Enter any health club and a concept is very similar, the same exercise performed again and again. Crowded floor space taken up by machines designed to make exercise easier, and a thought process called 'gym science' which involves no science at all. My last article touched on some of the thought processes or lack of thought that goes into proper exercise. With the advent of the computer exercise science has changed drastically. Particularly needle EMG (electro myo-gram) testing, this is where a hair thin needle is inserted into a muscle and its electrical and contractile properties are measured. The results of these studies have drastically changed how we exercise. Exercises that we did in the past have been proven ineffective and better exercises have been proven more efficient and effective.
So what is right and what is wrong? It depends on what you are training for and your personal fitness and wellness goals. An athlete should almost never train sitting down. Sports are played standing, involve balance, agility, speed and multi-joint movements. There is no basis for training sitting down for a non athlete either. We spend too much of our lives sitting in the car at the computer and on the phone. Yet we go to the gym and contort ourselves into a machine that basically forces us back into a rounded suspended post and now forces us to move according to the machine, not according to how your body wants to move.
Let's begin with everyone's favorite body part, chest. Chest must be trained first in the week, ever notice that all the guys train chest on Monday. The chest is an accessory muscle that aids in glenohumeral stability and arm movements, but we love to isolate and enlarge the chest. This actually interferes with athletic performance secondary to altering arm mechanics. I could go on a rant about the only way to have a strong chest is to build a strong and balanced back, but I will save that for another time. The problem with training chest is it is horrible on the shoulder and elbow, we are not designed to lay on our back and hold a bar with weights, sometimes a lot of weight. Read a great article call 'big bench bad shoulders' by Paul Chek.
Try a single arm chest press while standing at an adjustable cable machine, think that is easy, now try it while on one leg. Perform the press slowly with a weight you can handle, press from your chest not your arm / elbow and by all means do not lean your body weight into the movement.
When was the last time you did a push up ?. Still a great exercise. Works chest, triceps, abs and spine. Keep you glutes tight, head up and be gentile on those elbows please, do not lock out. Do push ups with your feet on a stability ball, one foot only on the ball. How about placing your hands on the stability ball and feet on the floor and now doing a push up, hello stabilizers and abs. What about pushups on a medicine ball, alternating from arm to arm. Speaking of balls, a single arm dumbbell chest press linging on a stability ball activates almost every muscle in the body.
The exercise variations for a safe and efficient chest workout are beyond the scope of this article, but hopefully this got you thinking. The bottom line is that single joint isolation exercises only lead to joint damage and injury. Multi-joint exercises not only protect joints but stabilize them as well, multi-joint exercises also activate the majority of the core and pelvic musculature. The bottom line is the more muscles you can activate the more efficient the exercise is and the more calories you will burn in less time with less effort. Mechanical efficiency, global stabilization, agonist / antagonist muscular balance, concepts to know and train by.
Stay tuned for my next article tackling what's wrong with back exercises.
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