posted on June 15, 2022
Self-assessment is one of our greatest tools for improvement in the gym. Self-assessment is done by recording ourselves doing specific movements and using the footage or pictures to see how we are moving. Using self assessment, we can point out imbalances or weak points in our bodies during a certain exercise and begin to strengthen those areas. Doing this will lead to better movement which will help with injury prevention and longevity in the gym. My favorite exercise to use to assess movement is the overhead squat.
The Overhead Squat
This single movement allows you to assess several potential imbalances and weak points at once, including mobility, favoring one side over the other during the movement, and which of your muscles may be over- or underactive.
An overhead squat is pretty simple to perform. You begin by placing your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Next, square your hips and shoulders forward. After that, extend your arms above your head. Once you’re in this top position, you can start squatting down. Slowly push your butt back and bend your knees as if you are sitting in a chair. Continue this motion until you reach a point where you can’t lower down anymore. From here, stand back up. If you are doing a self assessment, be sure to record the movement from the front and the side.
This video will help us determine how certain joints (shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles) are moving.
Potential Weakness 1: Overactive Adductors/Underactive Glutes
If your knees are coming in toward each other while you squat (knee valgus), this could mean you have tight adductors and weak glutes. We could improve this area by regularly stretching our adductors through frog or butterfly poses. This will help tame those overactive areas. To restore balance, we should strengthen the underactive muscles—in this case, that’s the glutes. Doing things like banded walks or lying hip abductions will help with this.
Potential Weakness 2: Excessive Forward Lean
Another marker to look for is excessive forward lean as you squat down. This could indicate tight hip flexors and a weak lower back and is a common issue in those who are seated all day for work. If this is you, I would recommend lightly stretching your hip flexors and piriformis by doing figure four poses and kneeling runner’s lunges. The low back may also be underactive. Strengthen it through exercises like back extensions or superman holds. These exercises will strengthen and help you activate these muscles during movement.
This is an area I need to work on! I have a slight forward lean in my overhead squat. Another good indicator of this is to look at the back as a straight line and the shins as another line. If these two lines are not perfectly parallel, then there’s a slight forward lean.
Potential Weakness 3: Underactive Upper Back Muscles
Even though we think of the squat as a leg movement, it becomes a full body exercise when we place our hands overhead. This helps us assess the strength of our upper back muscles. If our arms fall forward while squatting, we can assume that our pec and lat muscles are more than likely tight, which brings your trunk forward.
Now, after reading a few examples, you know that if there are overactive or tight muscles, there are more than likely underactive muscles in that area as well. In this case, the underactive muscles would include the muscles of your rotator cuff and mid back. To release or stretch out the pec muscles and lats, I highly recommend getting a massage or using a doorway pec stretch. Foam rolling will also be helpful in relaxing the muscles for exercise but isn’t a long-term solution. To strengthen those underactive rotator cuff muscles, we can do things like external and internal rotation band work as well as face pulls on a cable column.
Refine Your Training Based on Your Results
The results of the assessment in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. What is important is using this information to refine your training and improve your weak points. We all have different body shapes, mechanics, and functional abilities, so using a test like this is not a cut-and-paste method. That said, it does give you a better understanding of how your body is moving in its current state. Use the information you learned from this self-assessment and upgrade the way you think about your training. What are your weak points (underactive muscles) and where are the muscles that might be a little overactive or tight during movements? If you have any questions about exercises or stretches you can do feel free to ask next time you see a trainer in the gym.