Charlie Martin, Late-Blooming Athlete: Week 4 — Fitness and the Video Revolution

(See Week One, Week Two, and Week Three. The key passage:

The majority of activities people are accustomed to doing at a gym are neither efficient means of getting fitter nor particularly safe. A typical trainer at a typical gym is now a terrible investment, both for your fitness level and because elite-level training information is freely available online. There is no substitute for an actual qualified trainer at a quality gym, both in instruction and motivation, yet you can do great things for yourself on your own, with a computer. Charlie’s PJ Lifestyle entries strike me as a good opportunity to demonstrate this; he’s agreed to be somewhat of a lab rat.)


In addition to the other contributions that make your daily life more productive, Steve Jobs — and the competitors he dragged with him — inadvertently revolutionized fitness and sports training by jamming a powerful camera into your phone. Those hours you spent as a kid practicing your jumper, your pitching motion, Bobby Brown’s culturally significant dance moves, etc. could have been fantastically more productive had you been able to work with the instant feedback of video.

If familiar with the nascent study of human expertise — most folks aware of it were exposed via Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers; the field is led by scientist K. Anders Ericcson — you may recall the conclusion that an average of “10,000 hours” of “deliberate practice” is generally required to gain such skill in any endeavor. What cheap, available video does: it makes the “immediate feedback” component of deliberate practice profoundly more accessible.

I asked Charlie to send me video of him doing a few reps of what we’ve discussed as the “Core Curriculum” of human movement: the squat, the deadlift, and the press. The point is to see what range of motion he currently has, both in the interest of injury prevention and for discussing the significant advantage that good technique will give you as an athlete. (As taught at a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer Certification, technique equals strength. A correction here and there makes you stronger without additional training.)

Here’s the video. I’ll tell you the basics of what I’m seeing, feel free to weigh in if you notice anything else. Like, say, a cat:

His deadlift: His lower back is not rounding to compensate for a lack of mobility in the hips, which typically is great — if you are going to get hurt deadlifting, it will probably be from your lower back rounding while under load. But: we can’t quite tell if he does have sufficient hip mobility, because the upper back is compensating quite a bit. Considering Charlie, like everybody, is at a computer all day, he needs to focus on being able to get those shoulder blades back and down so he can get his spine into a strong position. You want that spine nice and straight, tailbone as far as possible from the crown of your head, and you don’t want to lose any of that positioning during the movement.

His (front) squat: Charlie apparently does have pretty limber hips. Any upper body mobility issues aren’t masking anything with this movement. He can get his hips below his knees, which counts as a full squat, without anything horrible happening in his lower back. Also — from the front view, his knees do not buckle inwards towards each other at all, another common fault.

His swing: The swing is pretty close to a deadlift, I would give the same notes as above.

His press: There it is. An efficient press would complete with the arms vertical — Charlie’s arms are leaning forward at the top of the movement. Imagine he’s got 150 pounds up there: he will either start to topple forward, or he will need to work much harder to not do so. When you can’t get your arms vertical, your muscles need to do work that your skeleton is prepared to handle.

To safely and efficiently do the key functional movements of a human body, Charlie should focus his efforts on getting those shoulders freed up. For next week, we’ll look at some strategies for doing that.

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