I've trained people for a long time now.
Every now and again, usually around this time of year there's value in sitting back and thinking about how my thought process has changed over the years.
What have I changed my mind about?
What do I do differently? What do I do the same, but for different reasons? What do I still think to be true?
Should you master bodyweight movements before adding external load?
Once upon a time I was a hardline yes. You shouldn't think about Bench Press until you can do X number of push ups.
Same with bodyweight squats before loaded squats.
There's so much wrong with this thought process that I could blog about it all by itself.
However, for brevity, bodyweight exercises are difficult to scale appropriately. You are always going to be working against a large amount of you're own bodyweight, and this is really the where the argument falls away. A person with high bodyweight, especially fat mass, is simply better doing some form of bench press as it is infinitely more scalable and controllable than having them do any push up variation. Same goes for the squat.
I'm a big fan of using a box for squats. The box gets set to the height that the client can squat with control, no pain, no wobble. We're on the outer limit though of that control. Once we're there we gradually load that squat at that range of motion.
And what generally happens?
After a few weeks their squat range of motion and control dramatically changes for the better. So we can lower the box and start the cycle over again. If we get to parallel, do we need to go further? Probably not. This is now the where getting them working bodyweight "air squats" becomes viable.
The argument for bodyweight before load still holds water, more so with younger athletes, but it's certainly no hardline.
Technique Should Always Be Perfect
I am a technique guy. I grew up doing traditional Karate and various other traditional martial arts where the ideal of performing this picture perfect technique was lauded over.
So much so we'd argue with members of a rival club about stupid stuff like "your strike lands with the fist at this angle, not that angle, that's wrong in our style"
Between that and my personality I am quite technically minded.
It took me a LOOOONG time to accept that this technique ideals were just that. Ideals.
They're certainly not absolutes nor are they even achievable for many people.
When I started training people in fitness and strength all those years ago, this technique mindset, this visual ideal came with me.
And while it's nice to hold in the head as a reference, it's not the way to train people or to expect people to move.
Take Seb and I as a simple comparison. I'm not much taller than Seb, an inch or two. But if we measure our hip height when stood side by side, my hip is much higher than his. Seb has relatively short legs and long torso, I am the opposite.
This means that he Squats my max weight as his warm up! He moves better with a back squat, where as I much much prefer the front squat.
I've other clients that get nothing but trouble from squats and are far better served doing split squat variations.
When we look at people not only as unique individuals with varying morphology, but also consider why they are training and their training age, we move further away from this technically perfect argument.
In terms of training age, this is simply how long a person has trained, their experience if you like. Just as in real life, you start by learning something to a template (childhood), then you play around with it (teens), then you find your version that best suits you (tweens), then you open up the possibility to explore other variations as you see fit (adulthood)
The timeline for this is highly variable, I just threw in the Teens/Adulthood type comments as rough equivalents.
In short as training age goes up, they should have better body awareness and become better able to adjust the exercise to their body and their needs. Even if it no longer fits that idealised picture perfect motion.
This is especially important when we get to competitive lifting. Of the Kettlebell Sport Athletes I've trained, I don't think any two move identically. We spend a long time finding their optimal rack position, their best overhead lock out. We have them do a variety of drills that help them find these static positions for themselves. If I were still teaching according to the perfectionist "Karate" mindset, they'd be drilled a certain way. But as I've matured, they get taken along a journey of self discovery where they find their best variation and instead of teaching them, I steer them gently towards their optimal.
The last thought on this is what does the client want for the exercise. Take the squat as the example.
We may have a clients that:
Do triathlon, so the squat helps them put power through the legs, but extra bodyweight could be detrimental, and they simply can't risk injury in the weight room. I much prefer split squats for these guys, less strain on the spine and more immediate biomechanical cross over.
Do Kettlebell Sport where repetition is king, so while max strength has some carry over, they're far better placed once an adequate strength level is reached, keeping the barbell weight close to their kettlebell weight and moving quickly with high reps.
Are looking for weight (fat) loss, so any squat can be used, but the key is finding the squat that they can get the most out of and going with that.
Are training simply for health and fitness (the majority of clients are here) so with these guys technique that is good enough is technique that is good enough, and changing it up frequently is gold. They're not powerlifters or Olympic lifters, they're folk who want to feel good, look good and by capable across a range of activities. Variety give them that.
So, long story short, I'll quote Wild Geese Martial Arts founder Paul Cox, "Perfection is for the Gods" Look at it, study it, aspire to it. But do not be railroaded by it. Find YOUR perfect.
Lets wrap this post up here, before it turns into an eBook.
But I'll be back shortly as there are a few other things I've changed my thinking on, and there are something that I haven't. And the things that I haven't changed on, despite the years of experience and learning, well, there's a chance that there's some gold there worth mining.
Dave Hedges www.Wg-Fit.com