Enter any health club and one concept is very apparent: the same exercise is performed again and again, week after week for years. There is 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. This is particularly true in the case of needle and surface 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 I used to teach and do myself have been proven ineffective and better exercises have been proven more efficient and effective.
So what is right and what is wrong? In law enforcement and public safety we need to train for the job; just as an athlete should almost never train sitting down neither should we. Law enforcement and Sports are almost always standing, involve balance, agility, speed and multi-joint movements. 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 seated posture 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. Man law states that 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 first build a strong and balanced back, but I will save that for another time. The problem with training chest is that 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. Besides, last time I checked, if you are laying flat on your back in the middle of the street something bad happens, how much you can bench is not going to change the situation.
Try a single arm chest press while standing at an adjustable cable machine. If you think that it is easy, 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? It is still a great exercise. It works chest, triceps, abs and spine. Keep you glutes tight, head up and be gentle on those elbows please - don't lock out. Do push ups with your feet on a stability ball or 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 lying on a stability ball activates almost every muscle in the body.
The numerous exercise variations for a safe and efficient chest workout are beyond the scope of this article, but hopefully this got you thinking. Since we already spend way too much time sitting and leaning forward it is up to you not to exacerbate an already faulty and dangerous postural distortion with an equally dangerous exercise.
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 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.