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Stop Comparing Your Movement Patterns with Others'

Updated: May 23, 2022

This blog post was inspired by a client who expressed frustration that they couldn't maintain a completely vertical torso during their high bar squat. When I looked at them and said, "you're not built to squat with a vertical torso," the frustration seemed to subside and we had an entry point to rebuild their high bar back squat technique. I'd like to share a few key points that are important for all people to takeaway from this interaction:

  • Rule # 1 - Stop Comparing Your Movement Patterns with Others'!

  • Rule # 2 - Physics and Biomechanics Rule!

  • Rule # 3 - There Are No Rules!

Rule # 1 - Stop Comparing Your Movement Patterns with Others'

While comparing ourselves to others is natural, we need to understand the limitations of our comparisons because we can easily sabotage ourselves. This is especially true for human movement. For example, trying to mimic how someone else squats may not carry over well to you if you do not have the same anthropometry as the person you are idealizing. It is possible that the person you are comparing yourself to spent years honing in their technique specific to their body proportions, muscle origins, muscle insertions, etc. Trying to mimic them just puts undue frustration and burden on yourself. Once you realize that you are you, you can take ownership of your movement patterns and begin optimizing technique specifically for yourself.


Rule # 2 - Physics and Biomechanics Rule!


As a corollary to Rule # 1, using the squat as an example with the help of stick person, it's easy to see why we all can't have the same technique. Physics requires that we keep the Center of Mass (CoM) of the barbell-person system above our mid-foot. If the barbell, and therefore CoM of the system, is too far forward we get pulled forward and either need to good morning our way out or dump the bar forward. If the system CoM is too far back, we fall back or dump the bar backward. So, what does this mean in application? Well, for the stick person on the left with longer femurs, they will need to lean forward more in order to keep the CoM above mid-foot. For the stick person on the right with shorter femurs, and all other segment lengths the same, they will need to have a more vertical torso in order to keep CoM above mid-foot.


Note, stick people and athletes come in all shapes and sizes. In the example above, we are manipulating femur length while keeping all other proportions the same to illustrate a point. In reality, any of the other segment lengths can vary between athletes causing movement patterns to look different between people, even if they have the same overall body mass and height. To add more complexity, this example only looks at stick person from the sagittal plane. In reality, there are forces and biomechanical factors being overcome in multiple dimensions. While coaches can certainly provide guidance, it is ultimately up to the athlete to find what works for them.


So, what's the moral of the story? If you can maintain a generally straight or efficient bar path, without technical breakdown of your body positions throughout a movement, then you are using "good" technique. Based on your anthropometry, that may require a vertical torso, or it may require a forward leaning torso for a squat pattern movement.


Rule # 3 - There Are No Rules!

While there are certainly competitive standards to certain movements, human movement comes in many shades, even under competitive standards. For example, on the bench press in powerlifting, as long as your index fingers are within 32" of each other, your bench press grip is considered legal. There's no rule that says your index fingers can't be 18" apart, 24" apart, or 24.5" apart. Similarly, for the squat, there are no competitive standards stating how far apart your feet should be. All of these things are within the control of the athlete, and it's the athlete's responsibility to find out what optimal is for them. When it comes to movement patterns, there is no black and white, no right or wrong, there is only optimal for you!


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