Mike Rants – Exercise Technique

lungeLast week, Kirsten (my amazing admin and the Wonder Woman of IFAST) posted a picture of me working with one of the new guys for the Indy Eleven.Lunge Form

I’m an admin on the page, so I get a notification that another gym owner here in Indianapolis has commented:

“Better check on that lunge form.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than post snarky comments on people’s Facebook pages.

(Unless we’re “Friends” – in which case you’re basically begging me to post snarky comments!)

But I’ve posted the pic above, so you can see the guys technique.

As you can see, it’s not perfect – but definitely not horrible, either.

But rather than get into some sort of Internet battle royale, I figured it would be more productive to simply talk about proper technique a bit, as well as our role as coaches.

The Situation

As the performance coach for the Indy Eleven soccer team, we’re currently in-season and we don’t get a ton of time with the guys in the weight room on a weekly basis.

It’s an incredibly long season, and the goal is to maintain their physical qualities (i.e. strength, power, conditioning).

By doing this and keeping them as fresh as possible, we give them the best chance for success. The goal is to have them recovered by Saturday so they can go out and win games on the weekends.

Furthermore, we’ll often get guys in on trial (i.e. trying to make the team) for a handful of days. Some of these guys have have minimal, or even no, lifting experience.

In the case of the above picture, this trialist had been in for about a week, and this was his first training session with us.

We hadn’t done an assessment on him.

I’d never seen him lift in a weight room before.

And I really had no clue about how well he moved.

The situation is far from ideal, but it’s the reality of how things work.

So on any given week, I could have 16-18 guys who are my “regulars”, and then another 2-4 who are new and trying to make the team.

Now let’s talk about technique a bit…

The Internet Expert Coaching “Technique”

Let’s start by getting one thing straight:

There is no such thing as “perfect” technique.

Everyone has different leverages, varying amounts of mobility and stability, and quite simply, everyone moves differently.

Taking that a step further, I’d break technique down into three very broad categories:

  • Unacceptable and potentially dangerous,
  • Acceptable but still needing work, and
  • Very good with minimal work/cuing needed.

Even the best powerlifters and Olympic lifters in the world don’t have perfect technique. In fact, since lifting is their sport, they will often fall into the second group.

In other words, everyone can stand to work on their technique!

Now with regards to the gentleman above, is his technique perfect?

No.

I’d love to get him into a perfect 90-90 position for his split-squat.

I’d love to see him exhale, bringing those ribs down a bit.

I’d love to see him also curl his pelvis underneath him a bit, to get a nice canister position where his diaphragm and pelvic floor are facing each other.

I’d love to see his weight balanced perfectly in a tripod position on the front foot, and able to drop straight down and stretch his rectus femoris on the back leg.

Quite simply, I know what perfect technique should look like – and no, we’re not there yet.

But really, that’s not the point.

The point is, when you look at one single picture of someone lifting, with ZERO background information, you have no perspective or context with regards to the situation.

Would I like his technique to improve? Sure.

But do you know where his technique was 5 minutes before this?

Or even better, 5 reps before this?

I do – I was there 🙂

And I can tell you this much – this rep was vastly better than the previous ones were.

This is the key here – we’re always working towards better technique.

And once you think you have it dialed in?

I guarantee it can still be better.

But please understand that the continuum of “Acceptable” technique is incredibly long.

Another Example of Coaching & Technique

A few years back, I was working with a gal who originally came to us for weight/fat loss.

She was a very dedicated client, and eventually achieved her body comp related goals. Following this, she decided to move into more serious strength training, and her goal was to someday compete in power or Olympic lifting.

Her journey was far from easy, though.

First and foremost, she was incredibly unstable and, therefore, injury prone. Programming for her was not simple.

And to make matters worse, she flat-out didn’t move particularly well. While some people have very fast or malleable nervous systems, others really struggle to pick up new movements or adjustments in technique.

I often posted a picture of her overhead squatting in my training lectures, to talk about this very point.

If you saw a still shot of this woman overhead squatting, you may not be all that impressed.

If you looked at it long enough, you’d probably see things you’d like to fix. Or tweaks you’d like to make to her technique.

But in that same breath, I’d tell you how much better this woman moved than before.

That it was as much about the progress we’d taken to get to this point, versus simply nitpicking her technique from one still frame.

In fact, when she first showed up at IFAST years ago, she couldn’t squat her bodyweight or perform a Goblet squat without pain in her knees.

So the fact that she could overhead squat with pretty good form?

To me, that was a huge victory.

Summary

My goal here isn’t to “call this guy out” as much as it is to bring up a very valid point.

As a coach, I have athletes of all shapes, sizes and abilities that I train.

Not one of them displays “perfect” technique.

kaizen-2But the key is to take what you currently have in front of you, and every session, every week, make it a little bit better.

To dial in and get it closer to what you know (or think) ideal is.

Because Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is what coaching is all about.

All the best

MR

16 Comments

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  1. It makes no sense to simply take a snapshot in time and make judgement based off that. Context matters. A LOT. Nice write-up Mike. Everyone is an expert on the interwebz 🙂

  2. Can you elaborate on your preference of the 90-90 setup, as opposed to a slight forward lean which loads the glutes and hammies a bit more?

    I see it if you are primarily training hip mobility or quad activity, but for general strength adaptation, wouldn’t you want to incline the torso a bit on a lunge or split squat, to better spread the load?

    We don’t SQ 90-90 unless on a machine. We don’t run or jump forwards or up from 90-90. Very few athletic endeavors are performed ramrod straight.

    • Sara –

      Thanks for commenting!

      I think your biomechanics are off a bit, though. If you are in a split-stance and pitch the torso forward, you’re going to drive anterior pelvic tilt on the front leg.

      This is going to LENGTHEN the hamstrings further, and decrease the stress on them. What you tend to see when people pitch forward is a lot more quad activation, especially on the concentric portion of the lift.

      Regardless, I’ll do a more thorough write-up on this in the future, as I think it begs a great question – WHY are you split-squatting in the first place? I.e., what are you trying to get out of it.

      My answer may surprise you a bit…

      Thanks for chiming in!

      MR

      • Thank you Mike, for all you do! Will look forward to that post.

        I must confess that I am confused about your reply, maybe I am missing something.

        Lengthening a muscle is how you load it, right? When you pitch forwards as in a DL, you are lengthening, and thus, loading the hamstrings more. When you stay upright as in a FSQ, you are loading the quads more.

        Why would this emphasis reverse with the same action on one leg? Why wouldn’t leaning forwards activate the glute, and hamstring?

        • Sara –

          There are a lot of moving parts to my answer. How about I write something up as a full post?

          You’re not wrong, there’s just more to it than that 🙂

          Thanks!
          MR

          • I’ll write this up soon, but think about this for a minute…

            If you angle the tibia in a squat (knees forward, like a front squat) do you get more quad or hamstring activation?

            Now, if you are in a split-stance and angle the torso forward, what happens to the tibia angle?

            And what are we loading?

            Think about this for a bit – and be sure to try it, too, and see what you FEEL… 🙂

          • I did some experimentation last night with different torso/tibia angles. I was actually able to keep the same tibia angle on both the upright and forward torso movements. I was doing static lunges — definitely some differences in feel depending on torso position.

            I’d say the biggest difference in feel had to do with the trailing leg… my rear quad was definitely feeling it when my torso was upright. This makes sense to me because my center of gravity was further back than the forward lean version.

            Maybe the upright torso reduces quad emphasis on the forward leg, but it also seems to transfer some of the work to the back leg?

            And I hear you on hamstring activation on front squats vs back squats. But, I found that my tibia angle and torso angle were pretty much uncorrelated during lunges.

            Thanks again for your time!

          • Hmmm. Hope this is a safe place to have discussion. Reading the latest exchange made me think a bit further.

            It seems to me that if you load in 90-90, your bilateral equivalent would be a Smith machine squat with the feet out in front and the torso perfectly vertical. Predominately knee extension/quad move.

            And also one reason that we rip on the Smith machine because it doesn’t really match “functional” movement patterns. Which require some torso lean.

            Another bilateral approximation: a wall squat 90-90 isometric. Often used as a quad burn finisher. Vertical torso, and vertical tibia. Quads.

            Even if the tibia comes forward, if the torso inclines, as in a hill climb, doesn’t that load the PC? Of course there is going to be co-contraction of the glutes/PC/quads all these variations.

            As far as what you feel, the minute my torso leans forwards, I feel my glutes and hamstrings come on, regardless of tibia angle.

            Write that post, Mike! 🙂

          • On a smith machine (with the setup you describe) you just push BACK into the machine with unlimited stability, the reality of a split squat is much different.

  3. Great article, a good thing to be able to teach to clients as well. Having lots of people worrying if their form is perfect on exercises when what’s important is they’re doing it better than before each and every time. Stay classy IFAST

  4. For demonstration purposes, coaches need to be as close to “perfect” as possible. For training purposes, athletes need to be safe. Once I get an athlete to “safe” lifting technique, I can tweak accordingly. But I always must remember the goal — is it to make the athlete a “perfect” lifter, or is to to make him/her a better player at his/her particular sport? If the coach harps too much on “perfection”, the athlete will not get the gains that will improve their sport. Nice article!

  5. Mike-
    Great post. This is the exact reason I actually asked you a question from the “Quality Coach” post. I had shared it, to Facebook, encouraging people to do research prior to just joining a gym and picking a coach/trainer. Almost immediately following my post someone, a “friend” had a status update… Having that paper (referring to my degrees and certifications) doesnt make you a good trainer… This person was a “bro” as you referred to in your blog entry (very well built and trains for the money with no education background nor does he carry any form of certification). I also completely forgot and really didnt care, that he posted a week or so prior that if any one was interested in him training them to let him know but to not waste his time. Great post mike!

  6. This article should be shared on all social media. Keep up the great work Mike and keep shaking off the haters man!

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