There’s not a clear yes or no answer here. Alignment does matter, and it doesn’t, the important part of this conversation is understanding WHY it matters (sometimes) and WHY it doesn’t matter, and how to do the best thing for YOUR body and YOUR strength training path.
The quick and dirty? Alignment matters when you are new to something, increasing weight, recovering from pain or injury, or training to increase your performance in a sport or weight lifting. Good alignment in movement gives you:
- The best length tension relationships of muscles, meaning your muscles will be able to generate the best output with the smallest cost
- The best communication path between brain and body, optimal joint alignment gives us access to the most proprioceptors, which means we can react faster, recall and recreate optimal, ideal movements, and move most efficiently.
- Access to optimal diaphragmatic breath, you might not think of it but your head and feet position can affect how easeful and full your breath is… a more optimal breath means better core integration, less chance of neck or shoulder strains, and efficient oxygen transfer to muscles.
But When and Why DOESN’T alignment matter?
Alignment doesn’t matter when you are comfortable in a movement with the load you are lifting, when you aren’t doing a ton of reps (for example: 30 or more), you aren’t working at maximum exertion, you aren’t in that position for longer than 20 minutes.
You could absolutely strength train without mobility training or learning good alignment. However, we at Threes are big proponents of whole body health for long term benefits.
Having joints that move well before you pick up heavier weight is important for injury prevention. This is why we teach mobility alongside strength in our more beginner 4 week Strength Program
Let’s explore how alignment matters (and doesn’t) within two very common movement patterns, squats and hip hinge.
Alignment is important in the world of strength training. Taking the image above as an example, it is possible that one could squat with the knees knocked in and nothing ever goes wrong. What’s the big deal then? *Tracking the knees in the same direction as the toes (vs buckling in) allows the knee joint to be in its optimal position to distribute load from the hips to tripod feet to the floor and vice versa: the entire joint is then able to support the body in 360°. When the knees knock in (especially when weight lifting), there’s a good chance that all the force landing on the inner knees will lead to overuse, strain, and potential injury at some point in time.
*One notable exception is the shape of the bones you were born with. For some, the position of the thigh bone in the hip socket will mean you won’t be able to track the knees over the toes and that’s nothing to feel bad about. This is very different than needing to strengthen or align your hips/knees, which is the case for many.*
Back Alignment + Hip Mobility = A Healthy Hip Hinge!
Let’s take a look at another common movement: the hip hinge. When done with mindful alignment, a hip hinge strengthens the back of the body, but problems like strain and back pain can arise with poor form.
A healthy sustainable hip hinge distributes load evenly throughout the hips, spine, core (including the pelvic floor), and legs. Let’s break down the 3 versions of folding forward from the image above:
1. The ‘Nose Dive’ seen on the right is very common. The forward fold is coming from rounding the back vs tilting the pelvis forward. This might be happening because the pelvis is stuck in a tucked position. Mobility, awareness, and retraining the movement pattern before picking up weights would be a good idea!
2. Take a look at the middle image of a fold in ‘Neutral Spine’. Hinging in a neutral spine allows for the following:
- breath effectively in 360° and engage the core in 360°
- distribute the load more evenly throughout the back so that one part isn’t straining to take the brunt of the load
- through the pelvic hinge action, hamstrings are both lengthened (as in, they are getting a stretch) and strengthened
- the glutes fire actively to help bring you back upright
3. The left hand version labeled ‘Swan Dive’ is less common and tends to occur in those who are more flexible, but it’s worth taking a good look at since it can be a common over compensation pattern. Say for example, you are trying so hard to not round your back that you overshoot neutral and end up in a swan dive style backbend which can cause the back muscles to overwork and feel strained.
We certainly hope that understanding the ‘why’ of each position helps you feel more empowered to hip hinge with confidence, and reap the awesome strengthening benefits from deadlifts and bent over rows. But do let us know if you still have questions – we love supporting your movement journey!
Gentle reminder that bodies are built to move in all sorts of ways. There is nothing wrong with rounding or arching your back – these moves are not bad and shouldn’t be demonized. Threes perspective is to get you familiar and strong in a neutral spine first ( it’s the most effective way to stabilize in 360°), then move in other ways as you choose.
In our more Advanced Strength Program we move in all the ways and add in restful breathwork to help you stay connected and balanced!