Ask the Professional: Quality vs. Quantity


by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

While it may sound obvious, the quality of your movement is the most important part of any exercise. You may not feel the wrath of poor movement patterns today or even tomorrow but over time poor form can add up and lead to a wide array of issues. It is how you perform those extra reps and how you deal with an increased load that can be potentially damaging. Doing faster reps, a greater amount of reps, or a greater amount of weight is not worth the potential damage if you don't focus on quality first. This is not to say that getting in those extra reps or increasing your weight isn't important, just make sure you maintain proper form throughout all of your repetitions. Some people may not even consider movement quality. A lot of people think something along the lines of, “As long as I’m moving, it doesn’t matter what I do.” While moving is great for everybody, there is a certain point where you need to be concerned with how you are moving.

What is movement quality exactly? Movement Quality is a combination of mobility, stability, and motor control. Range of motion is a very significant piece to developing quality movement. Proper mobility and range of motion in your joints is going to allow you to move in a safe and efficient manner. Being able to stabilize your joints throughout the movement with your stabilizing muscles is also going to be a significant factor in creating full quality movements. 

Take your squat movement pattern for example, since there are a number of moving parts in this particular movement, there's a higher probability that things could go wrong. Some common squat flaws include not squatting low enough, over-extension or over-flexion of the spine, knees caving in, knees tracking too far forward, foot pronation, heels coming off of the floor, and dominating the movement with your hips/leaning too far forward. All of these common misalignments are going to be a detriment to your movement quality and in turn will expose you to potential injuries. Of all the common problems that occur in the squat, the most frequent misalignments occur in the knee joint and spine. Having too much weight on your squat or performing too many reps on top of poor form and alignment is almost guaranteed to result in injury.  

If your movement quality is lacking, what can you do to improve it? First and foremost, make sure that you are consistently moving your joints through their full range of motion. Try not to settle into a routine of sitting, hunched over a keyboard and allowing your muscles to shorten and become tight. Next, you need to identify the issue and the cause. Be careful because even if issues appear to be the same, the cause may be different. Returning to our squat example, if you are over extending or over flexing the spine it could be for a few different reasons. You may not be activating your core or upper back muscles, you could could bee too tall or not tall enough, your hamstrings may have too much tension, or you may just have an improper breathing pattern during the movement. If your knees are collapsing inward during the squat, it could be caused by poor ankle or hip mobility, it could be a neuromuscular or coordination issue, it could be because of where your toes are pointed and where your knees track, weak muscles, or it could just be due to fatigue. So try not to assume that what fixed the issue for someone else is going to fix it for you as well. Once you identify the cause, then you can take corrective measures. Once the problem is identified, it won't be hard to realize what you need to do to fix it. For example, if you discover you have poor ankle mobility, you can regularly begin to include ankle mobility exercises into your exercise program.

Upon correcting your issues, you should be able to move without pain or exacerbating any existing bone, joint, or muscular problems that the issue may have caused. Then, and only then, should quantity come into play! If you are moving correctly and efficiently, then you will actually be able to reap the benefits of increasing the quantity; whether that quantity be in weight or repetitions. At that point, you can build a good strength and endurance base without exposing yourself to potential injury. 

There is a chance that you may not be familiar with what a quality movement pattern looks like, or that you may be aware of what it should look like but cannot identify your issue. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to consult a professional! Whether it be through literature, videos, or in person, take it from somebody who knows what they’re talking about. There is no reason that your fitness plans should be put on hold just because you were too proud to confront what you are unfamiliar with. Fitness professionals can do much more than just help people lose weight or build muscle. Movement quality is extremely important, and you should make sure that the quality is there before you incorporate movement quantity!