CURRENT ARTICLE: Improve Performance and Prevent Injury

Improve Performance and Prevent Injury

today, many athletic programs and professional sports teams use bodybuilding machines and protocol to condition athletes. when we consider that most bodybuilding exercises require neuromuscular isolation (working a single muscle), not integration (working multiple muscles and muscle groups) and virtually every sport or functional activity known to man requires high levels of neuromuscular integration, we are off to a bad start. additionally, consider that most bodybuilding exercises are performed on machines (figure 4), requiring no activation of postural muscles, minimal activation of stabilizer and neutralizer muscle functions, and certainly don’t require that you continually maintain your center of gravity over your own base of support; there’s not much need to activate stabilizers and postural muscles when sitting on a machine with a huge base of support that is bolted to the floor!

figure 4 - the hamstring curl machine. typically used to strengthen the hamstrings by bodybuilders and uninformed athletes, the strength developed on this machine has minimal carryover to function when compared to the hamstring strength developed during a deadlift, good morning or olympic lift. in addition, when using machines, you are teaching the nervous system to use large muscles in relative absence of other necessary stabilizer and neutralizer muscles, which can’t happen during any functional, unsupported activity!

compare traditional bodybuilding exercises to good old free weight training exercises such as the front squat (figure 5) or medicine ball exercises like the back toss (figure 6). when you perform a free weight exercise that requires maintenance of your own center of gravity over your own base of support and are unsupported by an outside means, you must co-condition all stabilizer, neutralizer and postural muscles directly involved with that given exercise or movement pattern. if you want to see what happens when you do too much bodybuilding, take any bodybuilder to rugby practice and watch what happens when the team starts practicing agility drills; sort of like watching a truck driver dance funk!

figure 5 figure 6

if i were a bengal tiger in the wild, i would certainly be hoping to see a bodybuilder or two about now; i wonder if a tiger could taste the lack of neuromuscular intelligence in a muscle should he have eaten a bodybuilder. a good athlete will never know!

now that it’s obvious that primal beings were athletes and most bodybuilders are praying that we don’t wind the clock back 2000 years, let’s look at what athletes (and bodybuilders if they are still here) can do to improve function and prevent injury:

add some balance and proprioception training to your program.

swiss balls, also called physio-balls, stability balls, fit balls, medi-balls, gymnic balls, and most recently the new super strong aussie-made dura-ball pro (designed to be used with free weights) are incredible tools for both rehabilitation and performance enhancement. they allow unrestricted 3-d movement at any speed and also require that you constantly maintain your base of support. exercising on a swiss ball enhances the development of both righting and tilting reflexes (table 1). this is important because righting and tilting reflexes, or a combination of both, are required for optimal performance in virtually every sport, even posing in a bodybuilding competition! for example, walking on a balance beam (fixed object) requires righting reflex activation as the dominant reflex profile, while tilting reflexes are activated when you step on an object that moves under you (figure 7), such as a moving sidewalk in the airport, riding a horse, or riding a surfboard.

the fitter is an excellent piece of equipment, originally designed to improve ski performance. this unique piece meets all the requirements for decreasing your chance of being eaten by a tiger and increasing your chances of scoring goals! as you can see in figure 7, you will develop balance, coordination, learn to maintain your center of gravity over a constantly changing base of support, and by the way, you will have to learn to do it fast! sounds like sport, doesn’t it?!

olympic lifting and all unassisted free weight training will improve performance to primal standard and beyond if guided by an experienced conditioning coach. to clarify what i mean by “primal standard”, consider that as developmental beings we had to squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist, walk, jog, and run efficiently and effectively to survive. if you couldn’t perform these essential primal patterns, you were a drain on your family or dead, one of the two! an important point to make here is that all seven primal patterns (gait includes walking, jogging, and running) required that you maintain your center of gravity over your base of support at all times. additionally, they require high levels of neuromuscular integration and significant levels of coordination, and, depending on what you were doing, required one or a combination of both righting and tilting reflex activation. can we say the same for today’s modern machine-based training environment? even if you don’t consider yourself an “athlete”, or if you are elderly, all the principles of developing athleticism apply to you! i commonly tell my patients, “if you can’t, you must!” because it’s the movements you have a hard time doing, or can’t do, which get you that unfortunate day when you have to move that way.

the length / force relationships developed with free weights are exactly what the sports doctor ordered in every way. with free weight training, our joint mechanics and gravity create an environment that produces the greatest load on the muscle-tendon complex at a point approximating the strongest point of the length / force relationship of any given muscle-tendon-joint complex. for example, if you were to do a biceps curl with a dumbbell, the load is at its maximum when your forearm is parallel to the earth; that is about mid-range with relation to the sliding (contractile) filaments in the muscle. in contrast, a biceps curl done against stretch cord resistance produces continually increasing load as the stretch cord lengthens. therefore, the obvious point of maximum loading becomes the point at which the muscle is maximally shortened, which is not where we tend to use our muscles to perform functional activities; with that in mind, you may wonder just how valuable stretch cord training is over the long term.

in conclusion

to improve performance and prevent injury, consider we are all still cave men and women wearing nice clothes and driving cars. when embarking on an exercise program for general health and fitness or for sport, you must ask yourself what biomotor abilities your leisure, work or sport environment requires and select exercises that will enhance performance, not detract from it. in short, the best thing you can do is train predominantly with free weights, a dura-ball and some balance and proprioception training toys. you will not only improve performance and prevent injury but you will have fun! if you feel you need guidance, there is a network of highly skilled, highly trained c.h.e.k practitioners available to assess you and develop conditioning and nutrition programs specific to your needs.

this is an article by paul chek by the way

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