When we build a house we start by creating a stable foundation. We build the house on that foundation with the expectation that the house will remain sound for many years with minimal or manageable wear and tear. We need to take the same approach with the human body.
There are people out there that work out with way too much weight and poor technique. Sometimes they are doing a very advanced version of an exercise, but have not yet mastered the simple version of the same exercise. A good example of this is people doing abdominal exercises on the TRX straps or yoga ball, but they can’t hold a plank properly for any length of time. If you can’t master the basics, you’re probably not getting the most you could out of the advanced exercises. You may even be doing yourself more harm than good.
You know you’ve seen these people working out in your gym, or maybe you are one of these people. This is one of the reasons I stopped working out at the gym. I hated watching people do horrible things to their body’s and not being able to do anything about it. The reasons people have for doing this are usually something like “The more weight I can lift the stronger I am,” or “I’m getting a better workout doing it this way,” or even “This way is more exciting for me.” In this article I’m going to tell you why advancing exercises without a proper foundation and form is a bad idea.
What Not To Do
A couple summers ago I had the pleasure of working with a very pleasant 19 year old female hockey player. She came to physical therapy because she had pain in both of her knees which was diagnosed as patellofemoral syndrome (pain around or behind the kneecap). She had this pain for as long as she could remember. She had trained every summer at a strength and conditioning facility for three years and her knees bothered her the whole time.
When I asked her what she did when she trained there she said she did a lot of weight training and agility training in a group setting. Then I asked her to perform a squat for me. I was shocked by what I saw. This young lady could not squat without her knees diving towards each other. She could not keep her weight through her heels and she was clearly lacking core stability. So, I had her jump from a squat and land back into a squat. Her mechanics doing this task were terrible. Meanwhile, this young lady was squatting with a 40-50 pound bar on her shoulders and doing hopping and jumping drills at the strength and conditioning gym, which were just contributing to her pain.
How We Fixed It
So, we backed up and starting working on proper squat technique and joint alignment during activities using only body weight as resistance . I made sure she was doing everything correctly before adding any resistance. Not surprisingly, her knees started to feel better and when she went off to college at the end of the summer she told me this was the first time her knees had felt good in years.
All she needed was someone to evaluate her and correct her body mechanics and the way she was performing exercise. I never heard from her after that, but I hope she went on to play sports in college and was able to build on her new found exercise techniques properly to prevent any increased knee pain in the future.
Take Home Message
Unfortunately, I see this way too often in rehab. In this case I was actually surprised that the gym she was working out in didn’t do more to make sure she was using proper technique. I usually see this with high school kids that are working out at school with their coach as their guide.
I thought this was a nice example of how building a proper foundation of strength and stability can not only prevent injury, but also help someone recover from injury. So, I hope that you will ask your trainer or strength coach to make sure you have proper strength, stability, and exercise technique before you start trying more difficult exercises.
The foundation building exercises may not be all that fun or exciting, but they are a very important step to getting to the fun and exciting exercises and to be sure you’re doing them right. You will get much more out of the more high level exercises if you have mastered the low level exercises first. I promise.