What on earth I hear you say! Yes I know but bare with me. Far too often we get client’s into our clinic who have been dutifully working out in the gym only to find that the exact muscle they are trying to strengthen is still weak! “How can that be ” they cry, I work that muscle in the gym all the time.
More often than not the cause of this injustice is the fact that they are lifting far too heavier a weight and as a result they aren’t working the muscle they think they are. If a muscle can’t handle the weight you are giving it, it will go and find some muscly friends to give them a hand, in fact it may even eventually go and get a cup of tea while those friends do all the work.
It is easy to see when this is happening in the clinic or gym. Take the Latissimus Dorsi muscle, for example. This is a muscle that is heavily trained in the gym, how do we know if it is actually doing the work, simple, take the weight right down, we often use a yellow band, and get them to do a lat pulldown action slowly while making sure they have perfect form. Often they will be seriously struggling to do the movement slowly and with control. In the gym they will often do the movement quickly and with all sorts of compensatory movements, resulting in them not really using the muscle at all.
Another great example of this is the Bicep Curl, a particular favourite of mine. So often in the gym do I see someone doing a bicep curl by rocking their spine forwards and back, the Bicep is hardly doing anything. I do take a slightly vindictive pleasure in giving these people a 0.5 kg weight and getting them to do it properly, with no other movement and slowly, as I watch them struggle in astonishment.
So why slowly? Well, simply put, the slower you do a movement, the more control you need to have and therefore, the more strength you need. To get this strength you recruit more muscle fibres. Most people can lift a heavy weight by using momentum, but take momentum away and you have to rely on those muscle fibres, and suddenly all those weaknesses show up. This is great for a therapist struggling to work out which muscles aren’t working correctly, but even better for the trainer who can’t work out why they aren’t getting the results they want for their client. Slow the movement down and watch really carefully for compensatory movements.
So the message really is, don’t be afraid to use the lower weights in your weight rack, my most used weight is the 0.5kg weight and yes even with seriously trained people! Always be aware of how small many of these muscles are. I sometimes see people trying to train rotator cuffs with 5kg weights in their hands . These are tiny muscles, 0.5kg or 1kg really is plenty for them. Save the bigger weights for the larger muscles of the shoulder.
So, if you take the weights down to the level the muscle can handle on it’s own without any help, it will strengthen. Hence you can “lower the weight to get stronger”. Then once it has more strength add in the more functional strength work to get those interactive muscle firing patterns going, sure in the belief that each muscle is doing the correct job.
If using this for CPD, try this question.
You ask your client to perform a lat pulldown while sitting on a swiss ball. While they are performing this move you notice that they lift up off the ball at the start of the movement and lean back as they pull down. What does this indicate, which muscles other than the Latisimus Dorsi might they be using to perform this movement? How might you be able to rectify this to ensure they are working the Latisimus Dorsi correctly?
Then write it all up in your CPD logbook for reflective learning. . For your FREE CPD log