Austin Personal Trainer Ross' Blog

A Precision Health & Fitness blog

Learning Proper Exercise Technique: The Problem with Familiar Movements

Posted by Ross Harrison, CSCS, NSCA-CPT on August 29, 2010

     Performing exercises with proper technique is difficult. Any qualified fitness professional can walk into virtually any gym in the country and point out significant form flaws in the vast majority of exercisers, regardless if they are beginners or have been working out for years. Surprisingly, the biggest roadblocks to proper technique often have to do with your body’s natural habits.

     People assume their body will automatically perform exercises correctly once they understand the proper technique, but it is only the first step. Even if you know how an exercise should be done, that does not mean your body will necessarily do what you want it to. Exercise technique takes time to develop and each exercise progresses at a different rate, with some exercises taking months or even years to develop great technique.

     However, just because someone exercises for years, it does not mean they have great or even decent exercise technique. The only thing it really suggests is that their movement patterns are heavily ingrained. This means their movements are consistent from rep to rep, but it does not imply anything about the quality of the movement. 

     It may seem strange that people who have been exercising for years can have bad form, but it happens all the time. One reason is because most people are never properly taught how to perform exercises correctly, so they often end up repeating the same mistakes over and over until their flaws become a natural part of their movement patterns. 

     Another issue is people commonly try to learn correct technique by performing movements that feel like they are right. There seems to be a belief that if a movement feels right or natural, that the technique is correct. While this is true in some cases, there is certainly not a cause and effect relationship between a movement feeling good and the movement being technically correct. 

     Good technique is the result of proper body alignment, along with the right muscles contracting the right amount at the right time. When a movement feels correct, it is primarily because that particular movement is something your body is used to doing. Take walking as an example; most people find walking natural and assume they walk correctly, but very few people actually have great walking technique. 

     One common walking flaw is walking with the feet turn out, instead of pointing straight ahead and staying in line with the hips and knees as they should. When a person who normally walks with their toes turned out is asked to walk with their toes pointing straight ahead, they usually say things like “it feels strange” or “it feels wrong.” Even though it feels strange or wrong, it is technically the right way to walk.

     In these cases, correct walking technique feels wrong because it is unfamiliar, but that changes with time. If the person continually works on walking with their toes pointed forward, it will start feeling normal and eventually, walking with their toes pointed out will start to feel strange. 

     As with walking, exercises also feel good or normal based on how your body is used to moving. This can be problematic when learning exercise technique, because your body naturally tries to replicate movements you are already comfortable performing, regardless if they are correct or not.

     The best way to avoid the problem of your body automatically repeating familiar movements is to learn as much as possible about correct exercise technique. Learning how your body is supposed to move and which muscles should and should not work during each exercise will provide the foundation you need to develop great form.

     By consciously thinking about what your body is doing, you can override your body’s natural tendency to do whatever it wants or whatever feels right. Over time, movement patterns that feel right, but are incorrect, will be replaced by movement patterns that are technically correct and better for the overall health of your body.

     Of course, learning this is not easy and most people will significantly benefit from hiring a qualified fitness professional to evaluate their movements and provide feedback to train proper technique. By consistently focusing on technique and movement patterns, your form will continually improve and your workouts will become more effective as well.

4 Responses to “Learning Proper Exercise Technique: The Problem with Familiar Movements”

  1. Cerin said

    Excellent article.
    The way I think about it is helping people break out of in-grained bad habits, and into new, good, habits.
    It is never easy breaking old habits, but with consistancy, it will happen.

  2. Hiral said

    I completely love your blog. I have been doing resistance training for about 3 years. At first, I was not as lucid in my exercise form, but I did research and improved. The form that people workout with today is horrendous. I see people working out at my gym with not full ROM and also looks very injury prone. I hope more people read your blog and understand how important form is. Keep up the good work.

  3. Doing exercise on your own for me is big NO. You need to consult a qualified personal trainer to the nearest gym. They know the exact way where to start, how and what to do first. Don’t risk yourself by doing it alone.

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