When does an exercise or movement need to be progressed? Regressed? Altered? Or, in some cases, entirely replaced?
First and foremost, the “progression” or “regression” of an exercise is not always a comment or reflection on the skill or strength of the mover. Occasionally this is the case, but more often than not an exercise may not optimally suit the athlete! An example of this is a barbell back squat for an individual with longer legs and a shorter torso. Without going too deep into the biomechanics of this situation we can simply say that the exercise design does benefit the athlete because their limbs do not jive with the requirements of the movement. The good news is, in the category of leg dominant movements, there are many other options for the long legged athlete, which will provide a more than ideal training opportunity!
When a movement is altered, either by changing the position and application of weights, changing the position of the body, or choosing to remove weight and lower the intensity all together, it is in the name of creating a more efficient, optimal, and overall, safe exercise for the athlete. The manipulations of a movement may only need to be short term, for example after a long day at a desk the hips might be a bit less mobile and therefore squat movements may need to be performed to a box for one training session. Or, movement alterations may need to be applied over a longer period of time in order to create a specific change within a movement pattern. The goal whenever a movement is altered is to create a new awareness and perception within a movement pattern and help the athlete to gain a sense of using their body holistically and as one.
The names progression and regression are misleading. One does not imply progress in the traditional sense of the word, while the other does not mean mobbing backwards. Progressions of exercises generally will require greater coordination and higher-level control of more body parts simultaneously. A regression will lessen the stimulus on the athlete, allowing them to focus more singularly on a specific body part or aspect of a movement. When a coach chooses to regress or progress an athlete it is not a sign of, “you are good,” or, “ you are bad.” Rather, both a progression and regression say to an athlete, “we can make this more optimal for you, and therefore train better!” Essentially what a coach is looking for is the Goldie Locks exercise. A movement that is both challenging enough to elicit a strength and skill change in the athlete, while not so challenging that it becomes a physical detriment and technique integrity cannot be maintained.
Lastly, when does a movement need to be changed entirely? The long and short answer to these questions is when there is pain during a movement it is best changed. Pain is an immediate, “do not pass go,” scenario. There is almost always a way to train a muscle or muscles in a pain free way, and with that, pain is best not pushed through for the sake of training. Instead, altering a movement or changing it entirely can allow for an athlete to continue training, growing, and performing, while also letting their body heal! Good movement is good movement, and that will always be the first and foremost priority of training!!