What do I mean by Quality?
Quality: measure of excellence; being free of deficiencies, superior grade.
What does this mean in terms of training? Quality is the relative ability to produce superior movement free of compensations and deficiencies. More simply, it is executing an exercise using the correct musculature with the correct movement.
What quality is not
Quality is often replaced by intensity (how hard you are working) by those who don’t know how to properly train. Intensity is important, but only if you have the qualifying amount of mobility and stability to perform the exercises correctly.
If you don’t have the required amount of mobility (the ability to produce a movement through a desired range of motion) you won’t be able to get into proper position to execute a lift without compromising a joint or soft tissue (tendon, ligament, vertebral disk, etc). If you don’t have enough stability, you won’t be able to resist movement you don’t want, which can also compromise a joint(s) or soft tissue.
Intensity should be relative to your ability to perform the exercises correctly. For example, if you can only do 5 push ups with correct form through the full range of motion, performing 5 is maximal intensity. Going to failure is rarely a good idea, unless you have well established, proper movement patterns. “Failure” should mean going until form starts to break, not until you are unable to move the weight or your body.
To illustrate why this is important let’s use a hypothetical client. This client wants to get into shape to be better at skiing and joins a “bootcamp”. After 8 weeks of hard training he sustains a low back injury. The metabolic adaptations and positive body composition results of this “intense” but incorrect training are short-term and will have largely disappeared within two weeks. Unfortunately, he now has to deal with the side effects of his injury for the rest of his life.
The long-term approach
Approaching training as a long-term process is not as exciting as crushing yourself daily, but it is much more productive. Training is no different than anything else in life worth doing; it takes consistent, intelligent work for months and even years to achieve great things. An individual training session is meaningless in the scope of a training year or lifetime. Take the time to ensure that the quality of your workouts is high. Don’t get caught up in the moment and grind a set. Every rep or workout performed incorrectly is moving you further away from your long-term goals, rather than closer.
Back to our skier example: he got stronger by ignoring quality, but it eventually caught up with him. He was temporarily stronger, but with poor movement, which lead to an injury. If he had started training in an intelligent program from the start he would be hitting the ski season twice as strong, injury-free, and moving and feeling better.
How we achieve quality of movement
1 – Assess movement and identify weaknesses in every client
2 – Correct movement with coaching, soft tissue work, stretching, and corrective exercise (different problems have different solutions)
3 – Urge clients to focus on specific cues (coaching points) while exercising. (Performing any complex movement correctly requires a great amount of concentration, not unlike performing complex tasks in sports. Once our clients understand this, they will often be more receptive to feedback.)
We move from neuromuscularly challenging movements (deadlifts, squats, etc) to more simple ones (tire drag, kb swings, etc) as fatigue sets in during a workout. This ensures that clients are not grinding through exercises improperly, and instead are training the adaptation and muscles that we intend. We have no problem pushing clients to their limits, but only when they are physically prepared to do so.
We also tend to keep the volume (total reps) lower per workout and per set so we can focus more on quality. For example, instead of 3 sets of 8 reps, we would do 8 sets of 3, or 4 sets of 5. The total reps are the similar, but the quality of the latter scenario is much higher.
The idea is always the same: if we can’t coach clients out of compensations we regress until they can perform the exercise correctly, and build up form there.
Train hard and intelligent
Recently, there has been a shift towards more “intense” training programs. Unfortunately, the more “intense” the program the worse the quality of training. When asking coaches or trainers who prescribe these types of programs, they usually can’t provide any logic or reasoning. If they do provide any, it is often made up or severely flawed.
This type of program is often justified by the mindset that “doing something is better than nothing”. I disagree. Justifying the existence of poor fitness programs only increases their likelihood of becoming the status quo. Like the example above, you are also training the wrong qualities in the wrong manner, which often leads to injury.
Aches, strains, bumps, and bruises are a part of training and living hard, but it is not an excuse for poor training quality and terrible programming. Next time before you train, ask yourself this: Are you mindlessly going through the motions, or are you training with purpose and intelligence?