Upon meeting me, the first thing my scary smart Lifetime Fitness trainer, Steve, did was have me stand in front of him facing a gigantic mirror. As he put his hands gently on my shoulders he said, “I want you to see what I see.” Now, lest you think this is going to turn into a touchy-feely after-school special where we talk about how awesome I am, Trainer Steve was actually assessing me for muscular imbalances. So what he saw was slightly flattened arches, a right knee that bends in when I squat, a “winged out” left scapula and a right hip flexor that is apparently so tight it’s throwing off the rest of my body. “You don’t have any injuries? Really??” he asked incredulously. “Because you should.” (For the record, I saw a girl with a supercute hot pink top that she made herself out of a repurposed pajama top – DIY workout gear, for the win!)

And then he tricked me. “We need to test your upper body strength so get down into a plank position and touch your other hand back-and-forth as fast as you can for one minute.” Eager to please and nervous about having my weakest area publicly tested I went full out. I got to 99 before the time ran out. “I just needed 1 more!” I panted. “Yeah, the number doesn’t really matter,” he smiled. “We were actually looking to see if your hips move when you move your upper body. And they do. Ideally you’d stay straight the whole time.” I hate surprise tests. Especially ones I fail. Ego check on aisle 1!

But Steve was doing me a huge favor because the whole point of this test is to correct my muscular imbalances and dysfunctional movements. And heaven knows after 10 years of bearing babies, toting toddlers and being unable to walk anywhere without someone literally hanging off my leg, I have some issues. Fixing these problems now will help me avoid injuries in the future and, as Steve promised me, give me more power and efficiency in the workouts that I love. “You’ll be amazed at how easily stuff will come to you once you’ve got the correct neural programming.” (I WILL win a basketball game against the Gym Buddies, by golly!)

Plus he told me I squat better than Shaquille O’Neal. Okay so what he technically said was that Shaq and other big basketball players that he’s worked with can’t squat for crap (my word and wow, that’s some nice imagery there – shut up, it’s late) although he said Kobe Bryant can do full range of motion squats. A** to grass! Which I can also do! So I extrapolated that to mean that I can out-squat Shaq…yeah. Whatever. I have to take my inspiration where I can find it! Especially since Steve immediately started me on a program to fix all my problems (the physical ones anyhow, I think he’s about ready to duct tape my mouth shut so I’ll stop asking so many questions) and it’s an 8 on the pain scale and a 2 on the fun scale. I’d have given it a 1 except that I get to do some sideways lunges that remind me of a dance move I once saw in a Lady Gaga music video.

So how does one undo all the damage from years of being attacked by little people from the inside out (and sitting with my legs crossed)? By doing basic movements with no weights. Push-ups, squats, lunges and TRX pull-ups are all on my daily rotation now. When I looked disappointed he explained, “If you can’t do a proper squat without your knee turning in, why on earth would I hand you a weight?” Good point. And having done the workout for almost a week now, I have to say I can really feel it working. I don’t like it (60 push-ups for 4 counts down, hold 2 counts at the bottom and then 1 count back up!! I want to gnaw my own shoulders off just to escape the burn.) but I already feel a difference. And by difference, I mean that my right butt cheek is sooo sore which apparently needs to happen to help with the tight hip thingy.

Play Along at Home: I shouldn’t be the only one having all the fun! Try these tests on yourself to see how you measure up. (If you’re not interested in testing yourself, at least try the last one on a friend – it’s hilarious!)

Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Ideally you’d have a partner to watch you as well but if all you’ve got is you and your cat it’s still good.

Squat: Do a set of 10 basic squats with your arms overhead and with as much range of motion as you can handle without pain. Watch both knees to see if they stay straight forward. Also watch your hands to see if one drops lower than the other as you squat down.

Single-leg squat: Stand on one foot and with a slight bend in your knee touch your pinky toe with your opposite hand. Do 10, checking to see if your knee tracks over your big toe each time or if it turns inward or outward.

Relaxed stance: Stand with your feet hip width apart with arms relaxed at your sides. See if one shoulder or hip is higher than the other. (This is where the other set of eyes really comes in handy.)

Scapula check: This one is fun for everyone as the Gym Buddies can tell you. I made them all do it and it’s to their credit that they didn’t even flinch when I told them to stand up with their back to me and not move. Anyhow, have the person stand in front of you in a relaxed stance. Then take your first two fingers, palm forward, and jam them up under their scapula (shoulder blade), er gently push up. It will make them scream. Which will make you scream. Which will make you all start laughing. Or will make them punch you. One or the other. So much fun! ANYHOW. You shouldn’t be able to fit your fingers very far underneath either shoulder blade.

Seriously though, my first major lesson learned from Steve is that pride has no place in my workouts. Living a healthy and injury-free life is more important than any number I can throw down on a weighted back squat. If progressing means I have to strip everything down to the basics first and relearn those movements then that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m really grateful for this chance for a do-over. Also, he reminded me that you really can get a killer workout from body weight exercises alone.

Did you test yourself? Are you unbalanced too? Have you ever had to swallow your workout pride and go back to the basics? Anyone else just want to try squatting in heels like Coco? Just to see if you could do it? Just me??

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One Comment

  1. Great article.

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