performance

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.

Why you should use performance based goals to track progress

Something that has become quite apparent to me in more recent years, is that most people make the decision to join the gym and start training as a way to make changes to their body.

And while there are certainly some exceptions to this rule (there are no doubt a select few who want to get stronger, or improve athleticism), you can guarantee that the vast majority of people who enter the gym want to feel better about themselves, and ultimately, look good naked.

And there is nothing wrong with this.

Improving body composition is a worthy goal, and working hard to make changes to your body can be extremely rewarding.

The issue is that when trying to improve body composition, people often measure progress through the use of weight related goals - for example: I want to lose 10 kilograms. And while I admit that I am not in the position to determine whether your individual goal is acceptable or not, I can say that in my experience weight related goals rarely provide any value at all.

Although it may sound like a good idea at the time, most people don’t realize that our weight tends to fluctuate massively in accordance to what we have eaten the past couple of days, how much fluid we have consumed, and how much exercise we have performed (among a myriad of other potential factors).

Moreover, if we are using weight training (as ideally we should be) to promote fat loss, then we will most likely see increases in muscle mass that coincide with reductions in fat mass. This would result in a relatively unchanged scale weight, despite actually losing fat tissue.

As a result, if your goal is ‘to lose 10 kilograms’, you might become disheartened despite actually making some pretty serious changes to your body composition.

In this situation the scale is not really indicative of all the progress you have made.

So what can we do instead?

 

Performance based goals

Performance based goals pretty much describe goals based around improvements observed in the gym or on the field.

For example, completing 5 strict chin ups, deadlifting 1.5X body weight, or performing 15 strict push ups are all fine performance based goals. These performance based goals have much more merit than weight related goals because they don’t rely on something as variable of body weight to track change.

And more importantly, these goals are truly indicative of the hard work that you put in.

If you start at the gym and can’t perform either a single chin up or a single push up, and then after 3 months of training can complete 3 chin ups and 10 push ups, you can be certain that you have made progress. These improvements are a tangible measure of all the hard work you have put in to your training over the last 90 days.

And seeing the cumulative results of your hard work is extremely rewarding.

Furthermore, I can guarantee that some serious changes in body compassion (aka a loss of fat mass and an increase in muscle mass) will have come along with these performance based changes.

And while these changes may not be identified as clearly by the scale, you can certainly see them (in both physical appearance and improvement in performance).

 

So In Summary

It’s unfortunate, but too many people seem to think that a reduction in scale weight is progress. I say unfortunate, because realistically speaking, I could go to the bathroom and see more weight loss in 10 minutes than most would see after 2 weeks of solid training.

While the scale does measure ‘weight’, it can be extremely deceptive. How do you know that you have lost fat and not muscle? or just fluid for that matter?

But if you see genuine improvement in your performance, then you can guarantee you are making quality progress.

Seriously, the sooner you make your goals performance based, the better off you will be (trust me).

 

Name *
Name

Is Stretching Really Dead?

With the rapid rise of foam rolling and a host of other effective (and often brutal) modalities of self-myofascial release, stretching has experienced a huge decline in popularity.

This has also coincided with some studies appearing within the scientific community demonstrating that prolonged periods of static stretching can lead to significant reductions in power production and force output (AKA it makes you weaker).

But, does that mean that stretching has no place in our training programs?

hunter bennett performance adelaide based personal training

 

Stretching and power output.

The first point I do want to address with this blog post is the impact that static stretching has on power output. After the initial research undertaken on this topic, stretching was demonised as useless, pointless, and harmful.

As such, while it is often considered common knowledge that static stretching leads to reductions in performance, this isn’t actually the whole story.

While longer duration static stretching (greater than 60 seconds in duration) can lead to reductions in power output immediately after stretching, this effect is not seen for stretches performed for 45 seconds or less.

And seriously, who actually stretches an individual muscle for more than 60 seconds at a time?

So this suggests that short bouts of static stretching will have NO negative effects on performance, which means that you can stretch without the fear that your workout will suffer.

 

Should we stretch?

So if stretching doesn’t affect our physical performance, does that mean we should stretch?

Like almost all of my answers to any training related question…… it depends.

We know that stretching does indeed increase flexibility – that is fact. But whether we need to stretch is a different story entirely.

In my opinion, stretching certainly has its uses – when used correctly.

With the excessive (and often detrimental) amount of sedentary activity we perform each and every day, some muscle tissues will become short and stiff. It is these shortened tissues that, in my personal experience, respond well to stretching.

By stretching these specific muscles, we can return length to muscles are in a shortened state, while also improving joint range of motion, and movement quality as a whole. This can often lead to improved performance, and a decreased risk of injury.

AKA it is good.

But, there is a bit of a kicker.

It is extremely rare that those muscle groups that feel tight, are actually tight.

I have written about this extensively HERE, but often, those muscles that feel tight are actually in lengthened state, due to; A) An antagonistic muscle group being in a short and stiff state; B) excessive weakness of that lengthened muscle group; or C) a combination of the two.

A simple example of this would be the guy who is always stretching his hamstrings because they feel tight, despite them never getting better. This is probably because those hamstrings are in a lengthened position and already under stretch (hence why they feel tight). The issue is most likely tight antagonistic muscle groups (rectus femoris and the hip flexors) and weak hamstrings.

Not tight hamstrings.

 

hunter bennett performance stretching

 

So how do we know what to stretch?

This is pretty simple.

Assess and then reassess.

Check movement, and If movement is poor check range of motion at specific joints. If ROM is limited, then a specific muscle is likely tight. Stretch that muscle (or muscle group), then reassess. If A) range of motion has increased, or B) movement has improved, then you have probably found the tight muscle.

An example of the process might look something like this.

We assess a squat, and get early pelvic tucking. We then perform the Thomas test to assess hip flexor length and find that they have tight hip flexors. We then stretch the hip flexors and ideally, Thomas test improves AND the squat improves.

Now this is an extremely simplistic (and idealistic) scenario. In the real world there is a chance that the squat performance will not improve despite and improvement on the Thomas test – this would suggest either a stability issue, or a motor control issue.

But, I am getting a little off topic here.

With all that in mind, I am trying to demonstrate the potential benefits of stretching, and why it should not me discarded completely.

More so, stretching can become an extremely useful tool to improve both movement and range of motion when used correctly, and should not be ignored because of some of the early research showing its influence on performance.

Name *
Name