If It’s Easy, You Can Probably Skip It

By: Alex Cromartie, CPT, CHS

When I first began working in the fitness industry, I remember another trainer telling me that “If it’s easy, you can probably skip it.” in regards to exercise selection. For some reason, it always stuck with me. Although I did understand the basic idea behind the saying at the time, it would take me a bit longer to really understand the depth of it. Let me explain.

At first, the idea of concentrating on exercises that are difficult for you, unnatural for you, and sometimes downright agonizing for you may sound either sadistic, or like one of many overused fitness cliches. And while it may be both of these things, it is also a lot more. It is for me, the essence of training. Appreciating my strengths, but focusing most of my attention on the things I don’t do well in order to improve them.

More importantly though are the physical reasons why concentrating on your weak body parts and poor movement patterns is so important. To understand them, you must understand the length/tension relationships in your muscles. That is to say that when you attempt to move a joint in a particular plane of motion, opposing stabilizer muscle groups contract to stabilize the joint. If these opposing muscle groups are out of balance (whether due to physiology, a history of bad posture, overuse, or most likely a mix of all these), then the path of motion of the limb will be altered. When we exercise over time without addressing these movement deviations, we further ingrain them into our movement patterns. The overactive muscles continue to overwork and get tighter, whereas under active muscles remain dormant (and often continue to lengthen). What starts as one’s natural physiology in childhood, becomes augmented through the effects of gravity and time when left unchecked. Addressing these concerns is for me, one of the most important aspects of training.

Let’s use the tried and true squat exercise as an example to demonstrate this phenomenon. Say you notice that you tend to squat with your feet wide with your toes pointed out (sumo squat). When you try to squat in a neutral position (feet shoulder width apart with toes in front of your knees), you feel much weaker and your knees may tend to bow out a little. Since the sumo squat emphasizes the hip abductor muscle group (the outer thigh), this is a good sign that your hip abductors are under active, and that your hip adductor group (inner thigh) is overactive. By continuing to do wide sumo style squats, you are further tightening your abductor group, and ignoring the adductor group. This will eventually lead to knee pain and/or hip pain. You may instead be better off lengthening your abductor group through stretching and foam rolling techniques and focusing your strength efforts on your hip abductors with an exercise like ski squats.

Of course as with any exercise, listen to your body. Your muscles should experience a dull burning pain, not an instantaneous sharp one. You should never do an exercise that really hurts you, so stop of one does. Although rare, there ARE exceptions to these mechanical processes (such as femoral torsion, and femoral head size in this example). So if something  doesn’t feel right, have a certified health professional help get you started. You’ll be glad you did!


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