By : Mark J. Watts, M.Ed, MS, CSCS, USAW, PES, SCCC, RSCC
Director of Strength & Conditioning
Physical Education Instructor
Assistant Football Coach
There is no doubt that an athlete striving for perfect technique in a specific sport skill or strength training exercise is a daunting yet necessary task. Having great technique on the field, court, or in the weight room has become a legitimate compliment for any athlete. The problem with this praise is it has almost become a replacement for other physical qualities. Sometimes this implies having great technique alone is enough to dominate his or her sport or become the best lifter possible. Some coaches and athletes have invested so much in improving technique above all else. There is a point in which other physical qualities must be addressed. Let’s look specifically about how technique is influenced in the weight room.
The Rack or Bench
Let’s take a strength & conditioning perspective to start with. Coaching proper technique (especially with beginners) is probably the most important job a strength coach has. Poor technique is often attributed to lack of knowledge of what proper technique is by the lifter (and unfortunately sometimes the coach). It may, however, be more than just knowing how to lift properly or even getting enough practice at that particular exercise. Lack of mobility, postural alignment, and muscular imbalances can all be responsible for technique discrepancies. One of the main culprits in poor technique execution (and the point of this article) is lack of strength. Sometime this simplest solution is the last one that gets addressed.
Is poor technique the cause or the effect?
For our first example, let’s look at a team’s testing day in the weight room. Often times an athlete will miss a near maximal attempt during testing and there were obvious technique flaws during the lift. As coaches should maintain these 5 fundamental and distinct abilities when it comes to exercise technique:
1.) The ability to fully understand what proper technique looks like
2.) The ability to explain how to perform an exercise
3.) The ability to demonstrate proper technique of an exercise
4.) The ability to identify technique discrepancies
5.) The ability to address those technique discrepancies with a corrective strategy
When poor technique occurs during a heavy repetition, the line between experience and environment gets blurred. If an athlete consistently displays good form on previously lifting sessions, previous sets, or even previous reps; knowledge of proper form is mostly likely NOT the issue. Whether because of load parameters or possibly fatigue (from improper volume or intensity); the weight is simply too heavy to use proper form on the exercise.
When performing the Olympic lifts, or any explosive movements for that matter, it is difficult to identify poor technique and make corrections in real time. Even for experience coaches, it may take a few reps or the aid of technology to accurately see faults in technique. It is vitally important that the lifter get enough reps at percentages that are 1.) High enough to produce a training stimulus close to competitions style weights in regard to bar speed and catch position and conversely 2.) Low enough that the lifter can reproduce the same basic performance of the movement where technique is inter-dependent upon the load. In other words, the load does not significantly affect the technique. By evaluating technique when using maximal or circa-maximal loads, too many variables are in place and an accurate assessment cannot be made. The same can be said when fatigue becomes a factor with Olympic movements. This is not to say that athletes should not use maximal weights or higher repetition ranges on Olympic movements occasionally; just not when evaluating technique.
5 Ways to Improve Technique in the Weight Room
Let’s face it. Coaching proper technique is not always as easy as explaining and demonstrating. It may take some time and some creativity to help the athlete achieve proper technique. Here are some strategies to help coaches help their athletes with stubborn technique problems.
1.) Change the order of contraction or start at the midway point of the movement. An example of this would be an athlete performing bodyweight squats by sitting on a box and performing the concentric portion of the movement first. This allows the lifter to get into a proper position at the bottom of the movement to achieve proper posture and depth.
2.) Perform the movement from a different starting position. Starting the movement at the sticking point or contrarily, the most advantageous point can assist the lifter in achieving proper position and movement patterns. For example, often times, athletes have difficulty executing adequate hip extension during the clean. Possibly starting the bar on blocks or in the rack just above the athlete’s knee could assist the athlete in accomplishing this due to overcoming inertia and eliminating the stretch reflex. The athlete must incorporate adequate hip extension to achieve the necessary bar height.
3.) Address tight or weak muscle groups that could be indirectly causing technique flaws. This has been discussed many times by plenty of coaches. Performing Glute-Ham Raises to strengthen the posterior chain can help address technique flaws.
4.) Rotating alternative exercises in place for the main movement. This is a fundamental characteristic of conjugate or concurrent periodization methodologies. For example, by rotating close grip bench presses and a close grip incline presses with your bench press exercise could help target lagging muscle groups (triceps) or minimizing synergistic dominance (lats), respectively.
5.) Accommodating resistance (using bands and chains) can help the athlete work through the sticking point of an exercise. The resistance of bands and chains during a movement also correspond to most strength curves of an exercise.