The #1 Mistake You Are Making During Your Workout
Updated: Nov 26, 2022
Today we're talking about the number one thing that you're doing wrong in your workout or during exercise and what you can do to fix it. This answer is actually very simple, but that does not necessarily make it easy!
As a physical therapist, I treat a lot of people in pain or that have an injury, and working on what they're doing wrong during exercise is a very common issue we work on. I also coach people from a wellness perspective, which means they aren't injured but they are not quite meeting their goals or reaching the level of fitness that they're wanting. I may be working with them for injury prevention, or just to break a plateau in their activity (hiking, running, etc.). Today’s topic is also an area in which these people can have a problem that needs to be addressed. Specifically, what I'm talking about today is body awareness, or in fancy physical therapy terms, kinesthetic awareness. What does that mean?
Put simply, body awareness is being able to appreciate or recognize how your body is moving and all that is going on during a movement, for example squat. You know what’s going on with your body, you can describe it, you can feel it. You may be surprised, but a lot of people CANNOT do this or they have a hard time doing this. When they exercise they just go for it, but they have no awareness of what their body is actually doing.
What is kinesthetic awareness?
Again, this is so very simple, but it can be quite difficult for someone who is new to this idea. For the rest of this discussion, we're just going to use a squat as an example. I do want you to realize that this applies to everything: every movement whether it's walking, running, hiking, standing up from a chair, etc. Whether it's a squat at the gym or a deadlift, whether it’s a weight lifting movement or what you do for cardio, this concept is VITAL!
When someone has good body awareness or kinesthetic awareness, they know what their body is doing, and they know what muscles they are using. I do NOT mean that they can describe a textbook answer of what muscles they should be using when they do a squat. What I mean is that they can identify or pinpoint what’s happening in their body. They are aware and in tune with their body and can tell what muscles they're engaging when they do a squat. Whether they feel they are using their glutes or their quads. And then more specifically, do they feel it in the lateral quad (AKA outside quad), or do they feel it more in the adductors (inner thighs)? They are able to pinpoint muscle engagement and are able to identify a stretching sensation or where they feel a limitation of movement or restriction. This is HUGE! Why? Because oftentimes, when you are able to recognize these things, it can be a big clue as to a possible deficit you have in an area that's impeding your best performance, impeding busting through a plateau, provoking pain, or giving you a clue to a future injury that could possibly occur. If you actually listen and pay attention, your body will tell you SO MUCH!
So let’s get more specific about what this entails and what this means. Back to the squat…when we lower down, what moves first? Do you bend your knees first or do you hinge at your hip (Do you know how to hip hinge? That's a topic for a different day!). When you lower down into a squat, do you have equal weight distribution, are you symmetrical? When sitting at the lowest point, are you able to sit deeper into the right hip than the left hip? Do you feel a restriction when you're at this low point? Is there any pain or discomfort at any given point in the motion and if so where? Or maybe it’s neither pain nor discomfort, it’s just a restriction. Look down at your feet and what are they doing and what do you feel? Do you maintain three points of contact with each foot…three points being heel, big toe, and little toe. Do your knees collapse inward, and thus, result in losing the arch in your foot?
What do you feel when you do a squat? Do you know? Are you aware at all? It is not uncommon for some people to have no idea what’s going on with their body. It’s like they are not even attempting to listen. They have very POOR AWARENESS. They can't tell you what muscles they're using; and when asked what they feel, they don't know. If you're not paying attention and in tune with what your body is actually doing, then you're missing out on so much value of what that exercise can do for you. First and foremost, you’re probably not getting the full benefit of that exercise. You’re also probably missing very strong clues as to why you're feeling pain and or why you're not reaching the next level with your goals.
What is the solution to all of my workout mistakes?
The first step to fixing your problems at the gym, you have to pay attention! For some people, it can be as simple as that. They just need to be clued into paying better attention to their bodies. Others may need to draw their attention to a particular area… hey what do you feel in your hip (or knee or back) when you do this? Then they can then draw their awareness to a particular area.
There are still people who may continue to struggle with this awareness. For those individuals, I would say you really need to develop this awareness, it is very much a skill that can be learned. Start with using a mirror to give yourself feedback during movements. Watch what you are doing. Having another set of eyes on you if you have a workout partner could be helpful so they can point out things that you may not see. Maybe use your phone to video yourself.
However, seeing it is not enough; that’s just the first part. You also have to feel it and appreciate that feeling. When you see that you are excessively shifting your weight over to your left when you lower down into a squat, you are now aware that you are doing it, but then you have to gain a sense of what that feels like in your body when you do it! This is the starting point for fixing the problem.
If you try these different strategies on your own or even with a workout partner and you’re still struggling, I would highly recommend that you work with a physical therapist or someone skilled in this area that has the expertise to both identify your abnormal movement and coach you to address it. I’m rather biased, but I would say that a physical therapist is the best-equipped person to help you. We are experts in movement and can help to coach you to perform proper techniques, as well as can help to correct deficits through various means such as manual therapy, cupping, drying needling, etc. (but that too is also a subject for another day! Stay tuned). A physical therapist can hone in on your deficits and abnormal movement patterns and save you a lot of time, money, and heartache. They can guide you and train you to learn this skill of kinesthetic awareness, and remember, it very much is a skill. Developing kinesthetic awareness will then help tremendously whether you’re addressing a pain problem, trying to reach another goal, wanting to prevent injury, and ensuring you’re getting the full benefit of exercise. Check out my blog post to find out if physical therapy will work for you!
Check out this video on the same topic! And on that note, please subscribe here to my YouTube channel for more great videos!
If you are struggling with pain or injury, or just not making the progress you want to in your hiking, running, or workout routine, please feel free to reach out to me. Learn more about me here. If you are struggling with this topic of "body awareness" and you've tried and failed to correct it on your own, let me know! I’d love to see how I can help! I offer a free consultation either by phone or virtually. You can schedule that free consultation here.