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Common Movements, Common Mistakes

It is generally our human bias to confuse basic with easy. I feel this gets amplified in the weight room because ego now becomes a factor. Nevertheless, it’s important to draw distinction between the two. For instance, a squat- by most standards- would be classified as a “basic” or “foundational” exercise. But if you take a deeper look at all the different mechanics and force/torque vectors occurring, the squat is a rather sophisticated movement. Another variable at play here is the perception of difficulty. Again, at the surface level, the squat doesn’t appear complex in any fashion because its instinctual. The presumption of “familiar” often proves consequential in action. It’s important to make these delineations apparent with your athletes.

Something I’ve emphasized and found success with is hammering the “big ticket” items early and often. When we introduce these movements, we want to do so with explicit expectations and vivid cues. Using whichever techniques of teaching the athlete needs or you can best apply, we want to be very precise with our introduction. The first time an athlete is performing something, recognize that they’re in an impressionable space. Or, in other words, they'll be more receptive to our cueing because they’re seeking to learn a new skill. A fundamental responsibility of coaching is to bring life to movement through words.

Without question the most challenging exercise for me to clean up is the hinge/RDL pattern. Hinging patterns are another one that superficially appear to be natural, but there’s a lot more going on. But to touch back on the paragraph above about illustrating movement, I’ve had a hell of a time teaching hinge mechanics for years. But not too long ago I finally came across the magic cue for hinging… “shit on the wall”. If you work with kids, I guess this becomes “poop on the wall”, but you get the point. As opposed to redundantly telling them to “point their pelvis up and back” or “get long in the legs”, “I want you to shit on the wall behind you” seems to get the point across a bit more directly. However you go about it, or phrase it, use language that is illustrative and will stick with them. It gives us more opportunity to work on the more refined stuff down the road.

Another consideration is that we must have intent, deliberate intent, with our training. If we want to elucidate specific adaptations, we need to be able to manage foundational movements in a myriad of ways first. If we introduce a bench press by quickly plopping down and muttering out “5 points of contact, chest meets bar, elbows tight to body” we’re not only selling them short, but we’re setting them up for failure. Our lack of interest, or attention to detail on foundational movements allows them the opportunity to infer that this exercise is either easy or insignificant. If we only throw a couple scrap points of performance at them, we give them a very low ceiling to work toward. Conversely, by providing explicit, detailed cues (i.e. “I want your glutes squeezed like you’re pinching a penny and elbows a softball distance from the ribs”) we’re giving them specific items to focus on, and then improve on before we progress. The more interest you demonstrate the more inclined they will be to perform with proficiency.

With all that being said, in this article, I wanted to go through a handful of common/foundational movements that are often performed incorrectly. The charts provided below are an overview of some of the more common mistakes associated with the movements. Please note that these are obviously incomplete lists... each one of these exercises can be dissected for hours. Also note that each exercise listed is hyperlinked for a little bit more detailed overview.

But nevertheless, the details are the divider, and with the current effects of the COVID pandemic, I felt it was timely to touch back on being proficient with the basics. We, as coaches, also need to be be comfortable navigating different mistakes or faulty patterns in different ways, for different audiences.

6.) Big Three: Bench Press | Deadlift | Back Squat

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