We’re going to dig into the podcast archives for this one. I am a member of the ETP Facebook group, and I love the community that Patrick Umphrey has created there. This appears to be the final episode of Eat Train Progress Radio (January 25, 2020), and it’s a fun combination of pizza talk, beard updates, and good, evidence-based training information.
The part of the conversation that I really want to draw attention to is their discussion of technique and injury prevention. It’s one of my soap box topics that folks get so focused on technique, or more specifically, correcting other people’s technique, that we reinforce a culture in lifting that holds people back and allows other people to define our successes. As Lawrence says, “You have to spend a lot of time in the gym and witness a lot of people lifting to be able to objectively identify something as poor technique.” I would argue that a singular, “perfect technique” doesn’t exist. My body isn’t the same as your body. My femurs may be relatively longer than yours. Your arms may be noticeably asymmetrical. That person might have nerve damage in their left glute. All these variations change the “optimal” movement pattern for that person’s personal physiology. And as Patrick and Lawrence point out, we also change movement patterns depending on individual goals, for example moving a weight to emphasize a certain muscle group or to reduce the strain somewhere else.
Unfortunately, gym culture seems to allow for a lot of unrequested advice, including form checks. An unofficial poll of some of my fellow female lifters suggests that this is one of their biggest beefs with going to a mainstream gym, outside of the risk of unwanted flirtation/sexual harassment. Giving unsolicited advice perpetuates power structures–with the person giving the advice (usually male in my experience) assuming power over the person they are giving advice to (female or presumed less-experienced male). If you don’t want to contribute to uneven power structures, my suggestion is to wait until the advice is requested–trust the person who is not you to speak up when they need something or are ready to learn. And if they never speak up? Then you aren’t the person they are going to learn from, and that needs to be ok, too.
I mostly like Patrick’s advice that if you are concerned about someone doing something that risk personal injury, you can bring your concerns to a trainer. However, as I’ve also received advice from trainers as an unartful attempt to solicit new business, I’m not sure I really want to encourage their involvement, either. My own personal strategy is to not offer advice unless someone is trying to set something up and is clearly unsure which knob to push or whatever. Most of the less-than-optimal form I witness, I remind myself, is unlikely to persist. The vast majority of New Year’s Resolutioners and other new lifters don’t stick around for long enough to harm themselves doing something poorly. Most injuries take time and repetition, and it is in the nature of this crowd to not stick with it long enough to build up those issues. For the folks who do stick around, there’s lots of time to learn ahead of them.
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Eat, Train, Progress Radio: Kiwis on Pizza and New Year’s Resolutioners