Why working out to "failure" may fail you.

Today the notion of proper form while lifting is at the forefront of my mind as I see patients of every age who can decrease their ailments simply by focusing on proper mechanics while they are lifting objects.

I have patients almost everyday who say something along the lines of “I was working out and while doing _______ felt some pain but decided to push through it.” Or, “Today we had to do X amount of handstand push-ups, cleans, snatches, squats until exhaustion and now my ______ hurts.”

When we perform any exercise or movement to exhaustion form is the first thing to fall off. I’ve said it to almost every patient of mine, pain while working out or being active is a sign that your body NEEDS you to stop. There is a difference between being sore/stressed and true pain. We should NEVER be in pain while working out and if someone tells you otherwise, I would like to see his or her qualifications.

When we add load (weight) to a movement pattern that is faulty, we are setting ourselves up for future injuries by strengthening a faulty pattern and thus strengthening the wrong muscles. Typically with a workout plan or strength training program we spend one session flying through new exercise form and then begin to load the following session. However, it takes time and repetition in order to perform any movement perfectly and one day doesn’t cut it.

I know it is unrealistic for most of us, but here is a story that was posted in The Hockey News magazine about NHL players and their post season workouts.


My favorite quote from the article states, “those players wont touch a weight for the first 3-4 weeks of a strength program.” They are taking care of their bodies and creating perfect form with the exercises.

Yes, I know, we aren’t all professional athletes who beat ourselves up for a living, and we don’t all have time for one month of “form” work. My point is that the best athletes in the world, regardless of the sport, are taking their training back to the basics each year before they load any exercises. This isn’t because they aren’t strong or familiar with the exercise, its because they understand the importance of loading a movement properly to avoid injury.

Like anything, gaining strength and power is all about doing things properly and paying attention to the small details.

In today’s world of competitive sports, kids are being encouraged to weight train at a much younger age. The reality of young kids (pre-adolescent) putting on mass and increasing power through loading exercises is relatively low, it isn't developmentally appropriate.

Instead, these young athletes can see benefit from doing supervised plyometrics and basic form work with PVC pipes in order to build a proper foundation. The more groundwork that can be done properly at a young age can increase their future success in their strength training efforts. Taking this time to train their bodies with the proper form may also decrease their risk of injury as they progress as athletes.

All of these concepts can be transferred directly to any person, no matter the age or ability level. I am a true believer that every workout plan needs to start with some sort of Functional Movement Exam and have them in the middle and at the end of the program to show improvement.

Then, we can look back and say:

1) yes this workout helped improve your ________ (speed, power, agility, etc…)

2) we strengthened ___________ (movement pattern).

In the end it doesn’t matter how much power or strength a person has if that person is injured and can’t perform or, can’t utilize all of their strength because their motion is inefficient.

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