The ‘proper way’ to do something is the way which is safer and stronger and lasts longer. The proper way fits the human body.
We know there is a proper way to dead lift a heavy weight. There is a proper way to hit a golf or tennis ball. We know there is a proper way to throw a karate punch. There is a proper way to throw a baseball, and so on.
If one does not do these movements correctly, we expect an injury to develop. If the load on the joints is extreme, then one might be injured from a single movement. If the load is light, then one might be injured after thousands of repetitions. It could be a tearing, a breaking, or some part just wears out.
Many people who run or swim – perhaps the majority of them – complain of pain and injury from these sports. This comes from a relatively light load on the joints, repeated thousands and thousands of times.
Let’s take swimming for example. Though we see people demonstrating many different variations for each stroke style, is there actually a proper way to swim each stroke? A proper way which doesn’t lead to pain and injury?
The human body does allow a lot of room for variation in movement patterns, but they are not equal under loading. Just because there are a variety of ways the body could move, does not mean they are all the same in what they cost the body. In many sports there are a variety of styles and techniques for getting work done that are more or less risky on the joints. Certain techniques might make someone stronger or faster, but they may also make it more dangerous for the body.
Swimming is one of those sports where there is a wide range of opinion on stroke technique and there is also a terrible track record of injury. According to this article in the The American Journal Of Sports Medicine on 2008 Olympic USA Team swimmers, approximately 96% of the Olympic swimmers, during the Olympics, were suffering from rotator cuff tendonitis. These are the best swimmers in the world, led by some of the best coaches.
But best at what? Are they pursuing the same goals that you are? Should you, with your particular age, needs and goals, be eager to follow the stroke styles and training patterns of these young, invincible athletes?
The techniques and training methods you use have costs attached to them, as well as benefits. That cost/benefit needs to match your values. You need to find role models that share your values and goals, and show you the path ahead.
If you are aiming for the Olympics and you feel it is worth risking the long-term health of your joints to get to the podium in the next few years then you may be eager to follow the technique and the training patterns of those elite swimmers who end up swimming the fastest and also do the most damage to their bodies in the process. You might appreciate the advice of coaches who run programs where such terrible injury rates are accepted as normal. Most elites are training and racing with pain and injury. By this, we may deduct that most coaches of elite programs are tolerating pain and injury in their athletes. The system they are apart of causes pain and injury. If you are not looking for pain and injury, you should be careful about receiving advice from those in this system.
But if you are aiming to be swimming or running pain-free into your 90’s and beyond, it may go a lot better to follow the technique and training methods of athletes who are demonstrating pain-free performance in their middle to later years. It may be better to follow the advice of specialists who understand the vulnerabilities of an older adult body and know what it takes to keep it moving smoothly, and keep it moving longer. If you want techniques for fast or powerful or long-enduring movement, then seek guidance from those who are most successful at avoiding injuries while pursuing those objectives.
Our culture wants to promote the “Go Hard” approach, and the “No Limits”, or the “You Can Have It All” attitude. But no, physics says there are limits and there are costs. You can have nothing, or you can have something, but you can’t have it all. You have to decide what is really most important to you and then pay the price to pursue that value, and be willing to let go of or hold loosely to other things that compete with it.
If you want to live longer with a body that can keep up, then you need to be careful with the wear-and-tear you put on it now. There are ways to pursue strength and speed and endurance that serve longevity rather than compete with it. Find guidance from those who are more like you, modeling the life and body you want to have.
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