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Correct Technique When Exercising
Margarita Gurevich and Justin Balbir
From the viewpoint of physiotherapists, using the correct technique when exercising is crucial to preventing injury and maximising the effectiveness for your body. There are many factors to consider when finding the appropriate exercise plan for each individual. We must consider the person’s goals, abilities, resources and accessibility when determining what is most appropriate. Regardless of what type of physical activity you choose to perform, there will be an element of skill and ability required.
This is where going back to basics is so important when exercising. That is breaking down the tasks involved, learning the correct technique when performing them and then applying it to reach your goals, whether it is overcoming an injury, building muscular strength or learning to kick a football more accurately.
Why it is important?
Ask any skilled golfer whether swing technique or power is more important when it comes to hitting the ball further – they’ll tell you, it’s the correct technique. This is an example of how the correct technique can help improve performance. However, as physiotherapists, we look at things from a slightly different perspective. We also place a very high emphasis on the correct technique for injury prevention. We look at whether your technique is compromising your body when exercising and how we can perform an exercise to get the most benefit with the least risk.
Let’s look at a very specific example and break it down. One of the most commonly prescribed exercises is the squat. Squats are a great way to work on the strength and power of your lower limbs, as the movement incorporates activation of almost all of the leg muscles, especially the larger muscle groups called the glutes and quadriceps. A proper squat is not easily achievable, as the correct technique requires us to sit back with our bottoms (like we are about to sit on a chair) and ensuring the knees don’t move too far forward. However, when performing a squat this way, it can feel like you are going to fall backwards. Some small tricks that can help overcome this include; keeping your arms out in front of you to counteract the weight going backwards and practicing with a chair behind you so that if you do stumble back, it’s a safe landing.
Clinical Pilates can greatly help with making sure that you maintain correct technique when exercising. Since all sessions are conducted under the strict supervision of a physiotherapist, there is really no room for error. Using Real Time Ultrasound to assess the strength and control of the core muscles, will ensure that the activation of these muscles is correct.
When do we need to bend the rules?
There are circumstances where we need to work outside the rules. As we are all unique, our bodies will not all move and function in the same way when exercising. Let’s come back to the squatting example, where a strictly judged squat (say, in a powerlifting competition) requires individuals to go down until their hips are in line with the knees. That is quite a low depth and not easy to do! Now say that you are not exercising to be a professional power lifter, as most of us are not. Then it is not essential that you reach such low depths. If you have especially tight calves or stiff hip joints, your body might not find it comfortable or even allow you to reach such low levels. In this case, there’s nothing wrong with squatting perhaps only halfway down.
The other circumstance where a technique may be modified, is when the individual’s goal differs from that of the traditional exercise. For example, if you are a month post-knee replacement and still quite stiff in your operated knee, one of your goals would be to ‘stretch’ the tight tissues around the knee. In this circumstance, performing a squat or lunge with your knee coming further forward may be beneficial, as it will create a stretching force to help improve the flexibility and range of motion of the knee. This should only be attempted under the guidance of a trained healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist.
If you are unsure about how to get your personal exercise program started, it’s always best to check with your physiotherapist for some helpful tips and to build a strong foundation. Even innate tasks (such as walking and running) can require modification if they are causing problems. Once you master the basic principles, growing your repertoire and skillset will follow.
Ultimately, having the correct technique when exercising, will ensure that you are putting yourself in the safest position to avoid injury.