Things I Say to My Clients (aka Laura-isms)

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As a trainer, I tend to say the same things over and over. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the nature of training. “Repetition is the mother of skill” ~Tony Robbins

After a few months of listening to me repeat things like a broken record some clients encouraged me to put it in writing. It’s also been suggested that T-shirts be made for at least one of the sayings… we’ll see. In my quest to educate and empower, here are a few of my Laura-isms with explanation as to why I think they’re worth repeating.

Form is king: This is the first one I began saying on a regular basis back when I was teaching Group Power. When you lift weights, your form is the most important thing. If you can’t lift a weight with good form then you need to lift a lighter weight. Practice your form on a given exercise until you can do it properly and safely. If your back is rounded and your knees are locked and you’re twisting in weird ways and using momentum, then you are at risk of injuring yourself. If you put that lousy form under a challenging load then it’s only a matter of time before you will be injured.

Flat back: This is one I use for bent over exercises like dead lifts, bent over rows and triceps kickbacks. The idea is for them to do a hip hinge (tilt the pelvis forward, slight arch in the low back) and activate the upper back. An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people don’t seem to know where their hip joint is.  And almost everyone has trouble getting the hip hinge down. I know that tight hamstrings are often part of the problem. I think another part of it is that women are told to tuck their butt and flatten the low back. So, when you tell them to stick out their butt and arch their low back it’s a totally foreign idea. In fact, a lot of my clients are CONVINCED they will injure their back if they do this. Well, the fitness industry is always learning and we understand now that flattening out your natural low back curve is generally not good for your back.

Pull your shoulder blades together: This goes along with the previous one. While I’m trying to get people to do a hip hinge and not round their low back, I’m also trying to get them not to round the upper part of their back. Posture is such a huge issue for people these days. Computers and mobile devices are destroying us by creating forward head position and slumped rounded shoulders. It’s a mess! During bent over exercises and any exercise where weight is lifted overhead it’s a real problem.

Soft knees: I say this one, probably more than all the other things combined. Could you see this on a T-shirt? 🙂 Is it the most important one? No, it’s just a common element across several exercises and it’s really easy to forget. It’s not so much about what to do with your knees as what not to do. People have a tendency to lock out their knees on standing exercises. When the knees are locked it’s like doing the exercise on stilts. The thigh, glute and core muscles are not properly engaged and the back takes a beating trying to support the bulk of the activity all by itself. When the knees are soft people begin to naturally engage all those other muscles. They save their backs and turn a simple biceps curl into an activity that engages the whole body, especially the core.

Is that the right weight?: I’m always asking my clients this question. Why? Because we need to challenge our muscles or we’re wasting our time. The question is really asking if the weight is heavy enough. I’m not saying it has to be crazy heavy, but you want to challenge yourself and lift as heavy as you can while maintaining good form. Often I see women doing reps of some exercise. I’m watching their form and lose count. Suddenly it occurs to me that they’ve done an awful lot of reps. I ask what number they’re on. “Oh this is number 10 on the second set”. WHOA! What happened to the rest? They tell me they didn’t need one. So, they just kept going. That means the weight is too light to give them results. I can usually tell when a weight is too heavy because I can see their form fall apart, but I can’t always tell when it’s too light. That’s why it’s important for the client to take some responsibility for pushing themselves in order to get the most out of the workout.

Brace your core: Or I’ll say, engage your core. The core muscles are critical for supporting the spine and creating a solid and strong base for movement. Being able to brace your core at will is an important part of the mind body connection. Eventually, engaging the core muscles will become a habit.

Fingertips by your ears: This is a big one for ab work lying on the floor. When they go to do something like crunches, most people will immediately lace their fingers behind their head. Not good. This will cause pulling on the head and neck and lead to neck pain. It is also a way to cheat. When you use your arms to pull up your head, your abs are doing less work. You’re also cheating the anterior neck muscles out of gaining strength. Stronger anterior neck muscles will help keep your head in proper alignment and prevent forward head position which is not only unattractive, but has several negative effects on health.

But wait! There’s more… There are many more cues and catch phrases that I use, but these are a few of the most often repeated. There’s a lot to strength training. Some of it goes against the grain and some is even counter intuitive. That’s why it’s a good idea to get some coaching, at least in the beginning when you start a strength training program.

So, here are just a few more “words of wisdom” that I like to toss out to my clients during workouts that aren’t exercise specific. Abs are made in the kitchen. Usually said in response to how do I get rid of this muffin top? Embrace challenge. What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you. One more thing. Obviously, these are not all my original sayings. It’s just a collection of things I’ve learned over the years from experience education and other fitness pros and coaches.

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