Most of the time we just go to the gym and do the same old, comfortable workouts. We may pick machines with pictures that look interesting, or we see someone do an exercise we think is worth trying. Then we pick a resistance we feel is difficult but that we are still able to perform. We do several repetitions and while performing the exercise often neglect to pay attention to the important factors of form and compensation.

Even if we are able to perform the desired action, we may still be missing the mark. Yes, we could be performing the exercise and get no benefit from the time we put into it. How would you like that?  You go to the gym, put forth the strength of will to exercise, and after all that you’re no stronger than when you started! Besides burning some calories, you did not strengthen the intended muscles with all that effort.

One of the patients I saw today had been working on strengthening her gluteus maximus for a month and a half, and she had made no progress! When this happens, I take personal responsibility. I have not done my job if they can’t do the exercise correctly or are not committed to its proper performance.

Upon reviewing her exercises, I saw that with each one, she was going through the correct motion, as if just moving from point A to point B. If I weren’t considering how she got there, everything looked right. However, watching her perform the exercise, I saw the compensations she made so each exercise would be easy for her to do with the strength she currently had. She had not been challenging the weak muscles; she had literally made it possible to let those muscles sit out during the exercise. All those months of exercise had not increased her strength. They just helped her maintain what was already strong.

I should have caught this sooner and changed the exercise. If the resistance or level of difficulty is too high, the body will immediately seek to compensate to make the challenging exercise as doable as possible (i.e. do whatever it takes to make it happen).

So when picking your exercise difficulty, pick something you can perform correctly and with a mild level of challenge. Make sure you are targeting the intended muscles, and ensure your form is accurate. Build up from there. If you don’t take the time to start easy and build up, you will only be working toward injury.