It's time for a long overdue episode of Tales From The Gym. For you movie buffs, yes-I am doing a play on words from the spy thriller 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.' This came to me over the last few weeks of observation of the general gym-going public (between sets, of course...) with my newly heightened critical eye, thanks to intense studying for the CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist) certification exam. While I'm no newbie to proper form while training, I am truly astounded by the lack of its use. By others, of course!
Something that is done in the name of fitness deserves to be thoroughly researched. The answers are at our fingertips and can be found within just seconds though the effort to read through and make informed decisions is probably too time-intensive for most. Geesh, that would interfere with our social media agenda and to have to use our brains to determine proper exercise methods seems like such a waste when we can simply copy what everyone else is doing, right?
If you're the THINKER, you know this is just plain WRONG. That's the equivalent of say, using a foam roller for the purpose of giving yourself an apres-workout massage because you see other people doing it and you think that's what it's for. The Thinker will go online and due-diligence the hell out of that innocent looking thingy. And here are some notable facts about that tool:
It IS NOT for massage. It is meant to inhibit overactive muscle tissue in an application termed SMR (self-myofascial release), attempting to add flexibility to tissue to help correct imbalances.
This is not a fast movement process. The intent is to roll about one inch per second until a painful spot is identified and then to hold pressure on that spot for a minimum of 30-90 seconds, depending on the stiffness of the roller, or how much pressure can be tolerated, while holding that spot.
Fast movement will excite muscle tissue, which does the opposite of what the goal for SMR is. Even if you do this quickly, thinking you are getting a little massage, fast movement will still give you the opposite outcome as fast movement will excite muscle tissue, not relax it.
SMR is not for reducing lactic-acid build-up in the body, post workout. If you still subscribe to the theory of lactic-acid build-up, know this is a FALLACY. I've been warned of lactic-acid build-up by many long-time trainers (they obviously never took Chemistry) yet, having just passed the NASM CPT certification, I know this organization at least is very clear on this misconception, as it is explained in detail in the section on Client-based Nutrition Sciences. So, for those who are confused on this long-standing myth, here's the skinny: According to Professor Matthew Hickey, head of the Human Performance Research Lab at Colorado State University, “The bottom line is, no. There is no lactic acid in human beings.” To explain why, a brief lesson about acids is necessary. Every acid has an alternate base (alkaline) form — a sort of yin and yang. For example, lactate is a base and lactic acid is, well, an acid. Acids and bases frequently exist as mixes and are able to change back and forth between one another. So how do we measure these acid/base mixes? Enter “pH value,” which is simply a measure of acidity/alkalinity. The pH ranges on a scale from 0 to 14. The lower the number, the more acidic the fluid. Our blood, for example, has a pH slightly above seven. As the pH drops, more and more base molecules transform into acid molecules. There is a critical point at which there is a perfect 50/50 mix. Hickey points out that for lactic acid/lactate, that “occurs at a pH of 3.87.“ That, of course, is well below our blood pH of seven. This is why we don’t ever have “lactic acid” in our system. According to Hickey, lactic acid really doesn’t start appearing until “you have a pH under six,” and even then “you’d have 99 percent as [lactate] and one percent as lactic acid. During intense exercise, you can drive [pH] down into the high sixes,” Hickey said. This is well above the pH required to produce true lactic acid. If you had lactic acid in your blood, you’d have to have a pH under six, and you’d be getting rushed to the hospital. Why then do we still talk about lactic acid in our bodies? Because of “simple historical inertia,” said Hickey. “It has stuck in the minds of lay audiences, coaches, athletes, etc. But it is based on a misunderstanding about the chemistry.” If we don’t have lactic acid, then what do we have-what causes the burn? Our muscles do produce acid, but that acid is simply positively charged hydrogen, not lactic acid as we once believed. Scientists were long fooled because hydrogen and lactate exit the cell together — in fact one can’t leave without the other. So when we measure lactate levels, it correlates with hydrogen ions. We thought we were measuring lactic acid, but it is merely a coincidence that when we measure a rise in lactate it happens to match with a rise in painful acid levels. Want more? Read it at: http://velonews.competitor.com/2014/02/training-center/on-the-bike/lactic-acid-myths-debunked_316899
This is not a complete list of facts on the foam roller but one intended to present the folly of trusting actions (of others) to serve as a guide for an outcome we imagine will benefit us, based on the observance of them doing it. I love the Thinker! The Thinker is usually the one that stands alone because the rest are sheep following the ass in front of them.
I only have one thing to say about the WAILER: Don't be the WAILER! When you got in trouble as a kid and your parents asked you why you would do such a dumb-ass, idiotic, shit-for-brains stunt, and you replied "Cuz all my friends were doing it!", well-you're probably still wailing through life and blaming it on your peers. You may not think so, but if you are doing thoughtless routines in the gym because your buds are doing them, you probably wail. How does this sound exactly? You complain that you got hurt at CrossFit (where you went when your friends said it was the best way to lose weight) because no one there did a proper assessment of your posture before subjecting you to one-size-fits-all-training. I don't mean to pick on CrossFit (even though it's fact that a LOT of injuries come out of this protocol); I only mean to pick on you, the Wailer. The best way to stop your crying is to take responsibility though this means you have to step out of your comfort zone (which is somewhere inside a Kleenex box) and do the work necessary to become informed. And quit your bitchin'. In reality, the Wailer is the person who always has an excuse for why her goals aren't being realized and it's NEVER through fault of her own! The Wailer may be teetering on the brink of becoming a Thinker but doesn't follow through. Example: Man approached me in the gym to ask me the name of a certain exercise I was doing (it was a Land Mine 180-I love these!) and then asked if it was for abs. I was in the middle of an intense and focused set (there is no other kind for me and please folks-do not interrupt anyone's set to ask anything! Wait for them to finish!!!) The short answer(s) I gave was "Land Mines" and "Yes." Now, I know this Wailer is going to try the move and most likely, when I am not there. Why? Because he's an old-school guy that has just enough new-school guy in him to ask a woman something about weight-training but the old-school guy portion is too old-school to try it in front of her, or even worse, ask her how to do it properly. I know he knows I know how to do it properly because I look like I know how to do it properly, which is why he asked me. There is potential to get seriously injured doing this move if not done properly. If not an injury, it will at least not be as effective without the proper form and as it is a dynamic move, there are several key points. Don't be the Wailer!!! And don't be the Wanker (cross between Wailer-Thinker-did you think I meant something else, LOL?) because starting to use your brain, then stopping the process midway is equivalent to coitus interruptus and who likes that?
Next up is the BOULDER, or serious muscle-head, and I only use this monicker after watching Generation Iron, a documentary on the Mr. Olympia, where one of the competitors mentions that people see bodybuilders as having no brains, only a bunch of rocks rolling around in an empty space. I think that's because in order to reach this level, you can only have one aim and it is an aimso epic, it becomes your life. The limited range of other interests, at least while focused on competing on the Olympic stage, may bring the judgment of 'empty-head' from the masses. Personally, while I truly respect the drive, determination and extreme embodiment towards earning your right to be on that stage, gone are the days of beauty bodybuilding. Many still embrace Arnold Schwarzenegger as the best ever-such grace, such symmetry-though the public now seems to crave a true spectacle in the sport. Now you see lats that look bigger than the front of a semi truck on the same body with calves that look too small to be the support base to all that muscle. It's pretty freaky and is in no way natural. The Boulder will do whatever it takes to become bigger-crazy routines that destroy his (or her) joints, take steroids and other potentially dangerous drugs, follow crazy diets, sacrifice everything in life not related to the pursuit of the mantra 'Train, eat, sleep-repeat!' Apparently, 50% of Olympic competitors who were asked if they could take a drug that would guarantee a win but would kill them in 5 years-would they still take it-responded yes. I find it a shame to be willing to sacrifice so much to be a short-lived spectacle. It just seems so shallow. Perhaps things will morph back, as they often do, but check out the difference 40 years has made:
This is Frank Zane (my all-time favorite Mr. Olympia, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting), who held the throne for 3 consecutive years, 1977-1979. He also represented the shift from aesthetics to mass and ladies, he's definitely pleasing to behold, yes? The only thing Boulder about him is the one he's leaning on...Compare to today's Olympic title-holder, Phil Heath:
Poor Frank wouldn't have qualified to step onto today's Olympic stage! Even the women of the modern Ms. Olympia would eat him for a snack:
To each her own and while a Boulder is certainly true grit, I'll forever remain a fan of the Pebbles, or natural bodybuilders, till I perform my last bicep curl...
And finally, there is the MIME. The Mime is the greatest fool in the gym because there is no listening to anyone, or asking anyone, about anything exercise-related. I have so many stories on this point that I almost don't know which one to choose. The Mime somehow knows it all already and perhaps this is due to being a past pro athlete. There is a guy in one of my gyms that falls into this category. He is one of the most offensive personalities I have experienced in the gym with all his leering and obscene gestures towards women while doing his 'work-out' and I use work-out loosely when it comes to him. Not only does he think women don't notice his obtrusive pantomiming and foaming-at-the-mouth when ogling them, he uses the entire weight stack for performing a series of 3-5 reps with a ROM of 1-2" (I kid you not) and then letting the entire stack crash down, creating an earthquake-like tremor throughout the entire gym-even those downstairs in the swimming pool are affected because of the resultant tsunami-like wave it creates! Now, this guy is in terrible shape, has a slew of joint problems, muscle imbalances, excess body weight and minimal muscle tonus. I approached him one day, hoping to perhaps give him some pointers, but after a few minutes, I realized it was pointless. He quickly told me "I know how to work out-I was a pro football player!" But, he also complained of all his pains. I observed this guy over a 5-year period and the only changes to his physique I can attest to were increased weight gain and increased joint pain (as overheard in his conversations with others). At what point do you get a clue?! This type of 'work-out' only served to further damage his health. I see movement impairment syndromes quite often in the gym, particularly among men who are prone to training certain body parts more than others. For instance, men love to train their chest and biceps while often ignoring their back, or at least, not putting as much intensity into posterior training. When you combine this with increased time at a desk, working on a computer, driving, watching TV or other sedentary lifestyles, what you do in the gym becomes that much more important. Most people don't give any consideration to their static posture or even why this should be considered, especially when it comes to exercise. The focus seems to be on building muscle or losing weight, with no thought behind what is a logical starting point or incorporating rehabilitative moves. NOTE: There does not need to have been an injury for rehabilitative exercise to be utilized. I am referring primarily to muscle imbalances. Here's an example: I see a young man using the Roman Chair holding a 25 lb. plate at arms length directly under him as he goes into spinal extension. He initiated conversation with me so I asked if his intent was to work his glutes/erector spinae on the chair. He said "Yes" so I say "It would be more effective to hold the plate against your chest and at the top of the move, contract your glutes as tight as you can and while holding that, try to extend another inch or two without increasing the arch in your low back; hold that position for 2 seconds, then lower slowly and repeat." Of course, when done this way, one may not be able to do as many reps, the weight may need to be reduced and most likely the muscle will burn like crazy. He told me he couldn't hold the weight across his chest because the pain in his shoulders was too great. I looked at his static posture from the side and politely explained that he had some muscle imbalances that were causing this. The way he utilized the Roman Chair actually furthered the tightness in the muscles that were already out of balance though he hadn't considered this because in his mind, he was only working his glutes/low back. He said he had been a football player and had developed the imbalances during that time. And now, his routine in the gym is only perpetuating those imbalances. This is a young man (late 20's, early 30's?), and to the novice eye, in great shape: lean, muscular, fairly symmetrical. He also realizes that he has imbalances. I did a few quick assessments to verify his movement impairments, then explained several corrective exercises he could do with the admonishment that they should be done regularly for 3-5 weeks minimum, as a starting point. He was quick to ask what weight he should use and when explaining that the weight should not be the focus-that it should be form and control for a certain amount of reps and that weight increases would come in gradual progressions-his response was "There are so many big guys in here, using all this heavy weight-I can't use that light of a weight!" This is such a travesty and the wrong way to approach physical fitness, particularly rehabilitation! This is the attitude that only cares about muscle. This is a short-sighted mind set, one that doesn't consider all the elements of a strong and healthy physique and unfortunately, is the predominant attitude of most weight lifters. And this is where the Mime gets into trouble-by mimicking others movements without question. Akin to following the butt in front of you over the cliff, not knowing where you're going, why you're going there or what the outcome will be, the Mime makes a lot of assumptions while placing faith in the masses-and remember, in this case, that's a silent M.
If you experience regular headaches, anterior knee pain, low-back pain, tendonitis, shoulder instability, rotator cuff impingement, shin splints and constant muscle spasms, this could very well be due to muscle imbalances that have caused poor posture (or have occurred because of poor posture) leading to movement impairment syndromes. When I see a woman in the gym weight training, I always feel a burst of pride because she is working on developing her strength. When I first started training in the mid-1970's, very few women ventured into the gym and I was an anomaly. While many women still believe that weight training will turn them into hulking behemoths, more and more get that this IS simply the best way to fitness (when done properly, which encompasses a lifestyle, including diet, not just throwing some iron around a few days a week). However, women are also Thinkers, Wailers, Boulders and Mimes, though I would have to say they predominant in the Wailers and Mimes categories. So my pride for her in venturing into the weight room quickly deflates as I see her using crap form, meaning she doesn't understand body mechanics-the sign of a MIME-and, she uses the starter weights. Which is fine, unless she's been training for more than a month, isn't rehabilitating an injury and can do a gazillion reps with the weight. If this is a young woman, the consequences of her bad behavior may not be evident for years-assuming she stays with training-and assuming she never makes it to Thinker level. If this is done in conjunction with a lifestyle that includes desk work slumped over a computer, wearing heels on a daily basis for hours at a time and actually having to stand in them and perhaps also engaging in a sport like tennis or swimming, the stage is set for major muscle imbalances to occur. The saddest part of this is that it may cause her to forego exercise, believing that this is the root of the problem.
I certainly don't mean to offend anyone though I hope this is an eye-opener for you. At the very least, no matter how experienced you are in the gym, have a professional do a physical assessment of your static posture and preferably, include some transitional and dynamic assessments as well. It never hurts to have the perspective of a professional and assessment tests don't lie. If you want to take your training and your physique to the next level, this is a great place to start as this can truly pinpoint weak areas that need addressing. And don't forget your brain-training as well: shift your focus towards becoming the Thinker on all things exercise-related!