The rule of 'make yourself look good' is something I came up with after doing some research into improv in an effort to improve my coaching and communication skills. It is particularly important for those designing their own programs as the biggest failings I usually see with self-directed programs are exercise selection issues - doing what you like to do or are good at rather than what you need to do or rushing into high force output or high co-ordination exercises the individual simply isn’t ready for - or load/ volume selection issues - either continually adding weight to the bar in an effort to chase strength when it actually might not be appropriate at that point or more commonly doing way too many reps in an effort to chase fatigue, ‘the burn’ or soreness. The solution to both these problems is to stick to the rule of make yourself look good.
If you’ve ever studied or done any improv you’ll probably have come across the 3 golden rules:
1) Hear offers - i.e. listen to what's said
2) Say “Yes, and" - build upon what was said
3) Make your partner look good
Besides being pretty good rules for life, that last one really caught my attention from a training point of view.
In the ‘make your partner look good’ scenario, me as the trainer and my athlete are partners and my job is to make them look good. If you’re training by yourself or self-directing your program the rule of make yourself look good applies.
However, regardless of whether you’re programming for yourself or a client, if you keep the idea of making the person executing the program look as good as possible in mind when designing a program and selecting exercises then the training program will adhere to two very important principles pertaining to effective exercise selection and load/ volume selection - in fact the two most important to my mind:
1) Pick the hardest exercise progression you can do well
2) Work to technical failure
Pick the hardest exercise progression you can do well
When it comes to sporting movements we all intuitively know what good looks like - smooth, controlled, fast and above all athletic. However, we seldom hold our own exercise and movement to that standard.
Many people, especially when self-directing their programs, rush to complex exercises that are beyond their current movement capabilities, because they deem them more fun or functional. This often leads to reps that look sloppy and sub par, and therefore they violate the rule of making yourself (or your client) look good.
It is important to note here though that good does not mean perfect, and indeed when you’ve consistently executed an exercise perfectly for a few weeks it’s time to progress that exercise, but you should still be close enough to perfect with the next exercise you choose that you still look good.
The 1/2 kneeling landmine press is a great example of exercise that makes most look good but is often overlooked in favour of 'sexier' overhead pressing exercises which are often executed with compensation and
violate the 'look good' rule.
Work to technical failure
Similarly, often times people will continue to do reps beyond the point in which the reps all look exactly the same (technical failure), and until they can’t do any more reps at all (mechanical or total failure) in the name of progress. Whilst working hard is important, working to total failure consistently can compromise optimal movement mechanics and sabotage long term progress. When training for the purposes of injury prevention and improved athletic performance we want to train to technical failure only.
By obeying the rule of 'make yourself look good' for each rep you do you’ll constantly be evaluating each rep for quality and end up only training to technical failure.
So next time you're designing or executing your program, honestly evaluate whether or not you look good doing the exercises you’re doing. I guarantee you’ll find it enlightening and it will help you guide your programs in a way that makes them safer and more effective.