Functional Training Zones

Are you in "The Zone"? – Zone Lifting & Movement Concepts

By Guy Massi, SSC, SCS, CFSC, CTBS
Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development
Massi – Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC

Sorry to disappoint, but no mention of fat burning zones, anaerobic threshold, "P.E.O.C." or the likes in this article. The zones I'm referring to are related to functional movement, lifts and resistance training, as well as the positive (and negative) slots and channels associated with strength and power movements. I guess one my say that I'm what's referred to as a "visual learner". I think that most people are. However, if you're not; I'm still a firm believer that a constant point of reference, practical illustration and demonstration always serves to drive a point home.

For more than two decades now, I've staunchly stood behind the idea of operational zones for practically every movement as a means to develop sound biomechanical movement practices. It has served me well to establish a set of base movement principles and constant points of reference, as it pertains to strength, power, Olympic lifts and movements in general. It has been an easily identifiable, immediate "quantifier" that has summed up many a concern regarding movement, and even served as quite a simple self-check system for clients and athletes alike. It is an easily coachable language for one, or a room full of persons, allowing them all to "speak the same language" after a brief orientation period. Although its' illustration is chiefly presented within the frontal and sagittal view, it also seamlessly translates as a point of reference while moving through the transverse and para-planes alike. Let's take a look at it.

First, we introduce all of our clients and athletes to the aspect planes of movement relating the following four planes as our base markers; Frontal (a.k.a. Coronal), Sagittal (a.k.a. Median), Para-Sagittal (a.k.a. Para-median), and Transverse (a.k.a. Axial). Thereafter we show them a very simple slide that illustrates the linear aspect associated with proper technique and injury reduction, which demonstrates the role that each hinge plays in the process of set-up, kinetic involvement (a.k.a. "firing order") and participation in movement. (See figure 1 below – a good foundational reference that begins to embed the idea of proper biomechanics) The ankle hinge controls the tibia angle, the knee hinge controls the femur angle, and the pelvic hinge controls the torso angle – that's it! Believe it or not, I've observed seasoned clients and athletes alike come to epiphany over this simple illustration.


Thereafter, we aim to revolutionize (not complicate) the disciplines associated to their movement. We utilize a frontal reference that numerically delineates zones along that coronal plane, utilizing our commonly found Arabic Numerals. (See figure 2 below) In the frontal plane, we refer to the ground as being zero (0). Thereafter, any movement from/within the floor to the knees is considered a "Zone 1" movement or lift. Any movement beyond the knee to the waist is considered a "Zone 2" movement or lift. Any movement beyond the waist to the shoulders is considered a "Zone 3" movement or lift. Any movement past the shoulders and short of a complete overhead catch is considered a "Zone 4" movement or lift. Finally, any full overhead catch is simply referred to as a "Zone 4 Overhead". That's it, and that's how it remains for us – FOREVER. Now everyone training in the facility speaks the same language concerning these zones. That's not to say that some movements won't touch multiple zones.

In fact, some simple examples are:

• Dead Lift (Zone 1 and 2 lift)
• High Pull (Zone 1, 2 and 3 lift that most probably brushes zone 4)
• Clean (Zone 1, 2, 3 and 4 lift) even though the Zone 4 aspect of the catch isn't "active" it includes zone 4 as a landing point prior to the front squat finish.
• Hang Clean (Zone 2, 3 and 4 lift)
• Snatch (Zone 1, 2, 3, 4 and 4 Over head) regardless of the biomechanical change of elevation.

Should you also need to "tag" the starting point, it might look something like these:

• Dead Lift (Zone 1 and 2 lift from 0)
• Hang Clean (Zone 2, 3 and 4 lift from 2) – assuming that you are setting up, above the patellar tendon of course.

An argument could be made that depending upon the starting point of a movement (i.e. Shoulder Press) that would become "new 0". However, for all intents and purposes, we maintain the aforementioned zone reference as an overall easily translated global model – so please amuse me friends.


Continuing onto the sagittal view, please refer to figure 3 above in order to relate to further commentary. In looking at this figure in the sagittal view, you will notice it refers alphabetically to points found when breaking the frontal plane and intersecting with points of the sagittal and transverse aspects. Here we refer to these points as "slots" by which to operate in during the course of a given movement. Slots A, B, C & D from the chest out into space, while zones X, Y, and Z are intended for the purpose of Catch, Near Overhead or Overhead catch reference. Clearly, slot A is a common fare, sound and primary operating slot, while slot B is quite frequently "brushed" in the course of travel. (These two are known as interior slots) As you move further away from the body, and begin to engage with slots C and D (known as exterior slots); experience has proved that one is basically flirting with a trip to the chiropractor, physical therapist or orthopedist. (The exception disclaimer of course is; when dealing with Kettle Bell swings and the likes, controlled entry and operation in the exterior slots is acceptable, yet more in the "ride" portion of the movement subsequent to the initial and preceding "primary explosive" portion. – different article for a different day) When operating in sound proximity to the interior slots found immediately near the body, the load remains in a safety "slot" that encourages positive biomechanical pattering and quality movement that is supported by our base hinges and levers. (Maximal equalization of load) Thereafter; X, Y and Z generally refer to catch zones. Obviously, X can become an operational zone in certain pulls and other movements that don't necessarily land there depending upon anatomical angle and operation. (I.e. High Pull or Shoulder Press – but remember just points of reference my friends) Thereafter and obviously, the further you move from the axis of this illustration (front or back) during conventional movement, the risk of injury increases exponentially. So, keep it close and let your speed, power, hinges and levers do their job maximally. Biomechanics meets neuro-muscular capacity, thereby providing a degree of resistance neutralization.


In reference to points away from the sagittal plane, yet along or in relation to the frontal – we simply use the clock. Everyone can relate to this. (See figure 4 below) Whether beginning or ending points, along or across planes; this method portrays a pretty comprehensive reference just short of utilizing a more complicated grid or longitude/latitude system. Verbally you would refer to the "o'clock" markers, while as not to confuse the numerical value of the aforementioned "zones". Written and visual differentiation of numerical reference between zones and channels, would simply be accomplished through utilization of Roman Numerals (as opposed to Arabic Numerals) to indicate "o'clock". (i.e. Pulling a band with your right hand diagonally in front of your face from your left shoulder starting at your ten o'clock, and finishing overhead right at your one o'clock would equal a; Zone 4 to 4 Overhead diagonal movement from a X o'clock start at the left shoulder to a I o'clock finish). Thusly, clearly differentiating the Arabic Numeral and Roman Numeral designation independently and respectively held by zone(s) versus channels.


Quick Word on Segments & the Supine

For all those "pause repiteres" and "segment bandits" out there; beyond the aforementioned primary zones, we like to include only two segments per zone for segment or pause-type training. (See figure 5 below – a one zone lift with two segments therein. "S1" and "S2") Simple stuff. Whether bilateral standing, supine or otherwise; we identify a segment 1 (that exists in the beginning half concentric portion of a given movement) and a segment 2 (that exists in the concentric finishing portion of a given movement and prior to the intended descent). This can also be translated to its eccentric counterparts by designating the segment for eccentric vs. concentric patterning, etc. Having the aforesaid knowledge, and without much debate; for the supine set-up, we utilize the very beginning of a conventional pressing movement (end range of the eccentric, beginning of the concentric) in the supine as zero (0). This basically leaves a 1 zone movement with two segments therein. Slots apply in "take-off" and "landing", while the clock shouldn't apply as it would indicate negative drift.

Closing Thoughts & "Disclaimer"

So, there it is; Zones, Slots and Channels. The disclaimer here being; it may not be the end-all-be-all biomechanical movement reference system, and the illustration delineations may be open for a little debate and interpretation - yet should help to serve one well in some tangible capacity. You can now effectively up your coaching game by providing new verbal and visual points of reference, and even draw up movement equations like a "football play" if necessary. A language that everyone speaks around our facilities, and remains easily translated, cued and coached for safe and superior quality training and development sessions. It is my opinion; albeit that the above system may seem a bit challenging to present at first, ultimately serves as an invaluable guide in the training and performance environment. It's also proved to be a necessary prerequisite prior to progressing towards more involved Biomechanical Reactivity Training – B.R.T. (yet, another article for another day) I hope that this reference system will prove to serve as a means to enhance linear efficacy and avoid drifting in related movement, control negative rotation during dynamic movement and serve to develop sound neuro- muscular and biomechanical response. Keep in mind the notion of "Proper form (technique) equalizes load for quality movement", and further reflect that; greatness is forged not fabricated! - it comes through hard work (aka persistent, diligent effort). Although we cannot perform the sets and reps for our clients or athletes, we do have an obligation to provide them with the most comprehensive and easily utilized tools by which to guide them.

About the author:
Guy Massi is the Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development for Massi-Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC with three locations in New York, and has been developing clients and athletes for over twenty years. He i s also on the Board of Advisors for Tsunami Bar and serves in a network affiliate advisory capacity to Haven Physical Therapy, PLLC & Sofos Chiropractic, PC also of New York. Coach Massi is available for speaking engagements, training and workshops by contacting Perform Better or by e-mailing For a complete bio, list of projects, and services please visit