Thinking Outside of the Exercise You See

So today during a workout I had just started squatting.  I’m not going to get into the details of my current program, but an easy way to sum it up is to say that I’m trying to subject all of my major joints to lots of range of motion in various directions with loads I can easily handle in order to increase mobility so that when I switch to a different form of training they are more able to handle higher levels of force across them.

A trainer at the gym I work out at came up and watched a set, then commented that I had a lot of pelvic tilt and pressure on my lower back and that he wanted to show me something.  My first comment was “yes, I know – that’s on purpose.”  From the expression on his face I could tell he was curious.  He asked what I was doing the squats for.  I said “my knees” (and ankles and hips and back etcetera but I’m not going to explain all of that).  Okay, he said – but if you go narrower you will engage more of your quads.  I told him that I didn’t say my quads – I said my knees.

There are 12 muscles that cross over that joint alone, never mind the many dozens that assist in the movement through the hips, back and foot and ankle.  I also said that I was intentionally letting my pelvis roll, which I think was a little bit outside of the proverbial box.  Take it as a piece of advice – never assume that you know exactly what the person is trying to do and that what they are doing is “wrong”.  You might think it is, but wrong is defined on many different levels.  It is based on the individual.  If I was doing a shoulder press to help my knee, that’s probably wrong.  But moving my legs into ranges they aren’t used to under load in order to help them learn to generate tension through ranges they aren’t used to – that’s not wrong.  For what I want, it is very, very right.

Now, this guy definitely had the best of intentions (I know that) and thought that from what he has learned over his years of bodybuilding and weekend courses that he was right.  And he was – if we were talking about what he thought we were talking about.  The first instinct is to immediately make him feel like an idiot, but he’s not.  He just hasn’t seen the side of movements that I have or knows what I know.  And at his stage of development as a trainer admittedly I didn’t know those things either.  But what I ask people to do on a daily basis when it comes to their body is to really think beyond simply things like quad contraction and go a little bit deeper.  So maybe people can learn more about what is really going on within the body when we subject it to force by doing things like squatting so my butt touches the ground and my hamstrings touch my calves with a load on my back.

If I wanted this article to be ten pages long I could break down exactly what happens when you squat with load, through what joints and how fast and with what ranges depending on what goals but that’s not the point.  Part of my RTS training is really thinking outside of the movement and being able to either go in like a microscope, or come way out into a much broader view so that no matter who you are dealing with you can not only show them something that is appropriate for them and gives them a good experience, but also maybe teach them a bit (as much as they want to know) about words like “good” and “bad” and what they actually mean.  Even words like “better” and “worse” have so many variables they are really hard to define.  Better for what?  For who?  Better how?  Where is the magic dividing line that makes better into worse?  That makes good into bad?  These are all questions that I constantly am searching for the answers to, but the fundamental truth is that there isn’t any one answer.  The answer, like I tell people so many times on a regular basis is IT DEPENDS.

When you see someone squatting, you think that it is to get stronger legs.  When you realize how many other things are involved in that chain of movement you might realize that by squatting, I can actually make my back stronger.  Or my ankles.  By changing the tempo or by pushing differently I can affect changes in strange ways as well.  By putting the bar on my back instead of my front – the movement changes.  Let’s all try hard to think outside of the exercise and consider everything that might be going on with a movement before we judge it.

So to all of the trainers and regular people out there in the gym, let us try really hard the next time that you see someone doing an exercise and you think that it’s “wrong” – maybe ask them why they are doing it.  Then ask more questions.  And more.  You might just learn something.


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