Always Check Quality First.
Let’s Break the Rules.
The fitness industry is full of backwards information, questionable guidance, and less than ideal recommendations. We always hear things such as: You should be working out 3-5 times per week, you should be eating 100g of protein every day, and you should be sleeping 6-8 hours per night. The one key component that is missing from any of the aforementioned recommendations is the quality.
Most people attack their goals completely backwards. We must first address the quality of what it is that we’re doing and then begin to look at quantity. However, we often fixate on the quantity and not the quality. How many grams of protein, how many sets and reps, how many hours at the gym, or how many steps we’re taking are all measures of quantity, not quality. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a time and place for numbers. However, when trying to accomplish fitness, exercise, health, or nutrition goals, quality must be put at the forefront of it all. Performing 3 sets of 10 squats that are not utilizing a full range of motion, causing your knees to ache, and hurting your low back….. Congratulations, you’ve accomplished your quantifiable 3 sets of 10. You’ve also concurrently reinforced a terrible movement pattern, have done more damage to your knees, and continued to aggravate your dodgy back. However, you may now drink your sugary protein drink knowing that you accomplished your 3 sets of 10 reps.
It’s a puzzling thing to me that people can be so fixated on the numbers that putting their body through pain is acceptable just so they finish their prescribed workout. This way of thinking only blurs the line between quality and quantity even further. By simply accomplishing your 3 sets of 10 reps, you assume that you had a high quality workout. The quality simply doesn’t matter at that point.
Let’s use protein as another example. Protein is the big buzz word of the fitness industry. Protein is king. This is not an article about protein, so we won’t get into specifics. Let’s use 100g as a nice round figure. Let’s assume that your daily recommended amount of protein was 100g/day. You can get protein from boneless/skinless chicken breast grilled on a BBQ at home or from chicken McNuggets from McDonalds. They are both protein sources. I think we can all agree that both should not be considered equal. When very little or no importance is placed on quality, there is no difference between grilled chicken breast and chicken McNuggets. However, we all know that there is a big difference between the two, and the difference is quality. For some strange reason, most of us can identify that there is a drastic quality difference between grilled chicken breast and chicken McNuggets yet we fail to see glaring deficiencies in the quality of our movement. Most people consider McDonalds to be unhealthy, and yes, it probably isn’t the best food to be consuming if you’re concerned about your cardiovascular and digestive health, but I would make the case that poor squatting technique and crunches are equally as detrimental to you musculoskeletal health.
We prioritize our cardiovascular health when we look at which foods to eat and which not to eat. However, I wish more people would prioritize their exercise in the same way. Begin to take the same approach to movement and exercise as you would to nutrition. Some exercises will benefit your health, and others simply will not. The underlying theme should always be the quality of the exercise. Do it with competence and then do it frequently.
I’ve put together a 3 step movement quality checklist. This checklist will only apply to you as long as you are performing fundamental movements as the basis of your training program. If machines are where you spend the bulk of your time, then you are not ready to begin applying this checklist to your movement. In that instance, you may consider seeking additional guidance to learn how to begin moving efficiently and properly. This checklist can be used to determine if your body is ready to lift weights or not. Some of you may be thinking to yourself – “well I lift weights all the time.” You would be right in saying that. I can assure you that you are more than likely setting yourself up for injury one day. Give this checklist a try and see how you do. If you can’t make it through all 3 steps, your body is not fundamentally sound. The movement I would like you to perform for the checklist is a body weight squat. A very simple yet crucial movement for proper human performance.
Step 1 – Are you pain free while moving? If you experience pain while moving, your body is dysfunctional. There is no other way of saying it. Pain is the body’s red flag for when there is dysfunction. Most people don’t listen to the feedback that our bodies give us. The old “no pain, no gain” mantra of the past is no more. There are different forms of pain, however, when we’re speaking of movement, pain is not OK. It’s your body telling you there’s a problem and that you need to address it. Think of this as the alarm that goes off in your car when you leave your lights on. Before progressing to step 2, you must address any painful areas of your body first.
Step 2 – Are you performing a full range of motion? Step 2 is critical to movement. You must utilize your joints full range of motion. In my previous post about range of motion, I emphasize the importance of not limiting your body into a reduced range of motion for general health reasons. If you’re unfamiliar with that concept, please refer to my previous post here: (http://uxbridgefitness.com/range-of-motion.html). Assuming you are achieving a full range of motion with your movement properly, you’re then able to move on to step 3.
Step 3 – Can you perform the movement with integrity? The last step of the checklist is very simply; can you perform the movement with integrity? Here when I say integrity, I mean with 100% proper technique. A simple way to test this is to perform an exercise for 20 reps. If you can perform the movement with integrity for all 20 reps, then you can safely move beyond the checklist.
And that’s all there is to it. A quick and simple self assessment you can perform anywhere. Here we are primarily looking at quality. Do the movement pain free with full range of motion and then perform it with integrity. Do it with competence and then do it frequently.
About the Author: Eric Noyes BHSc (Kin), CSEP-CPT
Eric is Kinesiology Graduate from The University of Ontario and holds his Training Certification with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. He has been training general population and sport specific clients at Body Fit since 2013 and is currently the Lead Trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and consultation.