Friday, June 22, 2012

Are Your Building On Top of Dysfunction?

My clients seem to always comment on how detail-oriented I am regarding exercise execution. I like to think I don't miss a cue. When an exercise doesn't look the best I think it can be from an individual; I make it a point stop them and point out what needs to be corrected. In this day in age of technology, sedentary lifestyles, and poor posture---all trainers have their hands full trying to enforce optimal exercise execution. And I don't simply mean "not swinging the arms" during biceps curls or "not going low enough on barbell squats". I am referring to very small deviations in optimal performance.

Why build atop dysfunction? That is the most popular mistake among most exercisers, and the biggest mistake most trainer miss. How do exercisers commit this mistake? They lack proper instruction, coaching, and body awareness. Most novice exercisers don't know how to "feel" a muscle during certain movements or drills. Their bodies are loaded with imbalances and compensations that further exacerbate dysfunction without them even knowing. Trainers miss these subtle hints because most trainers do not perform movement assessments or they simply don't have the keen eye to spot everything during a movement. That keen eye is polished with a competency in basic anatomy and exercise biomechanics.

Most trainers and exercisers assess capability with the "first set" of a loaded exercise. I'm sure you've seen it or experienced the "Express-Line" at your local commercial fitness facility. Most new exercisers are placed on strength machines consisting anywhere from 6-12 exercises. Trainers are instructed to orientate new exercisers on these machines without a movement screening or basic assessment. Once a client is placed on a machine, a load is placed and there you have it: the trainers "no longer" pay attention to the mechanics of the body. They only focus on the proper "usage of the machine".

Other trainers that do not place their clients on machines and try to incorporate "core" or free weight exercise usually miss important points. Clients will perform a squat with a shoulder press using dumbbells --because the trainer has informed them that it is "a great multi-joint exercise that utilizes alot of muscles and therefore, burns alot of calories". However, without a proper assessment or keen eye for cueing, once a load is introduced such as bodyweight or dumbbells, the dysfunction is engraved in the nervous system. Check out this poorly executed glute extension. This is a perfect example of building on top of dysfunction:

Several times a month, I am face to face with a prospective client who has worked with a trainer in the past. After a movement screening, it is obvious to me where discrepancies lie and my job is to "re-teach" the body how to optimally perform. There are 5 stages of exercise progression that I use:

Stage 1: Corrective Exercise
Stage 2: Stability
Stage 3: Endurance (training core with fatigue)
Stage 4: Strength
Stage 5: Power & Speed

These 5 stages are sometimes blended, modified, or executed in different order depending on the client's fitness level and qualitative data I get from the movement screening and initial assessment.

Further more,  the time it takes the client to progress from stage to stage depends alot on frequency, exercise adherence, and present fitness level. My job is not to keep them in a "corrective state" if their goal is to lose body fat. More than likely, when excess body fat loss has occurred, most corrective measures tend to clean up themselves--helping me to concentrate on the next stage or combining modalities. Sounds meticulous? Its really not. The end goal is to optimize movement AS BEST AS POSSIBLE. It may never be textbook, but it is important to improve the movement in the capacity for which it is contained:

Some "fussy-ness" or "exact-ness' is important when observing a client exercise. Does it mean that you should try to correct every little thing? Absolutely not. If you employ that idea, you will never progress. Culmination is the name of  the game and once a client or exerciser sees results, you have achieved a majority of your mission.


  1. John, this is a great post! I am mortified by the form I see in guests at Parrot Cay who can afford to go to the "best" personal trainers. Recently I had one guest whose trainer started doing "core" with him which essentially meant doing most exercises while on a bosu. Meanwhile he couldn't hold a plank or bridge correctly and was experiencing more back and neck pain (which the trainer said was "normal when doing core work"- WTF????). Anyway, so nice to have connected with you via social media.

  2. Another good one. Just this morning I had two clients who were upset not to add weight on squats. Thing was, they couldn't stop their knees tracking on the present weight (bodyweight for one, just the bar for the other). "First drive straight at 20 miles an hour, then we'll try 25, then 30. Let's not race to 60 and slide off the road," I said.

    I have seen odd things as a trainer, with people prescribed bridges on a swiss ball with skullcrushers when they couldn't hold a prone brace on their forearms and toes. So many try to jazz things up for entertainment. How about entertaining people with progress?

    As for the vids, John definitely has better exercise form, though I gotta say I prefer the bootynomics girl.


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