MORE FROM MY NEW BOOK- Myth-Conceptions
Why do we do the exercises we do? Where does someone’s “expertise” begin? I am going to discuss some of the myths of weight training. I will bring up exercises that are in various magazines such as Muscle and Fitness that have been around forever. Many people read these magazines every month, maybe you do too, for various reasons which include finding new workouts. I want everyone to put into perspective what I am about to say. I want you to understand that these things are not just misconceptions. I will explain that these are not misconceptions but “Myth-Conceptions.” Misconceptions are misunderstandings and communication problems. A myth is a much bigger deal, because it is an accepted belief that’s unsubstantiated by fact. The problem with a myth is it is passed down from generation to generation with no facts backing it. Think of the Greeks and Romans, their myths were passed down from generation to generation. A myth is what everyone remembers as being the truth. It is very difficult to speak out against myths.
I would like to take a quick moment to take a look at the definition of truth. All truth goes through three steps: The first step is ridicule, the second step is violently opposed, and the final step is accepted as self-evident. The reason it is difficult to talk about the truth is one must get screamed at and beat up (usually verbally) before one ever gets believed for speaking the truth. Those are some tough steps, especially when one is going against potentially centuries of myth. It is not much different in the weight training world today.
I want to make sure I am getting my point across. I will give you another example, a little bit closer to home. Sometimes, when we talk about Greek and Romans myths, most of us cannot relate to thousands of years ago. There are many myths still floating around today, some that are even less than thousands of years ago. In the 1400’s what did everybody think about earth? Back then everybody thought it was flat, correct? If this was a geography class in the 1400’s and I was a PhD in Geography, I would have spent six to eight years studying how flat the earth was. Some would call me an expert. All you ever heard from your parents, teachers, and instructors the entire time up until this point was how flat the earth was. Now imagine if a student in the class raises her hand and says “um, Dr. Flat, I disagree. I think it is round.” Everyone in the class starts laughing at her and she gets all embarrassed. That was a very brave thing to do and she was ridiculed- step 1 – and opposed – step 2. See how easy it is to be unwelcome to new ideas. Really, who wants to be ridiculed or opposed? We would have what we think would be proof. “We all have proof or evidence,” so we think. When you walk to the beach, you look out, does it look round? No, of course not, it looks flat. It looks like there’s a horizon out there and it is just the edge, and if you go out past the edge what happens? You fall off. There is the evidence. We think, what is wrong with that student, or anyone who opposes the current “fact”. Some get called conspiracy theorist. Many think, “can’t they see that, it is clearly flat.” Well, a lot of times our so-called evidence is very short-sighted. It is almost tunnel vision. This is much the same way their evidence was, the earth was flat.
Now let’s think about this in the fitness industry. Many of the things we talk about when people talk about resistance exercising and they say, “Oh, no, no, no, look at that guy. Look at that girl, look at how they look. That’s the evidence.” Just because someone looks fit and healthy does not make what they are doing evidence. Again, that is NOT the evidence. It is very short-sighted. The way someone looks has nothing to do with the safety or effectiveness of an exercise. It has to do with their overall environment (i.e. choices). With that being said, a person’s physique is not the best indicator of whether an exercise is effective, ineffective, or even potentially unsafe.
One of the reasons you are reading this book is to take a look at things from a different perspective. I understand you may have a tough time digesting what I am about to say. I know I did for a long time. Think about it, where do we all learn how to work out? Most people learn in the gym – even if someone says, “no, no, no, I learned in school,” Let me ask you this, where did your teacher learn how to work out? The gym, THE GYM! That is where we all learn, in the gym. We all learn the same things in the same place. All the supported material is the same, monthly workout magazines, people’s opinion, and all this kind of stuff. It is very, very difficult, and I will write about an exercise, and I know someone’s feelings will get hurt. “Why”, one may ask me, because that is the only thing that keeps some of these exercises alive, an emotional attachment. It is crazy to think, but people are married to some of these exercises. I know if I talk about the exercises you really love, I will be presenting facts, and I do not care if I hurt your feelings. Why? We all came from the same place, we all learned from the gym. It is not my fault that we were not taught the facts. That is my mission, to teach the facts and put the exercise in perspective. Yes, I may talk about an exercise you love and are emotionally attached to, so try not to lose your mind. Try to put it in perspective and not get angry with me. I really want to emphasize an open mind when reading this book. Leave the emotional attachment to what you know at the front cover.
I am sure you have seen, heard or experienced it yourself in the gym “Yeah, I hurt, but you know, it’s a good kind of hurt.” That is exactly how many people determine whether an exercise is good or bad, effective, ineffective, etc. They based it on how they felt. You and I learned all some of these things. The “no pain, no gain” theory was prevalent. Yet, the “no pain, no gain” theory is very misleading. I will repeat that the “no pain, no gain” theory is very misleading. A person thinks that because they feel an exercise in a certain place, it must be the place that is working. I am sure you know what I am talking about. I know you have heard this, read this in many articles, or maybe said this yourself, many times. That could not be more misleading.
Thinking an exercise is working based on how it feels, is what I call a sensation. A sensation is a learned thing. Sometimes what is in your head can either enhance a feeling you think you have, or it can get in the way of a feeling you maybe should be having. A sensation is not always the purest form, nor is it the most accurate form of indicating what is really happening in the body. In the aerobics world, perceived exertion is a great scale for intensity, right? What do many people do? They just walk up to somebody and say, “What do you think about it?” “Well, it is pretty darn hard.” “Well, your heart rate’s about 2.” I am sure you have witnessed these conversations in the gym. That is what I mean when I say sensation is learned. A scale is given, and one goes through a learning process to say “Okay, here’s what your heart rate is.” Do you see how a sensation is associated with that? The person then learns to judge his sensations. That is what is meant by a “learned thing.”
Here is a little myth – someone comes in the facility the first day, and the first thing they think they should do to get in shape is aerobic exercise. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, back in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s, came up with this idea of “aerobic.” According to Dr. Cooper, “The most important muscle in your body is your heart. Without your heart, you have nothing. It is the pump, the transporter of everything in the body, and the battery for your life. Someone’s potential life span and the probability of getting a certain disease like atherosclerosis could be affected by working the heart.” All of that information was valuable, but the marketing folks got a hold of it, and soon everyone was doing aerobics. That had nothing to do with Dr. Cooper though. It was the “truth.” Many of the things that are marketed are not the “truth.” After everybody in the late 1970s’ started doing aerobics, people in physical therapy and personal training including myself started making more money. With all the knee and back injuries, everyone decided it was caused by high impact aerobics. That led everyone to start doing low impact aerobics, and they found it just takes a little bit longer to get hurt than it did with high impact aerobics. The injuries were the same. The reason people were getting hurt is it all had to do with the mechanics of the movements they were performing. Now, all of that has been changed, and people are thinking about the mechanics with every move that is made in aerobics classes. That is great, but there is one more critical step that needs to be considered when doing aerobics. The common denominator in both high and low aerobics is the heart. The heart is always working aerobically twenty-four hours a day. Specifically, it is skeletal muscle that is working aerobically.
The alignment of the joints has much to do with the skeletal muscle. The first day someone walks into a gym, meets their trainer, the trainer usually says, “We’ve got to get your heart in shape.” Is that what really needs to be done though? Think about a potential client who is lying in bed after having arthroscopic surgery, the heart is getting all out of shape, because the knee was messed up. If you were really thinking about this foundation, the foundation is not in the heart. The foundation is what is necessary to create a situation where one can go out and train their heart. It takes skeletal muscle. Your heart is sending blood to your entire body, including all the skeletal muscle which creates all the movements. Strengthening skeletal muscle is really the first thing we should think about, and at least, even if it is not the first thing, it should be an equal. Heart, joint structure, skeletal muscle should be thought of at the same time. When I refer to weight training, I am referring to someone’s ability to affect the skeletal muscle with resistance. Change its strength, and I am not indicating any specific form that must be used in the beginning. I do not want you to automatically think, “He wants me to take these people the second they walk into the facility and teach them how to squat 700 pounds, and then we’re going to do step class.” That is not what I am defining as “weight training.” A trainer can strengthen the rotator cuff, all the trunk muscles, hamstrings, and hip muscles. Everything that happens to the knee, in terms of lateral movement is related to the ankle and hip. The hamstrings are the key for knee stabilization. Having control over all of those other muscles is an integral part of strength. It is not just whether the tissue can contract. Remember, the brain is responsible for the muscle contraction, at the base level. That is the first part of strength I am concerned about, because if you teach a person how to do these things in proper alignment, then you have improved the ability of those muscles or the strength. Now the individual can perform the way you want them to perform. When I say resistance training, to set the foundation of what I am saying, trainers must do some neuromuscular work. In other words, we have got to get the brain connected to whatever is moving. It is really the key element before progressing to any endurance activity. This is becoming more evident in marathon runners. They have to go out and run 26 miles, and the ones that do strength training have dramatically improved their times.
When we take beginners and start strength training with them, what do all the magazines tell us? They say a foundation is needed so people are not hurt when they start endurance activities. The magazines say to start with “basic compound” exercises. These are multiple joint movements such as the squat or bench press, which are not basic. In exercise lingo, the more joints moving, the more basic it is. In reality, basic should mean simple. A squat is not a basic movement to build a foundation from, because it involves several joints. An isolating exercise, such as one for the rotator cuff, is one of the most important upper extremity foundation exercises. I can increase my bench press by increasing the strength of my rotator cuff, but I cannot increase my rotator cuff strength by doing the bench press. What does that tell you? All of these big muscles are pulling the joint apart, while the rotator cuff is just hanging in there, trying to hold it together. This is also true with the spinal muscles. For each joint there is a truly basic, foundation-building exercise, which rarely has anything to do with a compound exercise.
Range of motion is a wonderful thing to talk about. When you hear or think of range of motion, the word full should come to your mind. We want our clients to have full range of motion. Currently, full is becoming a four letter word. The way we use words totally determines the meanings. I think at some point, the word “full” will take on a new meaning in the dictionary, and “full” will become equal to the word “excessive,” because that is the way it is currently used in gyms. Full range of motion in weight training currently means, the further you can move, the more full it is, and it is for the most part defined by how far the bar moves. Full range of motion in a bench press is when the bar touches the chest, regardless of how far the joint is moving. Did you know that every single person doing a bench press with the bar touching the chest will have their shoulders moving to a different range of motion? When the bar touches the chest, it is a consistent range of motion for the bar. However, it is the body that we should be really concerned about. Everyone has a different goal. All these different goals require something different. It is unfortunate that trainers automatically ask someone’s goal when they first walk in. We have all learned and been conditioned to do that. Typically trainers take the new person and do the same thing as they have done with every other client. That is really a shame, because everybody has a different goal, and if someone came in and said, “I want to be a power lifter,” then right there in my head it would tell me the way they are going to perform the bench press is different than anybody else in the gym. The range of motion they move through is determined by the weight, not their body, because that is the rule of the sport. The majority of people talk about changing their appearance. Each client may not specifically say this but generally speaking this is what it boils down to “changing their appearance.” The second thing mentioned is health, and most of the people doing the polls figure they are lying about that. Appearance, at least at the beginning, is the major focus. When people are talking about appearance, they are mainly talking about fat reduction and muscle gain. Tone is a bad word, because all muscle is tone. I do not care if someone weighs 900 pounds, whatever muscle is underneath that fat is as toned as muscle can get. Tone is just this visual thing that the world has put together.
Though not really possible, the thing to focus on is specific muscle exercises. If they are trying to get ready for a sport, or even for more functional things, specific muscle training may not be the exact thing that they want to do. In rehab, both are done, and that is a really important fact to remember, because a lot of people want to fall into these schools of thought: Someone only needs functional exercises, because everything else is a waste of time. Or, someone only should do isolated exercises, because everything else is a waste of time. It is all important. If anybody thinks that one or the other is not important, then they are simply not listening to everybody’s goals and understanding what each individual needs for their goal. Everything has its place.
In regards to range of motion, trainers should be paying attention to the joint. I understand it is hard to see joints. It does require a trainer to studying prior to the activity. The joints have limits, and the first limit that you think of with a joint should be the bones themselves. (Need picture for green section). For example, with the shoulder, you get the shoulder out about 90 degrees, and this bone comes up and comes in contact, or very near, to another bone. It is smashing part of the rotator cuff between two bones which is a not healthy. The point is the joint is saying stop, and if we are only paying attention to how far weights move, we are putting people at risk for injuries. How many times have you heard, “Oh, get them up higher, get them up higher” Higher is not always better, and more is not always better. The joint is saying stop. Now you have got to remember that in sports, the body’s limits will often be exceeded to meet a goal. In fact, that is part of what makes a sport, a sport. If it was easy for everybody’s body, then everybody could play. Everybody could be a world-class gymnast. Not everybody can, so that is part of what gets someone to be good at a sport is their structure and whether or not they can deal with the limits and excessive range of motion.
Whether it is passive or active, when we are doing flexibility training, or whatever kind of stretching is preferred, if a bone is hitting another bone, it is time to stop. That is the end of flexibility for that joint. Any more movement is excessive. Think of the knee. When the ligaments become fully taut, the ACL protects the knee from hyper-extension. There is nothing wrong with going to the limits, but we do not want anyone going pass the limits. If anything is pushing someone beyond that point where the ligament is taught, it gets to be a problem. When doing a closed chain exercise like a squat, leg press, or a lunge, the weight is going through the extremity during hyper-extension and the leg is now pushing the body further backwards. This has to do with ligaments and understanding what the specific joints are designed or not designed to do.
All of these limits come into play all of the time, but as soon as you put a weight in your hand, there are other structural issues to take into consideration. As soon as you put a weight in your hand, you have got contraction to worry about as well. The shoulder is a more complicated joint, and we are not usually told very much about it. There is not a lot of good literature about it that can be easily applied to weight training. There are little parallel ligaments in the shoulder running out towards the hummers. (Picture(s) should be added to green section). Now try to picture this: you take that shoulder that is up there, and you bring your arm out to the side like this, and then you turn your arm like this. Now can you picture from that reference point right there what is going on with those ligaments? You can imagine how the ligaments would be all twisted up. That is not a bad thing as the body is designed to move. The body is designed to deal with forces. There is nothing wrong with this position. It is similar to if someone tried to push my knee further than full extension. Those ligaments are saying stop. This position is called a close packed position. Think about this: If you had a rag that was full of water, and you twist the rag to get the wate r out. As you twist, what do you notice about the rag? As the fibers wrap around each other, it appears to get shorter, and that is what happens here. As those ligaments get twisted up, the two bones on the end of those ligaments get closer together. That is where that name close packed position came from. There is not much room for anything to be between those bones, and there is no more stretch left in the ligaments for it to be moved any further. This is known as the end position. Every joint has one position that is very close and tight. What would happen if suddenly you got this surge of strength, and you could just twist it past the end position? The bones might break or the ligaments might tear. As this occurs you will hear a few little pops. If you opened that joint back up, you would probably have to look pretty hard to even find the one or two little fibers that tore. Imagine that you are doing an exercise that forces you further every time you do a repetition, and you do three sets of ten three times a week for a year or three years, depending upon how good your ligaments are in the first place. At first of all is range of motion appears to increase. The “rag” inside there is getting torn up. As it has fewer and fewer fibers in it, you twist it further and further, right? Everybody is excited by this achievement, “Hey, I got great range of motion in my dishrag.” Let’s further explore what is really going on in that “dishrag.” The structural integrity of the joint is decreasing. More range of motion beyond what is considered to be currently normal, or hypermobility, does not necessarily mean better range of motion. It is excessive motion, and the joint is becoming weaker because of it. Do not be proud if you can put your foot up behind your head, because something may be giving way underneath there.
There are some limits that are rarely talked about when a weight is added to the equation. One of them has to do with this mechanical aspect of a muscle moving a joint. The muscle’s ability to do that varies as it goes through the motion. Some of the points throughout a particular motion are weaker or stronger than others. There are several factors that can contribute to this occurrence, with one of them being joint mechanics. It has to do with this angle at which the muscle is stuck onto the bone. When you put a weight in your hand, you want contraction of muscle to occur. Mechanical and physiological processes start to take place. The brain tells the muscle to contract. This is part of the “cross-bridging theory” of microscopic filaments.
Now I will go through some individual exercises. I will go joint-by-joint and take a look at some of the myths associated with the exercises we perform. Keep in mind there is no “perfect” exercise or machine. It is how each individual performs the exercise or how the machine is used that creates the success. It is not what you do, but instead, how you do it.
Please help your members, clients, and people in your classes to understand that sports are not exercise. Did you know that the number one most rapidly rising injury in males between thirty and fifty years old is achilles tendon tears. Almost all of them are associated with basketball. What do most people with Achilles tendon tear injuries do from the time they were eighteen until they begin playing basketball at thirty-five? Up until they were eighteen, their body was growing and getting stronger. After eighteen, I hate to say this, but we are dying a slow, long, and not necessarily painful, depending on whom you are living with, death. We can change that a lot by what we do, because the body adapts to good things. If all of a sudden we wake up one day at the bottom of this pit saying, “I feel cruddy. I was great in high school and what happened. I’m going to go out and fix that. I’m going to do the same thing I did when I was 16 when I was strong,” and they go bounce around with fifty more pounds and twenty-five fewer pounds of muscle, the tendon is very likely to tear. Exercise is required to make sports as safe as possible. That is why professional athletes do not just play on Sunday and that is all they do for physical activity.
Everybody wants to train their abdominals to spot reduce. They go have some fast food “value meal.” “Oh, I’ve got to go do some sit-ups now, because I hate this big … ” why? If it is going to make you throw up, that is about the only thing that it is going to help spot reduce an area. The only thing that will be reduced is what was in the stomach. People say the first thing you have to do if you are going to do a crunch is you need to suck in. The belief is if you do not suck in while you do a crunch, your stomach will grow outward. If your stomach is growing outward, it is from pizza and beer, not from doing crunches. The purpose for a crunch is to affect the rectus abdominus muscles primarily. Your internal and external obliques abdominal muscles are movers for that also.
If you are sucking in, the rectus abdominus is stretching downward. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. A muscle trying to bring two points together would appear to be in a straight line. If you are sucking in, you are decreasing the effectiveness of the rectus abdominus. The muscle when contracted will get thicker as you go through the crunch and the ribs will slightly elevate as they are crunching. This means the abdominals have to elevate also, because they are spanning the gap there. Everything is going to appear to be moving toward the ceiling as you do a crunch. If the person has a lot of intra-abdominal fat underneath everything the person will have less room for the muscle because the fat has got to go somewhere, and sucking it into the lungs is not the answer. The point is the abdominals are not going to suck in. Someone always says, “Well what about the transverse abdominus?” The transverse abdominus does not move any of your skeleton. It does not move your spine. Its fibers run around you. It just sucks your guts in. It is an important thing, but do not confuse that with crunches.
I am saying just tighten. You can bring someone in that has never done crunches before, and in about two minutes you can teach them to tighten, and their abdominals go “boing!” You bring someone in that has “been doing aerobics classes for twelve years,” and it takes me four months to get them to do one crunch right, because they have twelve years of programming to suck in. They cannot contract their abdominals at all, and it takes a long time to unlearn something and then relearn. The biggest thing to do is not to force them to do anything, but to learn to tighten and that will take a little bit of time. Remember what I was talking about at the beginning of this section regarding neuromuscular education. We need to be teaching what the body is supposed to do before we start applying a bunch of resistance to it. That is what resistance is for, to challenge your ability to do it.
Another big controversy is: Should we maintain lumbar lordosis while we are doing a crunch? This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life. We have names for exercises. The name of the exercise is the Crunch. Then, under crunch, we have rules for the exercise. Now as soon as we put the word crunch on this, we take it away from anything that has to do with the body. The body does not know anything about crunches. Technically a crunch is spinal flexion. When you have a crunch and just a bunch of rules, it takes the meaning all away from the body, so it is easy to get confused. One can say, “We’re looking at all the rules for all the exercises,” and with all the other exercises one will maintain lumbar lordosis. While doing curls, presses, and everything else, you maintain lumbar lordosis. However with the list of rules for the crunch, it is missing. “Well, should we put it on there?” “I don’t know; maybe there’s a reason it wasn’t on there.” “It’s an important part of every other exercise.” “Well, I don’t know.” “Yeah, we’d better put it on there.” When we are just thinking about rules for exercises, it is really hard to figure out. When you get rid of all those funny words and think about the body, it is so easy. It is spinal flexion. Now let me just pose the question this way: should we maintain a position of slight extension while we perform spinal flexion? I will give you another example. Everybody straighten one arm out for me. Keep your arm straight while you bend it. As soon as we start talking exercises it gets kind of hazy, but when you start talking about the body, it all comes perfectly clear. Yes, one will want to maintain slight extension when performing spinal flexion.