One problem I see a lot in the fitness industry is when fitness professionals put the cart before the horse and try to force bizarre stretch goals on clients who aren’t prepared for them, don’t need them, and are probably actively worse for aiming for them. I’m not talking about stuff like getting leaner, more jacked, or stronger. These are all reach goals, but they’re reach goals that people tend to want, and that tend to make them happier.
I’m talking instead about accepting the fact that Not Everyone Has To Be Able To Squat Like A Baby, and that it’s genuinely OK to have gaps in our fitness. We do not have to be perfect at everything. Hell, we don’t even have to be perfect at even ONE THING. We most certainly don't have to be a miracle athlete who's perfect at everything.
A while back, I wrote an article about how exercise form is sometimes Not Important. Expectedly, I got a great deal of kickback from that, and it was one of my more popular posts at the time. One comment in particular stuck with me, in that I found it indicative of a pretty annoying tendency in fitness.
The comment was based around my own admission that my form isn’t perfect. In the article I admitted that I suffer from a mild scoliosis, and as a result, I tend not to squat very well. I have to squat pretty wide and don’t have the greatest depth, because ass to grass squats make my right knee start to sound like a rusty door hinge. There’s no pain associated with it, and it’s never negatively affected my life in any way - there’s just a constant popping noise as a tendon shifts around. I’ve been lifting for over ten years and managed a best squat of double bodyweight all the same. In short, nothing bad has ever happened nor has it prevented me from doing good things, even if my limits are probably lower than they would have been otherwise.
One commenter on the book face, however, vehemently told me that it was Absolutely Unsafe for me to squat in any situation without first fixing every potential underlying issue until I had perfect form. I can only imagine how many people in the world would be left capable of squatting if this directive were followed. (hint: I bet I could fit them all in like, a coffee shop or two)
In an article I wrote for the PTDC, I contended that one of the reasons it’s often a waste of time to train flexibility a lot is that we don’t really need that much of it. We need enough flexibility and mobility to perform the motions that we perform regularly, and no more. This, of course, led to an angry commenter telling me that this is Absolutely Untrue and that people actually need a great deal of it.
Here’s the truth: people need some form of activity. In fact, for many people, less may actually be more: provided you perform a pretty high intensity activity, you can exercise just a few times a week and still manage to build and maintain a solid base of physical fitness. This allows you to maximize your return on time spent for additional health benefit, and enables you to - oh heaven forbid - spend more time doing other stuff in your life which makes you happy.
People do not, however, need to be athletes. Is my weird knee probably going to be a problem if I’m pushing for a world record squat? Absolutely. Is it going to hold my leg back from providing a good source of locomotion to me for the rest of my life? Well that leg is already stronger than that of probably the vast majority of people in the world, so I’d say probably not. Do I need to be able to squat a thousand pounds with perfect form to get out of bed? No. Do I need to be able to do a full forward bend and wrap my legs around my head in order to make eggs for myself in the morning? No.
Let’s be honest: if the process of everyday life actually required any significant amount of performance, we would already be strong and limber enough to handle it, because the body would adapt to meet those demands. The human body is highly adaptable, and adjusts constantly to suit its environment. In fact, the very reason that we get out of shape is that our body is just being helpful and adjusting to an environment in which we don’t need to lift very much weight or get into any strange positions. People who have jobs or lifestyles involving moderate amounts of physical labor tend to (surprise!) be healthier and stronger throughout their lives - precisely because their day to day lives do require a bit more performance out of them than the average desk worker, and they adapt to meet that demand.
This is actually our body trying to be helpful: since maintaining muscle is metabolically taxing, it’s just getting rid of that in favor of less metabolically taxing fat tissue. In a survival situation, this makes sense: it’s saving energy for the future. We only need to be as strong as the set of stimuli we have to face habitually, so it makes sense to be conservative and only keep what we actually need. People who face extended periods of bed rest lose a lot of muscle and range of motion. People in space have to exercise constantly to offset the loss of muscle and strength that occurs in the zero gravity environment - where demands are even less - so that they can successfully transition back to life on Earth.
Listen: injury is a part of life. It’s going to happen no matter what. Being regularly active, moving through a wide range of motions, and eating a decent diet is going to maximize our quality of life and ensure maximal resistance to unexpected bodily demands that can cause injury. That’s it. There’s no reason to aim to be some mythical perfect athlete that’s amazing at everything to get out of bed. There’s no hidden secret to living forever or never getting injured. Fun fact: we all die in the end. Hurray.
Most people don’t need a lot out of their training. That’s why it’s often ok for people to do weird, wacky exercise programs that aren’t super great from an athletic perspective - because they don't really need to do anything other than get sweating. They don’t need to be athletes, they just need to get off the couch. We don’t need to be thinking about the perfect way to squat or forcing everyone to do 8 hours of flexibility work a day so that they can squat like a baby and wrap themselves into a pretzel. Get people moving first.
Unfortunately, this perspective is often lost on many trainers and coaches, who aim to optimize and perfect athletic activity without bothering to approach the human aspect. This isn't to say that high level athletic coaches shouldn't exist - just that we should understand that they occupy a niche that shouldn't be generalized to training the overall population.