Don’t Fit Yourself to Exercises, Fit the Exercises to You

Going along with what I just discussed above, one of the biggest mistakes in training, which trainers and coaches often make, is attempting to fit the individual to the exercises instead of fitting the exercises to the individual.

All of us are the same species: human, just like all different makes and models of cars, trucks and vans are the same species: automobiles. But just like automobiles, humans come in all shapes and sizes. Your size and shape is caused by your structure, and structure determines function. Although both a mini-cooper and a mini-van are made up of the same basic parts (4-wheels, two axels, etc.) and can perform the same basic driving functions (e.g., go forward and reverse, turn right and left, stop and start) you’d never expect a brand-new mini-cooper to drive and handle the same as a brand-new mini-van because of the different ways their (same) basic parts are put together. This is exactly why it’s unrealistic to expect a guy who’s built like a football running back to move the same as a guy built like a lineman. In that, although both the running back and lineman can change levels, push, twist, pull, and so on, they may perform the movements in slightly different ways based on their structure.

In other words, there isn’t any exact exercise that matches the movement of everyone because there are individual variations in the way humans move. Therefore, one must choose the particular exercise variations that best fit how they move.

To put it another way, the reason why we have exercise variations isn’t just to add variety to training, but because there are variations of normal in the way humans move. Some exercises just don’t fit well for certain people’s body.

Not only do we all move a bit differently based on our size and shape, which is dictated by our own unique skeletal framework and body proportions, but past injury, loss of cartilage, or natural joint degenerative processes such as arthritis can influence how we move. This is why attempting to fit every person to the same exercise movement is potentially dangerous. Doing so could cause a problem or further exacerbate an existing problem as it may go against one’s movement capability.

Despite these undeniable realities, some coaches and trainers continue to make ridiculous statements like “everyone should be able to squat like a baby” or “barbell exercises are the best way to get strong (for everyone),” and claim the only reason someone wouldn’t emphasize barbell exercises over all other exercise options is because they don’t want to spend time coaching/ learning them. Certainly it can’t be because some professionals don’t have an attachment to any specific training modality because they realize that trying to fit square pegs, triangular pegs and diamond shaped pegs into round holes simply doesn’t make sense from either a physiological or safety standpoint.

Use the Two C’s

With the above realities in mind, there are two simple criteria used in the Performance U training training approach when it comes to selecting exercises that best fit the individual:

  • Comfort—The movement is pain free, feels natural, works within your current physiology, and so on.
  • Control—You can demonstrate the movement technique and body positioning as provided in each exercise description. For example, when squatting, you display good knee and spinal alignment throughout, along with smooth, deliberate movement.

Keep in mind, by “comfort” I don’t mean the sensation associated with muscle fatigue or “feeling the burn,” as I addressed above: I’m talking about aches and pains that exist outside the gym or flare up when you perform certain movements.

To allow for comfort and control, you may have to modify (shorten) the range of motion or adjust the hand or foot placement of a particular exercise, such as a squat or a push-up to best fit your current ability. Or, as stated above, you may just have to avoid certain exercises and emphasis other variations.

Written by Nick Tumminello

Learn more about Physical Therapy Continuing Education courses from Northeast Seminars.


About northeastseminars

Owner/CEO of Northeast Seminars. We specialize in continuing education and certification in the physical therapy, sports med, and canine rehabilitation fields.
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