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Why There is No Such Thing as BAD Movement

The new wave in the fitness industry the last 5-10 years has been over movement. The old school thought was just pick heavy shit up with a barbell and you’ll be fine. Then, someone came along and said, “you’re going to hurt your back!” Now, enter the new wave of fitness professionals that are making the all mighty buck by telling someone they are moving “wrong,” and that they have the “correct” way to move. Boom, all your problems solved, right?

Ha, no.

I would like to ask any professional who says there is an inherently wrong way to move to explain to me why. I mean, really explain to me why a certain movement is bad. My guess is that they will tell me it’s because someone is going to get hurt if they move a certain way. This is an understandable answer, but I don’t think the way in which someone moves determines injury as much as other things do. Let me offer some context.

First, there is no good and bad in regard to movement. There is just movement. Movement is just a representation of the human system. The human system is expressing movement in the most energy efficient manner in respect to a certain outcome or goal. A desired way to move is going to be different for each individual. Bottom line, the human system doesn’t make mistakes. It operates off of prior knowledge and energy conservation. It is expressing movement in a certain way for a reason. To say a certain representation of movement is bad or wrong doesn’t respect the complexity and efficiency of the human system. To say movement is bad or wrong in regard to a specific outcome, that is a different story we can talk about. But you can’t just say certain movements are bad just because they are. This requires a much bigger discussion.

So, let’s talk about movement in the context of outcomes. I think the biggest thing that people need to understand or get some clarity around is what do you actually want the outcome to be? Achieving certain outcomes requires intention. Why are you having them do THAT specific exercise? Why do you want them to perform it THAT way? How I would have a Powerlifter squat is very different compared to how I would have a postnatal woman squat.

I’m sure you’ve seen someone squat for the first time and thought to yourself “what in the world was that?” Because it just looked like something that doesn’t resemble most of the squats you’ve seen in your life. So, this is an obvious case of someone performing a squat in a “bad” way, right?

I know I am being picky about terminology, but it is for a reason. The example of that terrible looking squat is because it is the only way that person really knows how to squat. It is the most energy efficient way that person can squat given prior knowledge and experience. So, I wouldn’t say it is a “bad” squat just because. I don’t think that person would be able to squat that way for very long before getting hurt or before muscles that don’t typically work efficient in a squat give out. In this context, given the outcome wanting to be achieved (more work output), I would say it isn’t the best way to squat.

Let’s quickly talk about movement and injury. Moving a certain way is one way someone can get hurt or injured. BUT (and this is a big hairy “but”), is it actually the movement that is causing the injury or something else? I would argue until the cows come home that it isn’t the movement but the load. Imagine deadlifting with the roundest back you possibly could. Do that with 10lbs on each side of the bar. Fine, right? Now do it with 400lbs. Yes, the round back deadlift with 400lbs is much more concern for injury than the 65lbs deadlift. Now, also imagine 10lbs of pressure being placed on the outside of your knee. Now, imagine a 380lbs offensive tackle falling on the outside of your knee. Get the point, right? Now, you might be thinking that I am just picking an easy argument, but this has some real-world practicality.

It goes back to how I said I would have a Powerlifter squat in a much different way than a postnatal woman. Typically, the movement required to lift heavy loads steals motion and expressing movement in a certain way with lower loads can increase motion. Again, outcomes matter. Do I want to steal someone’s motion to put 100lbs on their bench press or do I want them to increase motion because they can’t sleep at night due to neck pain probably because they can’t turn it to the right? Neither is better than the other. It comes down to the outcome you want to achieve.

The information in this article could’ve been more related to getting serious about what your outcomes are rather than saying movement isn’t bad, but that was intentional. I was motivated to right this article because I see far too often how many people criticize certain movement or categorize them as “bad,” without any context or even mentioning context. As with most things being looked at through a critical lens, context matters.

Why shove the knees out on a squat? Why arch the back? Why perform band pull-a-parts? Why “turn” the lats on? Why squeeze the glutes? Why press the ribs down? Why exhale here and not there? Why get “tight?” If you can’t answer the why in regard to the outcome you want to achieve and how performing a movement in that way is going to achieve that outcome, you might want to reassess your purpose as a coach. That may seem harsh, but these are people we are dealing with. Words matter, and the field has no time to be moved backwards because people want to make an extra buck by fearing people into thinking their movement is bad.

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