Author Archives: Steve Crandall

We Are Jenga Towers

We are Jenga towers.


Training is like trying to win at Jenga.  Continually building while maintaining a good foundation and not degrading any gains already made.  In a game of Jenga we take one piece out at a time from the bottom of the tower and place the miniature brick at the top to build the tower up but sacrificing stability near the foundation of the structure.  If we do this carefully and accurately as we stack each brick then we have a better chance of finding symmetry, keeping constant, and not letting the tower crash.

Think like our body is the Jenga tower and all the pieces crashing is an injury or our body triggering a pain response.


A brick that is immovable is similar to stiffness (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  That immovable brick is playing a pivotal role in maintaining stability in that place in the tower and more so the whole balance of the structure.  The anterior hip is a good comparison (think iliacus, illiopsoas; hip flexors)where most chronically active people (i.e. athletes) have compromised the integrity of those tissues and the head of our femur cannot sit in our hip (acetabulum) correctly.  Since the femoral head rarely takes advantage of the space near the back to of the hip (posterior capsule, especially on the left hip) the “ball”  is not approximated in the “socket”  to its correct position so our body compensates.  It compensates in many different ways.  What is one thing that can happen in this case?  Our hip flexors get “tight” or “stiff”.  Well of course they do! Something has got to keep that thing in place!  Is that the best stabilization strategy your body can come up with?  I don’t think so but given what we have done to our hips that’s what can happen.  So go easy trying to stretch those babies out all the time.  Instead make hip hinge patterns a priority.  Driving proper hip extension with a stable pelvis and lumbar spine are the money maker exercises.


Second, a brick that is loose and easily taken out and moved around, you know the one you get mad at the person who pulled it out right before your turn…Think of that brick as ligament laxity.



Well if you have an immovable brick then something has to balance out right? Just like how the body compensates.  In low back and/ or neck pain and you can palm your hands to the ground during a toe touch?  Or maybe no pain and you can bring your thumb to your wrist?  Look at gymnasts, I would love some of that mobility but then again we might have to spend a lot of time stabilizing all that range of motion.


If we cannot maintain fundamental movement as we progress with our training that is the equivalent to building an unstable tower.  How some of us tend to train is like playing Jenga with a hot glue gun.  We build the tower higher and higher (gaining strength and endurance) but sacrifice mobility, stability, and basic fundamental movement.  So we force more stability on our body (via the hot glue gun) and we build the tower higher.  But at what cost is making the tower taller? Eventually we are taking out too many bricks and having to glue in odd places and overall building and asymmetrical, unreciprocal, inefficient structure.  The tower will still fall and then we have to clean up the mess from all this glue.  Then we find ourselves still having to unglue things just to build them back up.  For example being in chronic neck pain; a good therapist may tell you, your neck is not the culprit, it is the lack of dorsiflexion in your ankles.

Or it could be similar to adding 40 pounds to a deadlift all the while not being able to touch our toes; strength on top of hypertonicity (stiffness).  Or running 10 plus miles a week when you cannot adduct a hip.  What the hell does that mean?  Better yet you keep running and getting really sore on the front of your shins but its okay because you always felt it there…bring on the glue.

hot glue meme

How do we know when we have tipped the balance of risk and reward when training?  When you are training properly it is like cheating playing Jenga.  We use our hands to pack the stack tighter and more symmetrical so there is less of a chance for a collapse or in comparison (pain, dysfunction or injury).  Training is like playing Jenga and the table is constantly being shaken.  So if we don’t straighten out the stack regularly we are not going to be able to make efficient, long lasting gains on top of a brain and body with sound fundamental function before we have to start all over.