Common Gym Mistakes: Squats

The back squat is rightly called the “king of exercises”, in fact, it’s said that if you don’t have squats in a training program, then you don’t have a program.

Now, I’d never be so absolute, but the squat is a fundamental movement pattern and forms the foundation for lower body performance training and rehabilitation.

Despite squats being such a fundamental movement, because of the amount of muscles and joints involved, there are a lot of chances for compensation.

Compensation is an interesting topic.

Some claim it leads to injury, yet the research is unclear on this.

Additionally, real world examples abound, one only has to look to the recent Paralympics to see examples of high level compensation, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to compensate.

What Makes A Good Squat?

With the back squat, we can split lifters into two groups:

  1. Competitive powerlifters, whose goal is to lift the most weight in competition
  2. Everybody else

If you are a competitive powerlifter, you can probably ignore this advice, because your goals are so unique.

If you are like most people and you are squatting to improve your leg and core strength to assist with physique goals, health goals or performance goals, then read on.

Executing a squat optimally requires the following:

  • Adequate ankle dorsiflexion range of motion and motor control
  • Adequate hip and knee flexion range of motion and motor control
  • Adequate isometric strength of the erector spinae muscles to maintain the spinal alignment
  • Adequate abdominal strength to maintain pelvic and rib cage position
  • Adequate thoracic extension and shoulder external rotation range of motion and motor control

Unfortunately, most people are deficient in one or more of these areas, which can negatively affect their ability to squat efficiently with a barbell.

That’s not to say they can’t squat heavy loads.

It’s common to see people who are strong squatters with well developed quads, perhaps adductors and low back muscles, but with relatively underdeveloped glutes and sometimes hamstrings.

Others have extremely well developed calf muscles as well.

What is happening?

Their bodies are using a different recruitment strategy to the “optimal” one, which relies on the glutes as primary hip extensors.

Why does this happen?

Safety. Survival.

Our brains are not concerned with long term well-being when it comes to movement, but rather, completing the task at hand, at that moment in time.

When it comes to standing up with a loaded bar on your back, this can mean using whatever muscle is most readily recruited or in the most mechanically advantaged position.

When people have biomechanical limitations elsewhere in the body, this can affect the movement.

As a result, a hip extension becomes a back extension.

Analysis of My Squat

This was a set of 10 repetitions in the back squat, which I have taken still shots from at various points (they aren’t all the same rep, as you can see by the time).

To the untrained eye, my set looks pretty good, but as you’ll see, upon closer look, there are a lot of compensations occurring that are costing me efficiency.

I’m using myself as an example, as my issues are some of the most common issues I see, just in differing degrees.

Set Up:

back-squat-1

My elbows should be further forward, under the bar or as close to as possible, facilitating thoracic spine extension and activation of the erector spinae muscles to stabilise the spine. Additionally, I have a forward head posture, again related to not getting enough extension through my thoracic spine.

Bottom Position:

back-squat-2

This is where it gets tricky, as this bottom position looks really good at first glance. My torso and shins are greater than parallel (blue lines), my hip is below my knee, what’s not to like?

Well, for a start, my weight is too far forward – thus the centre of the barbell is in front of my toes, instead of through my midfoot (yellow line). This sets me up to use a knee extension dominant strategy to stand up.

The most likely culprit for this is a lack of hip flexion range of motion or control.

My ankles don’t have the best dorsiflexion range of motion either, which wouldn’t help.

What we cannot see in this picture is whether my low back is flexing to compensate or what is happening at my feet – they could be pronating to give me extra range of motion at the ankle.

The problem with this strategy, is that by shifting my weight forward by using spinal or pelvic flexion, I will have to extend again at some point, which takes the spinal erectors from stabilisers in the movement to prime movers.

Ascension:

back-squat-3

Here you can see that my torso and shins are no longer parallel (blue lines).

My knees have extended faster than my hips, which have to remain flexed somewhat to keep the weight balanced – this is most likely due to my limited ankle range of motion, which meant my bottom position wasn’t as good as it should have been.

Another factor is the isometric strength of my spinal erectors and abdominals and their ability to maintain my trunk position.

This sets me up to have to use my lower back spinal erectors to straighten me up quickly, as in the image below.

back-squat-4

Here you can see what has happened – my knees have extended only slightly, whilst my back has extended quite a lot in a short time.

What should have been a powerful drive from the hips ends up as a two part movement – the initial extension of my knees with minimal hip extension, followed by the compensatory back extension to get my torso more upright again.

Lockout:

back-squat-5

Finally, once my knees are at almost full extension, my hips are still flexed – I’ve stood up by extending my spine more than my hips.

A Squat Is Not A Squat

This example demonstrates the effect that mobility and motor control limitations have on the execution of movement – I can get the squat done, but sub-optimally.

Now that you are aware, if you watch the video (it’s easier in slow motion) you can see that I compensate by using my back extensors (erector spinae) as prime movers, something their not optimally designed for (we have massive glutes for a reason).

Luckily, our bodies are adaptable, and even “sub-optimal” biomechanics aren’t a recipe for injury – it all depends on adaptability.

Up to a certain point, my low back muscles, joints and ligaments will get stronger to withstand the loading of squatting.

Once that point is reached, I will no longer be able to progress, or I’ll get injured.*

*I’ll get injured not because I’m moving incorrectly, but rather, our bodies are only capable of adapting so much, and inefficient movement patterns put increased demands on an area that are not as well designed to withstand them. The same is true even if I had “perfect” squat mechanics – after a certain point I will fail to progress or get injured.

Does It Even Matter?

I always ask myself, if a patient is paying me money to obtain the best result possible, does this information add value to their experience and outcomes.

In the case of what I’ve just discussed, does it even matter if you squat with optimal motor patterns or not?

As always, it depends.

If I’m not going to the gym, and I only squat occasionally to pick something up at home, then it probably doesn’t matter. As long as I’ve got the physical capacity to withstand the demands of that task, I’ll be okay.

However, if you are squatting to improve your aesthetics, performance or leg and core strength, then executing the movement optimally matters.

Sure you can get away with “just squatting” and moving weight however you can.

But is it ideal? Not to me.

The reason being, that despite our bodies being adaptable, we only have a finite amount of energy. For every inefficient movement pattern, energy cost of execution and recovery increases, thus gains (performance, health, aesthetic) decrease.

Aim High

How you do anything is how you do everything.

To me, the argument of whether you should aim to improve your movement quality and efficiency is a moot one.

Even if the benefits were neglible, I am a person who takes pride in striving for improvement.

In the case of exercise, improving the movement for the sake of improving the movement is enough of a reason to do so.

Be better. – Greg Dea, Sports Physiotherapist

I understand that this mentality doesn’t apply to everyone, so all I can say is this:

  • If you are training for aesthetic goals, and you are squatting to improve your leg and hip muscle development, an optimal movement pattern will best recruit the muscles of the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
  • If you are training for a performance goal, then an optimal movement pattern will improve sequencing of hip extension, as well as power and strength, in turn improving running speed and jumping height.
  • If you are training for a health related goal, then striving for optimal movement patterns can be an end unto itself.
  • Anecdotally, the people I see who strain their backs squatting typically demonstrate this type of movement pattern.

So How Do You Improve Your Squat?

To improve your squat, you have to identify what is limiting your performance. It could be any of the following:

  • A technical issue
  • A flexibility issue
  • A mobility issue
  • A motor control/stability issue
  • A strength issue
  • A structural/anatomical issue

To identify what your particular issue(s) is/are requires an individual assessment.

Once you know your issues, the interventions are relatively straightforward.

 

 

Nick Efthimiou Osteopath

 

This blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.

 

 



 

 

Brain Training That Works

Brain Training

Brain training has become popular in the last few years, but does it live up to the hype?

No. (1)

Unfortunately, playing games on your phone doesn’t do much for your brain, aside from make you better at playing those games. (2)

Does that mean you are doomed to suffer from declining cognitive function as you age?

Not necessarily.

There are activities which have demonstrated positive effects on both brain structure and function.

Despite what advertisers tell you, these are not found in your app store.

So what can you do to “train your brain” and make it (and the rest of you) healthier?

Learn A Language

Learning a language is one of the best things you can do for your brain, and your life.

Learning a language opens up your world, from business to social and travel opportunities.

The added bonus is that it reshapes your brain, improving both the structure and function, and potentially helping stave off Alzheimer’s. (3, 4)

In this case, apps can be helpful, but nothing beats engaging in conversations – you are challenged to think in a different language, which is fantastic for cognitive function.

What’s great is that whilst becoming fluent is great for the brain (and your life), the act of learning a language, even if you struggle, still yields improvements.

Learn an Instrument

Learning an instrument has similar effects on the brain to learning a language.

Both the structure of the brain as well as the function are affected positively.

It seems that in the case of musical instruments, the longer you have played them, the better. (5, 6, 7) This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother if you are “older”, it simply means, once you start, keep it up, the benefits are well worth the effort!

One of the more interesting findings made by researchers, is that playing an instrument can help mitigate hearing decline due to ageing as well!

This occurs because we “hear” with our brain. Our ears translate vibrations of the air to electrical impulses that our brains decipher as sounds, and it is thought that playing an instrument helps enhance “meaning” associated with sound, allowing better function when hearing.

Exercise

Exercise is probably the best brain training activity of them all, because it offers so many benefits not only to your brain, but body and soul as well.

It makes sense that moving is so good for our brain, given how much real estate in our heads is allocated to performing and controlling movement.

The list of studied effects of exercise on brain training includes:

  • Structural growth via increased signalling of various growth factors.
  • Improved memory and cognitive function.
  • Delayed onset of neuro-degenerative diseases.

So what’s the best exercise for your brain?

There is research on cardio exercise (running, cycling, walking etc) and strength training, but not much on complex functional movements.

I would hypothesise, that the best form of exercise for your brain is a circuit style workout that challenges you to move in 3 dimensions, pushing, pulling and carrying different loads over different levels – from the ground to standing.

Crossing midline (imagine a line vertically through your body, cutting it into two halves) movements are super charged brain boosting exercises (they use low level versions of these movements in neuro-rehab).

Examples of movements that cross midline:

  • Crawling
  • Skipping
  • Juggling (8)
  • Alternate single leg/arm movements
  • Rolling
  • Rotational movements

Of course, if this sounds too much, just get some vigorous walking in, the research is still positive – move it or lose it (brain function that is).

Meditate

Meditation has been getting a lot of attention from scientists lately.

Research is showing positive changes to brain areas involved in stress and pain, along with global improvements to brain structure and function.

A while back I wrote an article on mindfulness for pain management – the principles described in it are relevant to brain health too.

Whether you do focused meditation, pray or simply spend time quietly contemplating, it is a fair assumption to say that inward focused practices can all have a positive affect on your brain.

Drink Coffee

Not everyone responds to coffee positively, but if you respond well, enjoy it or are addicted to it (not the greatest thing mind you), then there is some positive news.

Drinking u coffee a day can be neuroprotective (9).

I’m not sure it makes your brain better, but it can help stave off neurodegenerative diseases, which I guess, makes your brain better simply by virtue of not getting worse.

Of course, coffee has adverse effects that are more pronounced in some people, so exercise good judgement when deciding whether coffee “works” for you.

Conclusions

Brain training apps don’t work to make you smarter or improve the structure and function of your brain.

In fact, not much can make you more intelligent, as psychologists have been trying for almost 100 years to do, with very little success.

There are many things you can do to improve your brain health and potentially protect yourself against neurodegenerative diseases.

Like all biological cells, the brain responds to stimuli, and if you use your brain for challenging stimuli, it responds positively, growing new neural connections, increasing in density and improving in function.

Ideally, you will have a coffee before you exercise with your trainer who speaks to you in a new language, followed by an evening meditation before you play your instrument of choice.

 

Nick Efthimiou OsteopathThis blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.

Integrative Osteopathy is an osteopathic practice located in the heart of Fitzroy North, within the reputable Healthy Fit gym. With a focus on education, manual therapy, and active rehabilitation, Integrative Osteopathy offers individual solutions to various painful problems.

If you liked this article, and would like to learn more about maintaining brain and body health throughout your life, call 0448 052 754 to have a chat with Nick, or, to make an appointment online, click here.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.

 



 

 

 

References

(1) Consensus on Brain Training

(2) Putting Brain Training to the Test

(3) Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow

(4) Growth of Brain Areas After Foreign Language Learning

(5) Effects of Music Lessons on Aging Brain

(6) Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians and Non-musicians

(7) Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development

(8) Juggling Enhances Connections in the Brain

(9) Neuroprotective and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Coffee

 

The Role Of Movement In The Treatment Of Pain

Movement

What is the role of movement in the treatment and management of pain?

We know physiotherapists have long time incorporated exercise(s) into their practice, but now osteopaths, chiropractors and other remedial therapists have started introducing exercise and movement as part of their treatment approach to pain.

Does this improve outcomes for people in pain?

As someone who has an exercise background, and a practice based in a gym (with a large number of patients who are active themselves), I’m a big proponent of empowering people with active management strategies to both help manage pain and improve health and fitness.

Large scale research projects have confirmed that an active, movement based approach is superior to a passive treatment approach for the management and treatment of many pain conditions.

Whilst the many benefits of exercise and movement are commonly known and widely promoted, the message can be misconstrued when context is not provided.

To understand the role of movement in the treatment of pain requires an understanding of pain.

Unfortunately, many people do not learn about pain when they seek treatment for pain, which leads to incorrect ideas and beliefs, that can make their pain worse.

The Dark Side of Exercise Therapy for Pain

In general, encouraging people to take an active role in their recovery from pain is a good thing.

Problems arise when exercise and movement is billed as being the treatment or “fix” for pain.

Unfortunately, nothing can “fix” pain, not manual therapy, not exercise, not medication, not surgery.

The reason being, pain is not a thing, pain is an experience, an active process. All of those methods create a change within your body and brain, so that your brain can resolve things.

So, as always, the context in which anything, including movement, is performed to help with pain is paramount.

What’s the big deal?

Many times, I have seen people who have been told to stand/walk/move in a certain way, because if they don’t “their pain will get worse”.

Others, rightly or wrongly, interpret their failure to improve as their fault, if they have been made to believe that exercise is what is needed to fix their pain, due to poor compliance. I often view poor compliance as not as the fault of the client, but of the therapist.

If someone can’t do something, then what has been given to them is too much for them at that point in time.

And yes, people still need to take responsibility for their actions, but the job of a health practitioner is to show the path in actionable steps, not unload a volume of information onto their patients (they could use google for that).

What’s In A Name?

Throughout this post, I have used “movement” and “exercise” interchangeably.

Whilst it is true that exercise is movement, it is also true that not all movement is exercise.

Exercise is purposeful physical exertion/activity performed to create a physical adaptation.

Movement is a preferred term, because it doesn’t have the connotations to exertion.

You shouldn’t need to exert yourself (physically) to overcome pain.

Mechanisms of Movement in the Treatment of Pain

We don’t actually know exactly what happens when pain resolves.

To clarify, we know that pain is an emergent property, that is, it has biological, psychological and social/environmental components, but it is not any one of these, nor does 1+1 = 2.

This means, that treatments for pain can be specific only up to a certain point.

Why does spinal surgery improve outcomes for some people, but not all? If pain were only physical, then surgery would always work, but we are not bodies, but people, and this needs to be considered in the treatment of pain.

That’s not to say we have no idea what helps pain, we do, generally, but what helps pain for any specific person at any specific time is going to vary.

One thing we do know, is that “all pain is neurogenic”, that is, all pain originates in the nervous system.

So for any intervention to help in the resolution of pain, it must have some effect on the nervous system.

Thankfully, we know that movement has a great effect on the nervous system.

Novel Input

Our brains crave novel sensory input. It is why we are generally attracted to “new and shiny”.

When we experience pain, it is an output of the brain, based on all the current sensory inputs from both the body and the brain itself (confusing? read this).

In theory, by providing novel sensory inputs, we can alter the outputs, including pain.

With movement, if we can “show” the brain a different way, then sometimes that is what is needed to “teach” it how to produce the desired output.

For example, let’s say you experienced low back pain that hurt when you bent forward.

If we change the context of your bending by having your feet in a split position and bending to the side, that might be enough of a different sensory input to change the output of pain.

Cortical Mapping

Our body is in our brain. We have a “map” of our body within our brain, such that when certain peripheral nerves are stimulated, a corresponding brain area is activated.

Conversely, stimulating that brain area with electrodes will cause a vague sensation in that region of the body.

When we have pain, we know that our “body map” is impaired. That is, we can’t clearly recognise our affected body parts like we can the unaffected ones.

Deliberate movement can help with cortical mapping, once again, by increasing the amount of information coming from an affected area.

Touch can help, but we seem to have a better response to active movement, likely because more brain areas are involved, resulting in a more pronounced stimulus.

Neural Mobilisation

This is little bit easier to understand for many people, because it is more of a direct mechanical effect.

Nerves are everywhere in our body. We have km’s of them.

They pass through “tunnels” of soft tissue all over the body.

They can get stuck or deformed.

When they are stuck of deformed, they will fire more rapidly and strongly.

Movement, can either directly, or indirectly mobilise the nervous system, freeing up your nerves to slide and glide freely, which is exactly what they want to do.

Descending Modulation

Our brains are pretty cool.

In addition to being able to recognise a bunch of pixels lit up on a screen into shapes (letters) as meaningful, they can produce a whole host of chemicals that can block pain at the level of the spine.

Aside: there are 3 levels where you can block pain. Peripheral, spinal and brain.

Movement can facilitate the production of pain relieveing chemicals, like endogenous opoidids. Much better than buying them at the pharmacy, because your brain is never going to get the dose wrong.

Improved Mood

There is a correlation between mood disorders like anxierty and depression and pain.

Regular and meaningful movement is correlated with improved moods, as is exercise.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

So Movement is Medicine After All?

Definitely.

But just as taking the right medication, in the right dose for the right problem is paramount, using movement as an intervention for pain is the same.

More is not better if all you are doing is reinforcing the same behaviours that lead to or maintain your pain.

Think of it like this: there is the skill to perform a movement, and the capacity to perform it. If you have the skill, but limited capacity, you need to improve your capacity and vice versa.

Conclusions

Movement is important in treatment of mechanical pain.

Active movement is superior to passive movement in most cases.

The mechanisms of how movement affects pain are not specifically known, but there are plausible ideas, all of which must involve the nervous system.

These effects are what would be called “non-specific effects”. Whilst there are potentially “specific effects” occurring as well, we don’t know enough as yet to harness these more precisely.

In terms of pain: inputs + processing = output (pain).

To change pain, we are attempting to change our inputs, be it movement, education, cognitive behavioural therapy, manual therapy or something else.

Whatever it takes to get a change is what “works” for that person, in that moment.

 

This blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.

 



 

 

References

Coming soon!

Aging, Fitness and Flexibility

van Damme Volvo Splits

Two of the biggest physical issues we face as we age are:

  1. Loss of strength and power (1,2)
  2. Loss of mobility and flexibility (3)

For most people, exercise is a means to improve and maintain their health and well-being (including aesthetic goals).

So it makes absolute sense to focus on preventing or minimising the loss of these physical qualities as much as possible, in order to maximise health and well-being for as long as possible.

One of the best things about the rise in popularity of Crossfit and functional training is the emphasis on explosive movements to develop power.

However, despite this increased popularity, it is still rare to see people in gyms, fitness groups and sports clubs (martial artists and dancers excepted) doing any dedicated and meaningful flexibility work (a couple of quick toe touches before a workout don’t count).

I think this stems from a few different reasons:

  • Flexibility work is hard to monetise (there is no equipment to sell for example, outside of maybe a mat and a strap).
  • Stretching well takes time – people have been sold on 30 minute fitness, which is great, I love short sessions, but not at the expense of what you need.
  • Most people don’t know how to stretch well, so they don’t feel any lasting benefits from doing it and give up.
  • Misinterpretation of the research surround stretching, especially around pre-exercise stretching and force production which has seen a preference for dynamic mobility over more traditional flexibility work.

Use It Or Lose It

Almost everyone will agree that “prevention is better than cure”, and this is especially true with flexibility training.

Like every physical quality, flexibility exists on a “use it or lose it basis”, so if you live a modern life like I do (lots of sitting, very little physically taxing work outside of exercise), then it is very easy to lose.

To combat this, it is essential to work on your flexibility pro-actively.

Optimal Vs Reality

Understanding what is optimal for physical health and fitness, and what can be realistically achieved by someone for whom fitness is a small component of their life is quite important.

For the person who exercises because they have to in order to maintain their health, but they don’t necessarily derive any pleasure from it, the minimal effective dose for flexibility is all that is needed.

This person can regain flexibility by stretching (4), can then maintain it with almost any activity that requires range of motion – for example, a gym based exercise program or tai chi practice.

Additionally, if they make an effort to squat, bend, reach and generally move more in day to day life, then maintenance is that much easier.

Fitness Enthusiasts

For people who spend a lot of time and energy into improving their physical fitness, a specific focus on stretching will be beneficial.

This can take place as part of the warm up, cool down or separate session, as there a pros and cons to each.

For the fitness enthusiast, recreational or even professional athlete, a prime focus on flexibility and it’s associated qualities – motor control and joint stability – is even more important, due to the high loads placed on the body consistently from training and competition.

I believe that stretching is the only physical quality that in relation to it’s training, the saying ‘more is better applies. – physical preparation coach Ian King, whom I have mentioned on this blog previously. (5)

Again, this is a contentious area, as most research doesn’t show a cause-effect relationship when it comes to stretching and injury prevention, but there are many contributing factors, of which flexibility is just one.

Conclusions

You don’t need to turn yourself into Jean Claude van Damme (pictured above at age 53 in a Volvo commercial), but you do need enough flexibility to reach up overhead comfortably, bend down without strain and essentially move without restriction doing the things you do in your day to day life.

If you don’t lead a physically active life, then it is more important to increase your activity – even if you don’t exercise – than worry about specific stretching.

Once you are active, a focus on stretching can really complement whatever it is you are doing.

 

This post is a re-worked version of my May 2016 newsletter. You can sign up below to receive all future editions, plus my upcoming (and FREE) guide to stretching.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.

 



 

References

(1) Strength and muscle loss with aging process

(2) Age associated loss of upper extremity strength and power

(3) Flexibility of older adults and the influence of physical activity

(4) Purely my opinion, eccentric exercises can also be very helpful.

(5) King, I., Legacy – Ian King’s training innovations, King Sports International

4 Major Exercise Programming Mistakes

Woman stretching hamstrings.

He who represents himself has a fool for a client. – Abraham Lincoln

In many cases, it could be also said that the person who writes his own training program has a fool for a trainer.

The reason, in both cases, is the difficulty of being objective in deciding your own needs.

It’s only natural to gravitate towards what we like and what we are good at (often one and the same), which means when we write our own exercise programs, we often neglect what we need.

In fact, if you coach yourself, chances are you are making (or have done so in the past) at least one of the following common exercise programming mistakes.

Now, if you are experienced enough, with the accompanying knowledge, you can write yourself good programs, but I would always argue, that these will generally be inferior to a program written for you by a coach with equivalent or greater knowledge and experience than you.

The problem with programming mistakes is that they compound over time (more on that later), and the risks they pose are not insignificant.

Risks of Poor Exercise Programming

Before I go on to describe some of the most common exercise programming mistakes I see, I want to outline the risks involved with making these mistakes:

  • Injury. This is far and away the biggest risk of poor programming. In my opinion, if you exercise for health, you should never get injured as a result of your exercise program. I understand that for competitive athletes, a certain amount of risk is assumed in order to push the limits of performance, and I also understand that on any given day, shit happens, so a random injury might occur. But often, what seems random, is not, and if you look at past workouts, there were modifiable factors that contributed to the injury. The other injury consideration is joint degeneration.
  • Negative postural changes. Posture is complex – it has psychological and emotional components to complement the physical components that are commonly talked about. One of the influences on posture are the activities and tasks we expose ourselves to on a regular basis. With poor exercising programming, you can develop poor postural habits.
  • Suboptimal progress. To be honest, the risk of getting injured is enough of a reason to ensure good exercise programming. However, even if you are a throw caution to the wind type, good programming will ensure you make the best possible progress towards your goals, whatever they may be.

The Most Common Exercise Programming Mistakes People Make

These 4 mistakes are not listed in any particular order, and I would say, based on experience only, that the majority of people who have poor (or no) programming when it comes to their exercise make more than one of these mistakes, if not all!

1. Improper or lack of warm up

There’s a popular quote in trainer circles:

If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out.

Unfortunately, like many things, the quote is more popular than the practice.

Too many people make the mistake of not warming up properly before exercising, or, even worse, not warming up at all.

Excuses range from “it’s boring” to “I don’t have time” and god knows what else.

Like many things, there is a disconnect between what most people do and what those who are succesful do.

For example: professional sports clubs, with million dollar athletes, have staff dedicated to optimising warm ups in order to maximise training and game performance and minimise injury risk.

The bottom line is, warming up is important.

During a warm up, there are 3 main goals:

  • Psychological preparation – a transition period from what you were doing, to what you are going to do.
  • Physical preparation – increase body temperature, address physical qualities like mobility and muscle activation
  • Skill practice to prime the nervous system for the upcoming task

If you don’t warm up properly (or at all), you decrease your subsequent performance and increase your risk of injury. A lose-lose situation.

2. Lack of Flexibility Work

Time magnifies errors in training. – Ian King

Ian King has been a physical preparation coach for more than 30 years, and is often outspoken about many topics. However, his opinion is based upon experiencing of producing real world results with both athletes and coaches over many years, so his opinion counts.

One of the biggest topics he is vocal about, is flexibility training.

I like static stretching. I know, I know…current trends in sport science have found favor in other methods, like dynamic stretching. But, in my opinion, it’s all part of a circle that’s slowly turning. Static stretching was the big hit in the ’80s, and I suggest that it will be again. – Ian King

Not only does Ian promote the less popular static stretching, he also promotes stretching before a workout.

Now, I’m not going to regurgitate his reasons for doing so – you can read the article for yourself – but the biggest take home was that if you are performing activities that stiffen your connective tissue (just about everything involving muscular contraction), then you should be performing activities that decrease this stiffness as well.

To counter the points above, people will cite research that demonstrates decreases in power and force production immediately after stretching (lasting up to 15 minutes).

To paraphrase Ian again, if you did a study that measured strength immediately after a weight training workout, you would see a decrease in strength, and the researchers would conclude, based on that data, that weight training makes you weaker.

The solution lies in watching how top level athletes have prepared for many years, which is generally a variation of the following sequence:

  1. 3-5 minutes of general warm up to elevate body temperature
  2. Static stretching
  3. Dynamic/specific warm up
  4. Workout
  5. Go home

The added bonus of this: after your workout, when you are tired, you don’t have to do anything else, except maybe walk around a bit to cool down and start recovering.

3. Ignoring structural balance

Structural balance is a term I first read about in the writings of Charles Poliquin, another highly experienced strength coach.

Whilst we know that posture is poorly correlated to pain, we also know that the body will adapt to repetitive activities.

Thus, if all you do is run, then your body will adapt to running, which is both good and bad.

Good, because your performance will increase, bad, because you need to do more than run in your life.

Wealso  know from various research, that relative strength imbalances can lead to injury, so the implication is clear: balance your training to reduce injury risk.

This means:

  • Exercising a variety of physical qualities – strength, power, endurance, flexibility etc.
  • Performing a variety of activities.
  • Moving across different planes of motion and different “levels” (ground, standing, kneeling etc).
  • Balancing stresses across joints as best as possible.
  • Allowing for periods of higher intensity/lower volume and lower intensity/high volume.

4. “Too Much”

This is not a specific claim, but rather, an observation that most people, once they cross the line from casual exerciser to exercise enthusiast simply do “too much”.

Whether it is too much strength work and not enough flexibility and endurance work, or too much exercise and not enough rest and recovery.

I’m a massive proponent of doing something everyday if possible, but that doesn’t mean smashing yourself every day.

In my experience, this simply stems from being overly emotional about the outcomes attached to exercise.

You are not your fitness.

If you have an overly emotional attachment to certain outcomes associated with your fitness, I’d suggest you do some deep contemplation to find more balance in your life.

Conclusions

It might seem that I keep repeating myself when I talk about training: warm up, manage your volume/intensity, work on all physical qualities, prioritise rest and recovery etc etc.

That’s because:

  1. This is what the vast majority of people need to do, but don’t
  2. Training isn’t as complicated as the internet makes it out to be.

What is complicated, is you as a person (we all are), and so a good coach helps you recognise where you are, what you need and what you don’t. In fact, many of the benefits of a coach are not that you have the best program (it doesn’t exist), but rather adherence, consistency and progression, regardless of the means.

To avoid making exercise programming mistakes, it’s best to enlist help. There are options to suit all needs and budgets, ranging from free programs online all the way to individualised coaching (both online and in person).

Whatever your scenario, even for a short time it’s worthwhile investing in coaching of some form, in order to learn skills that will stay with you for life.

 

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.

 



 

References

(1) Australian Institute of Sport – The Warm Up and Cool Down

(2) Ian King Blog

(3) Ian King – The Lazy Man’s Guide to Stretching

(4) Charles Poliquin Blog