One of the most important components of being, or finding, a good trainer is the ability to understand the why behind an exercise, and it is the core principle of everything I educate the trainers that I mentor on, as well as how I encourage my clients to remain bulletproof to fitness industry BS.
Despite being generally ignored, figuring out the why isn’t that difficult. Google is around 3.5 seconds away from anything, and there’s plenty of glossy articles that go through what an exercise does, and why you should do it. Add in emerging articles around mental prep, goalsetting etc., and there’s plenty of at-hand resources to quickly answer any questions around this.
But when it comes to “why not?” that calls upon a rare breed of trainer that has both experience and knowledge, to figure out why you CAN’T do an exercise.
In a scene that is not uncommon at all, Armadeus Schwarzenegger (not his real name beleive it or not) was an elite athlete client of mine who could back squat a baby elephant and was so ripped that his thumbs had 6-packs. Yet when asked to perform a body weight squat, the breeze from the wings of a passing mosquito would see him fall backwards in an embarrassed heap. And whilst his squat looked ok to the untrained eye, he was unable to perform them without his lifting shoes, rotated incredibly to one side, and would pull up with lower back pain after every heavy squatting session.
Arguably, Armadeus could do the exercises, and when I discuss the “Why Not?” concept, it seems as though I would be referring to why you can’t do an exercise at all. This may be true in many cases, such as pain or complete lack of movement, but more so, I’m referring to why you can’t do the exercise properly. Armadeus’s compensations didn’t stop him performing the exercise, though it arguably should have. Ignoring why not and pushing through, is a great way to reinforce compensation patterns, that result in detrimental changes in tensile stress forces and can even result in bone remodelling changes.
Our body responds to mechanical stress though triggering cellular components to increase muscle fibre size, type and density and increased neural output, to crudely point to a few components that can be detrimentally effected through poor exercise form. Importantly, our bones also undergo constant change, and when it comes to stress, it is worth understanding that stress on our bones occurs in the direction of the stress applied. Whilst Kenny Quads smashing out a poor form squat doesn’t feel like he should be too concerned under a couple of hundred kilos at the age of 20, the older patient with arthritis sees noticeable remodelling effects of loads as small as poor walking patterns, as a result of unequal joint loading due to poor walking mechanics.
Add to this, the changes in tension that arise through joints from being pulled towards muscles that are more developed, or active on one side, as well as increased neural input to these muscles, it’s no wonder that pain eventually occurs as a result of poorly performed exercise, whether you can point the finger at it or not. It’s the case I make for being a stickler for doing something properly and paying attention to your movement, even when it seems much cooler to shout out reps and make a client spew through a crappy squat, than hold them back and teach them how to do something properly, or as blasphemous as it seems, actually have an athlete not perform an exercise that they can’t do well. Keep in mind, any exercise you choose is saying no to thousands of others that may have been performed in it’s place. Don’t be afraid to drop an exercise if it’s not doing its job, or regress and work your way back towards it.