In the visual arts of photography and filmmaking, aspect ratio is defined as the ratio between a frame's width and height. It is the boundary for what gets seen and what does not get seen. Why does this matter? Because in our digital and social media age aspect ratio has a way of shaping opinions and views more than ever. We get our information from TV's and phone screens. Through articles and social posts, and increasingly more through audio (though long form audio may be excluded from this conversation. Chances are, you're reading this on your phone right now, which as a standard has either a 3:4 or a 9:16 aspect ratio.
Now here's the punchline: context is most often lost within the bounds of 16:9 aspect ratio of social media. Because the view is limited, so is the nuance and context available to the viewer, and so we develop views around ideas and information that may not represent the whole picture. This is especially true in the realm of training, fitness, nutrition, and health. I'll give you some examples:
A month or so ago, I was visiting my friend Herman Demink (@3d_performance) out in Knoxville, Tennessee to workout and observe some of the training he does with his athletes that he trains. Herman has been in the industry for quite some time, and I learn new things from him every time I stop by to visit. On my last trip, Herman and I were talking about the benefits of a piece equipment he had acquired that he had been using for actively loading end ranges of the ankle, when he mentioned I might benefit from it due to all the Floating Heel variations I'd been doing in training. He said he noticed I didn't do much loaded end range work to counteract any potential for unwanted stiffness (which is another blog in itself) from those movements, to which led us to the fact that I had been doing a poor job of providing context to the snippets of my own training. Because while Herman was right, I needed to make sure that I was working on developing end ranges instead of just shortened ones, he really was pointing out something that I had failed to share, in that I was already doing that loaded end range work. It was eye opening because it made me realize the context of what I was sharing was being missed entirely.
Another example was more recent, and was brought about based on comments or concerns raised by the adjacent photos. A friend and former client of mine is a chiropractor, and when he saw the photos of me doing a Seated Good Mornings with a Safety Squat Bar, he was quick to point out the danger in flexing the spine under load. Now he's 100% correct, flexing the spine to a certain degree under load is not optimal and can result in injury, but because of the angle of the photo the fulcrum of the movement was lost. I wasn't flexing at the spine, but at the hip. Because the angle of the shot in relation to the weight on the bar, it is very easily assumed by back is rounded and I'm creating spinal flexion under what was roughly close to my bodyweight. But I was flexing at the hip, which you can't see because the angle distorts the view. Was I at risk for spinal injury? Maybe, but certainly not to the degree that it was likely thought I was. But the context was lost anyway.
A final example came from what was really my most viral tweet on Twitter. I used to run this thing on Twitter called #TweetsToMyAthletesParents, in which I paraphrased real conversations or interactions with parents of the youth athletes I was working with at the time. Someone commented on the Tweet (shown here) with a pretty quick judgment. Do I agree with the remark of being a "charlatan" or fraud because I had a 7 year old in the facility? No. Do I think 7 year old athletes need to be in training? Absolutely not. But in 280 characters, I cannot provide context. It takes deeper insight and research on behalf of the observer to get the context before making observations and judgments.
So why don't people post more context to their training? Simple: most people still wouldn't listen. If you're one of the people who will actually read the caption on an Instagram photo, read the full thread of tweets, or even turn the sound on to the Facebook video that popped up on your feed, congratulations you're a minority. Let's be real, most people do the good old "scroll, double tap, repeat" for hours on end a day. They "like" things without ever stopping for a minute to read the caption to what they liked. We are instant gratification creatures, looking for the quick snapshot that gives us what we want, but we miss so much in the process. We miss the context.
So here's how you can change some that habit, or be able to get more out of your search for information on training (using exercises as a main talking point). When you see a post, ask the following questions:
When is this exercise being performed? When in the session, the week, the month, or the whole year. When is it being done in relation to competition or the timeline of goal achievement?
What is the intention behind the exercise? Maybe it's being performed "wrong" or differently for a specific reason.
What are the specific needs of the person doing the exercise? What component of achieving a goal does that exercise address?
What am I not seeing in this post? Or more so, what is out of view? What is the environment this is being done within?
If you can learn to ask these questions you'll start to understand a lot more of what you see. You'll begin to make more inferences, and it may even lead to a new connection with another coach, trainer, or person with similar interests.