Of all the things that will stop you from being able to perform a movement correctly, joint mobility and inhibited muscular contraction are probably the most significant. I can count on one hand the clients I have had over the years that have not had a ROM restriction or altered muscle patterning that didn't need rectifying before I prescribed a range of exercises for them. And to be honest, I struggle with ROM every day myself; this old man needs some serious warming up before a session!
So in honour of all of you robots out there, here are three hot tips from my series that will help you and your clients achieve better mobility while squatting, rowing and racking.
This first video is to help improve front rack position for barbell lifts. This position can sometimes be awkward as it's not one we naturally get into throughout the day: forward flexion, horizontal flexion and external rotation at the GH joint combined with extreme pronation and extension under load at the wrist. Forearm flexors, triceps and lats can be really locked up, especially if the whole shoulder girdle isn't moving freely against the ribs. This stretch is perfect if your client struggles with mobility in any of those areas.
Watch this second video below, to understand the proper mechanism for a rowing movement. Sure, you can get your clients to pull on a weight or band, but is it actually doing them any good? When you look closely at the mechanics of a row, you have the opportunity to improve the contraction of the lower traps and rhomboids, but in reality most clients will find it VERY difficult to actually do that. Instead, the upper traps kick in as usual, the biceps assist and the trunk starts to rotate to assist with the ROM required.
The only way to fix this and actually improve the overall mechanics of the shoulder is to work SPECIFICALLY on the correct form by breaking down the row and regressing clients where necessary. Once they have achieved this, they actually have a hope of contracting the scapula stabilisers and reducing their risk of chronic injuries such as impingements in the coracoacromial arch, bursitis under the biceps or supraspinatus tendons and even low back and neck pain.
The final video below outlines a Cassock Squat. I give these to my beginner clients as an introduction to leg strength, co-ordination, lumbar rotation, adductor and hamstring flexibility, hip ROM and overall balance. It's also great as a warm up for my clients who come straight from the office and are keen to get into a leg session. Following the ARAS principle (Assess, Release, Activate, Strengthen), I always make sure to give a specific warm up to release the problematic hyperactive muscles the client has THAT DAY, activate the muscles I want them to be strengthening and then smashing out some good solid reps. That way I know I'm not strengthening muscles that will give them long term problems, but the muscles that will give them long term quality of life through quality movement. What's not to love about the Cassock Squat?
If you got a lot out of these tips, you should check out my online course for Personal Trainers: Advanced Corrective Exercise and Prehabilitation.
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It’s fair to say a large portion of what we do as fitness professionals revolves around the strength world, and for good reason too. An improvement in our client’s strength levels has a profoundly positive effect on our client’s physiological and psychological wellbeing. How we decide to obtain that strength with our clients however varies hugely from professional to professional and when we put aesthetics aside it’s very easy to see that not every training methodology is equal, in fact in this article I’m going to argue that some are even detrimental to your clients wellbeing.
If we look back on the recent history of strength training within the context of fitness centres it’s fair to say body building put strength training on the world stage and turned people’s perception of it on its head. The wider community’s perception went from “these guys are a freak show” to “wow that’s incredible sign me up!” and with this change of perception the fitness industry we work in was born. A large amount of thanks needs to go to the body building community for the opportunity we have today as exercise professionals.
What has transpired in western society (not limited to however) over the past 40 plus years though is a skyrocketing obesity rate, increase in sedentary lifestyle and then of course a host of medical issues that we all know too well which relate back to these two key issues in our society. This of course is no reflection of the fitness industry but more of a society that has become increasingly lazy, with less people willing to take responsibility of a nutritional system that is failing them in a society that’s becoming increasingly more high tech which is only promoting longer periods of inactivity.
As personal trainers I believe a key responsibility we have is to teach people how to fall back in love with movement. Somewhere between childhood and the stresses of adulthood many people fall out of love with movement or at least don’t see it as a high importance in their ever busy lifestyles. The problem is movement plays a critical role long term in dealing with so many psychological and physiological issues that currently ravages our society. Now in relation to human movement, the problem the fitness industry has begun to acknowledge since around the early 2000’s is that the traditional isolation training models that the fitness industry was built on by the body building movement doesn’t have ‘improvements in human movement’ as a central focus. It is as we know focused on creating aesthetically beautiful bodies.
Hence the birth of ‘functional training’ as we know it today, Kettlebell Swings, Squat Presses, Box Jumps, Power Cleans, Suspension Trainer exercises, Gymnastics Rings, Bosu Balls, Swiss Balls the list goes on.
Now these training methodologies are nothing new in fact some have been around for hundreds of years, the new found importance of combating the sedentary lifestyle has brought these training styles into vogue if you like. These types of movements have a proven track record as effective tools for improving human movement.
Now don’t get me wrong I love the concept of functional training and I buy into it whole-heartedly, for the reasons stated above, not to mention they are just plain fun! There’s a missing link however, a skills gap if you like, that hurts the reputation of us as exercise professionals like no other.
This is the fact that many fitness professionals don’t assess or prepare our clients well enough before prescribing these types of movements which can only be considered advanced and complex.
Let me deep dive into this a little to explain, a large portion of the typical ‘functional training’ exercises we see and use in a gym in this day in age requires high degrees of co-ordination, kinaesthetic awareness and most importantly joint stability because of the higher level of instability found with many of the movements. All of which a fair portion of our clients don’t have due to the fact they are de-conditioned, have poor body awareness and in some cases haven’t moved in decades. Fitness professionals have all the good intentions in the world for their clients and apply ‘functional training’ to get them moving how the body was designed while forgetting one very critical rule in the strength world which is:
‘Strength levels should never be increased around a joint when stability isn’t first present’
This rule as a strength training concept I call Strength through Stability. The problem with performing complex exercises when stability isn’t present is that the body then sets up compensations to deal with the instability. An Upper Trapezius will dominate a movement when our Rhomboids and Lower Trapezius is weak, creating shoulder dysfunction. Our Quadriceps and hip flexors like to dominate a movement when our Transverse Abdominis, Hamstrings and Gluteals are weak creating lumbo-pelvic dysfunction.
When these compensations are not corrected it creates poor neuromuscular patterning, which is the long term problem with not abiding by this rule as a fitness professional.
Think of a golfer that has played a hundred rounds of golf before finally going to see a golf pro to correct their swing. It’s extremely hard for the pro to make large and effective changes to their swing because the neuromuscular pattern has been engrained by 100’s of poor swings. Weightlifting is no different. So when we prescribe an exercise that the client performs incorrectly because there’s no stability around the joint, it becomes very difficult to correct the muscle imbalance present because the primary movers have become so strong and hungry to work that the stabilisers have no chance in activating and doing their fair share of the work.
Over time this means excessive wear and tear on joints as bony structures don’t track correctly and ultimately leads to a more rapid degeneration of the muscular-skeletal system. All this just because we either weren’t prepared or educated enough on how to correct the poor neuromuscular patterning present in our clients .
We effectively then are doing our clients a disservice and I’ll go as far as saying this whole topic is the major reason why fitness professionals have such a poor reputation generally speaking within the allied health profession. This is because it’s the physiotherapist, osteopath or other allied health professional that picks up the pieces when the client starts complaining of knee or shoulder pain for example.
What do I do then?
Understanding ‘Strength through stability’ is just a case of understanding 'cause and effect', a very simplistic example is knowing that when the knees bow in medially during a squat that chances are the clients Gluteals are weak while their hip flexors are overactive for example. Now I appreciate this deeper level of understanding doesn’t happen overnight and certainly doesn’t come with a Cert IV in Fitness, however you don’t need a degree in anatomy & physiology either, some sound dedication to learning the basics around which muscles are associated with dysfunctional movement is all that is required along with the corresponding activation and release exercises that go with the issue.
Having this level of detail in your personal training service is the difference between being labelled a ‘thrash & bash’ fitness professional verses one that is fully conscious of the causes and effects that exercise results on the human body which sets you apart from 95% of the pack and skyrockets your clients results.
So remember never underestimate the importance of having a sound technique while perform an exercise. If it doesn’t look right then chances are it’s not, if you’re unsure of what’s going on then consult a senior fitness professional, research information and up skill so the next time you come across the dysfunction you know how to take your clients experience from an average one to an amazing one and ensure that like us, they too fall in love with movement.
If you appreciated this article this my book is a must! I talk in depth about this subject and give you some handy tools. Click the red button.
As often happens in the health and fitness industry, every decade sees a monumental shift away from the previous decade’s trends. Right now, there is a 'whole body exercise' based movement that is sweeping gyms and clubs throughout the country. The focus on the big four (squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead shoulder press) is a welcome change in the world of fitness. The idea is to maximize exercises that allow for absolute functional movements. For instance, a squat helps to build the muscles required for bending down to pick something up. Developing these muscles will, in turn, protect you from injury.
With this focus on function, those in the industry are witnessing a movement away from isolation exercises. Let’s take a look at why and how isolation exercises need to remain an important part of your workout.
Do You Need to Isolate?
Isolation exercises, such as bicep curls and triceps extensions, are often associated with the bodybuilding world as these athletes would often work on one muscle group per day in order to maximize growth. While full body movements such as the deadlift are essential for your body composition and development, isolation exercises are also needed. With pure hypertrophy aside, isolation exercises can be utilized as functional tools just as much as compound movements.
Correct Strength Imbalances
Everyone has experienced the dominance of one muscle group over another. The best example: Think about which hand you write with. Now consider the ease of performing exercises with that side of your body. Isolation exercises can help to correct strength imbalances. For instance, perform several sets of a bench press exercise with dumbbells, not a barbell. Using dumbbells forces each side of the body to produce the same amount of force output. Try this for several weeks and you’ll notice a vast improvement in your overall performance when you return to the barbell.
Get Rid of Overcompensation
You can also use isolation exercises to rid yourself of overcompensation issues. For instance, many exercises are forward favoring, such as the dumbbell shoulder press, front dumbbell raise, and lateral dumbbell raise. Many times, people forget about the back of the deltoid, resulting in a weak rear deltoid that needs to be assisted by the other two. Isolating that muscle will strengthen it and allow it to become part of the whole functional unit once again. The result is amplified performance at bigger, compound movements such as the bench press.
Supporting Your Rehabilitation
One of the best ways to utilize isolation exercises is when you are going through rehabilitation. Whether you were injured or required surgery, the muscle group that experienced a lengthy period of inactivity isn’t going to be able to simply jump back into the game with the others. It will require several weeks, maybe even months, of consistent isolation work in order to be brought back up to speed. For instance, if you injured your hamstring, the last thing you would want to do to strengthen and support recovery would be to jump back into squats or lunges. Instead, you would want to isolate the muscle using a lying hamstring curl. Slowly, the muscle will regain its strength via muscle memory, allowing you to return to full body exercises.
While compound exercises are important to achieving functionality and an overall balanced body composition, isolation exercises are equally as important as they pick up the pieces that larger exercises leave behind. Whether you need to correct strength imbalances or prevent muscle overcompensation, isolation exercises need to have a home in every workout program that you perform.
Want more great ideas and training tips? Click through the archives at the top right of this screen.
Tristan Hill, Masters of Sports Coaching, author of Lifting the Bar and mentor to Personal Trainers.