Is there such thing as perfect technique?

Is there such thing as perfect technique?

As someone who gets the opportunity to coach people on a daily basis, I work hard to get my clients moving with the best technique possible.

Why is technique important in resistance training?

Moving with poor or inefficient technique can lead to altered load distribution, and subsequently increased stress placed on the passive structures of our body. This can lead to an increased risk of injury (both acutely and chronically), which is obviously not ideal. Furthermore, training with poor technique can lead to muscular imbalances. This in turn leads to postural deviations, movement impairment, and again, an increased risk of injury.

Fortunately for us as coaches, technique is one of the few things we have a huge amount of control over. We have the opportunity to educate individuals on the importance of proper technique, and develop quality movement patterns through the use of appropriates exercise progressions and regressions. With this in mind, we can also improve poor or limited movement through a variety of corrective exercise strategies. In short, we have the necessary knowledge and ability to ensure that each and every one of our clients are performing a given movement well.

But, it is important to note that movement technique is entirely individual!

Is there such thing as a perfect technique?

Despite what some internet warriors might like you to believe, there is no such thing as perfect technique. Everyone has different anatomy (this includes not only limb lengths, but also things like joint depth and stiffness). All of which can significantly change their range of motion at specific joints. It is for this reason that some people can squat to a full depth with their feet barely  apart, while others need a wider stance just to squat to parallel. It may mean that a conventional deadlift is out of the question for you, and a narrow sumo stance is your best option. For others, it may mean that a conventional deadlift is ideal.

Everyone is different. And it is important to reiterate that none of these techniques are wrong. In actual fact, in both cases they may actually provide the ideal position for that individual to complete a given movement. But in the same light, each technique is different – and none of them are perfect.

 

Ideal Technique

As coaches it is our job to find the best position possible for you as an individual to perform a given movement safely and effectively. While this position may be slightly different, there are number key things we can look for to ensure that this position is found and trained correctly.

Firstly, you need to be able to maintain a neutral spinal position for the movement’s duration. While this is true for almost any exercise, it holds significant importance for lower body dominant exercises. Think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations. This is becuase these movements place significant compressive and shearing forces on the spine. These forces are actually a good thing when a neutral spine is maintained, as they teach the muscles of the trunk to resist these forces. This is essential to building a strong and healthy spine.

BUT! When this position is lost, and the trunk moves (flexes or extends) under these heavy loads we can become susceptible to injury and dysfunction. As a result, we need to play around and find the best position for the individual. This tends to be where an individual has maximum joint range of motion, while also being able to maintain a neutral spine throughout that range of motion.

How do we determine ideal technique for an individual?

This can be done by assessing passive and active joint ranges in different positions. We can also reduce the range of movement to ensure that you can maintain a neutral spine. For example, we could use boxes or blocks to reduce a movements range.

Secondly, we need to sure that the joints remain ‘stacked’ on top of each other throughout the full movement. This essentially means that the knees and the hips are kept aligned throughout the movement’s duration. Thus limiting any potential shearing or rotational forces placed on your knees (think the knee collapsing inwards during squatting movements). Once again, suitable exercise regressions OR utilising principals of reactive neuromuscular control are utilised to ensure safe positions are maintained. Think bands pulling the knee into different positions during a split squat to teach the body to resist these forces.

Closing thoughts

Everyone is different, and as such there really is no such thing as perfect technique.

Despite this, we need ensure that each movement can be performed with the best technique possible given your individual anatomy. We try to focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement. This guarantees that the joints remained stacked on top of one another. We can regress our exercises if needed to encourage proper positioning. This can also be extremely beneficial to keeping a movements within a safe range of motion.

Remember, there is no right way to perform a given exercise. However, we can find an ideal way for a given individual at a specific point in time.

Don’t run any more? Who do you think you are?

Don’t run any more? Who do you think you are?

I’ve taken on a lot of clients who have been told by a Health or Medical Practitioner that they should not run ever again. Usually it is due to chronic knee pain with some evidence of structural change- like some cartilage degradation for example. This may not sound shocking, but it should.
“So Mr. Wood, every time you run, your knees pull up sore. Running is very hard on the knees, and your knees aren’t exactly in show-room condition. I recommend that you cease running from now on”.
If this news was delivered to me it would be analogous to a shotgun blast to the guts.
“Don’t run any more?
But I love running!”
“Get yourself a bike, bike riding is great for the knees”.
“But what about when I have kids, I won’t be able to kick the footy in the park with them?”
“Not if you don’t want a knee replacement in 5 years time!”
“Well what if I am being chased by an axe wielding maniac, can I run then”.
“Well, in that instance yes, but don’t blame me when your knees are killing you the next day!”
This is pretty clear cut. And that is the problem I have with this type of delivery. By being so definite in the stance that running (without pain) is not possible in the future, they are effectively saying this.
“On behalf of all Medical Experts and Conservative Health Care Providers, I state that it is impossible for you to run in the way that you want to without aggravating pain and accelerating degeneration of the structural features of the knee.”
Now I know some pretty bloody awesome people in the above mentioned fields, but I wouldn’t think anyone has the right to speak on behalf of every Medical and Health Practitioner both currently alive and those to come in the future.
Instead, why not just word it like this:
“I don’t know how to help you run”.
Simple, and absolutely more true than the previous example.
And imagine if you were given this perspective instead. What would your reaction be? Mine would be:
“Ok, thanks for your honesty. I’ll search for someone who can”.
The reality is that it is quite possible that for some people, running without pain is impossible. But who has the right to make that conclusion. If my clients want to run, it is my job to help carve out a pathway to make that possible. I’m not always successful, but I’d like to think I am humble enough to own my shortcomings rather than deem the goal impossible.
If you’ve been told that you can’t run any more, maybe you can’t. But maybe you can.   
Don’t run to get fit – Structuring your running week

Don’t run to get fit – Structuring your running week

Did you know that the way that you structure your running week can have a huge impact on the improvements you make, your capacity to avoid injury and maximise enjoyment?! You are probably well aware of the ‘periodising’ concept, which is  understood to be the way that you structure your training loads (volume/distance, speeds/intensity, recovery, etc) over the year to peak for a specific event. But I find that often we don’t break that concept down to the weekly unit. We will talk more about the yearly structure in a future post, but for now I wanted to address the smaller weekly ‘unit’ which will be very easy for you to modify and maximise your gains.

You will be amazed how often I hear this from people when they tell me about their weekly running: “I don’t have a lot of time during the week, so I get in a couple of 5km runs before work, and then I do my long 10km run on the weekend”. Often those two 5km runs are at the same speed, and around the same route. And then we DOUBLE the training load for that weekend run. This can be a quite a large jump! So while there is a bit of variety going from the shorter runs to the longer one, we can do a lot better than this!

“Variety is a key to minimising injury and maximising improvements”

Minimising injury: The best predictor of a future injury is a past injury – and this is where the right health professional as a part of your team is soooo important – to develop a tailored re/pre-habilitation program for you! The next best predictor of injury, in my opinion, is high repetition of loads. By this I mean applying very similar forces, over and over, to the same body structures… hmmm… sounds a lot like running doesn’t it?? running at similar speeds (maybe your constant 5min/km) on the same surface (the roads around your house), in the same shoes, for the same distance, is a pretty good recipe for an injury.

Maximising improvements: The body improves by having to adapt to new stimuli. If we don’t challenge the body in new and different ways, it sits on a plateau. A key concept in training is progressive overload. You slowly and periodically increase your training loads; be it by increasing speeds, distances, reducing breaks, etc. (again, more on this in our upcoming post on periodising).

So how do we put all this together? here are a few points to help you plan your week’s training:

  1. Vary your running distances during the week. Program your distances to cover a good spectrum. So, for example, instead of doing your 20kms for the week as per the example above (5+5+10), a better spread could be 3km + 7km + 10km.
  2. Vary your speeds. For example, in the structure suggested above, the 10km run could be your easy long run, at a comfortable pace (perhaps at or just over your average 5min/km pace); the 7km run could be broken up into some threshold intervals (or quicker). For example, you could warm up and cool down for a kilometre each, and then alternate a faster kilometre, with a slower kilometre, for the middle 5kms; and the 3km run could be an easy spin of the legs! This way not only are you providing variety, but also starting to work on different components of your fitness!
  3. Change the surfaces you run in. Try to run in different environments. For example, one of your runs could be on roads, your faster interval session could be around a gravel path, and ideally one of your runs (even if not weekly) should be on trails. Trail running provides great variety through constantly changing surfaces, as well as inclines, no two steps ever look the same!
  4. Ideally change the shoes you run in. While we all have our preferred shoes, it is also a great idea to vary these. So you may have a pair of trail running shoes, your preferred  longer distance shoes, and maybe a slightly lighter show for your speed work. This will be more expensive to start off with, but they will all last you longer afterwards!

If you need any more specific help structuring your program, I’d love to help. You can contact me here!

Happy running!!

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Steptember: Let’s step on Cerebral Palsy

Steptember: Let’s step on Cerebral Palsy

In the month of September there will be approximately 70,000 Australian participants agreeing to walk, run, swim, cycle the equivalent of 10,000 steps per day for 28 days. The event, ‘Steptember’ which is ran by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance is aiming to raise awareness and funding for services and research for people of all ages suffering from Cerebral Palsy.

palsy

Now for some people, 10,000 steps per day (which is the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation), for 28 days in a row may be quite difficult. If this is you and you’re struggling to find motivation half way through the challenge it is important to remember why you agreed to sign up for the event in the first place. Cerebral Palsy is a horrible condition that affects a sufferer’s movement capability. There are different forms and severities however for most sufferers there will be some abnormality with their movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflexes, posture and balance (Refer to the picture below to see how the different types can affect the body)

Despite the impact that this disease can have on a sufferer and their families there is still no cure. To make matter worse there is an alarming number of people with the condition with a child in Australia born with Cerebral Palsy every 15 hours. This equates to 1 in 500 children suffering from the condition.

cerebral

To make sure that you complete your equivalent of 10,000 steps per day have a look at some tips below:

  1. Walking to and from work – It’s spring, the weather is warming up. Start and finish your day with some exercise, vitamin D and fresh air. If you are unable to walk the whole way, then look at alternatives such as parking a few km from work or getting off at an earlier stop when using public transport.
  2. Team up with a friend – Make the exercise a social outing
  3. Mix it up – your steps do not have to be around your neighbourhood. Try a new walk in a new location.
  4. Be mobile at lunchtime – take a walk before you eat your lunch to increase metabolism and refresh for the afternoon.
  5. Spread out the steps – You are far less likely to complete all 10,000 if you knock off work at 5pm and have 8,000 to go. Make sure you get a significant amount completed before the afternoon.

 

For more information or to find out how you can donate. Visit:

https://www.steptember.org.au/

www.cerebralpalsy.org.au

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Mastering Gravity (Part 2): How do you improve your balance?

Mastering Gravity (Part 2): How do you improve your balance?

Mastering Gravity: How do you improve your balance?

Tripping-overIn a previous blog, we discussed how our lack of play and challenge has slowly led to decrements in our balance. Research in the Age and Ageing Journal (2013) has proven that less active lifestyles appear to accelerate loss of proprioceptive acuity and thus would contribute to loss of functional independence and increased falls.

So the question we are to ponder is…. Can we improve our balance after years of not using it?

The easy answer is yes! So how does it work? The best way of understanding how we can approach this issue is looking at the science behind it. To improve overall balance we need to ensure our body is skilled at interpreting what is happening to our body (through taking in sensory input) and then how we can try maintain a position of safety (motor output). For example, as we walk down the street and we trip on a paver. We first need to recognise that we are falling. Physiologically this sensory input is acquired a few ways:

  •  Vestibular system within the inner ear (the sensations of body rotation, gravitation and movement)
  • Somatosensory systems (conscious perception of touch, pressure, pain, temperature, position, movement, and vibration, which arise from the muscles, joints, skin, and fascia)
  • Visual system (seeing where our body position is in space)

These signals then travel through nervous system and the brain or spinal chord either create conscious or unconscious motor output which generates a movement. In our example, this would result in a very large sidestep to prevent us from falling. To perform the request we need muscular strength, power and co-ordination.

Training the sensory input and motor output:

  1. Proprioception exercises: This allows us to train us to recognise where our body is in space
  2. Co-ordination exercises: This allows us to create the desired movement with the appropriate muscles (to save the day)
  3. Strength exercises: This allows us the necessary strength to produce the actions

If you would like more information regarding your ability to master your own gravity, I am more than happy to have a chat.

Do you master Gravity: Falls prevention through exercise

Do you master Gravity: Falls prevention through exercise

I don’t think I have enough fingers and toes to count the times I have heard clients utter the phrases, “now I am getting older, my balance is getting worse” and “I am scared of falling so I can’t do the things I used to”

child playingIt is true, there are age related changes to our balance (reaction time, equilibrium and proprioception). But these physiological changes are compounded by the fact that we stop challenging facets of our balance as we mature. When we are young, we play on all sorts of objects. We climb trees, jump over puddles, dodge our friends and even hang upside down on the playgrounds. Children are unknowingly challenging their limitations every time they play. This brings about improvements in important aspects of balance.

Maintaining our body’s centre of gravity (balance) depends on co-ordination of several sensory systems within each of our bodies:

  1. The vestibular system (regulates equilibrium/head position)
  2. The visual system (spatial location relative to objects through vision)
  3. The somatosensory system (information from skin and joints to sense position and movement relative to surfaces and different body parts relative to each other)

As we leave our childhood into the monotony of adulthood – cooking, cleaning, working, we typically stop playing. Once we hit our 40’s, unless we specifically engage in different types of sports/activities, we tend to avoid or completely ignore actions such as jumping, hopping, balancing on a single leg. We stop practicing this co-ordination of systems….

The age-old saying is true… Use it or lose it!

Want the good news! Yes, we can improve these systems, much like we can with strength or aerobic fitness. We just need to challenge ourselves!

 

Tune in for part 2 on Mastering your Gravity if you are interested on HOW you can improve your balance.

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