Exercise could be compared to a drug. You can decide to take it or leave it and if you get the wrong prescription, you can suffer terrible side effects. If you don’t take it, you can also have negative side effects.
One of the problems with the fitness industry is its cookie-cooker approach to the design of training programmes. Many new clients who arrive at our gym have previously been undertaking programmes that were not tailored to their individual needs, taking into account their goals, imbalances, flexibility issues or injury profiles.
There is a similar problem in medicine. Symptoms like high cholesterol or blood pressure, chronic tiredness, illness, constipation are presented and a corresponding drug is prescribed to ‘fix’ the problem. The journey that got each individual to these symptoms could be entirely different so a medical solution should be tailored to the individual.
If you go into a kitchen and the sink is over-flowing you are left with two options to control and remedy the situation. Turn off the tap that is compounding the problem, or unplug the sink to relieve the tension.
When we assessed Debbie structurally a few months ago, her posture was slumped, with rounded shoulders, and she was structurally imbalanced in her upper and lower body. This meant there were some weak and tight muscles in her body that left her with one arm and leg considerably stronger than the other.
To remedy the situation it was important to select exercises that strengthened her weak muscles and also exercises that would be a ‘range of promotion’ exercises. The tighter muscles were to be stretched to allow Debbie to get in the right position.
Each exercise you perform in a gym should be given to you with a goal in mind. Since Debbie has one arm and one leg weaker than the other we needed to perform single-limb exercises where the weaker arm or leg is prioritised.
We chose a weight that would challenge Debbie to reach her repetition range and the weaker arm or leg dictates how many repetitions the stronger leg performs. What we are looking for is balance and equilibrium.
The exercises (see panel) follow a format where Debbie will perform all three sets of her A exercises before she progresses on to her B exercises etc. Debbie is using a stopwatch with a countdown timer to ensure that she sticks to her short rest intervals so she creates some lactate that will also help change her shape.
Debbie had displayed weakness in testing around the vastus medialis obliques (VMO) muscle which increases the likelihood of a future knee injury. The VMO muscle works in knee extension. The step-ups and split squats work the VMO while doing a side step-up strengthens the muscles at the side of the hip called gluteus medialis.
Women have a bigger hip to knee angle, called the Q angle, to accommodate childbirth and so these exercises target the body to create stability and strength in these areas.
The single arm lat pull-down muscle is a vertical pulling motion to bring the scapula (shoulder blade) nearer to the spine to help correct Debbie’s posture.
The pulley gives these muscles a great stretch before you retract them, while also addressing the muscular imbalances in her left and right arms.
This motion of exercise is counter-balanced with a braced single arm shoulder press exercise, which involves a vertical pressing motion overhead. Pressing overhead is a much better exercise than a flat chest press or a press up for Debbie, as her shoulder blades have more freedom to move. A flat chest-press exercise would compound her poor posture problems in the same way that leaving the tap running would lead to an overflowing sink.
The selection of exercises for Debbie’s posterior chain of hamstrings, gluts and low back muscles were targeted with the single leg hamstring curl and the back extensions. The hamstring muscles on the back of your leg cross both the knee and the hip joints so they must be trained as a knee flexor and a hip extensor.
The hamstrings are an explosive muscle used in sprinting, deceleration and change of direction and so we use lower repetitions to train these.
The low back muscles are important for your core and are more endurance in nature. The back extension trains them in a contracted position.
The devil really is in the details of an exercise programme. Debbie points the toe inwards in the leg curl. Pointing the toe isolates the hamstrings and by turning the leg inwards you are forcing the body to recruit the semi-membranous part of the hamstrings, which will stop Debbie’s knee buckling inwards when she runs.
The hamstrings have three muscles, so a trainer’s knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology is important when it comes to your programme design.
The C exercises in Debbie’s programme are insurance exercises to prevent future injuries in her core and rotator cuff of her shoulders.
They will not inspire fat loss but they will ultimately eliminate Debbie’s weak links and increase her strength so in the future she can lift heavier weights and continuously burn more of the fat to achieve her goal.
If your training programme was given to you with no in-depth assessment, it is likely your sink will soon overflow. Remember exercise is like a drug and your trainer must know what they are prescribing. Otherwise it is likely to result in unwanted side effects.