Beating A Dead Horse? Core Stability, Part 1 – Core Instability: A Personal History

There has been TONS of information written on the concept of “core stability” over the last 15-20 years. Between that and creatine, I’d argue that these are the most “covered” topics.

So why am I writing about it?

Because after 12 years, I’ve finally got it again.

How the freak has it taken me 12 years to get this information and apply it?

Well, honestly, because I’m stubborn.

If you can relate (stubborn) stick with me.


I first hurt my back in 1998 Back Squatting late at night. During that period of time, I was studying Paul Chek’s works. And at that time, Paul, and everyone else it seemed, advocated actively sucking your navel to your spine to “activate” the fabled Transverse abdominus – one of the key muscles in the “Inner Unit.” I had been playing with it on certain exercises and foolishly decided to apply it mid-squat session. BSQ’s were last in the workout that night and I was supposed to hit 160kg for 10 doubles with 60s rest between sets. I think I was on set 5 when I heard a loud pop accompanying a sharp pain in my left SI joint.

Tough guy that I am, I completed another set and a half before I decided to quit.

I couldn’t squat for another 6 months. Fun.

The second time I hurt my back was on a rep max set of Deadlifts with 405lbs in 2002. I was doing this after Snatches and Cleans with around 70%. I heard another loud pop on the left side again on the 8th rep. But I determined to go to 10 so once more, foolishly, so I continued.

I couldn’t get out of bed the next day and couldn’t bend over for a week. My abs and diaphragm were locked in spasm.

About this time, conveniently, I was neck deep in studying model on a company that still has a big name in the fitness world. Little did I realize that the developer of this model completely ripped off the FMS and misapplied some key concepts, not least of which was “Reactive Neuromuscular Training.” (Makes sense why I won’t name “the model” now, huh?)

I was still using kettlebells in my own training and with my clients at this time, but was relying heavily on “the model” and honestly, making very little progress, at least by my definition. I did, by combining “the model” and what I had learned in the original Russian Kettlebell Challenge book (a classic to this day), finally get rid of the chronic and nagging throbbing in the bottom of my left heel.

But both my knees were routinely sore, despite passing “the model’s” guidelines, loading up the reverse hypertension machine to 500lbs, excessive foam rollering and quad/hip flexor stretching, and so I trained around them.

But shortly thereafter, in January 2005, while training for a weightlifting meet three months away, and having some stellar training progress, I injured my right hip. Badly. Walking became difficult. Squatting and pulling almost non-existent. Single arm kettlebell lifting was working well though. I took a cortisone shot and the thing cooled off.

Then in June, I went to the RKC because I still couldn’t swing that darn cannonball with a handle through my legs using 2 hands without back pain.

It was awesome. I learned how to Swing properly. How to pull myself into my squat with my hip flexors (At least you’re supposed to do that – I couldn’t really do it…). How to really press with your lats to protect your shoulders. And a ton of other stuff on movement and strength.

I met the Evil Russian and made some fast friends, some of whom, like Brett Jones, I am honored to call my friends.

In September of ’05 I injured my left hip while warming up with 50kg in the Overhead Squat. I knew immediately what I’d done as it felt virtually the same as the right one. The MRI concluded that indeed it was the same injury as my right one.

By November, I couldn’t sit on the john without lowering myself using my arms.

Enter Z-Health in January 2006. We hosted the first East Coast R-Phase and my business, Triangle Personal Training, became a launching pad for Z’s East Coast Ops. We went full in as a business. I went full in as a trainer. I extensively studied R-Phase and when my colleagues got their certs in March, I waited until December to finish mine. The payoff was that I-Phase in July of 2007 was a piece of cake from a movement perspective.

After making “fast” progress on the pain and movement re-acquisition front, I competed in a weightlifting meet in November 2007, for the first time in almost 8 years. I Snatched 10kg below my competition best.

But I hurt my left hip once again in April of 2008 during a pre-comp Snatch workout. (It was the best Snatch workout I had in 8 years!)

From there, I never recovered.

The rest of 2008 and the first half of 2009 was spent trying to fix the hip and gain some traction, some momentum, something.

I ran a high-volume Squat cycle in July of ’09 but could never find my groove. And after traveling to Hungary and San Diego, it seemed I lost it completely. Upon returning, I climbed back under the Squat bar and had no strength and no groove. And my left hip was hurting. Again.

Once again I found myself unable to squat and was rapidly losing my strength, no matter how much Z I was doing.

So, in November, I flew to Pittsburgh to see Brett Jones to see if he could help me out and find out what was wrong with my left hip.

Brett put me through the Functional Movement Screen. I got a 11 or 13 out of 21. I had no core stability and several asymmetries. Weird.

Now here’s a question I’ll leave you with:

How could I have done 4 years of Z-Health –

  • cleared their visual tests
  • cleared their vestibular tests
  • cleared their myofascial winding tests
  • have above average joint mobility and
  • have above average movement control

And still have asymmetries and a lack of core stability?

I’ll answer that in my next post on this topic…

15 comments… add one
  • Dr. Jim Ryan Apr 1, 2010 @ 10:58

    The term ‘necessary but not sufficient’ comes to mind. Awaiting your next post (I’m in a similar way as you, having been to my chiropractor 3 times in the last week)…

  • Donovan Worland Apr 1, 2010 @ 12:48

    Yes….I learned a similar movement screening system, it showed up in a watered down form in a MAJOR corporate gym. I had to use the model you are talking about sparingly eventually, I was lucky I was a massage therapist or I could have had some folks get hurt. Stay strong, you post great inspiration for us GS heads.

  • mc Apr 1, 2010 @ 13:19

    Hi geoff,

    i guess a question to your questions that i have is after all that time with Z on your own -whatever that means – you decided that instead of going to see Eric, say, or your physical therapist partner Courtney – to just not do anything? Effectively you waited till 2009, and rather than going to see Eric or Zach, for example, for a one on one, you went to see Brett for a one on one assessment?

    It’s super that you’ve had some assistance there that’s working for you. Awesome news. But i’ll be intrigued to understand why that choice at that time?

    Also, you didn’t mention gait in terms of analysis. Was that all perfect too?

    Now by contrast i’ve had athletes this year with 21s on their FMS and still have issues elsewhere that z-health work has helped get a handle on how to reassess stuff. I don’t think that’s ever caused me to think how come these athletes “cleared their screens” and still have problems?

    So will be keen to see where you’re going.


  • Eric Kenyon RKC Apr 1, 2010 @ 13:57

    Great story Geoff, keep it coming.

  • Randy Hauer Apr 1, 2010 @ 14:51

    “How could I have done 4 years of Z-Health -And still have asymmetries and a lack of core stability? ”
    Because everybody does to some extent.
    And because neither Z nor FMS can account for or predict what happens under load. Dowel squats and loaded overhead squats are not the same thing…as Brett will tell you. But a dowel squat won’t predict what will happen in a loaded overhead squat as your experience confirms.
    Exercise Systems: caveat emptor baby, caveat emptor.

  • Brett Jones Apr 1, 2010 @ 19:36

    Not to answer for Geoff but…Geoff had several private sessions with Dr. Cobb over that time span in Z and Zachariah did work with him so the “whatever that means” is he had a highly trained Z trainer wife working with him, had several session with Dr. Cobb etc…
    mc if you are having a lot of 21’s in the screen you are either falling into the best athletes around or not being strict enough on the screen – film one of your 21’s so I can see. I have seen maybe 3 21’s in all the years I have been screening people.
    and yes – you can have a 21 and still have pain – it is a screen not a panacea.

    Laying a movement foundation by clearing movement restrictions and asymmetries should come before loading and once you are ready for load then it is down to learning the skill of the lift and proper application and programming.
    5+ years of NFL data and recent military study confirm that if you are under 14 with asymmetries you are twice (or more) likely to get injured.

    Taking the car to the garage to get checked makes sense before a race or a cross country trip – why does clearing movement restrictions and asymmetries not make sense?

    So the question to you is Why not screen?


  • Mike McNiff Apr 1, 2010 @ 20:33

    Geoff, excellent post brother. My only complaint is I wish you weren’t so busy so you could write more.

    MC, I think Brett answered the questions that I was going to. Geoff didn’t give a detailed history, because frankly it’s really not necessary to the point he was trying to make.

    However, to answer the question that Geoff posed at the end, it makes perfect sense how you could clear the tests and still suffer asymetries. When you start to focus on the trees (joint mobility) it’s very easy to lose the forest (the body/performance.) If you’re only goal is to clear the test you’re never forced to implement a program that fixes the issues that brought you to the failed test. To be honest with you I’m more concerned with the movement issues/asymetries that people face that DON’T cause pain, then the ones that do.

  • Logan Christopher Apr 1, 2010 @ 20:58

    Very interesting to read your history of injury Geoff. I’m very interested in your next post.

    I like what Brett said, “it is a screen not a panacea”. All different methods and modalities have their place but no one things covers it all.


  • Zachariah Salazar Apr 2, 2010 @ 1:23

    But Geoff you DID NOT finish or follow the Z protocols. We discussed that the last time we met together over dinner…and Brett was there. We had a discussion about the Z model, the training direction you should go in AND that Brett SHOULD take you through the FMS… cuz more info is always more! As Dr Cobb says “Good data does not replace good data; it ADDS to it.”
    You never got back to me, took forever to get around to having Brett test you and now Z doesnt work. Well not finishing a routine will stop your results as well.
    As coaches and athlete we all should use EVERY tool to make us the best safe high performer we can be.
    And before anyone gets off track Z is a model for nervous system based training. It works on everyone, every time. Just like the FMS works every time, like a kettlebell, like a barbell. You get data and decide whether to progress with the current plan.
    Example: you go to a doc, he or she taps your patella for a reflex test. The knee jumps. Or it doesnt. Does the doc say the test “worked” or not? NO its gathering data. Everything is an individual result whether you are testing a toe pull, a Movement Screen or a Workout. They all work up to a point, nothing will make you heal all comers and everything is info towards the next move.


  • Randy Hauer Apr 2, 2010 @ 10:24

    “Taking the car to the garage to get checked makes sense before a race or a cross country trip – why does clearing movement restrictions and asymmetries not make sense?
    So the question to you is Why not screen?”
    Your car can check out perfectly OK, but that still doesn’t “clear” you to tow a trailer heavier than manufacturer’s spec.

    I’ve seen Geoff move…quality movement isn’t his issue. Injuries will happen, as I’m sure you will agree, screen or no screen…especially if you load too much too fast with insufficient recovery/adaptation time.

    I’ll be interested to see how the NFL study correlates with and controls for rules changes, equipment improvements, positions (skill vs line) and the types of injuries.

  • Brett Jones Apr 2, 2010 @ 11:36

    No Randy the screen cannot account for all variables (never said it did).

    The NFL data has held consistent over 5+ years.

    Again – performance does not equal function.

  • Piers McCarney Apr 3, 2010 @ 0:20

    I find it ironic that a patella reflex test has been brought up, in this context, seeing that a lot of posting here seems to be knee jerk reactions.

    Perhaps I am mistaken, but I don’t think Geoff has actually said “Z doesn’t work” yet. In fact, for months I’ve seen him mention how he will talk about his opinions on Z and his work with it, but I have never seen him flat out say that it doesn’t work or is worthless.
    I have no connection to either Z or FMS and as such I’m simply interested to see what Geoff’s opinion of his complete experience is. No matter what he says, will it prove that one is correct and the other is false? Hell no, even if that’s what he ends up saying. I love Gym Movement, which is my personal controversy, but will it fix all my issues? No way; I don’t know every human movement pattern, neural hack or regenerative stimulus in the world, so how could I test/implement them all with GM? We’re all limited by our respective skill sets, I seriously envy anyone with a “full” knowledge of both Z & FMS techniques, because it just makes your toolbox that much more complete, IMHO.

  • Russ Moon Apr 4, 2010 @ 19:21

    Tues Mar 30th Snatch Test – 100 reps w 24 kg in 4 minutes
    Saturday – TGU 5 reps w 32 kg static work, position work prior to 5th consecutive TGU did 4 continuous Roll to Press, Press to Elbow, Elbow to Post then on the 5th rep of that drill went ahead with the full TGU.
    That was another first for me. Rewarded myself by ordering a set of 40 kg’s. Might be back to deadlifting for a while, but I like those basic exercises and I bet the sweat is going to pore off me, can’t hurt though it’s a basic move.

    Enjoying the dialogue, makes me more focused on continuing my study of KFTGU and just keep going as it is “fixing” multiple physical hiccups at the same time.

  • Tim Apr 4, 2010 @ 20:37

    Geoff, simple answer to the Z question. ” The human body is an incredible machine”

  • Mike T Nelson Apr 6, 2010 @ 15:59

    In my experience, the longer and more intense (more pain) the harder they are to resolve. If anyone has a ton of success with chronic pain athletes, please drop me a line ASAP as I want to know what you are doing. Note, chronic pain in the sense that is happens all the time in various locations.

    At some point, you will need to
    1) address the nervous system to get a reduction in pain and move better. This helps with brain adaptations to pain also
    2) address the mechanics of the tissue.

    At its simplest level, you need to remove older “bad” tissue and have it be replaced with better “new” tissue in a symmetrical fashion.

    There are many ways to do this and the body is ALWAYS adapting, so we just have to stay focused on the correct stimulus.

    Once we have the correct stimulus, local tissue turnover is probably the limiting factor (and there are a few way we may be able to speed that up).

    rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

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