Just my perspective on how to be in shape… Keep an open mind!

This post is a bit more geared toward fellow fitness professionals, and especially those in the NSCA (though all trainers and coaches can hopefully benefit from the points I’ll be making here).  It concerns the following:

An article was posted today on the NSCA Facebook page that I found a bit bothersome.  It is presented as a reasonable argument for the inclusion of a new exercise into the traditional strength and conditioning paradigm that most coaches are familiar with.  Well intentioned, no doubt, but the substance — at least in MY assessment — doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  While this is not an indictment of the Strength and Conditioning Journal as a whole, I think that someone should have been a little more vigilant before allowing this article to reach publication.


The National Strength and Conditioning Association --  Usually pretty sharp in their presentation of research and their endorsement of exercise professionals.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association — Usually pretty sharp in their presentation of research and their endorsement of exercise professionals.


Specifically, the article is entitled, The Benefits of Performing the Split Alternating Foot Snatch, by Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS,  Hedrick is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University in Pueblo and a FELLOW of the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association).  In a nutshell, the article argues for the inclusion of the aforementioned exercise in S&C programs and attempts to cite a few research papers in support of the claim.  My writing here focuses primarily on a single study that is used to support the notion that the “Split Alternating Foot Snatch” (referred to here as the SAFS or split snatch) is superior to a more commonly used movement such as the power clean for power development in an athlete.  Other claims are made regarding improved variation and “sport specificity” that I address briefly as well.  Before reading further, I encourage you to read the original article which I have linked above.


After reading the article, all I really see is a pile of assumptions and conjecture.  While they MAY be somewhat correct, there’s no direct research cited here to show the efficacy of such a movement.  Not so much as an EMG study to tell us anything about muscle activation patterns.  Before jumping to conclusions and declaring that we should definitely include this or any other exercise into a program, there needs to be something a little more solid to support the notion.  This is especially true in light of the fact that much of the article itself is based on an erroneous reading of the Garhammer study, which you can read for yourself HERE.  Let’s look at what really occurs in that study…


An example of a split snatch (SAFS) -- shamelessly taken from www.crossfit.com

An example of a split snatch (SAFS) — shamelessly taken from http://www.crossfit.com


First, a quick note on physics — while one can make an argument for a snatch as having a higher velocity than a clean, that all depends on the loads being used.  Lowering the mass of the implement being lifted during a power clean will allow for it to be accelerated more quickly.  That may or may not offset whatever speed “benefits” are seen from the snatch.  It is certainly NOT a given that a power clean cannot move as quickly as a snatch under certain circumstances.


It should also be noted that the Garhammer study that’s used to support Hedrick’s statement was EXTREMELY specific in its scope — it used 5 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNING lifters performing the snatch, power clean, and jerk.  That’s not exactly a large and all-inclusive sample size, and the study was performed with 16mm camera footage almost 30 years ago.  And here’s the kicker – the author of the post above talks about how increased bar velocity was noticed in the snatch when compared to the clean during this study.  That’s mostly true, based on the numbers.  But when you discuss power output (which is a major point of argument in Hedrick’s article), things become murkier.  During the first pull, the higher power value between the two lifts waffles back and forth.  In questions of greatest INSTANTANEOUS power, however, the power clean is usually greater.  So this blows a hole in the idea that the author tries to put forward that the snatch is the best option for training for power output.


Once again, we have arguments that the SAFS is beneficial because 1) it allows for greater power output (unsupported by the research cited), and 2) it allows for variability that MAY introduce a novel stimulus to the nervous system (not clear due to lack of evidence).  I’ll cede that the second point is true in principle.  But the question remains as to whether that novel stimulus will produce any actual benefit on the field.  Will adding a split motion to a power lift translate into better in-game performance for an athlete?  I have yet to see evidence of this.


The power clean that we all know -- taken from www.crossfitkrypton.com

The power clean that we all know — taken from http://www.crossfitkrypton.com


I balk at the idea that we should consider replacing, without any strong evidence, the power clean — a power movement that is relatively easy to learn and coach – with a split snatch.  The SAFS is a far more difficult movement to teach, as it contains a much higher degree of movement complexity.  Introducing something novel for a specific purpose is one thing.  But this seems to be veering off into the realm of unnecessary challenge that will not produce any appreciable benefits to the athlete, and due to the increased mechanical complexity of the movement, it will likely require significant reductions in the actual force that can be generated in a controlled manner.  If your goal is power, then compromising force output is NOT what you want.


Let me be clear here — I’m not trying to condemn anyone (including the author of the article in question) or point a finger of blame.  But it’s vital that we all, as professionals, do a better job of interpreting the research that is out there.  We must also be very careful not to make any claims that aren’t backed by the science or, if we do make such claims, make it perfectly clear that we are only speculating.  Always check the sources of your articles, friends.  Always question what is being fed to you.

In my opinion, Hedrick should have done a much better job of fact-checking his article.  Furthermore, the Strength and Conditioning Journal should have done a better job of vetting the sources and scrutinizing the paper before allowing for its publication.  But hey, I’m just a grad student.  So maybe there’s something I’m missing ;)



So I left off a while back having discussed the MAIN STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS responsible for flexibility (bones, ligaments, etc.) to give some idea of the hard limits that we have to our total joint range.  But as most of us realize, that’s not the whole picture.  After all, it’s not usually our skeleton that’s restricting us in day-to-day activities.

Where do we typically feel “tight” instead?  In our muscles!  And that brings me to the major focus of this blog entry — the NEUROMUSCULAR SYSTEM!!!

You see, the primary job (mechanically speaking) that our muscles have is, simply put, managing joints.  Put another way, they’re primarily responsible for making sure that the bones can actually maintain proper contact with each other, can move (or not move) properly, and that force can be distributed throughout our bodies in an appropriate way.  If our muscles are working well, then we’re having a good time.  If not, then we start to see dysfunction — in the form of pain, arthritis, weakness, poor performance, coordination issues, and all sorts of other not-so-fun stuff.


A less-than-optimal neuromuscular system often leads to pain and other issues -- from www.treatingpain.com

A less-than-optimal neuromuscular system often leads to pain and other issues — from http://www.treatingpain.com


So to illustrate how some of this works, we have to break down the actual structure of a muscle and the “stuff” it interacts with.  Note that this will be PRETTY basic, but there’s still some science ahead.  So saddle up!

Muscles are, at least in my opinion, some of the coolest things ever devised by nature.  They consist of tons of tightly packed subcellular machinery that allows our bodies to convert the chemical energy of our food and the products of food breakdown into actual mechanical energy (FORCE)!  This is no small feat.  I won’t get into the metabolic pathways and mechanisms that govern this right now, but just know that there’s a lot of stuff that has to happen for your muscles to work!  So let’s talk a little about their structure (feel free to skip this portion if you’re already familiar with basic muscle structure):




***Keep in mind that this post is going to talk about skeletal muscle.  This is the stuff that attaches to our bones and helps us move.  There are two other types of muscle — cardiac (heart muscle) and smooth (which operates in our organs and around blood vessels) — but this isn’t immediately relevant to us.  So I’ll stick to skeletal muscle today.***


First off, I want you to look at the structure of a typical muscle.  Notice that it’s a big hunk of tissue that’s attached to a bone by something called a TENDON.  But when we break it down, we see that the whole muscle is actually comprised of a bunch of chunks of  muscle units called “fascicles.”  The word “fasciculus” actually means “bundle” in Latin.  This makes perfect sense, as you can see that each fascicle is really a bundle of individual muscle fibers.  I sometimes like to think of it as a bundle of straws wrapped in a thin sheet of tissue.  And all of those bundles come together to make the whole muscle.  Also– in muscles, a “fiber” is the same thing as a “cell.”  So keep that in mind if you see it anywhere else.  Again, FIBER = CELL.



Muscles have a really cool structure — notice how muscle fibers (cells) are bundled together into fascicles, and then THOSE are bundled together again. It all packs together into what we know as a whole muscle — Taken from http://www.medicalook.com


This gives a good basic overview of how our muscles are organized on a larger scale.  Now let’s look a little closer at a single muscle cell (one of the straws) to see how it’s put together:


So we see that, even on a smaller scale, things are bundled up in a similar fashion.  Inside a single cell, we see these individual cylinders called "myofibrils" that have their own components within THEM -- from www.24manuals.com

Smaller bundles of “straws” within each of the ones from the previous diagram – from http://www.24manuals.com


So we see that, even on a smaller scale, things are bundled up in a similar fashion. Inside a single cell, we see these individual cylinders called “myofibrils” that have their own components within THEM.  It is within these myofibrils that the smallest functional unit of a muscle is found — THE SARCOMERE.  I won’t get too deep into how this little guy works, but suffice it to say, these are where the magic really happens.  Here’s one last picture to help you visualize things on this microscopic level:


A diagram of the basic structure of a SARCOMERE -- from www.studyblue.com

A diagram of the basic structure of a SARCOMERE — from http://www.studyblue.com


So all you really need to know about sarcomeres is this — tiny little proteins (filaments or myofilaments) inside the sarcomere attach and “crawl” over each other so that each end (the Z-disc or Z-line) is pulled toward the middle.  Now all of these sarcomeres are attached end-to-end (in “series” as it is known).  If we zoom back out a bit, we can imagine how the whole muscle will shorten as each individual subunit shortens.  Here’s a neat way to visualize this:

Imagine you and nine friends are all side-by-side, and you each represent a single sarcomere.  You each have your arms outstretched and are holding hands with the person next to you.  Now imagine that, while doing this, you’re sitting on a REALLY slick surface so you can pull all of the people on either side of you closer to your position.  If you pull your arms in (“contract” like a sarcomere), you get “thinner” and the people on either side of you will slide in towards you.  The overall length of the system (all 10 people) will get a LITTLE BIT shorter.  Now imagine if ALL TEN of you do the same thing.  Every person pulls the people they’re holding hands with closer to them.  As you might imagine, the whole chain will get MUCH shorter, as everyone is pulling their arms in at the same time.  This is what happens within a myofibril, and within a whole muscle on a larger scale.  The whole muscle shortens, because TONS OF INDIVIDUAL SARCOMERES SHORTEN.

I mentioned earlier that muscles generally attach to our bones at what is called a tendon.  While they don’t generate force directly, healthy tendons are absolutely vital for allowing us to transmit that force from our muscles to the bones (or vice-versa) and do all of the things that we ask our bodies to do.  If a tendon fails, then the muscle can’t do its job.  This is important to keep in mind, as these structures are often overlooked when we talk about building strength and power and developing our physiques.  We’ll look at tendons and how they are involved in stretching a little more later.




So from all of this, we can see that there’s an intricate structure that contributes to the way our muscles do their jobs.  Millions of tiny units work together to create the large-scale movements that we see and use every day.

I needed to go into the structure of muscles a bit so you have a basic understanding of the pieces that make up the whole.  Muscles are an intricate (and WAY COOL) system of components that come together beautifully to allow us to perform all of the actions of daily living that we take for granted.  Without muscles, there is no controlled movement.  So now that you know a little bit more about how muscles are put together, what about the effects of stretching?  How does attempting to move into extreme ranges affect these tissues?  I’ll describe this in the next entry :)


Okay, this is sort of an impromptu post that I decided to put together after reading a Men’s Fitness Article on strength training.  More specifically, it’s entitled “10 Ways to Lose Muscle” and is authored by Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS (ironically the best-selling author of The Female Body Breakthrough, according to her website).  The article is linked here, and I encourage you to read it before reading the rest of this post:




(Taken from the aforementioned article at http://www.mensfitness.com)

While some valid points are made, there are also a few areas where I believe Cosgrove actually reinforces certain misconceptions.  An uninformed reader might take a few of these oversimplifications (and in one or two cases, outright fallacies) and cause him/herself more harm than good by following them.  So forgive me if I put on my “exercise physiologist” hat for a minute, but I want to address each point made by the author of this article in order.  Here goes:


1 – YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH (FOR FEAR OF GETTING FAT) — This is basically true. Calorie surplus is necessary for tissue anabolism (growth) to occur. Though it’s incorrect for the author to say most of what you eat is “converted to muscle,” as only a small portion will be. But in order for that small conversion to occur most effectively, you need a certain caloric surplus (and a certain minimum of carbohydrate present) to stimulate it.

2 – YOU AMP UP YOUR CARDIO — Correct basic statement in that you do work against yourself by doing too much too often. But the author is mistaken by saying that “daily cardio sessions simply burn too many cumulative calories to allow you the surplus you need for muscle mass…” as typical cardio won’t burn as many calories as most people think. Take a look at a lot of the cardio freaks that hit the treadmill religiously and still never enter enough of a caloric deficit to lose weight. Cardio can interfere with muscle gains, but it’s generally for more complicated reasons than stated here.

3 – YOU WORK TO EXHAUSTION — While a certain amount of training volume (and possibly fatigue) seem necessary for muscle growth, there are many people who commonly do too much. So this point is pretty accurate.

4 – YOU FAVOR BODY-PART WORKOUTS — I have to take issue with this point. The author makes too many assumptions about body part-focused exercises. I have seen no evidence (or logic, for that matter) to support the idea that full-body exercises will somehow prevent more injuries or catch those “problem” muscles we often ignore. In fact, non-focused exercises by their very nature are LESS specific and therefore CANNOT challenge the individual muscles that would otherwise get overlooked. In a person with any hiding dysfunction or muscular imbalance, focusing only on compound movements and ignoring exercises focused on specific body parts will almost assuredly encourage deeper compensation and worsen existing imbalances. So the author has no authority on which to base this particular claim. It’s simply biased, and I think it could actually harm many people reading the article who don’t know any better.

5 - YOU SHUN STRETCHINGWRONG!!! I can’t decide between this point and the previous one for the title of most incorrect claim in this article. Stretching has been shown to enhance recovery a TINY bit in SOME cases, but it is by no means a magical cure. Active recovery (moving around and keeping the muscles lightly working) is far better, and the research shows it. Stretching can apparently improve muscle range of motion, though the mechanisms through which it operates are not actually understood by most of the people who encourage it (not surprising). I think there are specific times and places to stretch, and outside of those specific scenarios it simply shouldn’t be done.



What was she THINKING???

5 – YOU SHUN STRETCHING (CONTINUED) — The author also mentions how simply lifting weights will increase risk for injury. I have seen no evidence to support this, and in fact, proper resistance training can stabilize joints and PREVENT injury. It’s all in the execution. And finally, the claim that stretching somehow gives muscles more “room to grow” is simply preposterous! It makes me question this woman’s basic understanding of anatomy and muscle physiology, as that’s simply NOT how muscles work. You don’t magically get less flexible by lifting weights, and you don’t magically have more room to grow by stretching. Muscles have the room that they have, and outside of specific pathological scenarios like when there is significant scarring, etc., nothing will occur that will change that available space. Outside of surgery, you’re not going to alter the length of a muscle. Its attachments are fixed in place (AS THEY SHOULD BE!!!)

6 – YOU ONLY EAT SPORADICALLY — Another myth. While not eating for extended periods of time can EVENTUALLY slow your metabolism down, a few hours won’t have much appreciable impact on your resting metabolic rate. The idea that you need to eat every three hours somehow worked its way into popular “fitness” culture a number of years ago, and it’s been lingering like that last awkward guy at the party ever since. You know… the guy that nobody even remembers inviting??? Think about it. If going three hours without eating significantly slowed your metabolism and then caused the subsequent meal to be stored as fat, then how catastrophic must breakfast be when you’ve been sleeping for 6-8 hours and potentially fasted for 9-10 or more?!? It just doesn’t make good logical sense, and it’s not supported by the science. Eat whenever you’re hungry, don’t ignore the signals, and try to balance nutrients in a sensible ratio when you do eat. Just smartly plan a little extra around your workouts, and you’re probably golden. No need to be a slave to an unrealistic and biologically non-beneficial “every-three-hours” schedule.

7 – YOU RARELY ALTER YOUR ROUTINE — This is basically sound advice. But it should be noted that, while variation is needed over time (altering intensity, speed, weight/resistance, or range of motion, etc.), it must be planned and have a purpose. Randomness for its own sake is a recipe for disaster. And this whole “muscle confusion” thing that P90X and other similar exercise programs out there spout is a farce. Muscles don’t get “confused” by randomness in the way that people selling those things would like you to believe. There is unaccustomed challenge, but calling it “confusion” is missing the point entirely.

8 – YOU ONLY TRAIN WHAT YOU SEE IN THE MIRROR — This is a big one that I have to agree with the author on. Especially seen in novice lifters who like to worry about the “sexy” muscles that they think about. With no appreciation for all of the players on the team, you’re bound to develop some issues sooner or later. If you’re lucky, the imbalances will only manifest aesthetically. But in worse cases, they could lead to asymmetries that cause injury and abnormal joint wear. Also, while the author seems to imply that most of the inappropriate focus gets placed on the front of the upper body (neglecting the legs and back), I’ve seen many people who do the opposite. There’s a lot of “leg worship” out there, and it can be just as problematic if not handled properly.

9 – YOU DON’T DRINK SHAKES — Skipping a shake isn’t necessarily a problem if you still get prompt nutrition in a proper ratio after a workout. Shakes are seen as good, because they’re usually put together in such a way that the essential carbs and amino acids needed for proper muscle repair and growth (as well as glycogen replenishment) are easily accessed and absorbed by your body. So yeah, they’re convenient. But it’s wrong to say that shakes are NECESSARY. The MOST important thing is just making sure that you get something that your muscles like soon after the workout. It’s the wait that kills your gains (waiting an hour or more post-workout can put a serious dent in the growth you’re hoping to see). So make sure you eat something. A shake may be the best option, or it may not. It just depends. Just make sure you get the carbs and protein you need SOMEHOW!

10 – YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH REST — I have to agree with this one for the most part. Lack of rest can kill your progress and lead to injuries, not to mention making you irritable and just plain tired (which kills the intensity you’re able to bring to your workouts!) Sleep deprivation can disrupt hormones like GH and cortisol, as the article says. The only issue I have here is the claim that working out every day will also kill your gains. This depends on a variety of factors, the biggest of which is probably the training status of the individual (closely followed by the nutrition/supplementation status). Some people can handle it just fine, while others will certainly break down and go in reverse. It’s just not right to make a blanket statement. Too many people DO get gains from working out that much, but it’s all dependent on how well trained they are and how smart they are in going about it.


As I said, this was just an attempt to clear some things up!

So there you have it… my quick little point-by-point analysis of the article detailing where I think the author was correct and where she was a little (or a LOT) mistaken.  One could certainly go into MUCH more depth than this if desired, but I just wanted to highlight some of the biggies that I thought needed attention for the semi-casual reader.  It’s important for anyone with significant play — such as this lady who’s writing articles for Men’s Fitness and, as of this posting, has had this particular piece shared on Facebook about 19,000 times — to be careful with the statements they make.  We as fitness professionals have a duty to be accurate and nuanced in the way that we share information with our clients and the public.  I feel that this article in Men’s Fitness fell short of that goal.

I’m not trying to demonize Ms. Cosgrove, as I’m sure she has done a lot of good for a lot of people.  But regardless of the person, I will call out errors where I see them in an attempt to help at least ONE person better understand what’s being said out there.  If anyone benefits even the slightest bit from my efforts, then they’re not wasted.

On a final note, I don’t claim that my views should be taken as gospel, and I encourage you to challenge any of these points by looking into the research yourself if it strikes your fancy.  While I know a decent bit, I’m still learning more about this stuff EVERY DAY.  You might come across something that would even surprise me, and I hope you’ll share it if you do :)

I felt the need to rant about something that really irks me — when people ask questions on social media, the “advice” that people can respond with is just unreal!

A quick little rant about flexibility and the muscular system, leading into my upcoming “PART II” blog entry on Flexibility

Well friends, it’s time for another update.  Based on some recent observations (and a good bit of input from some friends and family), I feel it’s appropriate to discuss a topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind – FLEXIBILITY!  (Warning, this’ll be a little longer than my last entry)

It seems you can’t go half a day without hearing someone in your social network or at the workplace talking about how “tight” something feels.  If you were to ask a random room of 200 people from all over this country which ones feel they need to be more flexible, almost every hand would shoot up.  It’s seen as a universally good thing to be flexible.  This is common knowledge.  Right?

Hmm… not so fast.  First off, what IS flexibility anyway, and how can we affect it?  Some people would define flexibility as the ability to move throughout a certain Range of Motion (ROM) at various joints.  Others describe it more as a sensation of “looseness” or softness in the muscles that often like to tighten up.  At the end of the day, we have probably all known those people who seem to be able to contort themselves into all sorts of wacky positions without trouble.  We also know other people who are at the other end of that spectrum (and maybe you’re one of them!).

Isn't it just so unfair?  We all know those people who can do ridiculous things with their body.

Isn’t it just so unfair? We all know those people who can do ridiculous things with their bodies. — (Wikipedia image)

So I’d say it’s all kinds of things, depending on the person and the goals.  A person’s overall capabilities in terms of flexibility/motion will depend on two main factors: 1) Structural limitations and 2) Neuromuscular capabilities.  Sadly, there’s no way I can cover all of the intricacies of the topic in a single blog post.  For this post, I’ll describe a little bit about joint structure: 



This might sound silly, but first we have to define a joint.  A joint is any place where two bones come together/interact.  Note that I didn’t say they have to MOVE!  This is important.  Some joints are completely fused, while others have a little or a lot of motion allowed.  A super detailed description of all of the variations is beyond the scope of this post, but be aware that there are differences.  I’ll probably go into more detail in a future segment that I post as a permanent link.

There are a few fancy words that anatomists and biomechanists use to describe the structure and function of the joints in question.  Specifically, a synovial joint is surrounded by a joint capsule that contains synovial fluid for lubrication and nutrient flow.  The term diarthrodial is often used interchangeably with “synovial” and describes a joint that is “freely moving.”  These are the joints that we most often think about as contributing to the movements that we try to accomplish throughout the day.  Synarthrodial joints, on the other hand, are fused and allow essentially no motion (such as the sutures fusing the separate bones of your skull).  Amphiarthrodial joints allow some movement (think of the intervertebral joints in your spine, etc.).


A breakdown of the six basic categories of synovial joints

For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus on synovial /diarthrodial joints.  There are six (6) generally accepted subtypes within this joint category that most of us in the exercise industry are used to.  Note that I have taken the images in this section from the “Synovial Joints” section at cnx.org.  It’s still a little simplified, but it can give you a decent idea of the structure and function beyond what I’m writing about here, and I think the diagrams get the point across nicely.

Anyway, let’s take a look at a “typical synovial joint” as well as the passive structures in the knee joint to get a sense of what’s going on here…

A generic synovial joint (note an enclosed capsule and articular cartilage on the surfaces between bones)

A generic synovial joint (note an enclosed capsule and articular cartilage on the surfaces between bones)

A more realistic diagram of an actual synovial joint -- the knee

A diagram of an actual synovial joint — the knee

So you’ll see that there are a number of structures in a joint that we need to be aware of.  Any one of these can have profound impacts on the ability (or inability) for that joint to move properly.  Let’s take each of these pieces one at a time:

1) The articular cartilage is an extremely smooth covering on the ends of the bones.  It pads and protects the bones from wear.  It also allows for the joints to move smoothly by allowing the ends of bones (articular surfaces) to glide almost effortlessly over one another.  This stuff is REALLY slick!  Note that irritation of this tissue from abnormal stresses can result in problems like osteoarthritis and cause inflammation that limits your range of motion.  That said, proper motion is actually HEALTHY for the joint tissues (including the cartilage).  Cartilage can adapt to stresses and become thicker/stronger where it is loaded IF you do so properly.

2) The tendons are fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones, allowing them to put force through the bones.  As will be discussed in a later entry, all movement ultimately depends on our muscles’ ability to deliver force to our bones in a sufficient and reliable fashion.  As is the case with muscles, bones, and other joint structures, tendons can adapt to stresses to become stronger.  More on this later.

3) The synovial cavity is the cavity within the joint that contains the lubricating synovial fluid.  This fluid reduces friction in the joint and allows for a sort of nutrient circulation throughout the joint.  The joint tissues can actually begin to atrophy and die without proper flow of these fluids.  Think of the fibrous tissue of the synovial cavity as kind of spongy.  In order for the tissues within the joint to receive proper nutrients and flush out toxic byproducts and waste, we have to “squeeze out” the sponge and then release it again.  We do this through loading and unloading the joint periodically through normal movement.

4) The ligaments are completely passive structures that attach bones to each other and keep the joints moving along a relatively predetermined path.  Too much stiffness in these guys (from scarring/fibrosis, adhesions, etc.) can cause limitations in motion.  Conversely, too much looseness/laxity in ligaments can result in joint instability and a predisposition for abnormal wear and/or dislocations.  When we do a significant amount of stretching, we can (potentially) affect the length of these tissues.  When we stretch out a ligament, it doesn’t readily return to its old length.  That’s something we have to keep in mind when we do really intense stretches, as I’ll discuss later.

5) The bursae (plural of bursa) are small fluid sacs that reduce friction by keeping bones from rubbing against each other and/or prevent soft tissues (tendons, etc.) from dragging over bones and wearing out.  Soft tissue specialists sometimes focus on massaging and manipulating these tissues to allow for greater mobility in a joint.  In extreme cases where they are doing more harm than good, they may be surgically removed.  I’m not currently an expert on the function of these structures, so I’ll save discussion on them for another time.

6) Finally, note the bones themselves!  People often forget about what is the most important passive structure for determining motion.  How are the bones actually shaped???  I’ve seen blatant ignorance of this in a number of places over the years.  But let me say it here and now – YOU CANNOT VIOLATE YOUR STRUCTURE WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES!!!  Some of the worst offenders are martial arts schools and ballet/dance academies where a great deal of emphasis is put on range of motion without a proper understanding of how to manipulate it.  Whatever shapes your bones and joints have will directly dictate what movements you’re capable of accomplishing.  If your pelvis and femur look nothing like Sally’s, you’re not going to be able to do the same movements that she can do.  Period.  You can check out this picture for an illustration of my point:


Note the different shapes we see in people’s femurs. It isn’t hard to imagine that different shapes allow for different degrees of mobility. I’ll explore the hip in more detail in a future post — (Image from Wikipedia)

Now that doesn’t mean it’s all bad if your structure doesn’t allow for a great deal of movement.  Sure, it’s a cool party trick to be able to drop into a split at a moment’s notice, but you make up for that with something that might be much more useful: STABILITY!

You see, your body liberates movement at the expense of stability.  If you let something move around a lot more, then you can’t anchor it in place as well and keep the bones as secure.  Think of the shoulder and how mobile it is.  Now think about how often that thing gets dislocated compared to other joints!

Likewise, if a joint is held in place with more passive structures (bony articulations, ligaments, tighter joint capsule, etc.), then there won’t be as much opportunity for movement.  Dislocations at the hip don’t happen nearly as often as at the shoulder, but you also can’t move it as freely.  In most cases, at least.

What was all that?!?

What was all that?!?

So I apologize if that was a wall of text, but I needed to cover that basic information in order to move forward.  There are a variety of structural variables we have to consider before looking at how we can really move.  Our structure DETERMINES our function.  Once we’ve discovered what our opportunities for movement are, we can then look at our ability to CONTROL that movement.  For that, we’ll have to look at the neuromuscular system and develop more of an understanding of how we tend to become “flexible.”   That’s coming up in PART 2

Thanks for reading!

What’s in a Name???

So upon my return to the blogosphere, I had a few topics in mind to kick-start things.  I’ve experienced a lot in the past year or so, and it’s given me a great deal of “fuel” for discussion.  The subject I’d like to go with today is one of supreme importance to anyone — and ESPECIALLY to fitness professionals!

More specifically, I’m talking about names.  Titles.  Labels.  As time goes by, it seems that more and more of the bickering I see online and in my day-to-day life concerns which one to use for which thing.  People are missing the bigger issues, and this bothers me.  It should bother you as well.


I find this quite troubling…

To get things into less abstract terms, let’s think of a specific exercise:


^^^ I almost feel bad for “picking” on this exercise for so many of my examples, but it really is a wonderful teaching tool to get people to open their minds about what exercise really is and isn’t.  Now when you first read those bold words, you probably had a certain image in mind.  Something resembling a person bending at the knees and hips, perhaps as though he/she were attempting to sit in an invisible chair?  There’s probably a great deal of common ground between most exercisers in terms of some of the general criteria that an exercise must meet in order to be deemed “a squat.”  All well and good.

But what about the specifics?

Here’s what I mean — if you think hard enough, you’ve probably encountered AT LEAST one person who didn’t think of the exact same thing when that exercise was mentioned.  If you’ve been in the industry for a decent length of time, then you’ve almost assuredly come across as many different versions of this thing we call a “squat” as there are guys named “Fred.”  They’re countless.  Some are labeled with specific names and attempt to dictate specific variations (“sumo” squats, siff squats, goblet squats, etc.).  Others simply attach qualifiers (“good” or “bad” form squats and “deep” squats come to mind).  But regardless, it seems that everyone has come up with SOME variation of this exercise and how they like to define it.  This isn’t even touching on “splits” and “pistols” and the like.  The same idea of variation holds true for countless other exercises that you think are pretty self-explanatory.


Everyone has their own opinion of how a squat SHOULD be done
(Taken from blog – “Cody’s Ultimate Guide to Squats”)

Now given that there are so many variations, how do you choose, and how do you make sure someone else knows what you’re talking about?  Can you really assume that the person you’re talking to means the same thing when you name an exercise?  In my mind, probably not.  And this brings us to a rather obvious conclusion – YOU’VE GOTTA BE SPECIFIC!!!  At the end of the day, you’re going to have to define the exercise you’re doing anyway.  After all, exercise and training have to apply specific loads to your body in the way that is most appropriate.  As such, we need to account for every position and force involved in the challenge we’re trying to accomplish.  How deep do we go?  How wide or narrow is the stance?  How about hip rotation?  Where does the knee go versus the hip?  How much should we “fold” up or lean forward as we descend?  These are just a FEW of the numerous questions you have to be able to answer with authority before you can claim to know what you’re doing.  And each of these questions will be answered based on the specific characteristics and capabilities of the individual performing the movement (or preventing it)!

Sounds a bit daunting, I’m sure, but that’s what it takes if you REALLY want to be doing a proper job!


So how do we make sense of it all?

After a lot of thought and observation — as well as a good deal of personal experimentation in the gym and at home — I’ve come to the conclusion that there will never be a perfectly agreeable way to attach a name to something and assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about.  That doesn’t mean we can’t use these words.  On the contrary, they often allow us to communicate more efficiently and get a basic idea across.  But when it comes time to design the workout itself, I would caution you all to make sure you’ve got a good idea of what it is you actually MEAN to do, before you do it.

*** NOTE TO TRAINERS — This is ESPECIALLY applicable to every one of us!  There is no room for poor communication and ambiguity when someone’s health and safety are on the line! ***

So I guess, if there’s a take-home message to this rant for the weekenders out there reading, it’s this — It’s okay to be confused by a lot of the stuff you hear out there.  And more importantly, NO — you DON’T have to use a certain special name for something just because some bro in the gym told you so.  Call the exercise whatever you want.  But just know that communication can always break down, and you have to be mindful that what you mean and what someone else means by a name could be completely different.  Names, after all, are just words.  It’s what we do as a result of those words that counts.  More on this topic later.

Thanks for reading :)


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