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How To Become Stronger When You Challenge Your Nervous System With Movement

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 09 June 2016
Hits: 7857

In the past 10 years the role that strength training plays in the Health industry has taken some giant leaps forward. No longer is this just limited to the guys who want to look like Arnie. Better education and a more open minded approach by many health organizations and practitioners who now see how important adding muscle is for prevention of disease such as Cancer, Diabetes and prevention of many injuries. The community looks up to these authorities to guide them on what to do, and as a result things have started to change in gyms as people are sold on the idea that strength training is important for health. However, it is at this point that things begin to go backwards. The methods that people follow with strength training are still based on the guys doing "Arnie curls" and even worse machine training. And I don't just mean Personal Trainers, but most of the rehabilitation field and methods used for older adults also use this style of training. Why? Well there is many reasons for this which I will explain in this article, but by far the biggest problem is that their is still a real lack of education about how we are designed to move, how we efficiently create and improve our strength, and how strength relates to health. So while we have come far in terms of recognizing we need resistance training, our method on doing this has a long way to go.

You MUST Train At A Higher Level Than You Need For Life

What do I mean by this? 

Take a look at this infographic I created to help explain this concept and why training in the gym is not about weight loss or looking good but trying to exceed life's movement demands. I created this to be like a traffic light system of green, yellow and red. 

  • Green means you have great movements and strength and are free of pain and limitations and able to exceed all of life's demands. 
  • Yellow means you have a few warnings of potential problems as you are able to meet the minimum of life's demands. You are at the crossroads in this point and must make an effort to implement a well designed strength program to avoid potential problems that will affect your life.
  • Red means you are unable to meet life's demands and are heading towards disability.

What People Think Of When They Hear The Words "Strength Training"

We all know now that strength training involves more than simply doing biceps curls and bench presses in order to look good at the beach. Or do we?

I think many people still think that these are the only exercises you do when you go to the gym. There is also another area that regards itself as strength training being the Pilates and Yoga world where the focus here is on "core strength or core stability". The term I am "toning" or developing "lengthened muscles" is thrown around in the Pilates world. Building core strength and stability around all the body’s joints is essential to achieving full function for sport specific activities and for the movements and demands of everyday life. I completely agree we need to spend more time learning how to do this and many of the injuries and chronic pains that people suffer with could be prevented. But again a lack of education about how to move is where these methods fail again!

Where we have on one hand the traditional bodybuilding philosophies and machine based training helping people to develop stronger prime mover muscle groups such as chest, quadriceps, deltoids, biceps, and that ever elusive “six-pack”. Individuals who train this way might look good from the outside but are often internally limited by imbalances and weakness to their postural and stabilizer muscles that stabilize the joints and give the body the leverage to actually move.

We have on the other hand the Pilates and Yoga method that tries to work the other way around by focusing intensely on the stabilizer, postural and smaller inner unit muscles ignoring the role they play with the large outer unit prime movers. You might think this is a good thing but I work with many individuals who suffer with all types of chronic pain due to the fact that these small muscles that are not designed to move you are trying to do the work of larger muscles that have become lazy and weak.

So what is the biggest mistake both methods share in common?

They both use a muscle thinking approach to exerciseNeither of these methods apply a MOVEMENT philosophy of trying to strengthen. (I also would include many of Clinical Pilates methods in this area too, which is where many Physiotherapists adopt in their practice to help rehabilitate patients after initial injury).

Before I offend anyone who may be a Physiotherapist, Yoga or Pilates instructor, I am not referring to ALL methods. I know many great Pilates teachers who I highly respect who do not follow the standard practice of Pilates methods and do teach movements standing up. I myself am qualified in Pilates with reformer and mat-work so I know what I am talking about. Same goes for the Physios and Yoga. There are some great ones and there are some not so educated ones. Unfortunately, in my experience there appears to be more of the latter. And I do not blame these instructors or health practitioners for their intention is great, they want to help people. I blame the Institute or University who taught them. They are the ones lagging behind with information that is quite simply ineffective and majorly flawed. The worst part it is not even new and it is not that complicated to learn!

You already should begin to see where the answers are to be found. But I am going to share with you what the secret is and how to do it. And you will see just how easy it really is when you see it for yourself and you will wonder just like I did when I first learned this, "why doesn't everyone know this?" Here is a few examples that you might relate to.

1: Pilates & "Core" Training To Rehabilitate A Herniated Disc

If you have not read our article on Why Core Training Does Not Prevent Back Pain I suggest you go take a look at this now.

But if you look at the picture below you will see that there are exercises being used to target the muscles of the abdominal region in the belief that if they are stabilizers and they become stronger the spine will be protected. It seems logical doesn't it. There is three problems with this. Firstly the abdominal stabilizers do not respond to training as prime mover muscles do. The core is really a series of cross sectional wires that act like springs, which is nothing like a normal muscle that crossed one joint. Secondly these exercises encourage more "spine flexing" and not hip movement.

It is this spine flexing that gives you the disc bulge so these exercises will put you in more pain not less. And lastly they have almost zero chance of changing how you bend over. Now before you have a go at me and say there is other exercises you would do and that not every Pilates session does these, I will say that may be true. But rarely if ever is there movements performed standing up in Pilates, there is no loads applied to take your body's ability higher than it's own bodyweight and there is way too much emphasis on abdominal activation to the point of dysfunction. Two of the main things emphasized in Pilates is the roll down as a warm up which is a perfect way to create a disc bulge and secondly teaching people to "imprint" their back flat onto the ground is another!

Leading Back Pain researcher Stuart McGill covers this in his latest book "Back Pain Mechanic".  Like I said earlier not all Pilates programs are like this but definitely the majority fail to understand movement and are so fixated on abdominal training which is why they can potentially cause more problems than they solve. I even use many abdominal exercises early in our rehab programs for Back Pain (see our Back Pain Secrets Video & Ebook), the only difference is I evolve to standing as soon as I can for I know this is where the answers  really lie!

2: Body Building Versus Sports Specific Training

The sports world is starting to come around to the fact that the bench press and leg press DO NOT help sports performance.

Well some sports are, and there are many lagging behind. Getting people to understand that bigger does not necessarily mean faster, more powerful or efficient on the sporting field. A good Sport Strength program recognizes the significance of the kinetic chain. The objective is to progress the development of the entire body together, not by training isolated pieces and counting on luck for them to be able to work together when you really need them to.

Combining multi-joint strength, braking strength, explosive power, plyometrics, and explosive twisting movements into one training style of complex exercises is what makes athletes great. Functional movement training is the key to building skillful coordinated movement, and eliminating all of the weak links in the body. Lying on your back isolating muscles for the sole purpose of them being bigger will not make you a better athlete.

Read our article on the 8 Must Haves For Sports Conditioning

Why Machine Training Makes You Weaker Not Stronger

Weight training machines have done a great job of introducing many people to the gym in a safe and simple training environment.

They allow individuals to safely and confidently begin a resistance-training program with little instruction and a feeling of security. Many gyms love this as they do not require staff to even show you how to use the equipment, it is that easy! Many of the people who would have been sitting on the couch are now active, their progression potential is limited with a machine based training program and if not monitored their is also potential for future injury! Machines focus mainly on isolated, large muscle movements and do not encourage stabilizing muscles and nervous system interaction to execute the movement.

The objective of traditional bodybuilding style training programs which machines are created for is to look good. Function, coordination, movement and athleticism are sacrificed to just look good in a mirror. This attempt to magnify muscle mass typically involves locking in joints from both ends, isolating the muscle and then overloading it with enough resistance to make it burn and, ultimately fail as the muscle reaches the point of fatigue. The result of constant workouts using this principle is usually sore, stiff, tired primary muscles that will recover, grow and get stronger while the ignored, but also under utilized antagonist and stabilizer muscles are not stimulated enough to do the same.

The end result is muscle imbalance, restricted range of motion, poor stabilizer strength and endurance, connective tissue that is not prepared to support the new muscle size and strength, and ultimately, a ticking time bomb for injury.

There is no focus on movement or skills and abilities needed for real life situations at work, home or in the sporting arena.

And unfortunately this is also what is recommended for Older Adults. Why? Because it is safe.

But let me ask you this. If an older person is having difficulty with balance and is a real falls risk, will I improve that lack of balance by sitting them down a machine that does all the work for them? No it will not is the right answer. In fact it will make them worse. Using a strength method to make someone more coordinated and balanced is like trying to tell me 1=1=9! To improve balance and coordination you need to use balance and coordination skills and exercises.

What Can You Do About This?

Every program you design should include exercises that attempt to improve the following movements.

  1. Squat
  2. Bend
  3. Lunge
  4. Twist
  5. Push
  6. Pull
  7. Gait

By improving movement quality and strength across these patterns you improve the strength of every muscle in the body. The variation of difficulty the exercises you will need to use for each pattern will be quite different as some movements you will find easy, and others very challenging. This is where you could be using advanced progressions with the squat and lunge pattern, but a simplified regression for the bending and twisting pattern.

Always remember that your body is only as strong as your weakest link, so most of your programming should be focused on improving the areas you are weakest in.

Watch the video below where I take you through each of these movement patterns and show you how to enhance your current level of skill and strength.

To help you out make sure you download a copy of our Free Report on Functional Training below as this gives you all the key movements and information you need to improve your ability to move and gain strength.

Conclusion

I apologize for the length of this article as I really have covered a lot of detail. And I must make it clear I have nothing against Body Building or Pilates if that is what you want to do. I just have an issue with it when people are not body builders being put on body building programs. There is much better ways to train the human body that not only save people a lot of time but also a lot of pain. It just takes an intelligent approach to understanding how we move. Stop looking at muscles and the area in pain and look at trying to make us move efficiently and you will find solutions to all of your problems.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you live in Melbourne and need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can set you up with your individualised program.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist
  • Functional Training For Sports - By Mike Boyle
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Core Stability - by Peak Performance
  • Athletic Body in Balance - by Gray Cook
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek