Coach Josh teaching technique during personal training
Perfect technique is the ability to express ideal biomechanics for that particular task. It allows for the safe and efficient articulation of joints and allows the athlete to express maximal force. It is something that we should all aim for and very few will achieve. But, if you work hard (and dedicate years of your life to the perfection of your technique), you might end up being pretty good.
Alternatively, if you don’t focus on technique you will undoubtedly not get any better and will eventually die sad and alone, because nobody loves you if you can’t squat. Luckily, I like all of you lot and don’t want to see anybody die sad and alone so I’m going to break down what may restrict you from being able to perform certain techniques, so that you can create a plan to improve.
The ability to move with ideal biomechanics is dependent on your knowledge of the movement and the freedom with which your joints can move into the desired range of motion. This means that there are 2 major road blocks to learning technique:
- Not able to achieve the required position despite listening to all the coaching cues that we can throw at you – Athlete is lacking mobility and must improve muscle length and joint range of motion.
- Not enough knowledge of the technique to get from point A to point B efficiently – Athlete is lacking motor control and must improve co-ordination, balance and technical knowledge.
Unfortunately, the human body is not as simple as all that and often the inability to achieve an ideal position can be a mess of motor control and mobility issues (it’s a bit of a grey area because one can have an effect on the other and vice versa). However, to put it very, very simply: if you are constantly being pulled into a position that is not the one you intended to get into, I’d argue that there is a mobility restriction such as muscle length or joint capsule structure. If you are able to perform all the above tests with no compensation and can comfortably get into the required position for the movement if you’re using a counterbalance then I’d argue the hole in your technique is due to actual technical knowledge and motor control.
Mobility issues can manifest in a number of ways depending on which joint is in question and which movement is being attempted but there are a few basic archetypal positions that will identify poor mobility for the purposes of CrossFit. These include, but are not in any way limited to:
- Overhead Position: You are able to reach overhead with arms extended and the tips of your thumbs touching without excessive arching of the spine or displacement of the hips.
- Hip Hinge: You are able to hinge at the hip to 90° without rounding of the spine.
- Lunge: You are able to step into a lunge, keeping the shoulders, hips and knees in line (from side view) and lower yourself until your rear knee touches the ground.
- Shoulder Extension: You can place the back of your hand on your lower back and then lift the hand away from your body without the shoulder rolling forwards.
- Kelly Starrett’s Couch Stretch: You are able to place your shin flat against a wall with the other leg in front of you in a lunge position, then flatten your back and butt against the wall. (If you can do this last one, you might be a ninja)
***Note: Each of these tests will require a stable and braced trunk (think shoulders down to knees) in order to be effective. If you lose stability through your trunk at any point then you fail the test. If you are unable to brace your trunk then you have bigger problems than mobility and may need to hire the A-Team. (To the uninitiated, the A-Team = The Furnace Coaches)
These are very simple tests that should not be used to assess injury, but can easily be used to assess your mobility. It’s likely that if you lack mobility, then your body will compensate to allow you to achieve something similar to the right position, but it won’t be ideal. Most compensations will involve losing your trunk stability in order to default into a good position. Think about the overhead position viewed from the side, if you go overhead and your trunk is in a stable position, there will be a line from the barbell, through your wrists, elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knee and ankle. If you’re unstable, there will be parts of your body that do not fall into that line. You’ll probably overextend your lower back and let your hips tilt forwards and end up looking like Donald duck, but the bar is overhead still so it looks broadly the same.
Motor Control deficiencies can be identified easily by a coach during a class (I’d bet that they probably already have been). They can also be seen if you film yourself training and watch it back but it’s a pain in the arse to video yourself training and most people won’t be able to correct the problem without the help of a coach even if they can see where they are going wrong (that’s why coaches are useful). Once a technical fault has been identified, it’s your job to fix it and our job to help you. Coaches can only see faults and correct them by either cueing you or by breaking the movement down, we can’t follow you around and make sure that you practice outside of classes. If we identify an issue with your technique, let us help you fix it even though it may mean taking a step away from the heavy weights for a bit and going a bit slower.
If you’d like any more info on the above or would like a free training session to get you started in CrossFit, with a focus on solid technique and mobility, Please don’t hesitate to get in touch (you know, so you don’t end up sad and alone).