss out

Sign up today and receive our Foundations of Strength & Conditioning eBook for free! Plus get all the latest and greatest Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training content, straight to your inbox.

You may also like

Better Powerlifting by Bodybuilding

Better Powerlifting by Bodybuilding

So many people will probably skip right over this article because it is suggesting that something besides a “powerlifting routine” will make them a better …

Muscular Development and High Performance Sport

Muscular Development and High Performance Sport

This article relates to muscular development and high performance sport. It must be clear, however, that any morphological adaptations support the sports technical-biomotor-physiological requirements. Morphology, in …

The Vertical Jump Formula

The Vertical Jump Formula

By Chad Wesley Smith A great vertical jump is a quality that is coveted by many athletes, particularly basketball, volleyball and football players. This demand for …

What a Strong Woman Wants

What a Strong Woman Wants

We all know that looks aren’t everything; intelligence, humor, and quick wit are traits that many women admire in guys. Just like you men give …

Fixing the Snatch for the Crossfit Athlete

Fixing the Snatch for the Crossfit Athlete

To master the Olympic lifts it takes many years of repetitive daily training and drilling of the movements. And even then I’m sure some top …

5 Tips for Eating Huge

5 Tips for Eating Huge

I get questions all the time about how a person can eat the way that I do, and ingest so much of it. I haven’t …

Deadlift Tips and Tricks

Deadlift Tips and Tricks

Team Juggernaut is home to some of the strongest deadlifters in the World! With 7 deadlifters having pulled over 750 pounds in competition, TeamJTS is …

When to Eat Delicious Food and When to Avoid It

When to Eat Delicious Food and When to Avoid It

Knowledge is power. No matter how seemingly overused this statement is, it still retains its validity. Knowing more makes nearly every realm of practice more …

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up today and The Foundations of Strength & Conditioning eBook for free! Filled with over 145 pages and 40 hours of our best content throughout the years. Plus stay up date with all of our best new content for Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Nutrition, as well as special promotions and deals.

Shopping Cart
There are no products in the cart!
Continue Shopping