In this post we discuss whether exercise technique is important for both injury rehab and general health and fitness.
Have you ever been in a car with a bad driver?
I took an Uber the other day and had to ask the guy to slow down. He was driving like he was being pursued. So much so I kept looking behind expecting to see flashing blue lights.
He was up the backside of every car in front, braking late and dumping his foot on the gas like he was trying to crush insects.
I still gave him 5 stars. It must’ve been the gratitude I felt getting out alive.
So let me ask you this, if you compared the lifetime maintenance costs of a car driven like that, to one driven with care, which do you think would cost more?
This seems obvious. If you’re slamming your foot on and off the pedals, you’re going to burn through parts faster than somebody who takes more care. And if you drive up the backside of the car in front, sooner or later you’re going to hit it.
This is a good analogy for the gym.
The person who uses speed to move their weights and pays little care and attention puts themselves at more risk of injury.
The large spikes in force that occur as they attempt to stop the weight, places additional strain on muscles and tendons, as well as the structures of the joints themselves.
A more prescriptive approach
The other end of the exercise technique spectrum is a highly prescriptive approach. You’ll see this in more serious weight lifting circles.
When you bench press you must get the bar to your chest for example. When you squat your thighs must go below parallel to the floor.
Every exercise is coached in terms of the joint angles you have to achieve irrespective of the user.
The major issue with this approach is what happens if you don’t have those joint angles available?
You can’t get below parallel in a squat for example because that amount of motion causes pain in your hip.
Often the rules of the exercise are given greater importance than the rules of your body. Following the former rather then the latter almost always leads to problems.
What if you’re doing it that way for a reason?
An influence that’s sometimes not considered is perhaps you’re performing an exercise a particular way because of something neither you or I are aware of.
This is where things get a bit muddy.
Let’s say at a certain point in a squat you appear to shift your weight over to one side.
That’s interesting isn’t it? Why would that happen?
I have no idea.
I might ask you to jump on the table to see if there are any obvious restrictions in motion that might lead to this.
Perhaps I’ll then ask you to try the squat with a lighter load and be aware of this shift.
Can you prevent it?
What happens if you do?
Does something else happen now?
Do you experience pain somewhere as a result?
The purpose of this investigation is to see if this is something we should attempt to influence or not.
What some might regard as a fault in your exercise technique is certainly not that. Your central nervous system doesn’t make mistakes in these scenarios.
The movement is being programmed this way for a good reason. Our job is to find out if that reason is something that can be changed, muscle weakness for example.
Or something we need to leave well alone, a bone spur in your knee perhaps.
In this way so called faults in technique can actually provide valuable information.
Ultimately what you’re trying to achieve will be heavily influenced by how you apply force to your body.
If it’s done with the same care and attention as that Uber driver I mentioned earlier, you will likely end up with joints that are a bit dinged up and a muscular system that’s not functioning as well as it could be.
If however you focus and take extra care, particularly when you approach the end ranges of joint motion, you will achieve superior results with less risk.
Exercise technique is not only important, I would argue it’s the difference that makes the difference in terms of a achieving the results you desire. Whether that’s to rehab from injury or for general health and fitness.