Stability Work - The Future of Fitness AND the Future of Pain Management
I trained as a fitness coach and sports therapist way back at the turn of the century. We were taught how to lift weights and the governing principle was ‘isolation’. The idea being that if you want to get greatest muscle development you really need to isolate and target each muscle as best you can.
In recent years there has been a new wave of influence on the fitness industry in the form of a big move towards ‘functional movement’. Functional movements are where instead of isolating muscles the teaching is to move in more natural ways and use groups of cooperative or ‘synergistic’ muscles in unison. The emphasis is often also on explosivity and speed in movement…. like Cross Fit and the like.
The slowly dying trend for isolating muscles I was taught back in the day came directly from the sport of body building. Body building and body builders essentially invented and commoditised the idea of a gym where the public could go to do resistance training for the betterment of their health. It was inevitable then that the entire industry grew from the paradigm and techniques preferred by body builders.
This mass prescription of exercise through weight training for our society was essentially dictated not by doctors, exercise physiologists, physiotherapists or chiropractors but by a hardcore group of individuals dedicated to maximising muscle growth above all else even to the detriment of their health.
We didn’t all start taking steroids but countless millions of us did ( and still do ) take the protein shakes and dedicate countless more hours to obscure and impractical body building movements that we now know aren’t good for much more than growing large, dense but fairly usless muscle.
What’s Current ?
So having partially cast of the shackles of body building routines we the public now find ourselves being prescribed something that on the face of it seems far more wise and useful .. functional movements. But having had experience of wasting so much energy on bicep exercises thus far we should bring a healthy scepticism to the table and ask who it is that is telling us we need to throw bars over head for our health.
The current trend for circuit based, function , compound ( using multiple muscles groups at 1 time ) movements nearly always with an emphasis on high speed, high intensity and high reps has filtered through from the world of ‘strength & conditioning’ for athletes.
Sports performance has undergone a massive evolution made possibly by the strength and conditioning paradigm. Sports people can now jump higher, run faster: throw further and hit harder than ever before largely because of progress in strength and conditioning… and now this trend has influenced the health and fitness industry. If you go to any large gym in any city now you will find multiple classes which involve this kind of high intensity whole body approach to exercise.
So are we being slightly inadvertently misdirected again by the strength and conditioning paradigm as we were by the body builders ? Well the answer for some of us is ‘yes’ and for others ‘no’.
If you are essentially already very fit and not injury prone whatsoever and you simply love the hardcore-ness please do all the high intensity and cross fit you like with my full blessing. Cross Fit and systems like it are all awesome stuff and sooo much more stimulating, valuable and real than sitting on machines punishing your rear deltoids.
But what if you are not particularly fit .. not particularly strong and/or you have some stubborn or re-occurring back pain, neck pain, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, hip pain, knee pain etc ???? If you tick yes to any of the above and you are being sold a high velocity, high intensity, whole body exercise paradigm like cross fit as being the best thing for you …. you have been misdirected and misinformed my friend.
What Should we be Doing ? What’s Next ?
The real question here is this ‘ what should the ‘Everyman / Everywoman’ who is not already in peak physical condition and who wants to get the maximum benefit and minimum risk out of their workout time be doing ?
We should be learning relatively slow controlled movements using weights we can easily manage and with a great emphasis on technique, form and body awareness. Many of the exercises we should be doing are the same ones that exist in the current ‘athlete paradigm’ but we should be learning them slowly and thoroughly which means going slow. We should definitely be working very hard and getting there good old fashioned burn but instead though the use of weights we can control and through exerting that control. Taking this approach eliminates injuries in the long and short term but it also builds a deeply functional strength in the muscles and tendons.
The benefits that I have personally experienced through learning about correct squatting technique and then reducing the weight I use by 2/3 and opting instead of extreme and sow controlled squats has been completely transformative. I feel stronger and more flexion than I ever did in my days of ego driven Olympic lifting where I pushed the amount of weight beyond what I could lift with full control.
What I am describing here imparts stability to the bodies joints and connective tissue and I predict it will be rather future of strength and conditioning once many of us get fed up of.