Starting Exercise, Without Fear of Injury
Sometimes when people try to start an exercise routine they end up hurting themselves. Then they try to understand why they hurt themselves and in the process usually come across the idea of “good form”.
This idea of using correct form is all over the internet. When you look up something about some exercise it seems that most videos have titles like, “The 10 most common mistakes…” or “The right way to…”
The basic idea, or rather the way that it often gets interpreted, is that one needs to have the right alignment in their body in order to perform any given exercise without it leading to injury.
Which is total bunk. Trash. That is to say, it’s inaccurate.
There are some things that good form is and some things it isn’t.
It isn’t a way to avoid exercise injuries.
The trouble with all this emphasis on correct form is that it supports an even stronger belief in biomechanical a.k.a alignment factors as being major contributors to pain and degeneration.
It’s just not healthy to think that if I allow my knees to jut past the tips of my toes by half an inch (or more!) that I’m damaging myself. After all, how will I ever manage to make it down a flight of stairs if I don’t allow my knees to pass my toes?
There are lots of other “biomechanical boogiemen” (to quote Greg Lehman) such as collapsing knees, tucked tailbones, internally rotated arms etc.
There are reasons to watch for all these elements of positioning, and to be deliberate in your choices, but avoiding injury is not one of them.
The main reason that people get injured when they start exercising is that they do not find the starting point that is right for them.
The main reasons that people continue to get injured after they have been exercising for a bit are from the same thing.
- They do not allow their body time to adapt.
- They overestimate their capacity.
- They do not regress an exercise after they’ve had a break or to practice control.
The problem with focusing on getting my form right instead of getting the starting point and amount of work right is that I start to put excessive amounts of my attention on arbitrary positioning that I don’t truly understand and that I’m just doing because some “expert” said it was the “right” way to do it.
It shifts my attention away from what I’m feeling inside my body and toward what I’m seeing. It makes me feel like I need some kind of arcane knowledge and expert guidance in order to spend time being vigorous with my body. And when I do have pain it makes me focus on the wrong causes and the wrong solutions.
In fact it can actually make me more fearful of movement and cause me to hold unnecessary tension in my body.
Imagine having the freedom to try all kinds of variations of positioning when working with an exercise and just noticing what they feel like and how they feel different–without worrying about whether you’re doing it wrong.
Most exercise injuries occur as a result of tissue overload rather than as a result of alignment problems.
It seems to be common for people to rush themselves. You can’t make up for years of inactivity in a few brutal hours of exercise. Adaptation is slow and it takes it’s own sweet time…but it is inevitable.
A way to think about this idea of tissue overload is by comparing your chronic workload to your acute workload. In this case “workload” means the volume of work that a part of your body does. This “workload” could be the demand on your cardiovascular and respiratory system or it could be the amount of tensile stress that you put through the ligaments of your shoulder or knee. It could also be the amount of pounds you lift and the velocity at which you lift them multiplied by the total number of minutes per week that you spend lifting those pounds.
The point being, that your physical workload can be any domain of function or any amount of stress in any plane of motion, and there are a lot of possibilities.
The “chronic” workload is the amount of that particular kind of work that you’ve done over the past 4 weeks. The “acute” workload is the amount of that particular kind of work that you are doing this week.
The length of time we are calling chronic and acute can vary, but the proportions should remain constant, i.e. the last 4 months versus this month.
According to the scientific literature, if my acute workload doesn’t exceed my chronic workload by one and a half times, then my risk of injury is minimal. That’s a rate at which my body can adapt to the changes in my workload. At this rate I’m getting enough recovery time.
If on the other hand I get up off the couch after several years and start hitting Coach So-and-So’s 6 Minute Abs every day of the week, then my acute workload on my abdominals is going to far exceed my chronic workload, and I will hurt myself.
It’s easy math. Or maybe when you start getting into the equations for measuring volume of workload it’s somewhat complex math.
The bottom line is that if you haven’t done much of that kind of work for the last four weeks or 2 years, starting slowly and increasing gradually will cause sustainable transformation. Whereas hitting it hard will lead down the path of injury.
Focusing on getting the volume of work right, will serve you much better in preventing injury than focusing on your form will.