Form Nazi Etiquette

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I had an interesting discussion with one of our new interns, Paul, the other day. As is stands, this is the first full week for our new interns, and to say that they were thrown into the gauntlet at the start of the week is an understatement. They went straight from orientation Monday morning, to coaching through our busiest day ever at Cressey Performance; where we broke the 100 session benchmark for the very first time. 117 to be exact.

We expect this time to be a transitional period for the first few weeks of their internship, and as such, we fully understand (and welcome) that there are going to be a lot of questions ranging anywhere from exercise technique, assessment protocol, programming strategies, to why is Tony coaching with his shirt off. Again.

Anyways, back to Paul. Yesterday, after watching one of our young(er) athletes perform a set of trap bar deadlifts, he walked up to me and asked:

Even if the set isn’t perfect, how strict do we want to be when coaching these kids?

Essentially what happened was that one of the kids performed his set, and while his lower back was fine, his upper back was rounding a bit. To his credit, Paul wasn’t sure whether or not we wanted to be that anal about things to point where we’re being borderline “nitpicky” about form.

Great question.

My answer was pretty standard. I want things to be perfect – especially when working with the younger, un-trained athletes. If you start letting things slide now, you’re setting a potentially dangerous precedent in the future when he or she starts throwing around heavier weight.

The more advanced a trainee is, the more you can let things go. There’s a pretty big difference between someone pulling 95 lbs off the floor and 500.

With the former, we’re still trying to engrain proper motor patterns and hammering technique. What’s more, beginners can still get a training effect with as little as 40% of their 1RM, so I’m not overly concerned with loading them too quickly. Again, technique is the name of the game here, and I want things to be flawless.

With the latter, however, we have a little more wiggle room to work with. That’s not to say that we aren’t still enforcing good technique (we are). Rather, it just brings to light the fact that when someone is advanced enough to be working with loads that are upwards of 90% + of their 1RM, they’ve more than likely built up enough kinesthetic awareness to keep their spine out of those last 2-3 degrees of end range motion.

I mean, are you going to tell Andy Bolton that those last few reps didn’t count because his upper back was little rounded? Good luck with that.

So, at the end of the day, with beginners – the idea is to help them master technique and set them up for success in the long-term. Be an a-hole if you have to. I’ve had kids get pissed at me more than once because I’ll tell them to take weight off the bar and do it right. It’s better for them to get mad at me than their parents.

With more advanced trainees, you can let things slide a bit more. If someone’s left knee caves in a little bit when squatting 450 lbs, it’s not going to be the end of the world. You still need to coach, but you definitely don’t have to be quite as militant.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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