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Identifying and correcting technical exercise mistakes

Danny O'Dell explores the types of mistakes that can occur in the execution of a lift

Mistakes in execution, as can be expected, frequently occur in the first few attempts to learn the exercise. These mistakes can be broken down into five categories:

  1. Adding extra moves into the exercise
  2. Maintaining excessive tension in the involved and uninvolved muscle groups
  3. The imprecise amplitude of movement, either too short or too long
  4. Wrong groove or trajectory of movement, with or without an implement
  5. Irregular rhythm

It is impossible to eliminate all mistakes from happening during the learning process, but it is not impossible to coach an athlete through them.

Technical aspects

As a coach or a lifter, one must be aware of the technical aspects of the strength sport and remember that the goal is to eliminate major flaws that drag down the effectiveness of the lifting process. It is not productive to be constantly dwelling on minor errors, as this will have a negative effect on the lifter, especially if they are an introvert. It boils down to these points:

  1. Show balance in teaching between the skills and the habits that are necessary to succeed
  2. Help the athlete develop their strong points
  3. Guide them along in removing their weak points including any technical mistakes

The coach's ultimate goal is to teach and perfect those habits and techniques that will bring success on the platform.

Technical mistakes can be broken down into five main areas, each with their own separate sub mistakes. (Drabik 1996)[1]

  1. Typical and atypical
  2. Local and chain
  3. Unfixed and fixed
  4. Competitive and non-competitive
  5. Athlete related, and coach related

1. Typical and atypical

Beginning with the typical mistakes, the coach will notice that every one of the new practitioners of the skill makes the same errors of execution. As the coach, you might just as well be prepared to deal with it on an ongoing basis with each new group of athletes who come through the door. On the other side of the coin is the atypical mistake. These are ones that rarely show up but when they do, it is usually because of the unusual physical features of the athlete such as their build or it is due to certain strength imbalances in their muscular makeup. Testing for muscle imbalances is an art in itself. See Appendix A for brief and incomplete general guidelines of muscle testing.

2. Local and chain

A local defect is a link in the chain of movement that is not correct, but it has no substantial influence on the rest of the movement. A chain defect will cause disruption in all of the remaining portions of the movement. As an example, a close examination of the squat will reveal the first move must be with the hips and not the knees. If the knees bend first before the hips begin their backward journey, the body will not be able to correct itself and the lift will not be technically right. Eliminate chain defects immediately or the problem will remain and cause more difficulties further into the training cycle.

3. Unfixed and fixed

Unfixed mistakes are ones that are not yet habits. These mistakes usually show up in the first stages of training, yet they are fixable if attended to early in the learning process. Fixed mistakes are just what they sound like; they are a habit, they are 'fixed' into the movement patterns and can be difficult to remove from the 'automatic' neuromuscular responses. In some cases, it may be better to just learn another similar but new pattern rather than trying to teach and have them unlearn an already established movement sequence.

4. Competitive and non-competitive

Mistakes that occur only during competition are for good reason called competitive mistakes. In this situation, the athlete will do well in the pre-meet workouts but when the time to shine comes around, they will make costly mistakes. This due to a variety of reasons amongst which is interference from an opposing player, stress of the particular competition and deviation from the normal technique. Non-competitive mistakes happen in the gym and on the practice playing field during the training workouts. If the athlete makes mistakes under these circumstances, they are sure to repeat them in a stressful game situation.

5. Athlete related, and coach related

If the athlete makes a mistake despite having been carefully taught the correct technique it can be because of these factors:

  • Not paying attention to the techniques as instructed
  • A lack of the necessary talent to do the skill
  • Focusing on the wrong thing or inappropriately directing their attention to the wrong area while applying the prescribed technique
  • Motivation is too high or too low resulting in psychological arousal states that are too exciting or too depressed for accurate movement to take place
  • Confidence is lacking which makes an aggressive demeanour and action difficult to pull off

Coach related mistakes, which include:

  • Demonstrating the technique wrong
  • Providing an improper explanation of the technique or one that lacks critical information
  • Using and applying the wrong teaching method or style for the athlete
  • Teaching techniques to a tired athlete
  • Poor workout organization
  • Violating principles of teaching technique (exercises too difficult)
  • The worst one of all is the coach who is not competent, lacks the skills to teach and has a low level of critical knowledge.

Always remember this as you instruct your new trainees:" The first attempt at a technique is very important. It will stay in an athlete's memory for a long time. Make sure that you do your best in choosing and arranging exercises so as to make the FIRST TRY A SUCCESS." (Drabik 1996)[1]

Appendix A: Strength testing

Muscle testing must be differentiated from a restriction in the range of motion (ROM) around the joint. If the muscle cannot make the full ROM due to the weakness it may be the muscle is simply too weak to make the full movement. Or, the motion is restricted because of the 'shortness of the muscles, capsule or ligament structures'. (Kendall 2005)[2]. In order to arrive at a conclusion, the joint has to be passively moved through the ROM to determine if any such restriction exists. If none is present, then it may be concluded the muscle is weak.

Testing single joint muscles must also separate the muscle weakness from a tendon insufficiency. Other considerations that have to be considered are relaxed and unstable joints. If the joint is unstable, it will normally hurt when moved through the ROM.


References

  1. DRABIK, J. (1996) Children and Sports Training, Stadion Press
  2. KENDALL, F.P. et al. (2005) Muscles testing, and function, (with pain and posture) Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins Publishing

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2005) Identifying and correcting technical exercise mistakes. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 27 / November), p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • O'DELL, D. (2005) Identifying and correcting technical exercise mistakes [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni27a4.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of a number of training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living the healthy fitness lifestyle.

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