“I have never had a client that I couldn’t get deep in the hole.”

I overheard a trainer say this to one of his clients. “Deep in the hole” is an expression for the position at the bottom of a deep squat, and I think the trainer was bragging about how great of a trainer he is for being able to coach squats so well.

When I heard this, all I thought was “That’s impressive, but should everyone get deep in the hole?

A lot of people have difficulty with some exercises (like squats). Often this difficulty is caused by some combination of weakness, tightness, poor coordination, or self-perception. If that’s what’s preventing you from being able to do a deep squat, then spending time working on strength and movement quality will probably get you to achieve a deep squat. But sometimes the difficulty is caused by previous injury, current injury, or because your bones are built in a way that makes a deep squat difficult to achieve.

I have a client who came to me to help her improve her squat form so she could squat with more weight. We worked on her form and also added some additional stretches and strengthening exercises to improve range of motion and stability. Despite that work, when she did a full squat, she had pain in either her hip or her back, unless she shifted her weight to one side. It also turns out this person has FAI (Femoro Acetabular Impingement), which is a structural variation of the hip. 

In this case, it is possible for her to do a full squat; it’s just not a great idea. Full depth squatting for her consistently results in pain or poor form (shifting to one side is considered poor form in a squat). I don’t know if squatting for her will cause any damage or injury – nobody can predict that.

But I think the risk of squatting for her is greater than the benefit of squatting.

This is the crux of my point. When deciding whether or not you (or your client) should do an exercise, ask the question: Does the reward outweigh the risk? I will add a side note here, that I hope you don’t walk away from reading this thinking exercise is overly risky. It’s not. But it’s not 100% without risk either. Let’s face it, everything we do in life has risk. And we make risk:reward decisions all day, every day. We do it so often that most of them are subconscious. But when we start doing a new exercise, or when something feels off in an exercise, and our attempts to make it feel good don’t succeed, make sure you consciously ask yourself if the reward outweighs the risk. If it does, then go for it; and if it doesn’t, skip it or find something else to do.

The great thing about exercises, is that there are lots and lots of them. If you can’t seem to get a certain exercise to work well for you, it’s not the end of the world. There are others out there that work just as well that will be a good fit.

This post is an excerpt from the book I’m writing about training around injuries. I’ll be posting one each week for the foreseeable future.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer and the owner of Custom Strength in Ottawa. She is also keen to announce that she has recently converted her popular Get Healthier 8 Week Challenge into an ebook, that you can find here.

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