In my PREVIOUS BLOG POST I discussed a few fundamental concepts of strength training, the first of which was that you truly need to understand what you are being asked to do, and after that you have to actually get your body to do it. Only once both of those are in place should you then start to concern yourself with how much you are lifting, how many reps, and all those other variables. There is one thing I did not dive into in the last post that comes into play here: once you understand what you are being asked to do, does your body actually posses the ability to do it? To make sure we know the answer to that question, when we work with a new person in-person we always start with some baseline assessments on their very first visit to the gym.
To illustrate the point, let’s use a quick non-gym example that I suspect many people can relate to. Most of us have played with jigsaw puzzles at some point – usually when we were a kid. If all the pieces of the puzzle were in the box, then it can be a fun project to piece them all together and be rewarded with a completed puzzle at the end. However, this would turn from fun and rewarding to incredibly frustrating if someone had taken a handful of pieces out of your puzzle, and replaced them with pieces from a different puzzle. You would still clearly understand your task – get all the pieces to fit together – the problem is that the pieces physically do NOT fit together, no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you tried the more likely you would be to get frustrated and possibly even angry … the only way to actually complete the puzzle is to identify the incorrect pieces, and swap them back for the correct ones.
Let’s now envision we are back in the gym and you are taking a class trying to learn a certain exercise, maybe a squat. You understand what the instructor is asking of you, and they offer clear instructions and demonstrations that are easy to grasp. However, when it is your turn to try it out, yours does not go well. The instructor may even come over and help give you some helpful tips and cues, and yet still you cannot seem to get it. What is going on? At this point it is likely that you are becoming frustrated … you understand what is being asked, so why are you having such a hard time doing it? The answer may be that you do not have all the puzzle pieces.
Each exercise in the gym requires certain “puzzle pieces” from your body, which typically refers to how much controlled movement you posses in the involved joints – the term we use for this controlled movement is “mobility.” Each exercise requires a certain amount of mobility, and if your body does not posses sufficient mobility then it will not be able to do the exercise correctly. Trying to force your body to do exercises for which you do not have adequate mobility is the epitome of the “square peg, round hole” analogy. There is no way that it will go well, you are guaranteed to end up frustrated, and worst case you might end up injured. In today’s world many of the adults we see have restrictions in their mobility to some degree (e.g. missing puzzle pieces), usually due to injuries / surgeries they have had, a sedentary lifestyle with too much time at their desk, or a combination of the two. Regardless of why, it is now “the norm” that people come in with these restrictions – it is rarely a question of “if” they have them, but more often it is “where” and “to what degree” they have them.
This is why when we work with someone in person we always do baseline mobility assessments on the initial visit. We screen all the major joints to get a look at what the person’s baseline mobility is, and AFTER that we can choose what exercises we will include in their program. This process helps us ensure that any exercises we ask the person to do is something that we have vetted them to already have the requisite mobility, thereby avoiding the situation above where they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This simple process helps us set people up for success by focusing on strength training movements that they “have all the puzzle pieces for” and can jump into right away; and simultaneously letting us know which areas of mobility should be top priority for this person to improve upon (which we help with as well).
If you are in the Portland, Oregon area and would like to get started with one of these sessions, you can learn a little more about it and get enrolled through the link below.