Saturday, May 31, 2008

Putting Aesthetics Before Function

Over my sixteen years of strength training I have learned a lot. The more I learn, the more I see how 'bodybuilding' is not conducive to fitness, performance, or health. The bodybuilders (male and female) you see in the fitness magazines look like the healthiest people around. And, that is just the problem...they look like the healthiest people around, so you believe that they must know all about health and fitness. We must believe anything they say or do is correct. The problem is, they are driven by developing a lean, muscular-looking physique and nothing else. They are not interested in developing a strong, coordinated, flexible, fully functioning muscles and joints. Bodybuilders lead people to think that strength training is very dangerous or will cause you to be muscle-bound. These are two unfortunate misconceptions that discourage many from even starting to strength train. Or, another problem is someone will start lifting weights with the instruction of a bodybuilder/bodybuilding trainer. "keep lifting this weight until you feel the burn; 200 more crunches; do your curls on the BOSU to really hit your core." This bodybuilding pseudoknowledge perpetuates on and on. When I come along and say "no, I would not recommend that at all, I would recommend this, because...." People don't understand why my recommendations are so different than "what they always heard." It continues to be an uphill battle.

Today, I overheard two female bodybuilders discussing their training. One is preparing for a 'figure competition' (bodybuilding in high heels). She was asked why she was doing a particular exercise (a cable torso rotation). She replied that she was told to do so by her trainer and it targeted the obliques (sides of waist) without getting them too big! And, that she used light weights and higher reps because she did not want to "throw her back out." Seems logical to most, but here is the problem. She is pursuing aesthetics over function. If she or her trainer knew a little more about the body or weren't so focused on bodybuilding, they would minimize her risk of back injury, not raise it. You see, the obliques are key spinal stabilizers that prevent the back from buckling under force. So, yes you want them strong, but the way they were training them was actually increasing disc pressure and the risk of injury! Also, since bodybuilding calls for a certain look (wide shoulders, narrow waist), they thought that they should train the upper body hard and easily work the mid-section, not to over develop it. That is another problem, segmenting the body into muscle groups. The torso muscles function to stabilize the spine and transfer force between the shoulders/arms and hips/legs. The torso muscles should be trained in almost all movements...just like they are used in life. Free-weights should be used without the assist of a machine or bench. Trained this way, the body will have the awareness, coordination, and strength in all the muscles involved in stabilizing the spine. How about that, function over aesthetics. Sounds backwards, especially to those who regularly read Muscle and Fitness or Shape magazine. For me, however, the foundation of all of my training.

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