No one has perfect technique all the time. Whether you’re just starting out and are learning the movements, or you are a seasoned lifter who’s technique breaks down under a heavy load.
There are specific reasons for a breakdown in technique, and that is exactly what I will be discussing within this article. By understanding the causes of technique breakdown, we can look at where we fall short and work to improve these areas to better our overall lifting safety and performance.
Lack of Practice:
Just like how we don’t instantly know how to skate in hockey or bat in baseball, we don’t know how to properly squat or bench press right off the bat when it comes to lifting weights.
Movement patterns require significant coordination and stability between numerous joints and muscles. When we are starting out, we lack that. When we lift heavy weights, it may challenge an experienced lifter beyond their current stability/strength capability, thus causing technique breakdown.
The proficiency of one’s technique is determined by how well they can coordinate joint movement and stabilize their joints and muscles throughout a given exercise.
How is this accomplished? Intentful practice.
Anyone can do squats upon squats. If you are not focussed on improving your technique each session, all you will be doing is reinforcing poor movement mechanics.
We need to work to improve our technique, so when we practice, we are reinforcing and improving the proper movement mechanics.
With that being said, practice alone of an exercise isn’t going to cut it.
if you are having difficulty with an exercise, there may be more than just a lack of practice going on. Even seasoned lifters can have difficulty executing a lift. This points to a limitation not related to muscle memory or one’s mental capability to execute a movement.
Rather, one’s physical capability, not related to their strength.
Mobility with relation to exercises refers to the ability of your joints to move through the full range of motion required to perform the exercise.
If you have a mobility restriction, your joints will not be able to move in the way that the exercise demands. This can come from 2 different sources.
The first is an actual impingement or blockage within the joint itself. Maybe your femur isn’t able to rotate fully within the hip socket, thus limiting the depth you can reach in the squat.
The second is a restriction in the actual muscle. In the squat, our knees travel forward, requiring dorsiflexion from our ankle joint. By nature, this movement places a stretch on the calf. If we have a tight calf, that would limit our ability for the knees to travel forward, thus limiting our ability to properly achieve depth in the squat.
If you have mobility restrictions in the joints or muscles involved in certain lifts, that is likely a cause of poor technique.
The movement of joints must be stabilized. Having our ankle moving left and right in the squat will cause our knees to move left and right, which will cause or hips to do the same and that will cause our torso to follow.
Having joints that are not stable throws off the entire lift. It puts additional stress on certain joints and muscles. This makes the lift less than safe, and the out of place movement of joints and muscles causes energy leaks, which reduces our performance.
Stability comes from our muscles and tendons. While we can’t specifically train our tendons to become stronger and more stable, this tends to happen as we continue to lift weights, specifically heavy weights. It is a stimulus for our tendons to grow thicker, thus making them stronger and better able to contribute to stability.
We CAN train our muscles to become stronger and more stable. Of course, increasing their size and strength will help with their contributions to stability. But how do we specifically train them to be more stable?
If a muscle is properly activated at a certain point in a lift, that muscle will be stabilizing the joints that need to be stabilized at that point in the lift. Assuming we have sufficient overall strength of the muscle (which can be improved, and that is usually a good idea anyway), then it really comes down to having that muscle properly activated when needed.
Performing exercises with the thoughtfulness of proper muscle activation is a good idea. This will help with our mind to muscle connection and will help teach our body to better activate our muscles throughout the lift. This is because a muscle contributing to stability is one that is contracting, and contractions are signalled by our brain.
However, assistance exercises can be a valuable tool for working on stability for primary lifts. Take the squat for example. A phenomenal assistance exercise would be the Bulgarian Split Squat. Why?
It is performed unilaterally, on one foot. This means our feet need to be extra stable. What does this do? It helps stabilize our ankle, and therefore our knee. Our hip muscles need to be extra stable as well since we are on one leg, which helps stabilize our hip joint. This will also help with stabilizing our knee.
Putting muscles in positions where they must be activated in order to perform the movement with stability is a great way to develop the activation levels of the muscle, and therefore their ability to contribute to the stability of a lift. We are forcing these muscles to be activated so they can contribute to stability, so we can execute the lift!
That’s All Folks!
As you can tell, the primary things to look at when we want to improve technique is quality practice, mobility, and stability.
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Until Next Time,
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