The human body is a system, a machine, and like any system they can leak energy if not properly tuned up for peak performance. In Movement Coaching this term pops up a lot regarding the join by joint approach. In kettlebell and clubbell training this refers to properly locking out joints to reduce torque and undue load, as well as force leaks.
Most of corrective movement is based on addressing compensation and dysfunction in the body and looking for these leaks in the system and in movement. One of the most important aspects of movement coaching is addressing the joint by joint approach and educating clients on the importance of this concept. Looking at how one joint works in conjunction with another can improve overall performance and connection to the tools they use for strength gains, as well as preventing injury.
Linkage refers to the structure; our mechanics working in an efficient and effective manner, joints packed, and tissue ready, moving without pain, without compensation or dysfunction. When our joints and systems are linked, we move with effective energy output, and with synergy.
Leakage refers to the opposite, where our structure performs inefficient movement, usually due to dysfunction or compensation in the body. The systems and joints do not move as they should and thus performance and energy is reduced and less efficient. Most often this occurs without the client or athlete’s knowledge, increasing the client’s risk of injury.
I encourage clients to look at the structure as a system of links; from hands to feet, inside to outside and to use this visualization every session as a sort of check list to avoid potential injury, avoid leaks (which over time can lead to injury), and to avoid decrease in performance. The joint by joint approach teaches athletes to look at the body as a whole system vs a compartmentalized system.
When you teach proper technique or address correcting a client’s lifting who’s been performing compensated patterns for some time, we have to consider and address what happens to their training lifts. The answer is that to move from leakage to linkage their performance output for a short time will almost certainly go down temporarily, but it is absolutely necessary for long-term sustainability and performance gains. You are building a foundation for progress and crisper movement.
In Gray Cooks Athletic Body in Balance, Gray discussing this linkage vs leakage as the following:
“It is possible for an athlete to perform well even when poor form is used, but eventually the athlete will experience breakdown, inconsistency, fatigue, soreness, and even injury.
It should be the goal of the training program to create efficient movement in the activity. This will conserve energy, keep the athlete relaxed, and allow the athlete to practice more and compete with less stress.
The problem is that poor form may be easier, more familiar, and more comfortable, and it may even seem to take less energy than proper form. Proper form, however, will take far less energy in the long run.
Poor form, even if it leads to some initial success, will eventually rob the athlete and cost far more time and effort than what is required to fix the weak links. Poor form can incorporate less overall muscle activity and therefore seem easier, but don’t confuse this feeling with efficiency.”
The Deadlift: Shouldering Responsibility
As an example of linkage vs leakage we will look at the mechanics of the deadlift; which not only includes the hip hinge, but the mechanics of the shoulder complex as well; which is greatly overlooked. We can explore this importance in the 2 phases of the KB deadlift; the “Lift” and the “Unload” phases.
The three directions in which forces are applied to human tissues are compression, tension, and shear in the deadlift . In a lift such as the weight being lifted and center of mass of the upper body and arms are a relatively long way from the vertebrae, and this creates torque (moment of force) that is transmitted to the lumbar vertebrae. Although the vertebrae are a collection of joints, we can visualize that the disc between lumbar vertebrae 4 and 5 is the center of rotation for this force and thus must be managed to ensure prevention of injury and proper distribution of load.
Coaching clients on locking the surrounding joints is an effective tool of bringing attention to possibility of leakage and replacing it with linkage. Locking the joints can act as a tool to visualize a “power source” in the locked elbow. It sends “energy” up the forearm and down into the shoulder. Simultaneously the arm is “growing longer” towards the kettlebell and “pressing hard into the shoulder socket”.
Very quickly the athlete or client will realize that the strength of his shoulder complex and lats in the deadlift is significantly dependant on the locking of the elbow and wrist because even if there is a minor bend in the elbow, the shoulder will destabilize and there will be a loss of control with minimal engagement of the lats .
How about the scapulothoracic complex? The mechanics of this complex are crucial because if the scapula does not perform efficiently there will be leakage in shoulder packaging. In the scapulothoracic complex, there is only one boney connection of the scapula to the entire axial skeleton (rib cage or vertebra) and that’s at the sternoclavicular (SC) joint. This is where the top end of the collar bone and sternum meet. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint and the SC joint are at each end of the collarbone connecting the shoulder girdle to the rest of the body. But that poor scapula is floating on the rib cage, held in place mostly by muscles and by two joints that aren’t much bigger than the joints in the index finger will result in leakage.
Cueing on how to engage and pack the shoulder effectively can greatly improve an athlete’s success in the deadlift pattern. When your structure has increased stiffness, this ultimately improves the transmission of the force up the chain with minimal waste and minimal loss of energy. The lift becomes much easier and flawless.
Once the athlete has lifted, the eccentric phase of lowering the weight is often not a focus point and where the athlete is fixated on the lift, the unload phase they can reduce efficiently by letting go of shoulder pack or losing mental fortitude. I coach clients to process the deadlift in two phases and we use verbally cueing for both. Pressing the KB “down” as you deadlift the KB up is a great way of ensuring linkage in the lift, but also coaching the athlete to stay stiff as they unload the body around the trajectory of the bell, moving through the hips will trigger more lat lock which then helps stabilize the shoulders more importantly the spine. The shoulders don’t move much during deadlifts–they stay back and down without protracting. The ankles, knees, and hips move and the arms “slightly” rotate in the shoulder joint, but the shoulders themselves do not round forward. This is what is meant by linking joints.
This is a process of not only restructuring mechanical patterns, but patterns within the brain. Muscles and tissue don’t just “leak” efficiency; they are trained to do so.
A great demonstration of how to coach “linkage” can be found in this video by Gray Cook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ile7azMZpLA
Not only does the “leakage” reduce the power of an athletic move but also it increases the stress on the joints. Replacing “leakage” with what Dr. Stuart McGill calls “linkage” is central to any system of strength training and or corrective movement. Whether that be training with kettlebells, Olympic lifts, clubbells sports, endurance athletics or yoga; making the connection to linking joints and systems will result in improved performance and reduction of risk overall. There is always the possibility of sacrificing form for output and this leaks the body of energy and potential; therefore, ensuring you are practicing proper technique for crisper coordination and movement.