Understanding Good and Bad Instincts During Exercise

Bad Instincts

… for anything even approaching the best possible results from training, it is absolutely essential to work in direct opposition to your instincts.

– Arthur Jones

When you are uncommitted to good form, your body seeks the path of least resistance. You forget your skills and let the Primal Beast take over your mind. You take shortcuts to nowhere:

  • Using poor mechanics.

You may twist and turn to get the weight up, inviting uneven and jerky forces upon your body. You place your joints and muscles in weak positions such as rounding your back. This can bring sudden forces which cause muscle tears and other injuries.

  • Changing your standards.

You may reduce the range of motion or modify your position to make things easier. Perhaps you know the proper feel during a squat that indicates you got low enough. You ignore that and cut it short to make it easier. This creates the illusion of progress by getting another rep.

You may disengage from the present. You focus on the music or the daily thoughts that invade and distract us from our challenges. You let yourself down.

  • Quitting.

You give into fear, letting the perceived enormity of your task overwhelm you. This causes you to achieve far less than you should. You may fail to stimulate any improvement.

We all feel discomfort with tough exercise. It comes from the intense squeeze in your muscles like wringing out a rag, the air stealing your wind, the acidic burning of your tissue, or the fear of something going horribly wrong as you approach failure.

Our bodies aim to survive and pass on our genes. Our fears developed to ensure this self-interest without a good sense of planning for the future. Working very hard threatened your body with a weak state. Should you fight against your inhibitions though, your body accepts its fate and grows more fit.

Good Instincts

Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once you commit to the task at hand, your instincts shift toward keeping you safe and doing better. Learning dampens the bad ones that draw you away from your goals. It also teaches you when you can let loose instead. You should keep these instincts.

Many trainees learn to breathe out while lifting and inhale while lowering. This defies a normal drive to hold your breath during peak moments. Would you attempt to lift a car with so-called proper breathing to save a loved one under it? Holding your breath protects your spine anteriorly with a column of air which supports the core.

  • Moving smoothly but quickly.

You must move slowly enough to stay tight but any slower harms your results. If you go too slowly, you will hit sticking points during an exercise. You go against your stretch reflex and put yourself into vulnerable states.

  • Stopping when you feel pain.

Pain is completely different from discomfort. When you feel a sharp stab, quit immediately. Many trainees use exercises that feel painful yet wonder why their joints ache and throb. Fight through discomfort. Never ignore pain.

  • Reinforcing good cues.

Cues come from education that act like instincts should you master them. Develop some solid cues for good form and your body will do them out of habit. Make your cue list and recondition yourself.

  • Staying quiet or yelling at the crucial moment.

One sort of person does well expressing raw emotion. Another prefers to remain calm with a grim determination. While some would argue you should never waste energy, others benefit from the mental edge in expressing disgust and anger toward a heavy weight that attempts to limit their potential. Trust yourself in this regard. Do what feels right.

Squeezing the bar braces the muscles that stabilize during a lift. It occurs naturally unless told to do otherwise. See white across your knuckles.

  • Relying upon feel and not sight.

Many rely upon mirrors to judge their form. They see only a partial view though. They should instead trust kinesthesia, or the feeling of the relative positions of body parts.

Take your hands and extend your pointer fingers. Touch them behind your back. If you concentrate and go slowly enough, you likely got them to touch.

Develop kinesthesia to perfect form. To do so, just practice good form without looking at yourself. Once you become a master, you can focus purely on working hard. Good form will feel automatic and you will experience incredible results.

Reinforce or Eliminate Instincts

In the end, instincts come as a mixed blessing. The body aims to make things easier but this can be counterproductive. Once you establish standards for good form and train yourself to adhere to them in the face of adversity, the leftover instincts will come to help you, as if rewarding you for your self-discipline.

Humans seem unique in the animal world in that we have the powerful ability to act rationally. We can overcome the reptiles within us. Should you resist harmful urges, you gain untold power that will change your fitness along with your entire life.

Reinforce the good instincts. Eliminate the bad instincts. Achieve better performance and safety on all your exercises.

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