One of the toughest parts of being a strength coach and gym owner is that when people join they expect to be able to learn “proper form” with a 45 second crash course on the exercise they are doing.  The truth is that “proper form” does not exist – not in the sense that it is cut and dry or pass/fail.  Think about it like this: what other activities or skills could someone learn “properly” (whatever that means) in the matter of a few minutes?  Probably none.  Let’s look at some examples:

Playing the guitar? Nope.  You definitely won’t be playing Metallica the first time you pick up a six string; it will take years of training to get there.  Even when you do eventually learn to play some of their songs, do you think you’ll be doing it as well as Kirk Hammett ever did?

Shooting a basketball?  Again, no.  Sure you might make a couple baskets your first time, but you can’t teach someone to do it “right” in 5 minutes if they have never done it before.  Nor can you in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or 30 minutes.  Again, it will take years of dedicated practice to get good at it.

Let’s look at one more example.  In addition to coaching strength training, I also coach Jiu Jitsu.  Never once have I had a student come in to learn Jiu Jitsu that expected to “do it right” in their first class … or first week, or even first month.  That is because even the most basic techniques in Jiu Jitsu take lots and lots of practice to develop and refine.  People inherently understand the technical nature of Jiu Jitsu, and they come in with a mindset conducive to studying the art (which takes LOTS of time and focused practice), rather than a mindset of expecting to “get it right” within 5 minutes.  My students don’t get frustrated when the don’t “get it right” their first try, they embrace the grind of hard work and consistent practice to get better at it.

So, then, why do people come into a strength training program and expect to “get it right” immediately?  What makes strength training different than learning to play the guitar, to shoot a basketball, or learning Jiu Jitsu?  My answer: nothing!  In fact, really, it is all the same.  In all these cases you are learning a SKILL and any skill takes time to build and polish.    There is so much more to “proper form” than simply the alignment of your joints … you need to consider bracing, tension, tempo, breathing and a host of other things.  All these things take a lot of dedicated practice, often years of it, to get good at.

What is the point of all this?  The point is that if you are starting out on a new exercise program, or maybe even starting for the first time, I strongly encourage you to approach your endeavor the same way you would as if you were learning the guitar or learning Jiu Jitsu – treat it like a skill.  Skills take focus, dedication, and patience to learn.  If you go in expecting to “do it right” on your first day, then you are setting an unrealistic expectation for yourself, and ultimately setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.  You will see much better long-term progress, as well as enjoy the experience much more, if you embrace that strength training is a journey and enjoy the ride.  Rather than allowing yourself to get upset with where you aren’t yet, make sure to celebrate the little victories and milestones along the way to remind yourself of how far you have come.

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– Tony Gracia | Co-Founder / Head Coach @industrialstrengthgym