Athlete Hierarchy of Needs

Athlete hierarchy of needs

The Athlete Hierarchy of Needs is a guide that our coaches use to assess our clients to determine the best possible prescription to help them reach their goal. 

The Hierarchy is made up of five tiers: Flexibility, Mobility, Strength Balance, Work:Recovery, and Skill. 

By assessing these areas in order, we find the lowest hanging fruit for our clients to make progress whether it be fixing pain, or breaking through a performance plateau. 


The first tier of the hierarchy is Flexibility. Flexibility is defined as “passive range of motion.” This is how far a joint/muscle is capable of moving when an external force or gravity is acting upon it. You need a certain amount of flexibility to perform certain movements in the gym. For example, if you are unable to bend over and touch your toes, it would be ill-advised to attempt heavy deadlifts because you don’t currently have the flexibility to get into a strong, safe position. 

If we find a limitation in a client’s flexibility, we would stop at this point and address the limitation before moving on to the next tier in the hierarchy.


The second tier of the hierarchy is Mobility. Mobility is defined as “active range of motion.” If flexibility is how far a joint or muscle is capable of moving with an external force acting upon it, then mobility is how far a joint is capable of moving without an external force acting upon it. Or in other words, how much of your flexibility do you have control over? 

If you are very flexible, but do not have enough strength or stability through that range of motion, then you could be at increased risk for injury or at the very least be leaving performance on the table. 

Strength Balance

Once we’ve determined that there are no limitations in flexibility or mobility, the third tier of the hierarchy is Strength Balance. This one is fun to address for coaches and athletes alike! 

When assessing Strength Balance, we are looking for inconsistencies in our strength from right to left. Is one arm or leg much stronger than the other? We also look at certain movement patterns to see if certain muscles may be overcompensating. For example, we want to see an athlete’s back squat equal approximately 80% of their deadlift. 

When we find strength imbalances, we know that certain muscles may be overworking which could be causing pain or lead to injury down the road. The more balance we create, the safer you will be and the better you will perform. We’ve found that correcting imbalances can lead to HUGE performance gains and breaking through plateaus, even after years of training experience.


Even though Work:Recovery is the 4th tier in our hierarchy, it is arguably the most important. You could have the perfect program, but if you aren’t recovering from your workouts then you won’t see results. In fact, the reason that we train is solely for the opportunity to recover. This is because you don’t actually make your gains during training, but afterwards. 

Giving your body the rest it needs through eating enough quality food and sleep is absolutely crucial to seeing progress in the gym. Don’t make the common mistake to believe that “more is always better.”


The final tier in our hierarchy is Skill. This is where magic happens and movement is improved via effective, hands-on coaching. When someone has skill, it is something that is instantly recognized. It is the difference between flailing your limbs recklessly on a kipping pull up vs a tight, controlled *beautiful* kipping pull up. 

Skill is achieved through good coaching and practice. Just because Skill is the top of the hierarchy does not make it any less important than another tier. However things like flexibility and mobility are pre-requisites to skill. Without being able to access the correct positions, no amount of coaching cues will be able to get you there. 


The Athlete Hierarchy of Needs is a tool that we use as coaches to make sure we are not guessing when it comes to coaching our clients. It ensures that we are working on the most important thing at the moment, and wasting no time in achieving results. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an assessment with a coach, let us know today!