- Are we becoming a society of invalids, unable to perform normal anatomical function?
- Do we have uncountable numbers of fitness "experts" perpetuating these myths and malaise’s?
My answer to these questions is NO and YES respectively, I will explain the justification behind my answers in the following article. But first let me tell you a little about myself. I’ve been lifting weights for over 30 years, probably before most of you were born in fact. I’ve taught and coached it for over 22 years at the highest levels. The principles I employ are based on Newton’s laws and have been systemised and categorized for hundreds of years. They are scientific fact, bottom line. Not based on any theory or study. Getting to understand these principles is easy and once you do, your ability to recognize the flaws in many of the current practices becomes painfully evident, almost to the extent that one perceives that members of the industry are fraught with almost complete incomprehension of what they are actually teaching. I also have a great love of common sense and logic. I love to challenge things that I know are wrong, even if the majority seems to be following blindly and to challenge as I do does tread on some toes. But what you must remember is that my motivation for this ‘toe treading’ is the betterment and continued improvement of the industry that I have been a part of for over a quarter of a century. (I’d have to like it or I wouldn’t be in it!)
I will address the issues one by one in a format that paraphrases the common current fitness industry statement / guideline and then proceed to highlight its shortcomings and potential problems, some of which may only be misinterpretation. At the same time I will offer a practical solution.
"When performing squats (or similar movements) the knee should never travel forward of the toes (or outside the line of the toes)"
This is a misinterpretation, which has gotten so out of control that it is almost at plague proportion. When performing exercises like squats, the knee should travel in line with the second toe but should not be limited to only moving as far forward of the toe, it should in fact be limited by the flexibility of the persons ankle joint who is performing the exercise. You see, if you limit movement at the ankle joint to virtually nil, where the shin is kept at a vertical aspect, limit the knee to 90 deg’ of travel where the thigh is above parallel to the ground. You have to increase the movement at the hip joint to compensate for the lack of movement at the other two. What this amounts to is, that if the knee cannot travel forward then the hip must travel backwards. This increases the length of the lever between the weight on your shoulders and the hip fulcrum, making it very difficult to maintain the weight over the base (feet), placing massive stress on the lower back, that for a beginner or inexperienced (even experienced) lifter could at best prove very awkward and at worst would produce a devastating back injury. (Not to mention over development of the glutes) Use of the Smith Machine makes this worse as the balance factor has been eliminated.
The squat is a "Primal Movement Pattern", we’ve been performing versions of it for around 40 million years, our ability to survive was dependent on our ability to squat, most everything was done at ground level, (we hadn’t got around to designing toilets, chairs and tables yet). It is and always should be a three joint movement, with the load being shared evenly among the ankles, hips and knees. Full range of movement should be used unless the orthopedic history of the client dictates otherwise. For full range to be safe and effective, maximum flexibility should be present in all joints and depth of squat limited to the depth that can be attained with the feet flat on the floor, spine in natural / neutral lordosis and the weight remaining above the feet throughout the movement.
Normal function throughout the day would see the knee move forward of the toes thousands of times. If we do not train people in a functional natural manner, they will lose the ability to function normally in an everyday, constantly changing and 3 dimensionally unstable environment. With a high likelihood of injury, doing something as simple as tying a shoelace or bending to pick up a dropped pencil.
"When performing upper body exercises such as standing curls / pushdowns, overhead presses etc. place one foot ahead of the other to maintain balance". Sometimes. "Soften the knees and tuck in the hips" as well.
This really is at plague proportions, which indicates to me a sheep mentality and is indicative of a reactive rather than proactive approach. Surely it would be more prudent to eliminate the reason that is causing you to lose balance rather than to fight constantly against it. By not eliminating the root cause you are merely band-aiding the problem. The act of stepping the feet forward and backward does increase the anterior / posterior stability but it does not take away the cause. So, when the client fatigues or decides to increase the resistance being used, the force that is causing them to lose balance is increased. What do we do then? Step the feet further apart? I think not! We are also limited by our genetic make up which dictates our leg length. So where does it end? What I invariably see, (and you would to if you looked), in the gyms and aerobic classes (where weights are used) are people with their bodyweight mainly on one leg (usually the back one) and therefore load on one side of the body, the hips (and subsequently the spine) twisted towards which is always the dominant side of the client. Teamed up with a great deal of anterior / posterior movement / swaying. Stepping the feet in this manner does nothing to eliminate the problem, it merely puts it off for another day. (Actually allows you to sway and swing more) Continuing with this practice will lead to imbalances in strength, breakdown in technique and back problems.
Remove the need to ‘step the feet’ by removing the root cause of it. Why are we losing balance? Simple. Look at Newton’s 2nd & 3rd laws of motion, along with the rule of balance and apply them to a curl for example. (In the manner that it is currently performed.). For those who don’t know Newton’s Laws of Motion I will summarize them now. (It is quite difficult to express in words what I am in effect better to show you. But until my video comes out, or you attend my workshop "THE TRUTH" this will have to do.)
- The Law of Inertia. States that an object will remain at rest until moved by an outside force.
- The Law of Momentum. States that the object will move at a uniform velocity with uniform force in a uniform direction until acted upon by or coming into contact with another outside force. It will then combine its momentum, velocity and direction with the second object or force.
- The Law of Action and Reaction. States that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.
- The Rule of Balance states that balance will be maintained if the centre of gravity or combined centre of gravity (you plus what you are lifting) remains over the centre of the base.
When performing exercises like the curl and pushdown instructors fervently insist that the client keep their elbows locked firmly into their sides. This is where the problem arises. When this is done you effectively eliminate movement at other joints, producing rotary (circular) movement of the weight. Which in effect causes the weight initially to be pushed forward, (and you to be pushed back – Law 3). At which time it is moved forward of the base causing you to overbalance forward (No 4) with your reaction being to lean back. (Newton No 3 again) Which imparts backward momentum to the weight in your hands, which is then traveling towards your body and when you check / stop the weight, that backward momentum is imparted to you. (Newton No 2) Apart from all of that, resistance is only attained in a linear, vertical path. (Against gravity – which incidentally does not work in semi circles) The only time the bar travels vertically is in the mid 1/3 of the movement when the weight is ahead of the base (No 4) and maximum force cannot be applied because you are losing balance.
All exercises with free weights should in effect be performed while standing in a strong, upright, anatomical position, with the weight traveling in a vertical path above the base. Fulcrums (such as the elbow) should be allowed to move freely backwards and forwards to accommodate this vertical travel of the weight. If fulcrum points are fixed then the weight must move in a rotary (semicircular) path and will travel outside the base, causing loss of balance.
As for tucking in the hips, that’s a mystery to me. I’ve always believed (and still do) that the spine is at its strongest when it is in normal anatomical position with all 4 curves where they should be. Tuck in your hips and the spine will round out causing pressure on the inter vertebral lumbar discs. Bend the knees at the same time and you will compound it. (Looking pretty silly at the same time.) Stand upright in a normal anatomical (not ‘anacomical’) stance, with the feet apart and in line.
"During abdominal exercises keep the lower back pushed flat into the floor"
Well, with all this emphasis on making sure that the lower back is not arched either in abdominal training or in weight training (see No 2 above). We seem to spend an awful lot of time training clients in a pronounced kyphotic posture (rounded back), not to mention the volume of work we enforce on our flexor chain. We never seem to give anyone any work in extension. Carefully avoiding the realm of that dreaded hyperextension position. We are in effect promoting, among our clients, the early onset of "Dowagers Hump". By not working the flexor muscles at full extension we also preclude or diminish their ability to stabilise the spine in that range. Think of the number of times in a day an individual will arch their spine beyond neutral and you will lose count. Hanging out washing, reaching up to a high shelf, reaching into the back seat of your car (from the front) to get your street map. These are but a few. The list goes on. If we do not train people through functional ranges of movement then they are in ever increasing danger of injuring themselves doing the simplest tasks. The majority of people are not invalids and we should not treat them as such unless their orthopedic history dictates it. Normal anatomical function in healthy individuals cannot be "contra-indicated". My observations of many aerobic instructors’ posture shows me a kyphotic lower spine (little or no discernible curve), a pronounced thoracic curve and moderate to advanced head forward posture. (Early onset Dowagers Hump). We are breeding a race of human bananas. Don’t take my word for it, observe for yourself.
The lower back, in case you didn’t realise it, is supposed to have an arch. Try lying flat on the floor in the ‘attention’ position. If you cannot fit your forearm between the ground and your lumbar spine you could be in for problems (or you have a very fat forearm – Hey there Popeye!). If you stretch yourself out along the ground, with the arms above the head (along the ground) your back should arch even more if it does not then you are forcing your shoulder to work outside of its centrally generated motor pattern, the scapula is inhibited, the Gleno / Humeral joint is unstable and placed at risk. Not to mention that your lumbar and thoracic spine are begging for mercy and are likely to submit at any time. Extension is a normal healthy position for the spine to move into and we should include exercises that facilitate the strengthening of muscles that extend and flex the spine in these ranges. A simple and necessary addition to your abdominal training should be to stretch the muscles to their full range prior to every contraction. That simply means that you should arch the lower back off the floor and expand the ribs prior to every repetition of an abdominal exercise, pushing the lower back into the floor as you crunch or sit up. Don’t forget that trunk flexion and hip flexion are all part of a movement pattern as is forward flexion of the neck. The muscles that generate each of these movements are supposed to work together and in many sports and even every day uses they are inseparable. A perfect tool for abdominal training (and all other types for that matter) is the Swiss Ball. It allows maximum involvement of flexor and extensor chain muscles in a variety of exercises. It also provides a 3 dimensionally unstable base from which to work. This has the distinct benefit of providing maximum stimulation of all core stabiliser muscles.
Well, that’s it for this article, I make no apologies, I only tell it as it is. Take of your blinkers and look at the big picture, do not be a sheep and follow something blindly just because everyone else does. Question its (or their) logic and develop your insight and understanding.