As an exercise specialist, the most common question I get from clients is, "am I doing this exercise right ? My answer a couple of years ago, would have been a decisive "yes" or "no," but I have grown as a professional and have learned a hard lesson that I want to share...
When working with clients who need to improve posture and movement patterns, I am less concerned about them doing it right. I am more concerned about their progression and direction. Is the client focusing on their movement? Is the client trying to learn and engage with you? Is the client’s coordination and movement patterns improving over time? These are the questions that are much more important to ask and answer than “is the client doing it right ? Right is simply too ambiguous for such important topics pertaining to the body, movement and quality of life.
We, as professionals may cite experts and research to support the right way. This is quite common. Yet, science is theoretically based. Research is not performed in the real world and is merely a tool to use, not a crutch to support rigid practices and programs. Professionals who work hands-on with clients and who base their practice on a balance between intuition, experience and science can provide better individualized exercise programs and services. This creates a much better environment for learning and is a recipe for long-term success.
I hope at this point, you are asking yourself, is there a right way to stand, sit, exercise and move. The answer is, yes. However, the “right way” is not a static point. It is a spectrum that is evolving with the changes of the body and environment. The subtle shifts in the “right way” may appear insignificant; but from my experiences the smallest of changes can make the biggest of waves. Letting go of our rigid views of what is right and wrong with posture, movement and exercise gives us freedom to truly learn. Do you think toddlers would learn to walk if they were constantly concerned if they were doing it wrong?
I do not have an answer to the above question, but I believe the fear of doing “wrong” inhibits our natural discovery process and, therefore, would slow down learning. To cultivate the discovery process in us as adults, we must start feeding our natural curiosity. This discovery process is a team effort- the professional guiding the client to view their body and movement differently and the client learning and rediscovering how to move. The professional has the benefit of objectivity, but the client has the benefit of their subconscious. Working hands-on with someone during rehabilitation or personal training, is an amazing discovery process and should be viewed as just that. I challenge all physical health professionals (athletic trainers, physical therapists, personal trainers) to start making changes to the way posture education is addressed. Instead of focusing on giving clients a list of items to perform to achieve proper upright posture, ask the client to slump and then sit upright, repeating daily for at least a week. Ask the client lots of questions and get lots of feedback. Then start providing guidance on how to make improvements from there. You may be surprised on what answers clients uncover themselves. And the greatest part is that since the client discovered certain components themselves, they will better remember those components versus having to be reminded constantly.
Now, with all of this being said, the professional is definitely placed in a role of ensuring the safety of the client and setting clear guidelines. These guidelines are just that guidelines. They are not set up to restrict a client's abilities to discover, but are only to place a gentle hand on a client's shoulder when he/she stray too far one way and need to come back into a safer environment, conducive to learning. Also, this guidance and additional feedback provided during exercises is often a key element in helping clients feel or rediscover a more efficient movement pattern and posture. However, there can be a very fine line between guiding and forcing a posture or technique. Forcing a technique, and being too restrictive with cues will only impair clients from truly re-learning and, therefore, lead to more reliance on their health professionals. The end goal should be to improve clients overall health, reduce symptoms and create independence.
I have used the concept of "rediscovery" both as a professional and as a student of exercise. I have found freedom and pure enjoyment with this process of learning. I hope that regardless of whether you are a professional or client yourself that you open your mind to the fact that there is a lesson with every wrong and each lessoned learned creates the path to the right. Therefore, if you are truly seeking to learn "the right way,"
Learn to rediscover