I began training a new client recently who had been working out on her own for years. She realized that she was in a bit of a rut with her routine and that she would benefit from taking me on as her trainer. Smart girl.
There is always an assessment period when I begin working with a new client. The first session or two allows me to get a feel for what that person is already capable of in order to find out what challenges I can present to them, and what weakness they may have that we can work towards improving. (This assessment period usually works both ways–they are feeling me out as a trainer as well!)
One of the exercises that I typically have a client do during our first session is the squat. After watching my new client do a few squats I cued her to initiate the movement from her hips and also to go down lower. (These are two of the most common corrections that I give people on squats.) As soon as she began following my cues, she exclaimed “Wow-I really feel this now,” then added, “I guess I’ve been doing them wrong all these years!”
The second part of what she said bothered me. I told her, “You weren’t doing them WRONG–it’s just that now you are doing them BETTER.” Doing squats the way that she had been might not be as effective or efficient as the way I instructed her to do them, but it is way better than not exercising at all! I am certainly not suggesting that improper form is great for you, but it isn’t the end of the world either. This is a really important distinction to me and it comes up all the time–and not just with squats but with everything.
I generally do not believe in the concepts of RIGHT and WRONG. I find them to be a huge oversimplification. Like all things, squats are not simply a case of black and white–there are a lot of shades of gray in between. There is no such thing as a perfect squat–perfection is an illusion.
Having said that, there are certainly ideals that we want to strive for when performing a squat and there are ways to potentially injure yourself by doing squats improperly. Keeping good posture, making sure your heels stay in contact with the ground and initiating the movement from your hips are three key components to performing squats safely and effectively. But even if you fail to do those things, you’re still probably going to wind up okay. You might not get the results you want, but you haven’t done anything “wrong” as far as I am concerned. Just make sure you improve your form before you start loading up a ton of weight.
My point in saying all this is twofold. First, I don’t want you to beat yourself up over thinking that you’ve been doing things wrong. If you are making an effort to improve your fitness then you are doing something right. Second, it’s important to remember that in exercise, like all things in life, there is always room to expand your knowledge and see things from another perspective. Allow yourself to be open to growth, but try not to be hard on yourself when your weaknesses are made apparent. Being humble doesn’t mean throwing yourself a pity party. In fact, it’s just the opposite.