Being someone who has spent and continues to spend a lot of time in the gym, I’ve seen a variety of individuals displaying different movement capabilities, movement dysfunction and overall fitness level. Certain movement patterns/exercises come very easily to some while they deem impossible to complete flawlessly for others. Limb lengths and anthropometry, posture, flexibility and mobility restrictions, and even mental factors play a role in what movements a person can do with ease and what movements feel like an uphill battle.
Issues With Generic Exercise Programs
For these reasons, it pains me to see so many fitness programs being thrown around with little to no thought on the complexity of the movement patterns included and what small percentage of the population could complete them without injury, let alone with flawless form.
With that said, I’d sound bias to say I think everybody should only workout with a trainer who can individualize and coach the exercises included in the training program. Although, I definitely see the value in learning how to exercise properly from a qualified coach, the recommendation is not realistic. Many people only have the opportunity to exercise on their own either at home or in a public gym and I don’t want to sound like I’m discouraging that. I think anyone practicing a regular exercise routine is taking many steps in the right direction. However, I think there are many flaws in the ways people are typically encouraged to workout on their own via home-workout programs and training programs in general.
There are people who can get away with complex movement patterns like barbell squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups and plyometrics without much practice or coaching. However, the general population (especially beginners to the gym) are more likely than not going to be losing out on the positive effects of a given exercise if it’s not performed properly and, worst case-scenario, could accrue an injury. Although I think the above exercises are great and that more people should do them, the value of learning these from a qualified coach before attempting on your own is of very high importance for both results-sake and safety-sake. With that said, I recognize that not everyone has the access or ability to do that. I think there are some ways around this concept for people that cannot workout with a trainer all the time. I implement these ideas when I write homework-programs for clients that I don’t know too well or that I know aren’t very proficient in their movement patterns yet. I also strategize exercise selection in a similar way when designing fitness classes since the fast-paced environment and number of people in a class will have less likelihood for individual coaching and instruction by default.
The Idea of Self-Limited Exercises
Self-limiting exercises are those that promote good posture and control, require very minimal cueing and coaching and are blatantly obvious when done incorrectly. Exercise variations that lend themselves to better probability of being done correctly are exercises that I tend to include in programs meant to be completed without a trainer there or with less attention from a trainer in a class setting. That way, the person doesn’t have to try extremely hard to do the movement correctly and can spend that effort on training more intensely. Plus, I don’t have to write five pages of notes and cues for each exercise on the program. The easiest way to understand self-limiting exercise is to visualize jumping rope. It’s almost impossible to jump rope without good form because as soon as posture, coordination or control is thrown off, the rope gets jumbled up in your feet and you’re forced to restart.
Examples of Self-Limiting Exercises
Now, not all of the exercises listed below are going to be as perfectly self-limiting as jumping rope. Some exercises make it really hard to get wrong, while others are just variations of an exercise that are the least complex and are easier to perform correctly than other variations.
- Jumping rope
- Sled push
- Uphill running
- Medicine ball slams/throws
- Goblet squat
- Kettlebell deadlift
- Single leg hip hinge/deadlift
- Half-kneeling Pallof press
- Farmer’s carry
- Half-kneeling bottoms-up kettlebell press
- Kettlebell halo
- Turkish get-up
- Many, many, more!
Although I encourage anyone to take up a regular exercise routine, I hesitate to recommend many available fitness programs, especially for beginners, since the complexity of the exercise selection tends to be too much to perform flawlessly for most people. However, there are still ways to learn basic movement patterns without such a high risk of injury or likelihood of performing incorrectly. You can still get momentum moving on a beginner workout regimen and see progress using exclusively self-limiting or less complex exercises.