Technique is fundamental and should be the primary focus of instruction when it comes to any new exercise or sport skill. It's essential to the continual refinement of movement skills. Technique also has implications in the rehabilitation process as well.
However, there appears to be a huge gap in terms of what most people acknowledge as proper technique and the technique they actually demonstrate or coach. 1. Sure many coaches and trainers can "tell" you what proper technique is, but are they capable of identifying technique errors? 2. Are they skilled and knowledgeable enough to understand why they are seeing technique errors and how to systematically go about improving technique? 3. Do they understand the joint and muscular actions involved in the complex execution of specific movements? 4. Do they understand that technique can be dictated by your anatomical structure and that there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" approach when it comes to coaching proper technique?
Despite hearing time and time again from coaches, trainers, and clinicians preaching, "Technique, technique, technique", the reality is many in the fields of health and fitness do not understand technique as well as they should
. Sure, they may claim to practice or teach 'perfect technique' to their clients or patients. They may agree that technique is important and that it should be accounted for.
But are they actually making sure your technique is what works best for you?
Take for example a high school athlete that was recently seen at GP. His primary complaint was low back tightness and pain following squatting and lower body training days. He had been seeing a local chiropractor for his back pain and training with a teammate at another local gym. He had been receiving care for almost 6 weeks with no change. Despite 2x/week adjustments and performing a routine of abdominal strengthening exercises and hamstring stretches, he continued to have 'severe' tightness and occasional pain in his low back for 3-5 days after squatting.
As I dug deeper into the nature of his low back tightness, the pattern of his symptoms made me increasingly suspicious that something was clearly wrong with his squat technique.
So I asked him, "How's your squat technique?" I wanted to get inside his head and hear his thoughts on his technique. His reply was, "I think it's pretty good. I learned from my training partner who has lifted more than I have and our football team's strength coach gave us tips." I want to emphasize this point. He believed his technique was not an issue. He believed he had received good coaching when it came to his squat technique. Rather he kept expressing how he had been told he had weak abs and needed to stretch his hamstrings, and that this was the root of his problem. His mind wasn't focused on technique.
At GP, we have the luxury of using the gym to provide real time feedback during our evaluations. This kid looked pretty good doing a body weight squat, but I knew things would change once we got him loaded up. So we took our session to the gym floor. Needless to say, there were a number of technique issues with his squat that were ultimately at the heart of why he was routinely over-stressing his low back. Rather than addressing mobility or strength issues, we simply figured out the technique he must utilize based on his anatomical structure.
This young athlete had structural adaptations
that had to be taken into consideration when figuring out the most appropriate squat technique that worked for him. These very same structural adaptations had been previously overlooked, yet they played a huge role in why he was symptomatic.
After cleaning up his technique issues, it was no surprise to me that his back was not a complaint. But it was a huge surprise to him. He had just spent weeks getting adjusted, strengthening his abs and stretching with no results. How could something so simple as technique modification resolve his issue? Closing Thoughts
When someone is experiencing a weakness in their performance or is recovering from a musculoskeletal injury, determine if the main culprit is improper technique.
Far too often, most will think to only improve physical abilities (endurance, strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, etc.) when dealing with poor performance or injury rehabilitation. While addressing physical abilities is important, physical abilities have limited value without proper technique.
In the ideal situation, technique changes or modifications should be made simultaneously as strength or other physical abilities develop. For athletes, strength should be coupled with skill through what is known as special strength exercises
. In other words, strength is developed in the same neuromuscular pathway as used in execution of their competitive skill(s).
Rehabilitation programs that primarily focus on isolated physical abilities without integrating those newly developed abilities into specific movement tasks or sport skill will fail to ensure that athletes are equipped to handle the demands of competition. When it comes to injury rehabilitation and injury prevention, failure to couple strength as it relates to technique will increase the chance of recurring injury.
Consider the relationship between hamstring injuries and sprinting. Several athletes frequently experience hamstring injuries, which can take weeks or months to rehabilitate. However, when efficient sprinting mechanics are coupled with development of the physical abilities specific to the actions involved in sprinting, the chances of hamstring injuries are essentially nonexistent.
This is why experts are convinced several common athletic injuries, not just hamstring injuries, are preventable. This also explains why having a coach and/or therapist who understands technique is invaluable to athletes.