I’ve had a few “aha” moments over the last couple of months, including the one about High Tension vs. Rythmic Cardio that I covered in the podcast posted on Monday. Another one that I’ve had comes from Gray Cook’s book Movement, in which I gained a better understanding of how to execute exercises.
In the book Gray mentions repeatedly that you shouldn’t focus on the end result of an exercise, focus on the process that gets you there. Don’t try to mimic the movement you see and “act” the exercise, focus on the feeling and learn the movement behind the exercise. In other words, don’t show people how to do an exercise, explain what they should be feeling and then have them concentrate on that.
This made me realize that I’ve been going about teaching exercise the wrong way for a long time. The whole “watch me and then do what I do” way of teaching is superficial and misses the real process behind good execution of that exercise. Even throwing in some basic coaching cues like “squeeze you glutes” isn’t getting there – you have to focus on feeling the exercise, not doing it.
Good movement is really a series of feelings along the way to the position you want to achieve. A good set up feels a certain way, a good start feels a certain way, a good lock out feels a certain way and a good return feels a certain way. If something is off with any of those areas I will guarantee that you are focusing on getting to the end of the exercise, not on the series of feelings needed to get there.
Now I show people how to do an exercise 2-3 times, explain a few basic things and then have them do it. I check each step of the process and see where they are off. I go back to that step and put them where I want them and have them focus on how that new position/ movement strategy feels – I don’t tell them anything about how they should look, simply show them how it should feel.
I then have them do the exercise again focusing on the new feeling they learned and 9 times out of 10 they’re doing it right. I just repeat the process as we get the movement cleaned up and eventually they are doing it right most of the time with minimal coaching because they are focusing on how it feels, not how it looks. Your body remembers how things feel much more effectively than a list of bullet points about how it should look.
On a side note, this also speaks to the difference between form and execution. There are a lot of trainers who can coach the former but not really the latter – I recently had a client that was very proud of their form developed from years of working with a personal trainer. They looked at attempts at coaching as telling them that they had bad form, something they were resistant to.
Once they understood that it isn’t just getting there, it is how crisp and strong your execution is that really matters they actually started asking for more feedback. Form is just the beginning; technique and execution are your real goals. Doing the common exercises uncommonly well is the mark of true strength.
So, don’t worry about how it looks, worry about how it feels. If you are trying to be strong and efficient with your movement then even something that looks “bad” can have value; if you don’t focus on that then a something looks perfect can have little value.