I spend a great deal of time in the gym, lots and lots of gyms all over the country. It is part of my job both as a physical therapist and trainer. Much of the time I watch and observe in frustration as people lift weights with no thought at all about the alignment of their joints, particularly their very fragile spine. In the task oriented world we live in it does in fact seem to be all about completing the task without any thought of the consequences. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions of squats or leg presses with a hundred pounds and you get a medal for finishing but no consideration is giving to the “how” you completed the exercise set. Did your knees buckle inward, did you round or hyperextend your back like a gymnast as you squatted down, did your head shoot forward like a turtle, did your feet turn way out like a ballet dancer? I am here to tell you that things matter a great deal more than completing the set. Before I get into these intricate details, let’s first discuss why they matter and foremost, what the objective should be in putting your body through the strain and hardship of weight training exercises in the first place.
Make no mistake: the primary purpose for the typical exercises we do in the gym (whether at home or in a club) is to reinforce good patterns of movement that we need for every day life. Think about it, squatting is simply sitting in a chair, lunging is what we often do to pick things off the floor, pushing and pulling relate to a wide arrange of daily tasks such as lifting objects over our head and opening doors. These movements are also common to sports whether golf (rotational movements) or skiing (lateral lunges).
In essence, everything we do in the gym becomes an expression of what we do outside the gym. If we do things in the gym with proper alignment and form we train our bodies to minimize the loads on our joints, we are more likely to repeat the same patterns in daily life. Most of the ailments people suffer from, ailments such as low back pain, hip or knee arthritis, or tendinitis, are simply because they performed the movements I discussed above the wrong way over and over again.
Think about it: how many times have you squatted in your life? If you are around my age of 48 or older, do you think a few hundred times, a few thousand times perhaps, think again. How about a few hundred thousand times to possibly over a million times. Same goes with lunging, and these numbers probably only factor in to daily life. If you go to the gym and work out with weights or machines, add to that the strain of performing these movements under loads and stresses that accelerate the wear and tear on your joints. That is why the blueprint matters. Hey, think about it: have you ever picked up a hobby such as dancing, golf, or even something as simple as typing? Imagine if you were taught the wrong steps in the tango, the wrong grip for the golf swing, or the wrong hand position on the keyboard. Now imagine you rehearsed these skills the wrong way for several years. How much harder would it be then to correct these dysfunctional patterns? It would probably be better if you started again from scratch, because the original blueprint is faulty.
That is just the way our brains work, always has since the time you were an infant. Remember when you first learned to walk? If you don’t, simply watch a one year old going through the process. Every step is conscious effort, the step length, the width, the arm position, thousands and thousands of steps analyzed by our main computer framework: the brain. Then over time the process of walking no longer becomes a conscious effort but rather automatic. I would hope that none of us really has to think about walking any more and that it is an ingrained software pattern in our brain.
So where am I going with all of this? Squatting, lunging, rotating, pushing, pulling should be ingrained software patterns in our brains. The problem is that for many people the software is flawed because for years (decades) we have been doing it the wrong way. Not only that, but those who exercise reinforce these poor patterns under loads and stresses. No wonder their bodies eventually break down. It’s time to learn how to walk all over again, to move away from task-completion mentality to one of conscious effort of how we move. It should not simply be about simply going to the gym to lose weight or to lift weights to make our muscles bigger and stronger. On the contrary, it should be all about performing purposeful movements that transfer over into everything we do in life.
Of course we can still get fit along the way and develop muscle mass in a proportionate manner. However, these are the byproducts of performing movements with correct alignment and form, especially when under the loads of weights.
The basic and advanced strength training programs in your BACKFOREVER program are built upon these concepts. Stick with these training programs and you will be on your way to increased health and fitness and optimal performance.
I think you will the find the information precious to your longevity,
Bill Fabrocini, PT, CSC is a clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and a sports performance training coach. Mr. Fabrocini has also written numerous articles that have been published in prominent journals including the National Strength and Conditioning Journal and the American Council on Exercise Certified News. Learn more about Mr. Fabrocini here.