On Movement Skills (Part 6)

The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.

In practical application this is putting quality before quantity. It requires physical and mental discipline and ideally a coach with the patience to say “again” endlessly and always having an eye on the small details that lead to performance improvement.

I do not expect a beginner to be perfect in one session. Everyone starts somewhere and learning curves vary greatly from person to person, or even technique to technique. Each training practice we seek to improve on the last practice. Once a gross motor pattern is established we continually hone those techniques.

It’s my opinion that too many people simply want to get through a workout, believing that they are getting something from the workout. This method does not lend itself to precision.

A person will get something as the initial changes occur internally,and over time externally as well as precise form is not a requirement for muscle growth. However this is not the safest path and you will eventually pay the penalties for this.  My advice to lifters over age 40 is “You are only as good as you next session.”

The lift set-up for example is something that many trainees and trainers take for granted. The number of times I’ve seen trainers put clients through an exercise with little to no instruction or even correction of the broad strokes amazes me.

In the barbell and kettlebell lifts a persons safety, competence and performance begins with the set-up. Foot placement, bar placement, handle position,learning what muscles to activate in which sequence,breathing pattern and body placement relative the load all come into play along with numerous other details.

In the case of the basic barbell deadlift I can come up with 12 points before the bar even leaves the floor.

Some set up details change according to the type of deadlift (Deficit,Sumo,Trap Bar,Axle etc) the tool (barbell,Sandbag,Kettlebell) or the users anthropometric proportions. The coach needs to be intimately familiar with each according to the needs of the client. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, if you change the angle,grip or tool you change the lift and you change the exercise experience. That change isn’t necessarily good for the person experiencing it.

An alteration in hip height creates a deadlift that beats up the lower back (hips too high) or creates a strange squat/hinge hybrid (hips too low.)

An alteration of hand or foot width positioning increases or decreases the vertical distance path.

Placement of the bar relative the lifters center of mass alters the lifts efficiency.

Engagement or non-engagement of the triceps and Lats completely change the exercise.

The rules of proper set-ups and working towards precision in a movement are not solely for barbell or kettlebell movements. Both machines and bodyweight exercises have user defined proper set-ups as well.

This is a detractor of some machines as many lack an adequate amount of adjustments and in some case are poorly engineered with resistance curves not in line with the exercises strength curve. There can be significant differences within a companies line of a single piece of equipment,much less manufacturer to manufacturer. The fixed path can be either a benefit or a detractor depending on the desired outcome.

A converstation I’ve had with clients holding multiple gym memberships is that with machines, unless they are using the same model they will need to re-dial a set as 50lbs on one brands chest press could feel very different than another brand chest press.

As much as I like them this is also an issue with some bodyweight exercises as getting two consecutive repetitions consistent with each other can be very difficult.

I instill a sense of precision in my students and athletes by first demonstrating the movement about to be taught.  This means anything I teach I must be both physically and academically schooled, that I have utilized the tool enough to have developed a level of physical empathy and know what a person is going through when they perform the exercise.  A common cue from me is that we are doing single reps, and we will do X number of them.  Focus only on the single rep.

When possible I relate the exercise to previously learned material and demonstrate the areas that are “same but different.”  In some cases I will break the technique into manageable chunks, such as in the Turkish Get Up or the Bench Press.

Form,precision and volume are placed before intensity. A few mistakes along the way are not always a bad thing.  Depending on the exercise, I will show how a proper vs improper exercise feels, just enough to demonstrate and not enough to demolish. On the more demanding exercises I use myself as the example as I have better control and a greater amount of strength.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing a person enjoy the feeling of a precise movement after having performed an untold number of improper movements.



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