Let me share with you why I am so particular about technique.
Why is it that I am after technical precision for those that I coach? Why is it that I insist we come back to an empty bar before we start loading? Why do we need to be competent at those movements first?
From my own experience, I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did.
As a youngster in the sport, I made a lot of mistakes. I believe the technique I was initially taught held me back in my lifting career. Not only was I limited with the progress I was able to make but I also attribute many of my injuries I sustained throughout my career to this technique.
Injuries are no joke
The most severe injury that I have had is a spondylolisthesis, a bilateral pars defect that effected my lower back. Basically, I’ve snapped part of the bone that makes up the facet joints in my lower spine.
If you can imagine, the vertebrae sit one on top of the other, you have two little wings that stick out, and they allow sideways bending. What I have done is crack the wings. They will never fix, and will always be problematic. I now have to manage the injury and keep my back stable.
This injury happened to me in 2000. I was quite young in the sport, about 18-19 years of age, and I was lifting fairly substantial weights for my age, but without the safety of doing so correctly.
When I started lifting, I had zero physical conditioning, I played other sports but I was never specifically trained to protect my body. I did no core work, no shoulders, no arm work, basically no accessory work whatsoever.
Accessory work wasn’t a thing. You went to the gym, you did your lifts, and you left. That was it.
The other issue I had was around positions and the way that I moved. I look back now and I cringe when I see how I used to move. I watch videos of me as a youngster and I think, “how did I not get even more badly injured?!”
It’s all very well looking back in hindsight, but what I will say is, through the course of my career, whenever I’ve sustained an injury, I’ve always come back stronger because I was forced to go back to basics.
Going back to technical basics
My injuries have caused me to look for technical perfection and have led me to be the well-rounded coach that I believe I have become. I have lifted with poor technique, which has resulted in me sustaining far too many injuries.
I have also changed my technique and reaped the rewards as a result of being able to enjoy a much longer career than I otherwise would have had.
Someone who learns to move well from the outset, with great technique, activating the right muscles, puts themself in the best possible position in terms of reducing the risk of injury.
It was only when I sustained these injuries that I had to go back and re-address where I was at. The biggest issue early in my career was a nasty back injury, which was in part caused due to zero glute activation.
Without glute activation, I wasn’t able to extend powerfully through the second phase of the lift.
Instead, I was relying on leaning backwards and using my lower back to open up at the hip to generate momentum on the bar.
Now, I work closely with anyone I coach to ensure my lifters have glute activation so when they extend powerfully, they get maximum contraction of the quads and glutes together.
If you achieve that you get a nice straight position at full extension rather than relying on your lower back. This is huge in terms of injury prevention.
I used to twist when doing front squats, back squats, cleans, or even snatching overhead with the bar. I would only twist slightly, but if you think how many thousands of repetitions I would have performed over my younger career, my back basically had enough.
Years and years of torsion on the spine and my back went “bang!” and that was it. That was the first time I sustained a really serious injury.
My back injury was bad enough for most people to speculate my career was over. As a junior lifter, I was so badly injured that I couldn’t even walk. I was out of the sport for about 18 months.
The slow path of rehabilitation
Do you know what was really sad? Nobody contacted me, nobody checked in from the governing body to see if I was okay. Nobody really cared. At the end of the day, I was just another athlete and that was it.
Unfortunately, this is the story in many sports. When you’re doing well, the governing body supports you and they shout about how they’ve played a part in your performances, but when you’re not doing well or you’re hurt, they wipe their hands of you. Sport is brutal.
Around that time, I made the decision that I was not going to go down the route of surgery, which was what was recommended to me. This was the quick fix that our governing body wanted me to take without due consideration to my long term health and well-being.
Instead I was going to understand better how the body worked. And this is where I was very fortunate to be put into touch with a wonderful woman named Joanne Elphinston, who basically took me from a broken lifter with a broken back to full rehabilitation. That rehab process was slow and steady, but it taught me so much. I would highly recommend following @jemsjoanne on Instagram. Here is also a link to her website.
Joanne taught me how to activate key muscles. By those key muscles, I’m talking about glutes and multifidus, a key muscle in the back which helps to stabilise the spine.
Joanne also taught me how to activate trans-abs, but not just by isolating these muscles and doing a load of random exercises. Yes, we did that as well, but then we took this new learned activation to the bar and learned how to move well by activating the right muscles whilst I was lifting.
When I now see lifters making the same mistakes that I did, that’s when I say, “please hold fire, bring the weights down, let’s get a really light bar and look at nailing the correct movement patterns.”
I can help retrain an athlete to move better. The weights will come back quickly, and more! But you can’t retrain a lifter to make these changes on heavy weights. The weights have to be light enough so they have time to focus on key positions and activating specific muscles.
To truly understand the best approach to learning to move with excellent technique, read my ‘Martial Arts Analogy’ blog. I also have a Weightlifting Tekkers SOS! course which teaches you EVERYTHING I know about moving with great technique.
Technique can always be improved
That is one of the biggest reasons why I am so particular with those I work with. Regardless of how well someone is moving, there are always elements that can be improved.
I encourage those I work with to build a solid technical foundation. Get every aspect of every lift spot on before starting to load. If the foundation is solid, there should be no limit to what can be achieved. It scares the life out of me when I see lifters learning how to lift and before they can even move well with the bar, they are being loaded. That to me, is just irresponsible coaching with little concern for the individual lifters well-being.
Ask yourself the question, how well are you moving? Are you moving with excellent technique? If your answer is no, then do something about it. Reach out for help, drop me a message or go and speak with somebody else who may be able to help you.
Please be mindful of not pushing before you build the technical foundation. If you are loading prematurely through poor positions, expect injuries.
We have all seen it. We have all seen high level athletes like weightlifters and crossfitters get very badly injured as a result of the way that they move. Many of these injuries could be avoided if technical excellence was achieved at the outset.
We are trying to master an unmasterable sport. But we can give it a damn good go and get as close as we possibly can. If nothing else, we are going to minimise the risk of injury.
So, take a minute and reflect on where you are as an individual… How you are moving, where your areas for improvement are, but most importantly, how you are going to make those technical changes to get yourself moving even better.