Last night we got to do barbell bench presses and I remembered my first time doing them- again an intimidating exercise when it’s new. Historically these have a very masculine appeal and are not very ladylike. So the first time I did them I looked at the bar over my head and had a little chat with it making a deal that I would guide it down nice and steady to my sternum and that its job was to return safely back to the rack on my exhale. Just using the bar seemed like a big deal, almost suffocating in a certain way. Well here I am into my 2nd year of bench pressing and without hesitation I load up the bar and do some reps. (I still have my little chat with each set, just so we know we are on the same page.) It’s fun; it’s challenging; I’m sweating, and maybe even a little grunt escapes from my chest on the final rep. But I still remember when it was just the bar and how heavy that was at the time. It wasn’t just that it was heavy- it was that it was new and unfamiliar- my body didn’t really have a script for that movement. The closest thing might have been tossing my son up into the air with a giggle and catching him on the way down when he was a toddler, but I probably stopped doing that long before he was 45 pounds, and that was nearly 20 years ago. So the foundation was weak or nonexistent, but now, over time, brick by brick, I’ve built a solid foundation and can set the barbell moving without delay.
It’s good to remember this progression when it comes to exercise and strength training. Each movement no matter how small is another brick in the foundation of our strength. I often hear people lamenting their modifications during a new exercise or while recovering from an injury, a break, or illness. “I hate that I can’t do a full lunge, squat, jump, curl, press, etc.” I remind them how important this time is for their bodies and for learning or relearning a movement, to get programmed and to create proper form for safety and longevity. Each modified curl is still a curl. The smaller or more basic the move, the better we are creating proper form, and training our bodies so we can add complexity, increase range of motion, and add weight to our lifts as we progress.
It’s important to do what we can and recognize our own biomechanics. This might change from day to day- our hip flexors might be tight one day and another we are able to drop into a deep squat. When we modify a movement to adjust for these changes we leave judgement at the door and celebrate our self-knowledge, exercise safely and get a more effective workout.
When modifying, use the cues from the instructors and think about the purpose of the exercise and what movement patterns are included. Choose a modification that addresses the same muscle group and works toward this same purpose. When you are ready to add a challenge you can choose to increase your efforts when it feels right.
My challenge to you this week is not to see a modified exercise as “less than” but rather as its own valuable movement. We are layering our foundation of strength- brick by brick.