Monday Workout ~ Training to Improve Form
When I first entered the fitness industry (about 8 years ago), the term “functional” became all the rage. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I didn’t get caught up in that phase, but as the years went by and looking at what people were doing that worked versus what “looked different” made me leave the functional movements behind.
A deadlift, a squat and a push-up when done correctly are some of the most functional movements there are. Seriously, you pick things up from the ground, you sit down and you lift yourself off of something (usually a bed).
The fact that these very things are not the staple of most exercise programs limits more people in trying to lose weight, gain muscle and just live a better life overall than almost anything else out there.
This article will help to explain why everyone should include a cycle of improving one’s form or at least make it a part of their warm-up routine.
The first article in this series discussed the 4 cycles of training and explained how some clients think it’s “too easy” when first starting out. These clients typically have had a trainer before and expect to get their ass kicked in every single session. Now, none of my regular clients accuse me of being “too easy” but I truly believe that the first couple of weeks should have more dedicated time to correcting one’s form. If you can’t reach good squat depth, then you should work on that.
Everyone can start deadlifting the first day in the gym – the question is, can they deadlift from the ground or do they need to do a limited range of motion deadlift. Should they start with just a limited range of motion, single-handed dumbbell deadlift or can they go from a box and deadlift from depth.
The same can be said with push-ups. Almost anyone can do push-ups on the first day, but I never allow modified push-ups. What they can do is from height, either on the smith machine or step or I simply have them do it from the ground with assistance from a band around their waist.
What these three exercises show and the perfect form on each is what I expect of all of my clients without any serious injuries that inhibit them from doing these movements safely.
With that said, before I “kick someone’s ass” in the gym, I want to make sure that they can do some basic movements. Why is this? Because if they can’t do the “basic” movements, then it’s going to be very hard to keep them progressing once they get accustomed to density workouts.
Let me explain what I’m talking about.
If someone can’t get to a proper squat depth there’s over 10 different things that I can focus on. Here’s seven of those 10 things:
1 – Make sure your deep core musculature is firing correctly
2 – Get Your VMO firing
3 – Make sure your Glute Medius and Minimus are firing correctly
4 – Increase Your Thoracic Extensibility
5 – Groove the pattern of the movement
6- Make Sure your Calves are Properly stretched
7 – Loosen Tight Hip Flexors under resistance
Each one of these 7 things takes into account different modalities. For example, make sure the deep core is firing correctly could be as simple as stretching your hip flexors, doing a couple of stability ball circles and palloff presses.
Increasing your thoracic extensibility could mean foam rolling your chest, lats, t-spine and biceps. Doing activation exercises such as wall slides and keeping that extensibility by stretching your pecs and lats and doing some band pull aparts. All of these things will help with thoracic extensibility, but it can be hard to explain that by spending 15 minutes on these movements, I can help with your squat depth.
The bottom line is that that’s just 7 things for a person’s squats. This doesn’t include all of the assistance exercises that could come into play, especially if there’s an imbalance between their right and left sides.
Bad push-ups usually comes from a variety of sources, but is mostly linked to lack of upper body strength (mostly in women) or lack of core strength (the slinky push-up).
Ways to correct Deadlift form could take up a whole DVD, and in fact do (Gray Cook’s Backside DVD is recommended).
Basically, poor deadlift form comes down to:
1 – Poor hamstring flexibility (or poor ability to hinge at the hip)
2 – Poor activation of deep core musculature
3 – Tight hamstrings
4 – Lack of kinesthetic awareness
5 – Lack of glute activation
6 – Failure to keep your upper body “tight”
7 – Trying to do too much, too soon
Again, each of these things encompasses a number of different techniques that can be termed “functional” to an average personal trainer. The difference here is that you have a larger reason to do those “functional” movements. They’re to get you to be able to safely perform the truly functional movements – deadlifts, squats, push-ups.
These modalities could include foam rolling, stretching, activation exercises, “core” movements, etc.
This is by far the most individualized of all 4 cycles and should be structured by someone that has at least attended the FMS or similar movement screening process.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have a challenging workout – it just means that the primary purpose of your workouts should be to correct your form on the main movements. If you do that, and focus on that primarily, you’ll be able to see more progress than if you skip this cycle.
The best times to include this cycle into your routine is when you first start working out. In other words, if you’re a beginner and just starting with serious strength training. Facets of these corrective movements should also be interspersed in every warm-up and routine that you follow. This should also be one’s primary focus at least one month per year. If everyone took October or November before striving to “put on some size” or “get serious about losing weight” they would be in a much better place to see those results.
In other words, don’t skip this cycle.
If you have any questions, leave a comment or email me at John@ThePsychologyOfFitness.com.