Why are you doing that exercise?

Often in the evenings I like to stand back and just take a look around a crowded gym.  There are usually lots of guys and a few brave women lifting weights in various forms.  We all have seen that guy that makes us cringe, who is flailing around with a cable over his head, or guys doing some sort of modified bench press with two inch range of motion, or the guy standing in front of a really heavy deadlift bar thinking about lifting it, but not actually doing so while his buddies stand there staring too.

People doing their own thing in the gym is one thing, but when I see a trainer who is staring off into space while their client is doing a bicep curl standing on a BOSU trainer, I’m always reminded of a very important question that both trainer and client should always be asking.  What is the goal of this exercise?  How does it fit into the overall program and goal for the client?  More often than not, when I ask my fellow trainers this I get a blank stare and usually some kind of generic justification.  Some of my favourites (using the exercise example above) are:

“It works the core.”  Does it?  More so than being on the ground?  More so than doing something a bit more without standing on an unstable surface?  Can you actually tell me what the core is and what it does?  Can you tell me what parts of the core you’re working by standing on that that you aren’t by standing on the ground?  Is there a safer way for your client to be doing that?  Oh, and by the way – how does it apply to the overall goal?

“I’m doing a circuit.”  Okay, why?  Are you trying to get their heart rate higher?  Are you trying to have a light balance movement as part of a conditioning circuit program?  What movement pattern does that contribute to?  Is there a more effective way to do the same thing?  How long is the circuit lasting?  How much rest?  How many intervals?  Oh, and by the way – how does it apply to the overall goal?

“We’re doing upper body today.”  Because you did lower body on another day?  Have they had adequate rest from their previous workout?  Are they okay within their movement patterns in their upper body to be able to take a harder workout right now, today?  Why did you choose to split things like that?  Since you’re obviously doing elbow flexion, are you doing extension as well with them standing on an unstable surface?  Why is their hand position like that?

In any good exercise and strength program, there should be a purpose behind absolutely everything that you do with your trainer.  Whether it is to develop a part of a kinetic chain, working on something that can’t fire properly, or even just as simple as doing a movement in order to achieve a heart rate level or a level of speed and power, there should always be a reason.  When I’m designing a program they normally go through phases of change and different types of movement, but during each and every session there should be a purpose for each exercise and the amount of repetitions, sets, timing, and even breaking it down to things like range of motion and angles.  What this all breaks down to is the ultimate purpose behind each exercise – the intention.

Personally, I love it when clients ask me questions because it gives me a chance to teach, and the harder the better.  It also means that they are actually interested in learning – and that means that they care.  If they care, they will continue to do what they are doing, so they will get better results.  Results come with consistency over time, not with quick fixes and immediate responses.  This applies to many things in life and in nature as well.

So today, if you are going into a workout, ask yourself why you are really doing the exercises that you are doing.  Is it because you want to look good?  Be able to do more?  Work on a weakness or further develop strength?  Recover from an injury?  And if you are working with a trainer, do me a favour and challenge them.  Why are we doing this?  Why this way?  Why with that weight?  The best trainers can answer these questions right away because they already know – they have a plan in place and they are executing it so they should be able to explain the process.  If they can’t, question why you are paying someone to not plan things personally for you when they are supposed to be a “personal” trainer.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go and plan my workouts for the day.  At 8am I’m doing strength and conditioning work with a 25 year old ½ marathon runner.  At 9am I’m doing assessment on a chronic shoulder issue from a physio referral.  And at 10am I’m dealing with an ACL tear and a herniated disc.  Can you guess what exercises these people will be doing?

I don’t have to guess.  I know.  That’s the point.

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