Saturday, March 22, 2008

Focus on Movement Patterns in Your Training

"He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love."
- Ephesians 4:16

The muscles of the body work together to perform various movements. Whether you bend down to pick something up or reach up to grab something or put something over your head, many muscles throughout the body are working to make those activities possible.

At no point is one muscle isolated to perform any of those activities. When training the body, it's almost impossible to truly isolate each muscle (although many bodybuilders will tell you otherwise).

For example, when bench pressing, the muscles involved include the chest, triceps, shoulders, lats, abdominals and even the legs (to support the body). The same is true when squatting or performing any other exercise such as a biceps curl.

Many trainers and bodybuilders will tell you that a biceps curl works the biceps. However, the supporting muscles of the shoulders, lats and abdominals are also involved to a certain degree. So although a biceps curl works the biceps, it's impossible to isolate that one muscle.

Since the body works together to perform various tasks, activities and exercises, it should be trained in a similar way. By focusing on movement patterns, you help strengthen the muscles in the body that will help you accomplish the various activities mentioned above.

Below is a list of the most common movement patterns typically used (these are terms popularized by Ian King, an Australian strength coach):

1) Horizontal Pushing (various forms of bench pressing exercises, pushups, etc.)
2) Horizontal Pulling (various forms of rowing exercises, face pulls, etc.)
3) Vertical Pushing (various forms of overhead pressing exercises, handstand pushups, etc.)
4) Vertical Pulling (various forms of chins/pull-ups and lat pulldown exercises)
5) Quad-dominant (various forms of squatting exercises, step-ups, lunges, etc.)
6) Hip-dominant (various forms of deadlifting exercises, goodmornings, etc.)

Although the above terms were popularized by Ian King, these basic movements were defined several decades ago. According to Motor Learning and Performance, 3rd Edition, Richard A. Schmidt defined the six basic human movements as: squat, bend (deadlift), lunge, push, pull and twist. A seventh could be added as running (according to Alwyn Cosgrove in The New Rules of Lifting). Again, the basic premise is that these are basic movement patterns that the body performs and is the reason why these movement patterns should be followed in training.

Traditionally, bodybuilders train muscles not movements. They typically divide their weekly training sessions into "body part splits" such as chest and triceps, back and biceps or legs and abs or one of many other types of body part combinations. For a bodybuilder, this makes sense. Their goal is to develop as much muscle mass as possible in each area of the body. Athletic ability and daily functionality are not very important to the bodybuilder. In essence, they are "athletic mannequins" and only interested in being aesthetically pleasing regardless of function.

Bodybuilders also use a very high volume of training and have the time to train up to 6-7 times per week and even multiple times per day (not to mention that many are using anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs). This means that the training methods of bodybuilders doesn't apply to the average person with a full-time job, family obligations, other commitments, etc.

Unfortunately, this type of training is what most of the general population follows. This is a result of the various bodybuilding and fitness magazines and their misinformation in promoting "body part" training. This type of training has become very popular and most people think they must follow this type of routine in order to get results.

However, more people would get better results in their training if they stopped thinking about exercising certain muscles and instead focused on movement patterns. Ideally, you would have an equal amount of pulling exercises as pushing exercises and an equal amount of quad-dominant exercises as hip-dominant exercises. This will help to keep the body balanced and help with muscle and strength gains over time while helping to prevent injuries due to muscular imbalances.

For example, many people experience shoulder pain from bench pressing. Not only could it be the result of poor technique, but most often, it is a result of performing many more horizontal pushing movements than pulling movements.

We've all been to the gym on Monday evening. If you look around, it appears to be the universal day to train the chest. Almost every bench is occupied and people are pressing for many sets. Yet, you hardly see anyone give that much attention to rowing exercises and even chin-ups and pull-ups!

By focusing on movement patterns, you will also help keep your muscles functioning the way they are meant to be used. Most athletes focus on movement patterns not muscles. At the same time, many athletes develop fantastic physiques as a result of their training. They focus on athletic movements while developing strength, speed, conditioning, endurance and more.

As Dan John (a strength coach in Utah) has said many times: "The Body is One Piece!"

At Christian Athlete Fitness Training, we utilize training programs that use movement patterns and full-body or upper/lower body splits each training session. This gives the most bang for the buck and carries over to the athletic field and life's daily functions better. This doesn't mean we don't perform "isolation" movements such as biceps curls. We will use some of those movements in our training, but they do not make up a large percentage of what we do. The majority of the exercises we use are focused on compound, multi-joint movements such as squats, bench presses, rows, deadlifts, overhead presses, chin-ups, dips, power cleans and more.

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