fitness

The Importance of Technique

Fitness is something we've been told we have to do and we know we should do. More and more people are hitting the gym now to “pay their dues”. But at what price? What is the end goal?

Today, I went in for a personal workout. And a guy was practicing Olympic cleans and snatches. When done properly, these are awe-inspiring exercises that require strength, speed, and coordination. They are all the rage and many new “athletes” are incorporating them as part of their workout routine.

Stefanie Dröxler with a successful attempt (snatch) during third round of Austrian Weightlifting Bundesliga.  Isiwal/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Stefanie Dröxler with a successful attempt (snatch) during third round of Austrian Weightlifting Bundesliga. Isiwal/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

I could see the telltale signs of someone who didn't know what he was doing. The bar was coming away from his body on the way up. He was lifting the bar entirely with his back and he was overarching his back at the top of the snatch. Either he had a bad coach or he was just trying to copy what he saw others doing without really understanding why the technique was important.

He was fatigued at the end and he probably felt like he was getting a great workout. But I wonder if he knew that he was potentially doing damage to his body in the process. He wouldn't feel the ill effects today; but over time, if he continued to lift this way, he might one day be hunched over with “arthritis” in his low back. Or if he got overly aggressive with his weight selection one day soon, he might hurt himself by “pulling” or “straining” something.

You see, for as different as our bodies may appear to be (height, weight, body composition, etc.), mechanically, they are all the same. They act in the same manner and are subject to the same laws of physics. So, for every exercise and each person, there is really, truly only ONE proper way to do it if you're trying to get stronger AND avoid any injury over your lifetime.


From the science of ergonomics, we know that there are three primary factors that cause the development of musculoskeletal disorders, like back pain, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, bursitis, meniscal tears, stress fractures. numbing, tingling, or swelling. Those three factors are:

  1. Force

  2. Repetition

  3. Posture

Well, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Working out by its very nature involves Force (because we have to lift weight or pound the pavement to get fit) and Repetition (because we have to repeat hundreds or thousands of times to get the benefits).

This means that we must pay tremendously close attention to our Posture (or technique) in order to make sure that we don’t succumb to one of those musculoskeletal disorders above. It’s the only one of the three factors over which we have true control.

Wait a minute. You say you’ve already experienced some of those MSDs as a result of working out? Heck, every time I go to the gym, someone is telling me that they’re working through a bout with one of those MSDs! We don’t necessarily make the connection, but it’s almost definitely because we weren’t doing an exercise properly and we exposed our body to all three factors simultaneously. When that happens, your body could break down immediately or it could break down over time, depending on what the weakest link is. But the only way to slow the process down is to start removing exposure to those three factors. This is why when we finally visit the doctor, he/she tells us to take a break from working out. And the only way to prevent MSDs altogether is to improve the technique!


So looking at only today's workout is a very short-sighted way of looking at things. We should be doing today’s workout but thinking about how to prevent tomorrow’s MSD by executing the technique perfectly.

It's why I think of technique on a spectrum.

Exercise_Spectrum_wh.png

We should all actively strive for perfect technique every rep. Little deviations may be ok if they occur infrequently. But over time, they will lead to chronic, repetitive injuries. Bigger deviations lead to serious acute injuries. If our goal is to lead a pain-free life (and it should be!), we should aim to do the technique correctly every time. That means learning what correct technique is or hiring someone who does.

But in a fitness industry chock-full of 1-day certifications and “passionate” coaches trying to make a name for themselves, anyone can call themselves a fitness professional without really know what they're doing. It’s not uncommon to hear that technique isn’t that important because “doing anything is better than doing nothing”. But coaches and trainers say that because, let’s be honest, they probably won’t be there in 20 years when your pains start to kick in. That’s why it’s on each individual to seek out reputable, knowledgeable, science-backed, results-focused professionals. Posting half-naked photos on social media doesn’t make you a good coach.

This is one of the reasons why we started realfitness. We wanted to create a community of like-minded individuals who want to be fit today and maintain quality of life tomorrow. We want to share our experience with you to teach you how you can get the results you want.

Food as Medicine?

I recently watched a documentary called The Magic Pill by director, Rob Tate. In it, he highlights several cases where a change of diet is used to overcome illnesses such as autism, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 

The movie has gotten its fair share of criticism for being part of the rash of trendy food documentaries that are scaring people into thinking that a particular diet is better than all the others. I don't condone these movies and see them for what they're worth: advertising for warring food companies. In my mind, the key is developing some critical thinking skills that allow us to parse the true from the false.

Because buried in all the propoganda and counterpropoganda is some truth:

Food is medicine.

The body uses food to fuel everything it does and the quality of the food is critical to the performance of the body. It's not unlike a car depending on high quality gasoline.

The body is capable of adjusting to whatever the environment sends its way. If a sugar-laden soft drink enters the body, it does one thing; if a steak shows up, it does something different. If a virus makes its way into the body, it reacts one way; and if ragweed pollen shows up, it responds differently. 

This is all the result of the body's desire to achieve homeostasis. Life can only persist under the right conditions and all living organisms have mechanisms to regulate the conditions and keep them alive. So even though the environment is constantly changing, the body senses the changes and tries to adjust all of its processes to keep things the same.

So any condition where the body changes, like weight gain or illness, is a sign that the body is trying to respond to some bad input. 

So why is it that people believe that fitness is the key to meaningful weight loss? 

If you feed a car bad gas and clog up the fuel injectors, do you fix it by running it harder? Of course not.

But for the past 50 years or so, humans have been convinced that exercise is the key to losing weight. That somehow, muscle is the solution to the poor quality of our food supply. Because adding high-performance tires and taking a cross-country road trip will clean out those clogged fuel injectors, right??

There are a lot of great benefits to working out. You can get stronger to do all the things that you need to do in your daily life. By working with a movement expert, you can learn how to move properly to minimize damage to the joints. You can increase your stamina so that you can continue to do the things you love for longer periods of time. You can improve the aesthetics of your body by building up muscle in specific areas. There are even emotional benefits that come from pushing yourself physically.

But the musculoskeletal system is not directly responsible for managing weight gain/loss, so using fitness as the primary means of losing weight is a waste of time. 

Any experienced, certified personal trainer will tell you: "Abs are made in the kitchen" or "You can't out-exercise a bad diet". We've known this for as long as human beings have walked the Earth. 

This is not to say that fitness plays zero part in weight loss. After all, the muscles use energy that comes from food. But the part that they play is so infinitesimally small compared to proper nutrition that the biggest sustainable gains are almost entirely from changing what & how you eat. I work out because I enjoy improving my strength, endurance, movement, and the emotional benefits; not because it's going to help me lose weight.

So if food is the key to weight manipulation, is it so far-fetched to think that the body, in its search for homeostasis, could also change other aspects of itself in response to the things it ingests? Not at all.

It's no surprise that the rise in obesity and incidences of diabetes, heart disease, etc. have all taken place in the last 50 years where our focus on fitness has caused us to take our eye off the ball that really matters: our food.