Misplaced Emphasis equals Misplaced Progress
Before jumping into today's blog post (and my return to writing for my own site) check out out my latest article on assessing and understanding the squat pattern for the PTDC
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“I don’t think that means what you think that means”
A hilarious line delivered by Inigo Montoya in an excellent 80's movie, The Princess Bride, serves as a memorable moment, but also a quote that can be applied beyond movies. (Side note: I never made Princess Bride a "thing" due to the title, but after seeing it a few years ago I can say for certain I was missing a memorable movie.).
As a writer I often find myself misusing a word and subsequently laughing off the implications of publishing something that is received significantly differently than I intended. Whether it is misusing a word, or as John Romaniello has so eloquently pointed out, the misuse of emphasis, many errors can be made in writing.
In fact, it may be the emphasis of a written piece that so perfectly defines it.
It is that emphasis, or point of focus, that makes a sentence more than just another amalgamation of words on a blank screen or finely woven sheet of paper. A writer’s purpose is not found in their vocabulary, rather, it is found in the artistic demonstration of intent paired with a mastery of language that excites the mind of the receiver. There is the thought that went into writing the text and the thought the text invoked once it was read.
Performing an exercise is much the same
There is the exercise as it was designed or instructed by a trainer and the exercise as it was performed by the individual doing it.
Under the watchful eye of a quality trainer the chasm between these two endpoints is often nothing more than a subtle crack. An exercise performed in solitary, ready upon a foundation constructed by said trainer, is typically executed nearly as well, but with flaws in either tempo or intensity.
Below these thresholds exist misguided performances driven by either ego, or lack of comprehension (or both).
Deadlifts that are forcefully bounced off the floor with a spine that looks like an oval…
Pullups that are more kip than they are pull…
And Bench Press repetitions that cover exactly 5.765 (repeating of course) inches of optimal range of motion…
There are other exercises, those which are much subtler in nature, that are most commonly done incorrectly -
Half Kneeling Single Arm Pulldowns
Single Arm DB Reciprocal Press
Loaded Bulgarian Split Squats
All of these exercises have tremendous purpose – typically one much beyond the standard vanity that drives tank tops towards dumbbells. Injury prevention, corrective exercise, neuromuscular priming, unilateral stability, and more are all valid reasons these four moves (and others like them) are put into a training program.
Yet, more often than not – the individuals that are performing them are doing so all wrong. These errors aren't intentional. Rather, it is simply a lack of coaching.
More specifically, a lack of understanding of the purpose, or intent, of a given exercise. The person performing the movement has just not been told why they should be doing the movement, what it achieves, and what they should be focused upon while doing it.
Just as a sentence in isolation has no purpose in abstract (unless of course an abstract, thought provoking gander is the purpose) – an exercise in isolation is nothing more than itself. It is there simply to be performed – mindlessly or overflowing with intention – by a user who most likely lacks the appropriate comprehension to tell the difference.
Without knowing that the purpose of a half kneeling single-arm pulldown is to challenge core stability, scapular movement, and emphasized lat drive – the user is just going to grab a cable and yank on it until the lawnmower starts.
When looking at a plank, most people work to get “OUT” of tension when the purpose is quite the opposite. A plank, much like a compound lift, is meant to maximize tension throughout the body with a special emphasis on the core, glutes, and postural muscles of the thoracic spine.
Glutes and feet squeeze together, hands apart and lats engaged, all while the core is drawn in and the body shifts forward out of the base of support – Correct
Wide feet, sagging hips, praying hands and a hump for a back, all while snapchatting and instafacing the workout – Not Quite There
People aren’t doing these exercises wrong simply because they want to watch the world burn. Rather, they don’t understand why they are doing them, why doing them better will actually help them look and feel better, and how to even marry the action with the intention in the first place.
They likely learned it from a friend, a trainer in passing, or saw it on a social feed while waiting in line at Starbucks. They have every intention to do it right, because like anyone in the gym – they want results.
No different than the professional who created or coached the exercise in the first place – they want to get people results.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions…
These intentions are oft lead by the vast sea of fitness professionals that have turned passion, curiosity, or acumen into a profitable career centered on the actualization of scientific principle to help others. Just as the intrinsic actions of the sea, amidst the tremendous mass of water, sends waves ashore – the fitness industry propels its people, and their ideas upon land – all for the consumption of the congregation.
Information continues to flow from the training industry via research studies, social media, fitness media, personal sites such as this, and classic word of mouth. Just as the waves will never stop crashing upon the sandy shore, there will never be a shortage of information to hit the “beach”.
The beach is full of a variety of consumers – some surf, while others swim. Some dip their toes in while others sit far away and simply observe. The fitness industry is no different.
The width of the chasm doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of the consumer or the professional. Instead it is simply the product of an industry full of wave-makers that don’t often consider the person just getting their feet wet. Just the same – the consumer does not yet realize that playing in the ocean means more than just getting wet.
Here is the plan of action:
Don’t “post” an exercise simply to get likes, shares, or feedback. More specifically, only share a demonstrated exercise when you can provide adequate coaching and an assignment of intent. There is no sense in demonstrating a banded bird dog if you aren’t going to give at least three or four focus points for the viewer to employ upon trying it.
The same goes with in-person coaching. Do not just grab a bar, bell, or handle and do a few repetitions (usually two) and simply hand it off to the client. Never expect learning. Facilitate it by hitting all three learning styles: auditory, visual, kinesthetic. Ensure the client understands where the focus goes, the tempo they should move, and how they should generally feel during and after a set.
The ultimate responsibility of a personal trainer is to create an environment where learning may take place. It may seem, and often feels, as though immediate results drive business. However, developing a platform that allows the client to become self-serving is the ultimate training accomplishment.
More likely than not, your client won’t achieve their dream body because of only you, and that is perfectly OK. Usually, they’ll achieve it because they married your guidance, knowledge, and motivation with their own curiosity, work ethic, and desire to achieve.
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life” - chinese proverb
Or as I say
“If I get hit by a bus tomorrow I want you to be able to do this one correctly”
Eloquence aside the point is the same – coach so they don’t need you. It’s that simple. Don’t assume they know what you mean – you know what I mean?
"To know and not yet to do is not yet to know" – Lao Tzu
"To do and not yet know is not yet to do" – Kevin Mullins (me)
You want to ensure that you understand the purpose behind your exercise selection. Doing something simply because you’ve heard about the benefits, or because your friend/trainer/YouTube called it awesome. Many exercises, especially those that are more complex in execution, are also complex in intention.
The single arm lat pull down, for example, should have a large percentage of focus being dedicated to the core. Resisting rotation, flexion, or over extension are critical elements of the movement. From there focus should go towards keeping the pulling shoulder down and tight, or maintaining a depressed scapula and achieving maximal retraction at the end point.
Yet, many will simply see that it is a pull down with one arm, divide their normal load in half, and start pulling. Not wrong per se’, but definitely not right.
Doing an exercise is a lot like putting together IKEA furniture. Sure, you know what a dresser, kitchen table, or bed frame should look like – it can’t be that hard. However, blindly putting together your new chifferobe will often end up in a handful of extra screws, something just not being “right” about the piece, and the frustrating need to take the thing a part and do it again (I know this too well).
Just the same, doing an exercise with understanding the intention and points of focus will typically end up in a lack of results, a sense of confusion, and possibly even an injury.
That is no one's goal.
It is exciting to look around and see so many people engaging in exercises well beyond the biceps curl, bench press, or quarter squats with too many plates. Cable retractions, dead bugs, and planks now fill the landscape. It is proof that fitness has truly become a conscious dedication in the sphere of information consumption. It is a large step in the right direction.
In today’s socially fed society it is easy to obtain the what. What takes work, however, is accessing the why and how. This responsibility falls upon fitness professional and consumer equally. The message must be better, but the recipient must be curious enough to seek more.