This morning I was coaching a Ninja at MFF Clubhouse, and she was absolutely crushing her half-kneeling lifts. I asked, “Rachel, are you thinking about these a lot?”
“No, not really,” she said. This made me very excited. She carried on, and after the set was over, I told her that one of the goals of the half-kneeling lift is to not have to think about the half-kneeling lift.
You may be thinking, “Harold, aren’t you a coach? Don’t you teach people to better control their bodies and be mindful of their movement?”
I sure do! As a coach, my goal is to teach people how to “move well”. As a program designer, I can manipulate a few different variables to challenge someones ability to move well, and we’ll group all of those variables together in the “move often” category.
You may have heard that phrase before, “Move well, then move often.”
These words are from a physical therapist named Gray Cook, someone who I’ve been learning from for the last 10 years. Gray’s knowledge has had a huge impact on me as a coach, and he’s one of the reasons why I’m a fan of exercises like he the half-kneeling lift in Rachel’s programs.
It’s considered a “self-limiting exercise”, which Gray explains as, “Self-limiting exercise demands mindfulness and an awareness of movement, alignment, balance, and control.”
The best self-limiting exercises, in my opinion, have built-in controls for what feels like you’re doing it “right” versus “wrong.” They’re pretty damn simple:
- If you’re doing it wrong, you get wobbly, tip over, or immediately feel out of alignment or control.
- If you’re doing it right, it feels controlled, smooth, almost effortless.
Effortless doesn’t necessarily mean without thought – it just means that there’s a grace that comes with the mindfulness of movement. And, when you’re well aligned and in a sustainable position, I’ve always found that people need to think less about what they’re doing.
Mindfulness helps with mastery, but too much of it becomes an emotional burden. I want you to think a lot about the exercise that you’re doing, but I don’t want you to use up all of your emotional bandwidth focusing on 30 seconds of a 60-minute workout.
Self-limiting exercises should be about physical and mental sustainability.
In Rachel’s case, the half-kneeling lift was perfect because she was able to set up with a lot of attention to detail, and then after that, the movement was far less thought-consuming.
Here is the simple checklist that she shared with me:
- Set up in the bottom position of the split squat (half-kneeling.)
- Squeeze butt and ab muscles.
- Move the bar without wobbling or twisting.
It’s simple when you read the cues, but the limitations of the exercise mean that when it’s new you have to think about posture and alignment a lot. Once you’ve practiced it a few times, and alignment comes more naturally, you’re ready to progress weight. As the weight used gets heavier, you’ll start wobbling more, meaning you have to focus on alignment again.
This positive feedback loop means that the exercise teaches you how to align your body while you’re exercising, which is something that most exercises do not do.
As coaches, we can choose more self-limiting exercises that can help people move well as a baseline, then challenge that baseline with different sets, reps, or loads.
As movers, focusing on these exercises can help us better learn about how to best move our bodies. This will help us develop both mind AND body, and get the most out of our moments practicing fitness.