Weight Loss and Exercise Technique - Do it Right (Enough)
Quickly, before I dive into the content of this post I want to give a shout out to Travis Pollen, the Fitness Pollenator for having me on his Podcast this past week. You can watch it here. We had a ton of fun talking about everything and anything fitness and more.
I am a stickler for exercise technique. Let's just put that out there.
I'm not special though. All of the good coaches in this industry understand what proper form for all exercises looks like, how to coach it, and how to troubleshoot it when a client cannot adequately perform the movement.
The great coaches can identify what specific muscles need to fire, and which ones are overactive. A few manipulations and targeted exercises and boom...Cold Cuts.
Even in my blog!
What all coaches, regardless of ability level, can agree upon is this statement:
People for the most part are exceptionally different. Therefore, the way they perform particular exercises, especially those with a barbell, will have noticable variation versus someone else performing the same movement.
Take for example a professional NBA player, who averages 6 feet 7 inches, performing a deadlift. The hips will present higher to account for the length of the femur and tibia bones. The foot position will be wider than normal, as will hand position.
To the contrary, the average height of an American male, 5'10'', would equate to near picture-perfect set-up at the barbell assuming the individual has no musculoskeletal issues.
In this instance the basketball player is going to perform significantly more work during the lift because the distance that the bar must travel, which is going to impact their ability to excel at the lift even if other strength markers point to a particular "number" to working on the barbell.
Simply put, there is a built in range of acceptance when it comes to coaching advanced barbell exercises. It is critical to note that not every person is going to be able to set up and perform a textbook version of a given lift, especially early on in a training cycle, or if the individual is aiming to lose weight.
The Unspoken Rule - Is it Safe?
First and foremost, it needs to be stated that any deviation away from optimal form needs to be weighed against the safety of execution. Does the client's inability to execute a particular cue or movement pattern put them at risk of an injury?
If the answer to this question is yes, then stop immediately and regress the movement appropriately until the client can progress back.
Safety is the first priority in everything a fitness professional does and so it doesn't even need to be in the rulebook. It is assumed.
Sadly, like getting too schwasty at a wedding before a toast to the couple... it is still a oft-violated rule. One that shouldn't need to be stated beforehand, but is just to make sure!
Just Hold on You're Gonna Hurt
Weight Loss and Complex Exercises-
People are highly capable individuals if you empower them with trust and opportunity. If a client believes that you believe in them and that you are granting them an opportunity to succeed, then more than likely they will do just that...succeed.
This truth may never be more evident than with clients who are wanting to lose weight from their bodies and reveal a new version of themselves. They can't be treated like children who are incapable of doing anything without spilling the milk; yet, they can't be given the freedom of a well-trained athlete.
Both ends of the spectrum will lead the client feeling a complete putz. Either they are smart enough to realize how simplisitic their exercise selection is and feel like they will never get to their end goal, or they will lament how incapable they are of just grippin' and rippin' for an hour like you want them to do.
Want to quickly lose a weight loss client? Make them fail a lot, or take it so easy on them they feel you like don't believe in them.
Challenge them to complete advanced tasks in controlled environments.
For example, all of my clients regardless of age, sex, weight, or training goal will deadlift at some point during their training program, typically quite quickly. Now, this does not mean that I'm throwing a bunch of plates on a bar and telling them to "get some!". Rather, I tap into various regressions and deviations that allow for the individual to accurately present a hip hinge in a safe and effective manner.
Little old lady? Bending down to pick up a 4lb. sandbell and throw it at me upon standing.
Young girl who is scared to lift with a barbell? Sumo stance KB deadlifts
CEO/Lawyer/Professional with Posture issues? Horizontal Cable deadlifts with emphasis on thoracic packing.
Everyone can bend down and pick something up and benefit from it. Plain and Simple.
Now, an individual who needs to lose weight needs not to be treated as though they are broken. In fact, I have worked with a lot of people who moved quite well at their heaviest, which lead to outstanding performances with time, coaching, and success.
Unless a specific hinderance presents itself I will put exercises, loads, and volumes into the training program without hesitation. We will go heavy, light, superset, drop-set, singles and doubles, etc.
Yet, there is a deviation in how I coach them.
I stated earlier that I believe in a "range" of acceptable movment. As long as the movement is being done safely I am willing to accept a few flaws in the pattern to ensure I am able to provide an adequate training effect.
The 1st written rule of training: Deliver the training effect desired by the client
Don't go making a guy who wants to build muscle do sets of 30 just because you don't want to bring him heavier weights. Don't go making someone run just because they "hate weights". Do your darn job. (I digress).
Let's stick with the deadlift. I want to make sure I get the heart pumping, muscle burning benefits of the deadlift for my client. If I spend thirty five minutes fine tuning every detail like optimal foot position, hand position, perfect shoulder packing, or chin position, then I'll never actually get them to do enough repetitions to cause a training effect.
Again, that doesn't mean that I slam a Kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell on the ground and say "do it". Rather, I coach the neccessary cues such as hips back, flat spine, and strong "chest-up" posture. If they can maintain this without presenting knee valgus, thoracic or lumbar rounding, and excessive internal rotation of the shoulders, then I'm stoked. Let's train.
The goal of the training session is to safely elicit a training effect while providing an enjoyable service that exceeds the expectation of the client, and all those watching.
Don't spend every minute of a session coaching every damn detail, and doing 47 activation exercises to "get them in line". Let them train, let them learn, and most importantly let them build confidence in themselves, in you, and in the program.
Don't make someone who doesn't have confidence in their physical self feel like a failure just because they can't present a perfect deadlift, squat, or tricep extension. There will be deviations, failures, and enough WTF moments to joke about down the road.
Down that same road there will also be time to refine that technique to perfection. Better foot position, better shoulders, and a better hip drive can play a secondary role to losing the neccessary poundage to make someone healthier and happier.
In due time.
I write today's blog with hopes that fellow professionals understand that we aren't perfect either. Just as our clients cannot do every movement to fit a square, nor can we coach perfectly.
Early in my career I was so hell-bent on perfect biomechanics that I spent too much time coaching specifics to a person who just needed to operate in generalities. You don't need to dumb down your program and you don't need to compromise the integrity of the exercise or the client. You simply need to determine what is mission critical and go forward from there.
Progressive Overload is not just a concept that refers to the physical loading of muscles, but also the mental loading of your client. Don't inundate them with enough information to fill an E-book.
If you are like me and want to dive deeper after you've had a few good coffees and can practicly see grid lines around the client, then take a deep breathe and say quitely to yourself -
In due time.