When a serious athlete gets injured doing a simple new exercise, it can feel baffling.
It reminds me of when my trusty computer suddenly tells me I need a software update to open a tiny file. It seems impossible that a body that can do so much is overwhelmed by something so small.
And it's when we really feel how much of our movement is software.
But knowing this makes it easier to avoid injury. Here's how to find out if your new movement requires a software update.
To begin, you have to start with some basic premises. These may sound very simple, even like something you’ve been hearing for a while now (from me!), but in terms of designing a workout, they can be revolutionary:
1) When you learn any new movement, try not to assume the movement will be easy for you. That may feel easy until you watch the 10-year-old you were in line behind do it. So let's break it down:
2) Try not to compare yourself to others---I mean, anyone. You don't have the same motor control program as anyone else in the world (I promise). And while a five-year-old may be able to do this new exercise, an Olympic athlete may not.
Example: I can do a sit-up, but my squat is sketchy and I can’t do a pull-up (yet). My friend can do a perfect squat and a bunch of smooth pull-ups but no sit-up (yet). Which brings us to:
3) Try not to compare yourself in one movement to yourself in another. It’s not predictable. In fact:
4) Don't compare a movement you can do in one position to what you can do in another. For instance, don't compare what you can do sitting to what you can do standing, and the reverse. Don't assume which one will be easier for you.
Example: I have better form and can lift more on my chop and lift when I'm sitting. My friend has better form and can lift more on his chop and lift when he's standing. We're running different programs. We need software updates for the places where we're struggling.
Finally, in case you weren't already there yet,
5) Don't compare what you can do in one sport to what you should be able to do in another. (Weekend warriors know this well and push it anyway.)
So those are the basic premises. Our patterns are unique and often unpredictable, so it follows that one way to prevent injury is to turn down (way down) our expectations for how they're going to behave in a new exercise. Knowing this amps up your body awareness pretty quickly. So the last two steps are about amping it up even more:
6) Just because you can do something quickly doesn't mean you can do it slowly. Slow down. Feel what your body is doing. Scan and study from head to toes and all the way back up.
7) Start with a single rep, see how your body reacts, and progress gradually. Start with no weight, then add it. Often, going gradually will be enough to tell you what your body needs:
a) For instance, do you need to empty the cache (stretch or roll out something)?
b) Close any other programs? (Are you jacking up your shoulder to try to help your grip?)
c) Run an antivirus program first? (Get as aligned as your body allows, get care, get some sleep.)
d) Run a software update? (Can your body find the proper form for this exercise? If not, study the exercise a bit more or regress it so that your body recognizes the new movement.)
e) Update your operating system? (Back up and build the right foundation for this ‘cise.)
f) Run a different program altogether? (This may not be the exercise for you.)
8) If the class you're taking, the trainer you're working with, or the coach your kid has doesn't work this way, stop. Train them. If they don't listen, get a new one.
9) Finally, if you usually train with someone else, take some time to train on your own. You may notice different things.
The risk here, some might say, is that we don’t challenge ourselves. All our bodies have compensations, and at some point we have to power through. We can’t sit around doing constant corrective exercise on our Commodore 64s (that joke was for my brother).
But instead of powering THROUGH, think about powering WITH. (So as, yes, not to have to power DOWN.) All bodies have compensations---many, in fact---and we’re not looking for perfection. We still need to work our hearts, brains and cells, and to build bone and muscle mass, and we're all going to push it sometimes. Nor can we (nor should we be expected to) predict every injury. But if we learn to listen closely to the strangeness that is our unique motor control program, we may not have to sacrifice so much in the process.
Competition can still be yours, but change the terms of the game: not how many reps can you do and not pass out, but how long can your body continue to do what it loves?