Before You Social Media Shame Athletes' Poor Technique

TAGS: Rhea study, viral video, poor technique, social media, strength and conditioning coach, Bryan Mann, olympic lifting, speed

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There has always been a plethora of videos going around, both pre- and post-social media, of athletes performing exercises with poor technique. Sometimes it’s during the testing period; sometimes it’s during a training session. Regardless, it’s something that has existed forever and is not just a recent invention through social media. There are two points that I want to make with these videos: context is needed, and program to your strengths.

Never take one snapshot of one instance in the program as a verification of the whole program. There could be several reasons that the form happened; it was a random bad repetition. What if someone misgrooved a repetition (all powerlifters know that there are only two types of lifts, smoke show and misgroove; there’s never a heavy weight)?

Some people may put it out there just to show it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and even good coaches have bad days. In fact, it’s sometimes better for someone who has been viewed as successful or on a pedestal to show the warts of their own self and their program. It’s beneficial for others to not compare themselves against an unattainable, and frankly, a fantasy standard, and they need to realize there is wiggle room.


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Maybe the bad form happened as a way the athlete had something go wrong but battled through to complete the movement, and the coach is showcasing the will of the individual athlete. The intent of the video was not “Hey, look at how bad the form of my athlete is.” Rather it was, “Hey, look at this person. They didn’t want to give up, even though I told him to dump it.”

All too often we sit back and make judgments through a keyboard in an instant rather than thinking that this is one moment of a program rather than the whole thing. I know that I have done this, too, earlier in my career (and on the wrong day, recently, too). Context needs to be taken; know what was the purpose.

Every year, we have a video posted to social media that comes into an uproar. I know that I personally have had times where I came up with some idea in my head on the spot during a training session and decided to try it. Maybe it was to prove a point to the athletes that what they thought was a strain wasn’t really even hard. Maybe it was to just do something off of the wall that would add in some fun to a training session. Regardless, I’m thankful that a coach or social media person for the team wasn’t present when things didn’t go well. I would have been the subject of one of the videos that everyone is pointing to as a bad example.

One more area of this we need to take into account is that the coach may be well intentioned but simply ignorant in an area. While it’s not optimal, not every coach who runs a weight room is certified. Oftentimes, the role is just given to the new coach who has lifted a weight or two in their life. They may be doing what they think is best, and it just simply isn’t. They don’t understand proper biomechanics, injury risk, or really anything other than a clean ends up going to the shoulders.

What can we do about this person? Shaming them isn’t going to be beneficial. A lot of people will resort to name calling and saying they’re a moron. Take a moment and think about this. Every person has an area of expertise, things they understand well, and things they don’t. This person may have their background in English literature and be able to understand the techniques and structure (this may not be correct usage of terminology, but literature isn’t my area) of Shakespeare that make Shakespeare, well, Shakespeare rather than his contemporary Ben Jonson (I Googled this, this is not something I knew off hand) but not know the difference between a squat and good morning. The bar was on their shoulders, and the athlete went down and up, so it’s good as far as they know.

If a different approach is taken for when it’s not out of context but out of their expertise, one of education to the individual, then the health of their athlete can be enhanced. While it is true that the person is unqualified for their position, they’re in that position.

Education may do a few things. One: Give the individual knowledge of organizations that will make them qualified and teach them how to keep their athletes healthy and enhance performance. Two: It may simply give them the knowledge to keep the athletes healthy. Third: It may simply let them realize that this isn’t what they want to do and open the position up for a more qualified individual.

Another point that I’d like to make in this short article is that we need to go with our own strengths in programming. There are no magical exercises, regardless of what other people say. Research shows that jump training and Olympic lifting produce similar results (Hackett, Davies, Soomro, & Halaki, 2016). In my opinion, and it’s just my opinion, when people start talking about specificity of the Olympic lifts for sprinting and jumping, what is more specific to sprinting and jumping than sprinting and jumping? When mentioning the overloads, can you not add resistance in various force vectors to sprinting and jumping?

Here is my point. It’s not that one is better than the other. They are different means to enhancing the explosive ability of the athlete. A coach does not have to perform Olympic lifts with their athletes. If they have no background in Olympic lifting and have not taken courses in how to coach and perform the exercises, it may be counterproductive to the athlete’s development, and not only may injury occur, but they may get slower as a result of the incorrect performance. Good technique in squatting, deadlifting, jumping, and sprinting will be eliciting enhancements in speed and jumping ability far better than a poorly performed clean.

In essence, the coach can perform an exercise that is simpler and possibly in their repertoire of coaching ability. Bottom line: If the exercise can be well coached, it will be more likely to enhance results to as great an extent as possible.

Also along those lines, only use progressive overload on an exercise that the athlete can do competently. If the athlete can only perform a squat morning with a barbell on their back (instead of a back squat), change the exercise. It doesn’t matter if it’s a front squat or trap bar deadlift, they’ll see similar results in their training in terms of speed and jumping ability.

While some argue against this and think there is a vast difference in the exercise selection on results, I will beg to differ. Outside of the sports of powerlifting and Olympic lifting, the weight training is a general physical preparedness activity. As such, the transfer will be roughly the same regardless of what the movement is.


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At one point in time with a group of athletes, I had to change from barbell back squat to trap bar deadlift due to the fact I couldn’t get in the weight room. With my background in powerlifting, I was very nervous about the outcomes of the training cycle. If we weren’t squatting, how could we possibly get injury risk reduction and performance enhancement? At the end of the cycle, the gains in speed and jumping ability and the subsequent injuries in the playing season did not differ at all from any previous training cycle.

While some will make the argument to me of the Rhea study (Rhea et al., 2016), it is my opinion that this is as a result of joint angle specificity rather than the back squat in and of itself. It also was done in trained athletes, so realize that un-trained or lesser-trained athletes results will vary. I bring this up, as transfer of the GPP will be highest in athletes of lesser-trained qualifications, so specificity of joint angles may not matter much for them.

There are many ways to skin a cat, as the old adage says. The best ways to do it depend on several things: your experience, the athlete’s ability, and what the athlete is ready for now. It’s not a magic exercise; it’s about progressive overload and being specific with your training means. Do what you know and what you feel comfortable teaching, regardless of what everyone else says is best. Never stop learning, though, because the more things you can coach well, the more likely you are to continue to see results over the long term.

Also, let’s have some humility. Sometimes I think that people tend to go hog wild negatively speaking of a video as it is a means to boost their own ego. If you require putting someone down to lift yourself up, you really need to check where you are getting your self-worth from. Let’s put down the petty ways and find ways to build each other up to be a stronger profession.

References

  1. Hackett, D., Davies, T., Soomro, N., & Halaki, M. (2016). Olympic weightlifting training improves vertical jump height in sportspeople: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(14), 865–872. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-094951
  2. Rhea, M. R., Kenn, J. G., Peterson, M. D., Massey, D., Simão, R., Marin, P. J., … Krein, D. (2016). JOINT-ANGLE SPECIFIC STRENGTH ADAPTATIONS INFLUENCE IMPROVEMENTS IN POWER IN HIGHLY TRAINED ATHLETES, 17(1), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.1515/humo-2016-0006

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