You often hear your coaches in class yelling across the room “Full extension at the top”, “Shoulder blades back”, “Head through the hole”, “Hip crease below the knees” or the even more beloved “squeeze your butt!” But why are we telling you these things and what do they really mean? Well, most of this stuff has to do with your range of motion and standards of movement. There are 4 simple reasons that it is important: Safety, Efficacy, Efficiency, and Goal Setting.
First and foremost, we want to be safe. We go to a gym to get healthy so that we are able to do the things in life that we want to do – whether that means being able to walk unassisted or hike Mt. Everest. If we get hurt in the gym then we suddenly find ourselves not only unable to workout, but unable to do the things we want to do in life. Range of motion is definitely a safety issue. We don’t want to go too deep in our squats because it can cause the “butt wink” resulting in lower back issues. We want to make sure we are standing straight and tall in our movements with our shoulder blades back. We don’t want to encourage slouching habits we don’t want to hurt our shoulders and neck. We want to make sure we have our head through the hole in overhead movements to ensure that we are in a strong hollow torso position in order to avoid an arched back which can lead to back issues. We want to make sure that our knees are not over our toes when we squat but instead we are sitting back on our heels and in a sturdy place to avoid knee injuries. This is the way we continue to get stronger instead of constantly battling nagging injuries.
Efficacy means that we want our movement to be effective. For example, we want our hip crease below the knee to ensure that we get the full hamstring return that we need to push heavy weight out of the bottom. We want our push-ups to be chest-to-floor at the bottom with full arm lockout at the top. We want all of our overhead movements to be at full lockout on top. Our box jumps should end with full hip extension so that we are standing up straight and tall. Those final positions are our strong positions where we are sturcturally sound (bone-on-bone) and not relying muscles and connective tissue so we can have a moment of slight rest. The full lockout on top of an overhead press with our head through the hole is our strong place – a place that allows us a moment of rest in the middle of a movement. We can also rest at the top of a box jump straight and tall so that our take off from the floor is a rebound, where we land coiled and shoot up (this does not count as much for stepping, but the top is still a better place to rest).
We also don’t want to sell ourselves short. If our movements are only minimal movements then we are only strong a portion of the way. Why bother doing the move to get kinda’ strong? Set yourself up from the beginning to be the best you can be. You will rise to your own expectations.
Quick and simple movements, avoiding wasted time and effort is what we mean by efficiency. There are several little secrets to a lot of these moves that can make you faster, which will help you increase your metabolic output making you stronger, faster and healthier overall. For example, resting at the top of a move. When we are doing overhead movements you might not think that it could be possible to rest with a 95 lb. barbell overhead, but when our arms are locked out and we are bone on bone we have a quick moment to catch our breath before we take our next plunge into an overhead squat. Otherwise, we have to continue to drop the bar and rest and then pick it up and get set up again before continuing, all of which wastes valuable time and energy.
Finally, we want our movements to have a full range of motion for the purposes of goal setting. We need to be able to compare ourselves to a certain standard. Now, I am NOT telling you that you should compare yourself to everyone else in the gym. We are always telling you that the only person you are competing with is yourself, right? After all, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Well that is true, but we still want to have a goal in mind. Without goals we are wandering aimlessly. For most of us that goal is to get a little leaner and a little stronger but it’s nice to have a definition of what that means and what we would like to achieve. Again, for most of us that might mean being as strong as (insert name here) at the gym. And of course the ultimate goal might be Rich Froning or Camille LeBlanc-Bazinet. In order to compare apples to apples and set a standard for ourselves we need to be able to compare what we are doing right now to what we want to be doing in the future. In order to do that we need to make sure that everyone reaches the same standards in a movement. Otherwise, you have that guy who does 100 mini-pushups comparing himself to the guy doing 50 perfect chest-to-floor pushups. Don’t be that guy! Everyone knows who the real winner is.
By Ellie Bishop McKenzie
6162 Sherry Lane
Dallas, TX 75225