"Strength training has major health benefits and can prolong your life"

We sat down with Joni Vuopio, who is a personal trainer and sports massage therapist at Helsingin Urheiluhieronta. In his years of coaching, Joni has recognized common issues when training and especially when doing squats. He shares with us how he’s been able to fix that and set people on their way to optimize physical health in the long run.

Hi Joni! A pleasure to meet you. Tell us about yourself - what is your background that got you interested in the field of coaching?

J: “Hi guys! It is not a major surprise I ended up as a PT and massage therapist. When I was 4 years old I already decided I wanted to be a PE teacher as I was surrounded by good role models. Coming from a family of teachers, it’s been quite normal to teach and receive knowledge. From a young age, I’ve also been always been a competitive football and bandy player and been mentored by some great coaches. I grew a bigger interest in coaching and by the time I was fifteen I started coaching football and bandy.”

How did you pursue this interest while growing up?

J: “I realized coaching (at times unmotivated) children is not something I want to do for the long run, so I switched to personal training where I could work with people that are already motivated and where I can actually make a difference. After being a PE teacher at primary schools, I started my personal training education at Helsingin Evankelinen Opisto. When I graduated, I began coaching at EasyFit and Fresh Fitness, growing my client base. I moved to Spain, where I completed a sports massage education through Suomen Urheiluopisto. Back in Finland, I started personal training and massage sessions in companies. In November 2017, I joined Helsingin Urheiluhieronta. The company started to grow at that time and has been doing really well since.”

What kind of customer profiles are you working with? Do they do a lot of sports?

J: “Most of them work at tech companies working 8-hour days and spend a lot of time in front of a computer. There is a big variety in nationalities so I’ve been working with clients from Argentina, Spain and Germany. Some of them have a sports background, but most of them don’t do anything. They are not interested in strength training and rather go for a run. This combined with their daily work style often results in shoulder and neck pain.

There is little understanding of how important strength training is. “It sounds tough” or “it hurts my muscles” is a common response. Doing a lot of light cardio is an easy solution to avoid it and still feel active. The fear of strength training comes from inexperience. But even starting at the age of 40, strength training has major health benefits and can prolong your life by multiple years.”

What would you advice for those that do not do any sports?

J: “If you are starting from zero: do any kind physical activity to get your blood flowing and get a bit out of breath. This can be a 30-minute walk or just 30 minutes at the gym. You should start with the basic movements and always focus on technique first. There is no need to count the repetitions and you can work on basic compound movements: squats, deadlifts, push-ups, rows or overhead lifts. Don’t reinvent the wheel or overcomplicate things. Starting with machines is an option if you feel more comfortable, but you want to be guided to more compound movements in the early stage.”

What are the most common injuries and mistakes you encounter? How severe are they for long-term health?

J: “One of the most common mistakes that can lead to injuries is while doing squats. The foot collapses towards the inside without maintaining an arch, which causes the knee and hip to fall in and eventually affects the back. This physical chain reaction is bad for your body, especially if you are doing too many repetitions with too much weight. The solution is to move the weight more towards the outside of the foot and get a better grip with your toes.”

Where does this squat mistake come from?

J: “Most of it comes from a lack of body coordination and control or the knowledge of how to breathe. Both coordination and proper breathing are very important when it comes to doing squats with a good form. It can also be individual if there is a lack of interest in moving and training is not on their list of priorities of everyday life.”


Fix your squat from the ground up

How does this gap reflect training and coaching?

J: “ For a 40-year-old person without any sports background or interest in sports, it is more difficult to get the technique right and you have to start from scratch. In general, they have never been taught how to treat their bodies. Someone with a history in playing football or hockey, on the other hand, will learn the mechanics of a movement quicker. The difference between an athlete and a regular Joe is that the first group do a lot if of sports before becoming a professional and have a genuine passion for it, while a regular person has other priorities aside from sports. From a coaching perspective, it is important to understand where the person comes from, what their daily lives look like and what place training and a healthy lifestyle have in there.”

How do you steer people starting out away from these squat mistakes?

J: “Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses. You need to figure out how the person moves and what would be the easiest way to do the squat correctly. The first question is whether they have ever done a squat before or what a squat means. Picking up the bar and showing the current squat form gives sufficient information. After that, you start fixing the small mistakes. A lot of clients have experienced knee pain before because of incorrect form. But even with an injury, squats are still possible with the right weight and technique. ”


Rotating the knees outwards will activate the quads, hamstring and glutes

If someone experiences pain during squats, what is a good way to deal with it?  

J: “Going to see a doctor and getting your pain killers is only a temporary bandaid and will not fix the root cause of your pain. Pain can be muscle-based, an impingement or general tightness. It is better to see a physio, osteopath or get a sports massage. Nowadays people want a quick fix, so they outsource the treatment. But a lot of fixing can be done by themselves over time with accessory work. A coach is there to help, teach and push you to a new limit so you can do movements in a safe way and put in the work. Problems do not get fixed overnight - habits or routines work better. Getting coached by the right person can be a kick-starter for healthier physical routines."

Great info and insights. Thanks, Joni!


You can get in touch with Joni for any questions.


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