There is no “the right way.” Please enlighten us all with your supreme wisdom, famous influencers, and give me the “correct form” for ten exercises which applies inerrant to people with different limb lengths, people with limbs amputated, people with asymmetries, people with developmental growth differences.
When I first started hiring and developing hundreds of coaches nigh twenty years ago, I noticed a huge mistake, which, sadly, even some fairly advanced trainers and even noteworthy organizations still make. Namely, they believe that the thing which works for them MUST apply to EVERYONE, or at least MOST. This is one of the highest forms of ignorance on Earth, because there is no such thing as a standard human skeleton, let alone the same muscle fiber makeup, let alone the same hormonal cascades, let alone the same mindset.
Even when the untrained layperson is looking at two people of the same height and seemingly similar proportions, what the untrained eye doesn’t see is that the ratios of their bone lengths vary widely and wildly. Depressingly, this naivety is common even among experts. Last week, archaeologists unearthed a brilliant finding of a prehistoric person: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6549/1424. A lot of their hypotheses rest firmly on assumptions that are untrue. The variance in skeletal builds of modern contemporary humans today is greater than all prehistoric homo predecessors theorized. Compare no further than modern babies at birth, where the variance is FIFTY TIMES. The lightest viable preemie was half of a pound: https://www.npr.org/2019/05/29/728118503/saybie-born-at-8-6-ounces-in-san-diego-is-now-the-worlds-tiniest-surviving-baby. The heaviest newborn on record was 22.5lbs: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/heaviest-birth.
Where I’ve seen it is in the gym for over three decades. I have a peer who is seven inches shorter than me, but I can’t reach his bar on bench press. I have a female peer who is four inches shorter than me, and her hip bone is three inches higher than mine. Again, fitness experts who INSIST there is “the right way”, please enlighten us about how we three should all perform the basic structural movement the same way. I would love to hear it. Then please elucidate us on how the three people pictured should perform those movements same as us.
And so you see: the mistake is not just a little faux pas. It isn’t just a slightly offensive lack of knowledge about anatomy. It’s an egregious and immoral failing. Insisting on “the right way” to squat or perform a kettlebell swing isn’t just wrong - it’s evil. It implies that there is something wrong with the person who isn’t built like you. It’s a sort of eugenics holdover which should’ve been eradicated decades ago.
If you’re frustrated that you aren’t “looking the right way” when you attempt an exercise, before we launch into futile stretches, foam rolling, and whatever the new catchy fad is, take a moment to check if your skeleton can even hit those angles. Absolutely, people will benefit from learning posture hacks, corrective techniques, activation strategies, and breathing-bracing. But you can’t foam roll your femur into an ideal length. You can’t activate your humerus and radius/ulna into a longer reach. There isn’t an elite sprinter on Earth with a disproportionately long torso. Do people with long torsos just need to try harder? Do they just need to Pilates their shin into a longer configuration or Yoga their spine and lungs into a shorter configuration? Please, enlighten us.
Generally, what I find is that people who have ideal builds for different athletic endeavors assume that others just need to put in more effort and “get the form right”. And that abject ignorance is hurting societal health and fitness prospects. Everyday people aren’t failing. The popular advice is failing. It’s wrong. It’s untrue. It’s immoral.
Every time I’ve met a cocksure expert who preaches monochromatic fitness recommendations, I ask them how that fits with a paraplegic, an amputee, a person with a feeding tube, etc. These are the obvious issues; and most experts don’t know what the hell to do. Then we get to the less-obvious issues, and they’re completely out of their depth. “Show me how that deadlift recommendation works for a short reach and long torso,” I’ll say. They’re clueless. “Explain to me how your power training scaffolds for a person who is 90% Type I muscle fiber makeup,” I’ll say. They have no idea. I once met a world champion running expert at a workshop who insisted on ONE specific foot strike method. I asked him, “what do you tell runners with prosthetics?” In decades of world championships, he hadn’t ever even considered this. And of course he hadn't. He's built a certain way. By the time a runner would hire him, it would only be people built a certain way. He had NO knowledge applicable to 95% of the population. He had less knowledge about running mechanics than a trainer who works with every day people.
Two people of the EXACT same height do not have the EXACT same anthropometry. They don’t. Multiply by about 206 bones (again, I say “about,” because not everyone has 206 bones!). That’s to say nothing of the SHAPE of joint spaces. Multiply by 7 billion people. And that isn’t even touching on the variances in muscle insertion points, muscle biopsy, hormonal differences, and psychology.
Please. Please. Please. Stop telling people “The Right Way” to exercise.