This particular topic has been causing me frustration for many years now – not with individual coaches you understand but with the fitness industry in general. I suppose you could say that’s a pretty big beef to have but its more an alternative way of viewing something that’s been the same for decades. What am I talking about?
… with ‘correcting points’ it would be far more beneficial to the athlete to ask them to perform a modified version of the movement that they can perform without the anomaly…
Any coach worth their salt loves their sport and cares about the progression of the athletes they coach but could it be that the ways they have been taught to teach and correct the technicalities of their sport are inadvertently causing injury?
For me, there are two types of verbal cues; the first are often called ‘teaching points’ as they help to introduce the movement and establish good technique, and the others I’ll call ‘correcting points’ as they help to correct anomalies that the coach sees while the athletes are trying to perform that movement.
Let’s take teaching points first. Hands up if you’ve ever heard (or even said!) ‘squeeze your bum’ or ‘engage your core’. Words like this are commonly used to encourage athletes to feel bits of their bodies working which can be pretty useful if someone is really struggling to connect with their own body – but this is where my dilemma comes in.
Ok, to explain this I’m going to have to ask you to join in so if you could raise your dominant hand just high enough so that you can see it, then open and close it a few times making a mental note of how it feels to do that. Now repeat the opening and closing of your hand but keep your forefinger straight all the time, then repeat the opening and closing one last time but this time keeping your forefinger tightly closed throughout. What differences did you feel?
I’m willing to bet that it was much harder to open and close your hand while your forefinger was doing something else and this is why I struggle so much with these ‘squeeze’ and ‘engage’ cues because over time the excess strain on the other parts of the body will cause them to fatigue often leading to injury.
So What About the ‘Correcting Points’?
Let’s take a common cue such as ‘knees out’. This cue is used a lot when teaching a squat as many folk don’t have the ankle, knee, or hip mobility to do a full depth squat without their knees tracking inside of their big toes and granted in this particular situation ‘knees out’ is a quick way of repositioning the knees away from the position of perceived danger.
Why is this a problem? Again it’s all about the stress being put on other parts of the body in order to try and minimise the stress at one or two joints. With the ‘knees out’ cue it is perceived as dangerous for your knee joints if they track inside of your big toe during a squat, so by actively pulling your knees further out you correct the position of the knee and therefore minimise the risk to the knee joint but what about the hips? In order to pull the knees outwards the outside of the hips and the outside of the ankles are put under far more stress and again over time this can lead to injury.
So – What’s the Alternative?
Well, with ‘correcting points’ it would be far more beneficial to the athlete to ask them to perform a modified version of the movement that they can perform without the anomaly and without having to try to correct it such as a shallower squat maybe with less weight or more slowly.
With the teaching points, using other types of cues such as ‘lift your chest to the sky’ or ‘drive with your hips’ that avoid the limitations caused by ‘engaging’ would reduce the overall risk of injury and may simplify the instructions that the athlete has to think about while learning a new skill.
I’m sure I don’t have all the answers but it certainly is an interesting topic and I’d be interested to hear alternative views! Why not tweet me or add a comment!