Proper technique and proper form. An often avoided subject by people in the gym, whether it is a high school gym, commercial gym, or home gym, for a few reasons. I believe that we must first find out what is wrong before we find out what is right, but that is one ingredient we must save for another recipe…
There are a few things that may be holding people back from performing any given exercise with proper technique:
1. Lack of previous knowledge.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing how a certain exercise looks or how to perform it. I often ask new clients before I even load them with any weights, “Do you know what a squat is? Lunge? Push-up? Plank? If not, let’s go over that first.” Just don’t load the body if you don’t even know how to perform the exercise unloaded (or with bodyweight only).
2. Dysfunctional Movement Patterns.
A dysfunction in the basic, foundational exercise, will lead to further dysfunction and possible injury if progressed to an advanced version of the exercise, and even worse if it is loaded, in regards to forces on the body (weights, plyometrics, etc). And a person can be dysfunctional, movement wise for a number of reasons:
2a. Soft tissue restrictions.
This comes down to the health of your muscle tissue. Lesions in muscle tissue can either cause a lack of nervous system firing, or an “overfiring”, attributed by the muscles that are always tight. Take a deep breath, and relax your shoulders. Notice how your shoulders may have dropped. Imagine how many times a day you sit or stand like that, and imagine how overfiring your upper trapezius can affect any exercise really. This leads nicely into posture, because really, which came first? Bad posture causing soft tissue restrictions? Or soft tissue restrictions causing bad posture?
Whether ‘good’ posture or ‘bad’, the way you carry yourself in daily activities can affect everything, from your bench press to the way you run. Imagine your average American’s day: driving to work (sitting), sitting at a desk for 7-8 hours, then driving back (sitting). Then when you get home, it was a long day, all you want to do is what? Sit and relax, with maybe even your favorite alcoholic beverage or snack nearby. Add in the occasional gym visit, and you can hopefully begin to see what I’m up against. Next thing you know, I have a client that wants to lose 30lbs, fit back into their high school jeans, all while keeping the same habits. Let’s just say I enjoy being challenged while at work.
2c. Pre-Existing Conditions/Injuries.
These are the people that more often than not, want to do something about their condition(s), beyond just losing the weight, they want to reduce pain and increase functionality. If it is out of my scope of practice (acute injuries, clients showing up with pain, or maybe it’s something I truly know nothing about) I’ll definitely refer out if there is nothing in my power that I can do to help them.
So with all of these things seemingly holding us back from performing a few simple exercises, what are we to do in regards to gaining the skills to perform an exercise with flawless technique?
1. Learn the exercises.
Learn how to squat, bench, deadlift, lunge, plank, side plank, etc. properly. No reason to load an exercise if you don’t know how to perform it. Ask a professional who knows what they are talking about to critique your form. In the bboying community, we have a phrase. “Each one, teach one.” Whenever I see someone performing an exercise incorrectly, I’ll do my best to give advice to you. If you know the proper form for an exercise, help each other out.
2. Get manual body work done.
Massage therapists, chiros, PTs, A.R.T., etc. It costs money, but at what cost to your health? Proactive cost vs. reactive in this case. This is not only a luxury for the rich and famous. If you have soft-tissue restrictions, a manual therapist can get their thumbs and hands in places you didn’t know you had hurting, and help relieve your tense spots. After you learn how to perform said exercises, and with your restrictions now released via massage, you’ll be amazed at how much freer your movements feel.
3. Self-Myofascial Release.
Short of manual therapy, SMR, or foam rolling, can help reduce scar tissue, tense muscles, reduce pain, and quite possibly make you feel like a superhero. At least after the initial discomfort wears off and you begin to do full squats…! In all seriousness, foam rolling can be a life saver at a fraction of the cost of manual therapy, but in reality should only be an adjunct to said treatment.
4. Increase body awareness.
Many of us are unfortunately born without the rhythm of James Brown or Michael Jackson, so joining a Zumba class to shed pounds may not be at the top of your “To-Do List”. While there are various ways to increase body awareness, my own preferred method are again, having a professional watch your form while exercising and critique said form. I’ve often thought of my job as critiquing the rhythmless dancer, because in reality I’m teaching a client how to use their body, just without the use of song. Other ways to increase body awareness are to record yourself exercising, and match up as best you can with similar exercise forms (via YouTube). The only thing wrong with this method is the increase of risk for injury, especially if performing an advanced exercise that isn’t meant for you… Think P90X, Insanity, etc. [Another proactive strategy I’ve used successfully on myself and clients in regards to body awareness is to set an alarm at hourly (or however often you want to be reminded) intervals, just simply saying “Posture” or “Sit/Stand-up Straight!” This works especially well if you are connected to your phone by the hip, literally and figuratively.]
Deliberate practice with a mindset of continually improving is my mentality in regards to dancing, lifting, reading, and helping others. The more you practice, the better off you’ll be.
You’ll get to understanding how your body moves, and the better off you’ll be in regards to improving your physique and performance related goals. Whether it is running, performing speed and agility drills, or deadlifting. Perfect practice makes perfect habits. Imperfect practice does nothing but set you back. This is often why you’ll hear me say to clients and even friends and family: I hate
jogging running for various reasons.
The fact that you can [make it seem like you’re] doing it for long periods of time, when in reality you’re probably using a heel strike, forward head posture, chest breathing, etc. is what upsets me. However, let’s save that discussion for a different time!
With these tips in place, it is my hope to bring to light that yes, the decision to become an awesome version of yourself requires taking a step outside of your comfort zone. However, once you make that decision, it is then time to increase your actionable steps towards reaching that goal.
Keep it funky.