It is a great time to be in the industry. There is a mountain of information out there. Those who have been relentless in their quest for truth and reality have undoubtedly run across an increasing volume of conflicting evidence. For health and fitness professionals, it has become increasingly difficult to sort through it all. Amidst this flurry to conjure up the “next best contraption” or “cure-all pill,” it appears we may have lost sight of the most important principles of all: the programming basics. If we don’t know where it all starts, performing a “single leg squat with a PNF shoulder pattern while standing on a stability ball" may seem a little pointless, despite how “cool” it looks.
This intent of this article is to outline the basics of programming (i.e. the warm up, cool down, flexibility concepts, strength training principles and cardiovascular training principles). It is important to have a keen grasp on these concepts as they are the foundation for all current integrated training principles.
The Warm Up and Cool Down
Unless instructed and/or educated on the importance of taking the time to warm up, it is often times the most neglected and/or improperly performed portion of the average individual’s workout. The benefits and purpose(s) of an effective warm up are many. They begin with a gradual increase in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption to performance- and/or activity-specific levels. This is combined with dilation of the blood vessels and increased heat produced by the working muscles, which helps to increase their elasticity. Essentially, the nervous system is being “prepared for load,” whether that load be aerobic, anaerobic or both. (Remember, aerobics/cardio is resistance training also! The resistance is your body’s relationship with gravity!)
The cool down is notoriously neglected as well. What must be understood is that everything that was accelerated during the work out must now be decelerated (i.e., heart rate, respiration and overall metabolism). This ensures there will be adequate circulation to the muscles, heart and brain by preventing any sudden blood pooling, reducing the likelihood of dizziness, fainting and the development of post onset soreness (POS).
The warm up and cool down should both consist of two distinct components:
- Flexibility exercises specific to the individual’s musculoskeletal needs (as determined by the preliminary kinetic chain assessment) and specific to the biomechanical nature of the activities that will be and/or have been performed.
- A graduated aerobic activity (i.e., walking, elliptical machine, bike, etc.) for the above mentioned benefits.
Extensive research has shown the direct correlation between properly/consistently performed warm ups and cool downs and an improvement in overall performance, strength and fitness goals as well as a significant reduction in the risk of injury.
Proper flexibility training takes as much focus and intensity as the rest of the work out in order to be effective. Depending upon the given client scenario, the flexibility portion of the work out should be a combination of “unpleasant” yet “painless” movements as functional flexibility is a huge key to success and takes focus and discipline to attain.
The following four flexibility concepts are the keys to understanding the rationales for the different types of flexibility/stretching:
- Myotatic Stretch Reflex: When muscle spindles located within and parallel to the muscle fibers are lengthened, they react by causing the muscle to create tension by contracting/shortening. This is a protective mechanism to prevent tissue damage.
- Autogenic Inhibition: Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO), located within the musculotendinous junction, are sensitive to changes in tension. GTO stimulation via this increase of tension creates an inhibitory effect on the muscle spindles. This too functions as a protective mechanism to decrease tension when it becomes too high, causing possible tissue damage. This period of time before the GTO activates is the rationale for holding a static stretch for 20 to 30 seconds as well as being a primary mechanism for contract-relax stretching techniques.
- Reciprocal Inhibition: This is the concept of muscle inhibition caused by a contracted/tight agonist, which thereby decreases neural drive to (or “relaxes”) it’s antagonist. This is the primary mechanism for active stretching techniques.
- Relative Flexibility: This simply refers to the body seeking the least path of resistance to create and/or allow for a particular movement or posture. It is something to watch for and avoid in flexibility training and movement training as a whole (i.e., allowing the foot to externally rotate and pronate/evert during a calf stretch rather than remaining in “neutral”).
The purpose and benefits of flexibility training are primarily to:
- Correct and prevent future development of any muscle imbalances (identified by the health and fitness professional during the preliminary musculoskeletal screen)
- Facilitate muscle length and joint ROM to “normal” or “necessary”
- Decrease muscle soreness, tightness, joint stress, chance of injury and pain
- Improve overall circulation, posture, strength and power
Types of Stretching
- Passively taking the muscle to a point of tension
- Utilizes autogenic inhibition
- Two to four reps at 20 to 30 seconds each
- Applied before workout in a “corrective” capacity and/or after a workout to “reset” muscle length
- EXAMPLE: A straight leg hamstring stretch elevating the leg onto a table/chair/etc.
- Uses agonists and synergists to take the joint/muscle to a new ROM
- Utilizes reciprocal inhibition
- Five to 10 reps at two to four seconds
- Applied primarily before the workout as well as after
- EXAMPLE: A lying 90-90 hamstring stretch - the quads extend the knee and “stretch” the hamstrings
- The limb is first passively moved to the first point of tension. Next, a 25 percent maximum contraction is applied for seven to 10 seconds. The limb is then actively moved to the new ROM and held for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Utilizes autogenic inhibition and reciprocal inhibition
- Repeat for two to four reps
- May replace static stretching
- EXAMPLE: An assisted lying straight leg hamstring stretch. The trainer/professional applies the resistance to the 25 percent maximum contraction of the hamstrings, then aids in actively moving the limb to the new ROM for the hold.
- Uses controlled production of force and momentum to take the joint(s) through the entire available ROM
- Should be performed directly before the exercise/activity
- One set for five to 12 reps, with total body control
- EXAMPLE: Standing sagittal plane leg swings
The Essential Stretches
From an evolutionary standpoint, the body was never meant to be in the seated position for any extended length of time. Due to the highly automated, seated and computer-based society we live in, our posture has suffered tremendously. When seated for hours on end over the course of time, there is a fairly predictable series of muscles that become restricted. It is for this reason that it may be very helpful to include the following list of “essential” stretches into the protocols of clients that lead a highly seated existence so as to attempt to re-establish musculoskeletal balance prior to the application of load(s). Any and all of these can be modified to static, active, contract-relax and dynamic modes...
- #1: KNEE STRAIGHT (Gastrocnemius) - Make sure to elevate to forefoot as this will provide better leverage. Keep knee aligned over the second and third toe.
- #2: KNEE BENT (Soleus) - Again, elevate forefoot, and keep foot/knee alignment. Bend knee 10 to 20 degrees.
Hip Flexors & Quads
Chest & Shoulder
Hip Flexors & Quads:
- Slightly internally rotate the kneeling leg, squeeze glute of the kneeling leg, perform a posterior pelvic tuck, slightly lunge forward.
Chest & Shoulder:
- Elbow at 90 degrees, retract shoulder blade back and down, lean gently into wall until tension in chest/shoulder muscles is felt.
- START: Grab behind knee bent at 90 degrees.
- END: Straighten leg by contracting thigh/quad. Do not let the low back compensate by rounding.
- START: On all fours, neutral back, forearm on BALL.
- END: Reach out, turn palm/arm up, push low back up (lumbar flexion).
For detailed descriptions and a wide variety of other stretches, please visit the PTN Exercise Library.
In Part 2 of “Programming Basics,” the fundamental concepts of cardiovascular and resistance training will be outlined in full.
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