As a teacher of The Alexander Technique, I coach people on how to move more efficiently to prevent injury while promoting a better performance. Whether it's running, throwing a javelin or helping my clients on an indoor rowing machine, the way you move obviously has a huge impact on performance.
Last week I was working with a client who had recently taken up running to complement her gym sessions to keep fit and in shape. But after only two weeks she'd started to experience knee pain after fifteen minutes running. I watched her to two short runs of just fifty metres or so and noticed a tremendous amount of tension in her shoulders as she pumped her arms. Her torso also twisted that led to her knees being thrown inwards when her front foot landed.
In addition to this, a side view showed she landed with her foot way out in front and striking on the heel with a straight leg. This can be seen in  below - note this is of another runner but with a similar problem.
This not only puts unnecessary stress on the knee as if lands on a straight leg producing a jolt, it also slows down each step as the runner has to regain momentum usually resulting in the knee bending and collapsing more than it should - see photo . This also adds more strain to the knee and often pulls the weight of the head back and down.
When I pointed out she was putting too much unnecessary effort in to running, she exclaimed surely this was the right thing to do! In that, she meant it would use more effort, burn more calories and therefore keep her weight down and get fit. But, if the way she ran was causing knee pain, how long before it became so bad that it stopped her running and required treatment?
Imaging if you drive your car in second gear with your foot flat to the floor. That uses more energy, but what does it do with regard wear and tear to your car? And what about the extra fuel costs! Of course you can always get your car repaired, but it's not so easy for your body - and while in rehab you're not able to train.
So all the effort my runner was adding with the belief it would do her good was having the opposite effect. It twisted and contorted her body throwing forces through joints they shouldn't have to deal with. I adjusted the position of her head, encouraged her to relax her shoulders and not to try so hard. These small adjustments alongside the instruction to run relaxed led to the sort of changes you can see below.
In photo  you can see a better upright gait with a relaxed ankle allowing the foot to drop naturally down so it will land on the ball. The leg is then slightly bent (see photo ) as the foot strikes giving a cushioned impact and springy take-off for the next step. Less effort, more efficient, and... as far as my client was concerned, allowing her to run longer, further and without the risk of injury.
Another major benefit in my view, is with the right awareness to how you move will also help you to get into that sublime state of mind athletes call The Zone.
So what about on your rowing machine, exercise bike or treadmill? Are you trying too hard and compromising your movement? It may feel like you're working your body harder, but at what cost? You may in the short-term burn more calories, but if you end up injured or an aching back or tight shoulders mean you can't row, what benefit will you get then?
Stay relaxed, and your coordination will improve and mean only the muscles you need for each stage or your technique will be active. Not only will you get fit but you'll also be conditioning your body in the right way to better coordination and agility.
You can find out more about the Alexander Technique here.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.