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Ask Elayne: How Do I Know if an Exercise is Too Hard For Me?

How do you know if an exercise is too hard? In a word… compensating!

What is compensating?

Compensating is when you are trying to do an exercise targeting one group of muscles, but because those muscle are too weak, you start using other muscles to help you along. 

Compensating is a sign an exercise is TOO hard

For the most part, compensating is not a good thing. You want to be able to perform the exercise with good form, using the intended muscle group.

For example, if I am trying to do a biceps curl, which targets the biceps, and I pick up a weight that is too heavy, I may start compensating with my low back, slinging the muscle up. This puts stress on the low back and makes it more susceptible to injury. It also puts more stress on the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, again making them more susceptible to injury and not strengthening the biceps.

To prevent compensation and target the biceps, I should lower my weight until I’m able to do a proper biceps curl without the compensation. I also may need to do a “drop set.” Meaning I can start at a higher weight, but as so as I start compensating, I drop the weight to a more manageable weight.

With body weight exercises, you can’t really drop weight. However, almost every exercise can be modified. For example, you can:

  • –do a plank from your knees
  • –not go as deep in your squat or lunge
  • –lessen impact by not jumping.

In group exercise classes, instructors can’t always watch and modify every move for everyone, so it is even more important than ever to be aware of your own limitations and modify to limit injury! 

Sometimes Compensation Can Help You Build Strength

It the muscle is so weak that it can’t do ANYTHING, you may need to use other muscles to help get the original muscle “jump started.”

For example, if your pelvic floor just won’t fire at all, you may need to use your adductors to cheat until your pelvic floor is strong enough to do it on it’s own. But, often when using a compensating technique to build up the muscle, you have to make sure you are trying to contract the originally targeted muscle first.

So if you are trying to engage your pelvic floor, first you would tighten (or attempt to) your pelvic floor and then tighten the adductors (inner thighs). And you always check to see if you need to use the cheat muscle – you may be strong enough to not have to.

Physical Therapy Can Help Identify Where You Are Compensating

There is no reason to push harder – work smarter not harder. It you injure yourself, you will be away from exercise longer than if you just progress slow and steady! At Rebalance, we can help you identify where you are compensating in your exercises. For more information, click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our physical therapists. 

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