Imitation not always a form of flattery

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When I was a kid, my dad often said, “there’s a reason for everything.” As the years have passed, his comments, while still profound, ring true in multiple facets of my life -- including functional fitness and movement.

If you went into any gym in any town in America, you would observe a highly diverse audience of fitness enthusiasts performing movements that range from textbook quality to those that look more like they’re being tested from information overheard at a coffee shop.

At times, the impressionable gym enthusiast might be watching the coffee-shop version enthusiast performing an exercise and start mimicking their technique. Doing so begins the gym version of a viral Internet video “gone wild,” while also managing to increase the chances of injury as a function of incorrect stresses to joints, tendons and various organs.

Obviously, the impact of incorrect form or mechanics is certainly not exclusive to exercise. In almost every profession where there is a proper physical application and movement required, results are usually compromised by affecting the individual or their work, if solid mechanics are not utilized.

It is very easy to make the mistake of performing curls and overusing the lower back as fatigue approaches, pushing those last few heavy reps of bench press by arching the back; or even worse, slamming the bar against the chest to “rebound” the weight upward during an Olympic chest press, or allowing the knees to bend in a way that puts them significantly ahead of the toes when doing squats -- probably one of the most highly observed flaws in both young and older fitness enthusiasts alike.

Naturally, this prompts the question of what should be done to get things right? While today’s information highway almost warrants a YouTube or Google answer, I’m not in agreement. My reason for this is that while many gym enthusiasts and body builders have been self-taught, proper training in any kind of physical endeavor can be very scientific. That is, there are economical ways to conserve energy, maximize effort and generate results that Google, YouTube or even a textbook cannot teach. As you work on mastering the techniques to improve your level of fitness and training in anything, practicing the following training tips will enhance your time and effort:

• Mirror, mirror on the wall: Mirrors at gyms are there for a reason, and it’s not to check out your tats or how good your hair looks. They are there so that you can watch your form as you lift, observe the muscles being activated and make posture adjustments that add to your safety and effectiveness.

• Keep it simple: It’s easy to get caught up analyzing countless aspects of your movement or training. I often encourage my clients to choose only two or three things to work on when they train. While their technique might require more, it’s easier to process and perfect technique in small increments.

• Analyze and observe: When you are in an environment where there are many people performing the same movements, your intuition will speak volumes. Look for people who seem to be able to control the weight they are working with (versus the weight jerking them around), performing each repetition at an even tempo and exhibiting good posture.

• Hire a trainer:The best fitness trainers at any gym are those who empower their clients with the knowledge and understanding to work out on your own -- without a trainer. Additionally, a good trainer will show you how to work out with minimal “props,” making use of objects in or around their home. While it might cost you a few bucks for a good trainer, the lessons you learn and your ability to use them can last you a lifetime.

Imitation can be a terrific way to improve your success in your athletic or fitness programs, provided you know what you are imitating and if it makes use of technique that will keep you safe, effective and most importantly, yield results.

Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at billv@victorfitsystems.com, 360-750-0815 and online at www.theflashpoint.org and www.victorfitnesssystems.com.