Everything you start, you start as a beginner.
Gee, thanks for that GEM of information!
I know it sounds obvious—because it is—but sometimes it’s necessary to take that concept and consciously apply it to what you’re doing.
If you were to take a class today to learn something for the first time, what would you learn? To learn guitar, you would learn the features and functions of the instrument; the notes; the chords; scales. In ballet, you would spend countless (or seemingly countless) hours repeating the same simple positions and movements over and over and over again. A cooking class would have you learning the difference between boiling and simmering; how to julienne versus dice; how to tell when the meat you’re cooking is done.
Now let’s look at exercise.
Whether you’re taking a class or working with a trainer at a local big-box gym, trying the latest at-home workout routine, or joining a local fitness group, the message always seems to be the same: go hard or go home. You’re put through the wringer, right off the bat. Sure, they’ll show you a couple times how to do what they expect you to do—and some of them might even throw some minor corrections out there—but then it’s right into sweat angels and exhaustion.
What happened to the beginner stage?
The problem is two-fold.
First, being a beginner isn’t sexy. It’s not motivating. More to the point, it doesn’t sell. When your eyes are focused solely on the new beach body you’ve been promised, hardly any thought is given to how learning to properly execute the prescribed movements will ensure an injury-free, effective, and long-lasting fitness journey.
Second, no one seems to look at exercise as a skill. Swing dancing, painting, and speaking multiple languages? Absolutely you have to develop and hone those over time to become proficient. But exercise? Nah. Just work up enough of a sweat, push yourself to the brink, and you’ll be fine. Try not to drop a weight on your toe.
Not a great long-term strategy.
The fact is, exercise is a skill just like any other. It has to be learned, practiced, and perfected. And that doesn’t mean you won’t see results until everything is perfect, because you will. But loading your back with weight for a maximum squat attempt is hardly the time to worry about form. It should already be in place.
Remember: the purpose of lifting weights is not to move the weight from Point A to Point B; the purpose is to move your body through a specific range of motion. Sometimes, you happen to be holding a weight. Most trainers and coaches seem to either not realize this, not care, or think proper form will come with time. If you suspect this might be the case with your coach, find a new one. Pronto.
Whatever It Takes
You will often see people in the gym contorting their bodies in all sorts of odd ways to finish their last rep or two. Sometimes they’re alone, and sometimes they’re being urged on by a workout buddy or a “professional” whose vocabulary seems to be limited to “One more!” Sure, they may finish their prescribed workout. But it’s not doing them any favors in the long run. The risk of injury almost invariably becomes a matter when more than if.
Our bodies are amazingly intuitive and adaptive: they will find a way for you to finish that last rep. They’ll let you do whatever it takes. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s good for you when it does.
Start small. Work hard and learn the skill of exercising and the skill of proper movement patterns. Don’t let an at all costs attitude in the gym ruin the dance party you plan to have on your 90th birthday.