Below, I’ve outlined a few simple ways you can improve your mechanics and avoid being the person that “used to” squat or run.
1. Have a basic understanding of muscular anatomy
Your joints allow you to move and your muscles do the moving for you. Think of your skeleton and all its bones—now attach a string to a bone and pull in the direction you want that movement to happen.
For example; when you eat that reheated donut and bend the elbow to shove it in your mouth, your biceps are pulling on your forearm (or radialis bone) to do it. When you sit down on the toilet, your hamstrings are responsible for letting the knee bend. What if you want to extend your arm and reach for another donut? Your triceps muscles (on the back of your arm) have to pull on the forearm (ulna bone this time) to extend your elbow. If you want to stand up from the toilet? Your quadriceps muscles help straighten the knee.
These basic concepts should give you an idea of sitting, standing, pulling, and pushing. You can take things you do naturally (like eating donuts or sitting on the toilet) and break them down to exercises from there.
2. Move in a way your joints don’t ache
Again, the joints allow you to move but the muscles do the moving. Think of when you open a door; do the hinges actually move the door?
If your joints hurt, something’s causing unnecessary friction. It generally comes from moving in a way you’re not designed to move, or that your muscles aren’t strong enough to handle whatever load you’re experiencing, and the rigid joints become the stabilizing factor. Think about putting a very, very heavy door on hinges that can’t handle the weight—either they’ll squeal, or worst case, come off the wall.
It’s in our best interest not to let this happen. So, listening to your body will generally help you avoid this pitfall. Muscles burning = good. Joints aching = bad.
3. Use your phone camera and look for lines
Another simple trick is to video yourself doing an exercise and watching for lines. If the exercise doesn’t involve a rotation, you can generally break the exercise into this shape: +
If you’re moving the weight down and back up again vertically, watch for a vertical line. If you’re moving your body horizontally, look for a horizontal line. If the movement looks like a slalom course, you’re not moving efficiently.
For example; when placing the donut in your mouth, do you do airplane noises and flight patterns beforehand? Or do you just go straight in? What about when you’re sitting on the toilet—do you look up at the ceiling, arch your back, and fall into your heels? If so, maybe you should also get checked for hemorrhoids.
4. Don’t touch a barbell until the above feels natural
Now that we’ve moved from toilet-bowl squatting mechanics, we can bring it to the gym. Once we get an idea of how our shoulders, spine, hips, and knees move efficiently, we can start adding resistance via dumbbells, cables, and bodyweight movements until they feel fairly natural.
A common mistake people make about exercise is that it should feel unnatural—in fact, exercise should feel uncomfortable, but not unnatural. Once you add a bar, the bar itself is unnatural, but you don’t move unnaturally. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
In fact, until you’re an expert on toilet bowl mechanics, I wouldn’t trust you to add a barbell to it. If you are a toilet bowl mechanic expert, please, by all means, start adding resistance. If anything, it’ll make for a good Youtube video.