Exercise technique is one of the most misunderstood topics I have seen in the fitness industry. Everyone wants to have the “perfect technique”, but they rely on a medley of unreliable resources: friends, a person at the gym, or youtube videos to emulate their technique after.
Why is that not a good idea?
Well, in short, it is unlikely that the person you are emulating is the same gender, age, height and weight, which should come as no surprise. Variables like limb length, joint depth, muscle flexibility, joint mobility, and adaptation to movements are often overlooked by the average gym goer, youtube viewer, and even many inexperienced personal trainers.
Here is an example. Person A is female, 25 years old, 5’5, and weighs 150lbs. Person B is male, 30 years old, 5’10, and weighs 190lbs. The untrained individual would think their squat technique should look the same – shoulder width stance, knees over toes, torso leaning forward at a 45 degree angle, ect. Think back to your high school human anatomy class, you will remember that women generally have wider hips than males to accomodate for birth. Their femurs point down toward the ground at an angle (referred to a the ‘Q angle’). Although Person A is a bit shorter than Person B, many females have long legs/long femurs for their height. Depending on their genetics/heritage, they may have a very shallow or very deep hip socket which will affect how the leg articulates in a free flowing motion.
With all of those differences why would their squats look the same? Should they look the same? Highly unlikely.
This is why having a well educated coach is so important.
When you are in the gym, you are repeating a motion several times for several sets. Just like any other sport movement, like swinging a baseball bat, the more repetitions you perform, the more ingrained the movement becomes into your daily life. If you have fundamental flaws in your movement patterns in the gym, they will likely creep into your daily life increasing risk of injury. You squat down to pick up the groceries in a similar fashion to a squat movement. You get up off the floor after playing with your dog in the same manner as a pushup, ect. A good coach will be able to pick up on movement faults in your exercises and determine if there is a specific weakness, or just broken down technique.
Now, I can’t sit here and write an article on how to squat perfectly or do the best pushup you can without seeing some video or watching you in person. But what I can do is explain a couple of universally valid concepts that apply to all exercises.
Concept 1: A safe exercise creates stability at the joint (shoulder/hip)
The best way to create stability within the hip or shoulder joint is in a position of flexion and external rotation.
The picture below is of my client of mine. His squat isn’t very deep, so he is probably at a low risk of injury. To the untrained eye, this looks like a pretty standard bodyweight squat. It’s easily something others would emulate in the gym. I use an application which allows me to view videos in slow motion, draw lines, and really understand what is happening during the motion.
From a coaches perspective, here’s what’s actually going on:
He is sitting down rather than sitting back – giving him less than ideal glute muscle activation. His center of gravity has shifted forward about 4-5 inches putting a large sheer force on his knees. The arch in his foot has collapsed because he doesn’t have the ideal ankle mobility. Simple coaching ques like pushing the knees out so ankles aren’t collapsing, and sit back, not down will enable him to create more tension and stability in his hip joint. That will correspond to keeping his center of gravity over his feet, keeping the foot arch intact, enabling the majority of his technique issues to take care themselves.
Concept 2: Neutral spine means neutral!
The spine is designed to be able to move in all directions. However, according to Dr. Stuart McGill – the world’s foremost expert on spine biomechanics, the greatest contributor to back injuries is repetitive flexion or extension of the spine. Squatting with an arched back, doing pushups where your hips sink and spine extends, or doing a sit up like a pill bug rolling into a ball is a fantastic way to herniate a spinal disk.
Having a neutral spine literally means reducing/eliminating any arch or rounded shapes from your spine and maintaining that rigidity through the duration of the movement
Here is a picture of AnthroPhysique coach Chad performing a bodyweight squat. His back is completely straight, even during a very deep squat motion.
If you are serious in creating positive change in your own health and fitness, it is critical to enlist the help of a good coach. Having a coach will create a gameplan to reach a series of smaller goals that will ultimately contribute to the larger goal. A good coach will determine different flexibility and mobility weaknesses, muscular weaknesses, dietary deficiencies, lifestyle challenges, and determine the best and safest way to create positive changes. A good coach will keep you accountable and honest, ensuring that your are putting a sufficient body of effort forward. A good coach will show you the right technique for YOUR body to maximize results and minimize injury. Most importantly, a coach will give you the tools to become the best version of yourself.
Your options: Personal Trainer vs Online Trainer?
If the trainer/coach is so important, what are your options? You are essentially left with two options: the in person trainer, or someone you speak with over the phone/online. The most obvious difference in the two besides the trainer’s presence, is price. PTs can cost $100+/session or $1200+/month and require travel to a gym to complete your sessions. An online trainer costs between $150-350/month and doesn’t require you to exercise within the confines of the PT’s gym and schedule. Additionally, with the power of technology, you can share videos of your exercises, while coaches have apps that can break down technique in depth, and can be anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in working with an online coach, or even just having a technique assessment, contact me with the form below.