5 Mistakes My Ideal Clients Make on Their Fitness Journey

Category: Motivation / Training Tips

Being a specialist who works with people living with neurological disabilities, my ideal client is someone who is most likely wanting to improve their daily quality of living. I absolutely love being able to coach clients along their journeys to achieving better mobility, more strength, and improved body awareness.

These tips are for anyone to consider along their own health and wellness journey, whether you have a coach or not. Having the knowledge of what structures help us succeed can save us so much time and effort. It is my pleasure to share with you what some of these might be (five, to be exact), from a coaching standpoint.

Not warming up before your strength exercises

This one is so important, that I even wrote an entire blog on it! You can read this here.

Most people that I talk to, skip warm-up for one of the following reasons: It’s boring, they don’t have enough time, they think it takes away from their actual workout, or they don’t think they need it.

I’m here to tell you, that not only does everyone benefit from a proper warm-up, but it also improves your strength gains! A warm-up is just that– preparing your body for the movement to come, whether it be strength training explosive power, or endurance.

By bringing blood flow to our muscles and focusing on working through a full range of motion for the joint before adding load or intensity, we can immediately decrease our risk for musculoskeletal injury as well as make every set count towards improving our strength.

Not performing unilateral movements

A unilateral movement (the performance of a movement or an exercise using a single arm or single leg) is an absolute must to include in your strength and mobility programs. I don’t think there is a single human walking this earth that doesn’t have an imbalance of some sort in their body.

To give an example, my right hip muscles and quadriceps are much stronger than my left side because it’s my power leg when I snowboard. I’m frequently stretching out my tight and ‘overused’ quad and really focusing on strengthening my left side.

If a client has a spinal cord injury or an autoimmune disease like MS, we can almost guarantee they will have a more ‘affected’ side.  Working this more affected side on its own is crucial for making any improved strength or movement pattern gains.

Clients who have had leg amputations and use prosthetics will fall under this category as well, especially since they are needing to fully bear weight onto their prosthetic leg for proper gait patterns with walking or running.

So, what happens when we stick with only bilateral movements? The stronger side tends to take over, thus not ever letting the non-dominant side be challenged enough to make any strength gains. It is important to recognize that this unilateral training starts in the brain, where new neural pathways are being created to complete these unilateral movements. The more we practice, the stronger these neural connections become. And because we are only as strong as our weakest link, being able to strengthen our non-dominant or more affected side will help us improve our performance in daily tasks and decrease the risk of injury.

Not following a daily stretch routine

Ever noticed how a crawling baby moves with such ease? They can pull themselves up from a deep squat with no issue, roll over in one motion and slide through the splits into an army-like crawl. We first need to acknowledge that babies’ bones have yet to harden as our bones are as adults, which is one contributing factor to their mobility.

However, one other reason is that babies’ bodies haven’t yet seen the effects of habits, posture, sport, disability (for some), inactivity, or activity taking a toll on their muscles and joints.

As we go through life and grow up to be adults, our bodies tell the story of how we spend our time. Individuals who use wheelchairs tend to have chronically tight hip flexors and pectoralis muscles.

Individuals who have had their one leg amputated tend to have very tight and overworked soft tissues in their ‘natural’ leg because of carrying most of the load. We can help balance our bodies and work against this by stretching areas that are tight or overactive. This in turn helps retain a healthy muscle length-tension relationship, thus decreasing our risk of musculoskeletal injuries, improving our posture, and improving our performance in daily activities like gardening or playing with the kids.

Being a Weekend Warrior

There are many different ways we can train depending on our goals. We can change things like duration (how many times per week you will work out), length (how long the program is, or how many exercises to perform), etc.

When I was in my twenties and I used to work in conventional gyms, I used to see these people that would only come in on the weekends to work out. They would stay for hours on end, Saturday, and Sunday. Then the rest of the week, they would not come to the gym at all.

Studies show that when it comes to neural strength gains, practicing more frequently is key.

So, these ‘weekend warriors’ were not setting themselves up for much progress.

Taub, the behavioural neuroscientist who developed CI therapy and studies neuroplasticity, states that “training should be done in increments; and work should be concentrated into a short time, a training technique called massed practice, which he has found far more effective than long-term but less frequent training.”*

Aiming for more frequent, consistent training sessions clustered together in a shorter amount of time will bring the most benefit when it comes to rewiring the brain and body for better movement patterns, increased strength and increased mobility.

Forgetting to track your progress

Sometimes we can get frustrated when we don’t seem to see results or improvements from all our hard work. Unfortunately, though, without having data and ways of measuring our progress, we can be terrible judges of how far we have come.

I see this a lot with my own clients. They will come to me and express feelings of frustration because they ‘aren’t where they thought they would be’ in their rehab or fitness goals. I will show them my notes from our session progress and have a review of what they were accomplishing 3 months ago, 6 months ago, and maybe even 1-2 years ago. A lot of times the client is surprised at how far they have come.

These little data reminders are very helpful for us for a couple of reasons. For one, they allow us to stay focused on our goals. When we see that we have in fact made progress over time, it can bring some encouragement for us to continue the work.

It can also help us with self-compassion. Without recording our progress, it’s very easy to think that we haven’t done enough, or easy to ‘not remember’ the other little accomplishments that we have hit along the way. I recommend having a training journal that you keep a record in every week so that you can have a record of your journey. It can also be a great way to see where maybe something wasn’t working for you, and maybe something in your program needs to be adjusted.  

Your Coach,

Megan Williamson

*Norman Doidge, M.D., (2007) The Brain That Changes Itself. 

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