The Longevity Combine: How to Assess & Improve Your Exercise Form with a Zero-Cost Test (Part 1 of 4)
Practical Tests to Assess and Improve Your Health and Fitness
I’m a self-conscious exerciser.
I have a little voice in the back of my head questioning everything I do. Telling me that my form sucks or that I’m weaker, slower, and less powerful than others.
Learning not to compare yourself to other people is critical for meaningful progress and peace of mind (not living a desperate life of me vs. you comparisons).
This is something I’m constantly conditioning the caveman, social survival part of my brain to stop worrying about.
But questioning your form, your ability to perform a certain exercise properly, is a whole other ball game.
And one that education and a little homework can fix.
So, let’s fix it.
The Exercise Form Assessment
In a previous newsletter, I wrote about the 9 ways our bodies can adapt to exercise – often called adaptations.
One of those adaptations is movement or skill.
This can refer to sports such as a golf swing or swimming technique but also applies to the way we move in exercise such as when performing a squat or bench press.
Enforcing correct movement patterns is critical to staying injury-free, living pain-free, and continuing to be able to train and perform activities of daily living for as long as possible.
In a perfect world, we would all have access to and be able to afford a highly-qualified physical therapist or movement specialist to watch our movement patterns and help us correct any issues or imbalances.
But the world isn’t perfect and most of us don’t have the disposable income lying around or the connections to top-notch physical therapists.
Luckily, there’s an alternative.
Dr. Andy Galpin, professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton, and world expert on exercise science, developed a simple 2-step process to assess your own movement at zero cost.
The 2-Step Form Fixer
Step 1: Hit record.
Write down all of the exercises you perform on a regular basis.
Then record yourself doing each movement from both a frontal and a side view. Do 3-10 reps per angle with a slow and controlled tempo.
To prevent overwhelm, record one movement per session and, to avoid procrastination, analyze that movement post-workout on the same day.
If you’re unsure of what movements to perform, a very well-rounded approach would be to film each of the following:
Vertical upper-body press (overhead press)
Horizontal upper-body press (push-up or bench press)
Vertical upper-body pull (pull-up or lat pull-down)
Horizontal upper-body pull (bent row)
Lower-body press (squat)
Lower-body pull (deadlift)
Don’t load up with heavy weight if you’re using kettlebells or dumbbells.
You can even perform the movement with your body weight or just the bar if using a barbell.
Step 2: Assess each major joint against the 4 movement criteria below.
With your movements recorded, begin the analysis.
Go joint by joint, assessing your form against the 4 movement criteria in the section below.
From foot to head, here are the major joints you will want to assess with each movement:
The 4 Movement Criteria
Criteria #1: Look for symmetry.
Look for symmetry from front to back, left to right, and your right limbs to your left limbs.
Questions to ask:
Is one turning to the side and one not?
Is one moving further ahead than the other one?
Is one fidgeting and twitching around differently?
Your goal is to identify whether your body is moving symmetrically or not.
Criteria #2: Look for stability.
Look for instabilities or asymmetries in your movement.
Questions to ask:
Is part of your body shaking in order to get through a movement? For example, if you perform a squat, do your knees shake on the way up?
Can you do the movement slowly? Can you pause at the bottom of the movement for 3/5/10 seconds while maintaining complete control of the joints involved?
Are any of your joints sliding to one side in the movement? For example, are your hips sliding to one side when you stand up from a squat?
Is one elbow joint closer to your body than another when performing a bench press, push-up, or overhead press? Is one more flared out?
Is anything flipping, twitching, or going all over the place?
If the answer is yes to any of these, you might have an instability problem.
Criteria #3: Look for awareness.
Many movement issues stem from a lack of awareness.
In other words, you might be capable of performing a movement properly but are not doing so due to:
A) A lack of education on proper form, or
B) A lack of bodily awareness leading to a funky movement pattern you aren’t aware of.
These types of things aren’t movement flaws since they can be corrected by learning proper form or realizing that there is a disparity between what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing as displayed on film.
Criteria #4: Look for all of your joints going through a full range of motion.
The vast majority of the time we exercise, our joints should be going through a full range of motion.
This of course requires some knowledge of what proper form and a full range of motion look like for a particular movement.
(There are tons of instructional videos online if you want to self-educate or confirm what you think you know.)
An ass-to-grass squat is a perfect example that illustrates most people’s inability to perform a full range of motion while maintaining proper form.
Most humans lack the ankle, knee, hip, and/or low back flexibility, stability, and mobility to get to the bottom of a squat without seriously compromising their form.
If you identify certain movements that you cannot yet perform through a full range of motion with good form, working to increase your range of motion is a fantastic goal.
The Movement Test Scoring System
Up to this point you’ve done the following:
Identified the movements you perform on a regular basis.
Filmed 3-10 reps from a frontal and a side view at a slow and controlled tempo.
Assessed your symmetry, stability, awareness, and range of motion at each joint for each movement.
This might seem really difficult and time-consuming but you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily you fly through this assessment.
Especially after you go through the first few movements.
Next, it’s time to assign a score between 0 to 2 for each exercise.
Zero: Major red flags. You should stop doing this exercise immediately because you're at a very high risk of getting hurt. Make major improvements to your form before adding this exercise to your protocol.
One: There is a minor flaw somewhere. You’re probably safe to perform the exercise, but you should be cautious of load and volume and focus on improving your form.
Two: Close to perfect. You are safe to perform the movement on a reasonable protocol without worrying about injury risk.
You just want to get an idea of if you’re at risk of injury due to improper movement (0), have a few things to work on (1), or already moving correctly (2).