“I want to look better, I don’t really care how I move or if I’m in pain, I just want to look better.”
I hear it all the time. It seems to make sense to people and I can appreciate that focus on a goal. Who am I to determine what your personal goals are. If you came to me to help you achieve your goal of looking better, that should be my primary focus.
What I don’t like is the notion that (despite what you hear down at your local “workout till you puke bootcamp” or TV show about people losing weight,) you can’t work on moving better and eliminating pain at the same time. As a matter of fact, those need to be prioritized if you ever want to look better whether the goal be fat loss or muscle gain. You need pain free movement first! I’ll explain why.
Regardless of the specific goal if someone wants to look better they are going to have to increase their strength. That is going to be the fastest way to fat loss or muscle gain. And I’m not talking about going from the 2.5lb pink dumbbells all the way to the purple 7lb dumbbells on your biceps curls! In order to look better, from a training perspective (don’t forget the whole diet changing thing!), we need to get stronger at all the major movements.
We need to get stronger at horizontal pushing exercises (think pushups); we need to get stronger at squatting patterns (think rear foot elevated split squats); we need to get stronger at deadlift variations. The list goes on and this is no small task! All of these movements require us to move and stabilize certain parts of our body in a coordinated fashion.
Let’s take that pushup for example. If we truly don’t care about what that pushup looks like…
… it’s not going to do anything for us! In order for us to benefit and get stronger at that pushup it needs to be fluid through the wrists, elbows and shoulders and stiff through the core all the way to the toes. This isn’t going to happen if we start cringing in pain in our right shoulder halfway down because our thoracic spine is the stiffest part of our whole body! A tight upper back is going to negatively impact the shoulders and could be causing that shoulder pain you’re experiencing. The other part of good movement in the pushup requires us to stabilize our core throughout the range of motion. A weakness anywhere along the line will prevent us from doing this well and thus prevent us from improving our pushups.
10,000 bad pushups isn’t worth one good pushup in my eyes.
We used a pushup, but this applies to any major exercise. If we want to lose fat or increase muscle mass we need to get stronger, this just won’t happen with bad movement and more bad movement doesn’t even come close to compensating.
So how do we fix bad movement?
First we need to figure out where we’re not moving right. This requires a movement screen done by a professional who knows what to look for. A good movement screen is going to look at all the basic human movements and see where there are movement restrictions and compensations. Then it can be determined where you should be starting and more importantly, what could be putting you at risk for an injury! Nobody gets abs laid up on the couch with a blown out back!
Once we figure out where the problems are we can work to fix them and that’s going to be the focus of your workouts! Not endless bad pushups. Using the pushup again, let’s say you can’t do a pushup and keep your hips in line with the rest of your body. That shows a core weakness (nope, pilates class didn’t help after all) that needs to be fixed. We can fix this by working on the appropriate plank variation to strengthen up your body’s ability to prevent that lumbar extension. Once we get better at those planks, it should show up in a quality pushup. In the meantime we have to move that pushup up on to a table or bench to let you go through the motion where you can keep things in line!
The closer we can get down to the floor the more work we are doing, the stronger we are getting. The stronger we are getting the more fat we should be losing (with appropriate diet changes) and the more muscle we should be gaining (with appropriate diet additions).
So while your goal may be to look better in that bikini next summer, but the path you must go on to get there needs to be one that respects good movement. Besides, if it actually helps you get looking better faster, is there anyone out there that prefers to move poorly and in pain?