For the general population, we exercise to get better at life. We’re not trying to become the best in the world at squats, pull-ups or weightlifting.
The goal is not to become the best at the exercises in the gym; the goal is to do the exercises with the best possible technique and most efficient movement patterns, in order for the physical tasks in our lives to become easier.
This is why we are advocates of functional movements. For example, we do bicep curls with the purpose of increasing the strength of the biceps in order to be able to perform a functional movement such as a pull-up. We don’t do bicep curls simply to have bigger and/or stronger biceps as this doesn’t have as good a carryover into our daily lives as pull-ups would.
There is a common trap that many people fall into. They sacrifice technique for load. Yes, in order to get stronger, we need to lift weights, but we should always prioritise the points of performance for any given exercise.
If we’re teaching a client who has never done a squat before how to squat, we would simply start with bodyweight squats or variations thereof. If they can consistently demonstrate all the points of performance – hips descend back and down; hips descend lower than knees; lumbar curve maintained; heels down; knees in line with toes; then we can begin to add weight.
In 10, 20, 30 years’ time, it’s not going to matter how much weight was on the barbell for the squats. What’s going to matter is can we comfortably sit down and stand up. Simple things like standing up from the sofa, getting out bed, or getting in/out of the car.
To the end, we want to shed some light on our system of exercise progression.
Mechanics – Consistency – Intensity
“Mechanics—Does the athlete know the points of performance of the movements? Can the athlete display these points of performance in all movements?
Consistency—Can the athlete perform multiple repetitions of movements well without instruction? Also, has he or she been in the gym long enough to develop a tolerance for intensity?
Intensity—Once an athlete consistently displays sound mechanics and acquires a suitable training history, coaches can introduce intensity with appropriate loads and speeds.” (Degain, 2018)
The house cannot be built before the foundation. The process of laying a foundation cannot be rushed; no shortcuts can be taken; an unstable foundation could lead to the entire house collapsing.
A strong foundation for every single exercise is essential, which is why the trained eye of a fitness professional is so useful. It could be the difference between the ‘house’ collapsing or not.
A pull-up is a really challenging exercise for most people. In order to build a client up to the point where they’re able to satisfy all the points of performance for a pull-up, we’ll need to tailor the exercise for most. This could mean doing various specific exercises such as one arm rows, TRX rows, band-assisted pull-ups, or eccentric pull-ups. Through these exercises we’re aiming to build the strength of the individual, as well as drill in the correct movement pattern. We want to see the individual move through the full range of motion in a proper position ensuring safety and stability.
We will only progress to the next phase once we are satisfied that the individual has sound mechanics for a given exercise.
Hitting a drive perfectly off the tee in golf is meaningless if the subsequent shots are poor. We need our swing to be consistent for every shot we play, whether that’s driving, chipping, or putting.
Consistency is about repeatedly performing the movement with sound mechanics. In this phase we may begin to increase the load, but it will still be relatively light. We are practicing not training.
We don’t need to have good mechanics every once in a while, we need it all the time, whether that’s inside or outside of the gym.
Once an individual shows that they have consistent mechanics, we will progressively increase the intensity of the movement i.e. increasing the load.
A good example is once beginners can perform a technically sound snatch with the PVC, we will then hand them an empty barbell. If they consistently perform proper mechanics again, we will once more increase the intensity by increasing load. However, if the individual fails to perform the mechanics properly, we will lessen the intensity until consistency is achieved. After consistency is showed once more, we will attempt to increase the intensity again. This cycle repeats itself throughout the individual’s fitness journey with each and every exercise, and through this we can guarantee safety and improvement in the long term.
Yes, setting a new PR is exciting and rewarding, but let’s always prioritise form and our long-term health.
Degain, J. (2018) ‘Charting a Course to Intensity’, CrossFit Journal, 18 September. Available at: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/charter-degain (Accessed: 2 March 2020)