Why is it important to do an exercise correctly? Well, let me tell you a little bit about a recent experience I had subbing for another trainer at a private hedge fund gym.
Yesterday morning I went over to Madison Avenue and met a gentleman who told me he had sciatica, and that in a week's time he'll be getting cortisone shot into his spine. "So I want to go hard today, because I won't be able to workout for a week. So how about cardio? But I can't jump, and I hate running."
We start with a warm up, as it's how I can gauge his flexibility and strength before putting him into the cardio. Low and behold, he's barely flexible. I tell him that if his flexibility improves it can help alleviate his symptoms, because his hamstring and hip tightness is compressing the nerve. He's not really interested and wants to just get right to it.
So I start him off with some balancing lunges (see low lunge video), and he can barely stay up and balance - this isn't good. So we move to squats (see squat video), and as he comes up to stand on each rep, he proceeds to press his pelvis forward into a tucked position. I inform him that in doing so he's engaging the deep rotators of the hip, which is exactly the muscle group compressing the sciatic nerve. Couldn't care less and continues with the exercise.
This goes on for the hour, and I am shocked! Here's a man who is obviously really intelligent, given his ability to make a 1%-type-living off of the decisions he makes with other people's money. And yet he knows nothing about his body, nor why he's got sciatica in the first place. Then I get really upset that the regular trainer who I'm filling in for has done nothing to help this man, and he's now about to get cortisone shot into his spine!
It matters that you know how to perform an exercise, and when it comes to the form some trainer or instructor is asking you to do, you must ask - WHY? Why are you asking me to tuck my pelvis or flatten my back? The answer must be anatomical, and not the blanket answer of "to activate your core."
Here are my answers as to why:
- TUCKED PELVIS -
Moving your pelvis does not automatically engage your abs - engaging your abs, engages your abs, period. Moving your pelvis activates the muscles of the outer hips and glutes. Doing this consistently will lock your pelvis down, remove mobility, and as mentioned above can create sciatica. Furthermore, making adjustments to the pelvis affects the low back by removing its natural curvature.
- FLAT BACK -
Everyone's posture is different, so the goal is to achieve a long gentle curve to the low back (notice the form above in the photo). If you are flexing your spine, then of course the curve will go away, but in any exercise where you're in neutral, a gentle and lengthened curve is ideal. If you flatten your back, you are inevitably placing compression on the discs in your spine, which can also create sciatica. Remember that often a tucked pelvis and a flat back tend to be synonymous. Other misalignments can occur with a flat back, like rounded shoulders, hyper-extended neck, and a locking of the front ribs.
Look the body is a bit complex, but I try to make it easy for you to understand. I'm posting exercise videos on my instagram feed again, and the long-term goal is to get full workouts online for you to do at any time. Until then try coming to a class, I can impart so much more to you in person for your specific body than I can generalize in an email.