My Exercise Mantra

Posture, technique, feel. These are the pillars of how I teach exercises.

As with most professionals in any given field, I have taken part in countless professional development courses over the years. Admittedly, my attention is hardly ever captivated in any sort of classroom setting. In my childhood development years, the only situations that would get me into trouble at school related to a lack of concentration and disturbing the other students. That’s a nice way to say that I was probably a bit of a class clown. If the studies aren’t being presented in an interesting manner, the student already understands the subject matter, or if the child has a touch of ADHD, who can blame them?

The same issues have plagued me throughout years of professional development. My mind always seems to go “yeah, I get that, show me something that’s going to wow me!” Here and there, something does wow me. Maybe two or three times in my career I’ve been rocked by the information presented, and realistically it’s often the presenter and how they share the information. One such period of learning was post-University and pre-becoming a Trainer. I spent two or three years attending courses such as FMS (Functional Movement Systems, https://www.functionalmovement.com/) and TPI (Titleist Performance Institute, https://www.mytpi.com/) which both have to do with teaching and correcting movement patterns to better a person’s body before getting them into strenuous activity. FMS is a generic system of assessments designed to specify areas of movement that the client needs to address. TPI is specific to golfers, but can be linked to any athletes (I would argue any person) – specifically rotational athletes (think Baseball throwing and batting). Both of those courses changed the way I worked for many years. Until…

At some point in the 2010s, I took a course called RTS, Resistance Training Specialist (https://www.resistancetrainingspecialist.com/) which gave me permission to work with people differently. No longer was my job to sort through specific exercises that are “right” for someone, or weed out those horrible “bad” exercises for that person. Now I could take an exercise that someone might WANT to do and adapt it for them. A squat isn’t a universal truth, it is a motion made up of flexion and extension of various joints. It’s something that varies for the individual! A bench press doesn’t even HAVE to touch a person’s chest! There is nuance. There is coaching. Through that (and even years later) I came up with my mantra: “Posture, Technique, Feel.”

Posture – of course. Technique – well, yeah. Feel – OK, maybe you’re losing me a bit… What does all of this mean? And why has this become my exercise mantra? Join me my friend. Pop into my brain and take a journey.

Posture is the first step, and no, it is not simply a word used to mean sitting up straight at the piano or desk. Posture is whichever position I (the coach) want your body in for an exercise or activity. Maybe I want more or less hip flexion when coaching a lunge to stretch the gluteus maximus. And then I start asking for the spine to angle forward more, but not to hunch at the upper back. Now I insist on more weight being on the front foot. All of these are postural cues in order to set up a good position to generate effort in the glute and maybe some in the quads. This is done for any exercise, depending on which muscles I (the Coach, Trainer, Kinesiologist – pick your preferred term) am trying to target on your body. Posture also includes the range of motion that has been decided on.

This person being coached into an effective and VERY hard lunge, is now being coached into bicep curls. Did you know that bicep curls are not an enemy? Crazy, hey? So this client grabs a weight in each hand and just starts bending their elbows, right? Hilarious. I have never been able to make things that simple. If I did, why would someone hire me? You can bend your elbows without me, thanks. Of course I can’t tell you exactly how these curls would be done because I am just making up a client in my head. Even bending the elbow with extra load (what I think of when someone grabs a weight) is different for each individual. First off, I almost never have people completely straighten their arm in this motion – that generally takes all of the extra load off of the muscle. So we’ve already specified part of the range of motion and thus the posture (remember, their body position, not just standing straight). And it will go from there. How much do I want their elbow to bend? Are they standing or sitting? Laying back at an angle? Are we using a dumbbell or a cable? Which angle is the resistance coming from? A dumbbell always falls with gravity, so I have to change their posture to account for that. A cable or elastic band can alter where the resistance comes from which means I can play with posture again. But that’s just the beginning because I don’t often change their posture mid-exercise or mid-repetition of that exercise (not never though… that can be fun).

It’s not enough to just set the person up, count 3, 2, 1 go and be satisfied. Now there is the Technique portion of this mantra. Often I hear and see other professionals in my field discuss technique, but it’s relating to how an exercise is done – the whole of the exercise. I would argue that technique is something that crosses to most – if not all exercises. Their definition of technique is closer to my definition of posture. My definition of technique has to do with the speed of the motion, the bracing that I’ll ask for certain muscles to take part in, the intention and purposeful use of a certain muscle or group of muscles, and even how strong I want their grip (if grip is needed).

We’ll revisit those biceps curls to hammer this point home. I don’t usually like a tight grip on a dumbbell. In my experience it emphasizes forearm muscles and takes some effort away from the biceps – in the case of curls. Yes, gripping harder often allows someone to lift more load, but I believe that the client benefits more from concentrated effort in the muscle(s) that I/we have targeted rather than overall load being used. A targeted bicep curl with a weaker grip at 15lbs can feel just as hard as a willy-nilly bicep curl with a death grip at 35lbs. Note that I am also working with a client’s mentality, not just the science of load applied to muscular tissue. This means that their perceived exertion means as much or more to me as their overall muscular adaptation.

Past something like gripping a weight, I also have to decide how fast their technique should be. Slower is harder. Faster is an option, but not one that I take for most purposes. As I said that a weaker grip allows the person to focus their attention on the targeted muscle, I find that slower motions allows them to also feel what we are trying to accomplish. Speed goes along with purposeful tightening of the muscle. I don’t think that a bicep curl should be performed without first tightening the bicep. And that squeeze shouldn’t deteriorate throughout the prescribed repetitions. Bringing a client’s attention and focus to that muscle is absolutely key to achieving specifically the outcome that is desired.

If you are reading carefully, you’ll already be waiting for this paragraph because I mentioned the word “feel” a few sentences ago. Take a second, go back and find it. Take your time because this “feel” thing is the culmination of this excessively long blog. You’ve stayed on to this point, why not go back and get the whole experience?

Alas, I wasted that paragraph making myself laugh. This one will be better because I’ll take the client’s posture, along with their amazing new technique, and mix them together in the shaker cup of exercise creating the delicious protein shake of Feel. Would you eat a Snickers bar if it didn’t taste sweet and delicious? How about smelling a rose if it wasn’t so lovely in your olfactory bulbs? To me a gross Snickers or a rank rose would be like this client doing a lunge without feeling it in the specified lower body muscles that I have aimed for. It happens. I’m not infallible. And if that’s the case, a reassessment of the client might be necessary, with likely another look at their posture and technique.

Welcome to Exercise Mathematics 2022. My name is Mr. McWhirter, but you can call me Jordan because this is an informal setting. My aim is to keep you entertained and engaged so that if you have ADHD or think you have already mastered the course content, you don’t drift into another mental universe. To get an A+ (BOOM! got your attention there) please memorize the following formula and apply it constantly through every exercise you ever do from now on out:

POSTURE + TECHNIQUE = FEEL

Class dismissed.

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