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Understanding Form Discrepancies, by Matthew Romans

One of the things that sets the Total Results exercise methodology apart from all other types of weight training is a clear distinction between the assumed exercise objective and the real exercise objective. We have talked about this in previous articles, but it bears repeating. The assumed objective is to perform as many repetitions with as much weight as possible, while the real objective is to inroad (fatigue) the musculature as safely, deeply, and efficiently as you are able. In my opinion, one of Ken Hutchins' (the creator of our protocol) greatest intellectual accomplishments is his articulation of this distinction; if another exercise philosophy has identified or stated something similar, I am unaware of it. Our job as exercise instructors is to assist each client in achieving the real exercise objective and creating the best stimulus possible. In order to do that, we facilitate safe entry and exit of each machine, monitor proper alignment and positioning, and encourage clients to move quickly from one exercise to the next in order to maximize metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning.

I believe that the most important duty of an exercise instructor is to acknowledge and correct form discrepancies. What exactly are form discrepancies? They are deviations, sometimes very slight, from smooth movement and proper exercise form. It's important to understand that this is rarely a conscious decision on the part of the client to do the wrong thing; discrepancies are usually subconscious ways for the body and mind to make the exercise just a little bit easier. Form discrepancies matter and need to be corrected immediately because they can increase the risk of injury and momentarily unload the intended musculature. As you might expect, for this reason form discrepancies are at cross purposes with the primary exercise objective.

The first few weeks of training are critically important for the novice client, as this is where good habits are established. It is during this time that they acquire skill by learning proper form, work toward a more meaningful level of resistance, and gain an understanding of proper exercise intensity. Beginning exercise weights tend to be estimated conservatively, as using too heavy a weight can lead to bad habits. If the weights are gradually increased, the client can better process the verbal and visual cues given by the instructor and execute them with more efficiency and less wasted effort and energy. I should point out that even the most experienced client with excellent motor control does not achieve absolutely perfect form on every repetition of every exercise, but that is the standard that we measure ourselves against.

Some form discrepancies are not necessarily movement-specific, but are classified as discrepancies because of other health considerations that can accompany them. An inability to keep your head still and in neutral position can cause neck strain and lead to an exercise-induced headache. Facial grimacing can momentarily spike your blood pressure and inhibit free breathing, while performing a Valsalva maneuver (breath holding while creating back pressure in your abdominal cavity) can prevent venous return (return of blood back to the right side of the heart), and raise blood pressure unnecessarily. Other form discrepancies are more likely to occur on certain exercises. Elevation of the scapula (shoulder blades) is commonly seen on the Row and Pulldown, but especially on the Chest Press. These are all compound exercises, which means they involve multiple muscles groups and multiple joints, and these exercises have a weak link, in that the smallest muscle group involved will be a limiting factor. If your scapulae are elevated on the Chest Press, the smaller and weaker triceps will bear more of the load and fatigue before the larger and weaker chest muscles. Pushing through your forefoot and lifting your butt out of the seat on the Leg Press can put your spinal column in some jeopardy. Flexing your hips (bringing your knees up) on the Seated Leg Curl lessens the involvement of your hamstrings to a slight degree, since one of the main muscular functions of this muscle group is to extend the hip. These are small things that can make a significant difference in terms of your exercise experience.

It is the duty of the Total Results instructor to acknowledge and correct form discrepancies in real time, as they happen. If they are not corrected immediately, the opportunity to modify the behavior is lost. It's important for the client to understand that we are not purposely trying to be critical or make them feel badly, but rather to provide constructive feedback. In fact, it should be the objective of both the instructor and the client for the instructor to say as little as possible; this means that the client is using excellent form and there is very little for the instructor to correct. We want to help you achieve maximum benefit from each exercise. Our mission is your amazing!

Posted October 09, 2020 by Tim Rankin