The myth of perfect technique

As someone who gets the opportunity to coach people on a daily basis, I strive to get my clients moving with the best technique possible.

We know that moving under load with poor technique can lead to poor force distribution (AKA unwanted stress on specific joints), which substantially increases our likelihood of developing injuries, both acutely (while we are performing that movement), and chronically (some time down the track during sport or exercise).

Furthermore, training with poor technique can lead to significant muscular imbalances. These imbalances can lead to nasty postural deviations, further movement impairment, and again, an increased risk of injury.

Fortunately for us as coaches, technique is one of the few things we have a HUGE amount of control over.

We have the opportunity to educate on the importance of proper technique, develop and ingrain quality movement patterns through the use of relevant exercise progressions and regressions, and can improve limited movement through a number of corrective exercise strategies.

In short, we have the necessary knowledge and ability to ensure that each and every one of our clients are performing a given movement with the a high quality of control and technical proficiency – and it is for this reason that having a client perform movement in a poor or dangerous manner is unacceptable.

But, it is also important to note that quality technique is completely individual.

Despite what the internet warriors might like you to believe, there is no such thing as perfect, textbook, technique.

Everyone has completely individual anatomy (this includes not only limb lengths, but also joint depth) that can significantly alter the range of movement at specific joints. It is for this reason that some people can squat ass to grass with their feet at barely shoulder width, while others can only just squat to parallel, and only when using a wider stance.

For some it may mean that deadlifting conventional is out of the question, and a narrow sumo stance is their best option. For others it may mean that a conventional deadlift is ideal.

None of these techniques are wrong, and in both cases, they may provide the ideal position option for that individual to complete that given movement – but in the same light, each technique is different – and none of them are perfect.

 

Ideal Technique

As coaches it is our job to find the ideal position for our clients to perform a given movement safely and effectively. While this position may be different for each individual client, there are number key things we can look for to ensure this position is found and trained correctly.

Firstly, the individual needs to be able to maintain a neutral spinal position for the movement’s duration. While this is true for almost any exercise, it holds significant importance for lower body dominant exercises (think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations) as these movements place significant compressive and shearing forces on the spine.

These forces are actually a good thing when a neutral spine is maintained, as it teaches the muscles of the trunk to resist these forces – this is essential to building a strong and healthy spine.

BUT, when this position is lost, and the trunk moves (flexes or extends) under these forces, we become susceptible to injury and dysfunction.

As a result, we need to play around and find the optimal position where an individual has maximum joint range of motion while being able to maintain a neutral spine. This can be done by assessing passive and active joint ranges in different positions OR reducing the range of movement to ensure that neutral spine is maintained (which can be done by using boxes or blocks to reduce a movements range).

Secondly, we need to sure that the joints remain ‘stacked’ on top of each other. In short this means knees and hips are kept aligned throughout the movement’s duration, limiting any shearing or rotational forces that may be placed on the knees (think excessive knee valgus during the squat).

This can again be done by using suitable exercise regressions OR utilising the principals of reactive neuromuscular control to ensure safe positions are maintained (think bands pulling the knee into valgus during a split squat to teach the body to resist these forces).

 

Closing thoughts

Everyone is different, and as such there really is no such thing as perfect technique. Despite this, we as coaches have a duty of care to ensure that our clients are performing a given movement with the best technique possible given their individual anatomy.

This means ensuring a neutral spine is maintained throughout the movement duration, and guaranteeing that the joints remained stacked.

Exercise regressions are encouraged to teach proper positioning, and can also be extremely beneficial to keeping a movement within a safe range of motion. Remember, there is no right way to perform a given exercise, but there is most likely a best way for a given individual at a specific point in time.