Every now and again I get compelled to write a blog post that I never thought would need writing – this is one of those.
With many things in the world “the pendulum swings” back-and-forth over the years, and adherence to strict exercise form is one of those things. For some number of years the “experts” would dissect exercise technique so exhaustively that if someone as much as had an eyelash out of place it would be deemed the end of the world. While I’m sure this was well meaning, as you can imagine it became a bit much.
Lately the opposite is starting to happen. I am starting to see some industry professionals make some comments along the lines of “technique is overrated” or “there is no evidence to support that technique is correlated to injury.” Needless to say, I find these concerning.
My stance: technique absolutely matters. From the moment you grip the weight to the moment you set it down, technique matters.
Now, does the average person need to perform every single exercise with the technique and precision of an Olympian? Of course not. However, that should not be confused with having: A) a minimal acceptable level of technique on any given exercise, and B) striving to always perform every exercise as well as possible and trying to make improvements in your form over time.
One point that has apparently become contentious lately is whether it matters how you put your weights down / away when you are done with the set. Some are trying to say it does not matter – I could not disagree more. In fact, two of the worst injuries I have ever seen in the gym have come when putting weights away.
One of the injuries happened with us here at Industrial Strength. I was teaching a kettlebell class and we were doing Turkish Get Ups (TGU). It is important to mention that each person must have instructor’s permission before joining class; they must have adequate prior experience or take lessons with us to ensure they can perform the exercises safely. One of the key safety points on the TGU is how to set the kettlebell down once you are finished. The correct technique involves using two hands to bring the kettlebell to your abdomen, and keeping both hands on it as you roll to your side to park the kettlebell on the floor. Well, in this example the participant repeatedly ignored reminders to use both hands during this process. After about three or four times of ignoring the safety reminders, he did it again and then SNAP! There was an audible crack loud enough to hear throughout the entire gym. He had suffered some sort of injury to his arm, exactly as I warned him that he would if he kept using poor form to park the kettlebell. I’m not sure what the specifics of the injury were because I never heard from him again.
The other major injury was back when I was working at a big box gym before opening Industrial Strength. One of my co-workers was doing dumbbell bench press and suffered and injury when putting the dumbbells down after the final rep of his set. The correct way to put the dumbbells down is to bring them to your quadriceps (thigh muscles) and then keep them in contact with your quadriceps as you sit up. Once you are sitting upright you can then easily set them down. What my co-worker did was basically a semi-controlled drop of the weights right down to the ground (imagine dropping the weights to the floor while your back is still on the bench). Unbeknownst to him, while he was doing his set someone else set a different pair of dumbbells down right below his bench; so when my co-worker was dropping his dumbbells he ended up colliding with the ones left below him. This collision happened while he was still holding the weights he was using, so his fingers got smashed between the two weights. This resulted in him badly splitting open his finger, and needing several surgeries to repair it.
The safety of everyone who trains with us is something I take seriously. That said, the saying “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” seems appropriate here. You can be given all the right coaching, you can have all the right knowledge, but ultimately it is up to you to make sure you are doing things the right way to keep yourself and those around you safe in the gym.