Health Front: Getting Weaker and Wasting Time
By DR. JERRY DeCAPUA, TRT Contributing Writer
Machine resistance training has often been the dominant mode of exercise for the last two decades. Strength training on machines and weight lifting may be an effective way to increase maximal muscle strength; however this stabilized, single plane training on machines does not provide the neuromuscular efficiency needed to use maximum strength in an integrated fashion. Although weight lifting, machine resistance and even bicycle riding can increase strength and performance, they are at the very low end of the functional spectrum. No single plane stabilized exercise can compare to the performance provided by functional exercises. Functional exercise is different than just building muscles up by single joint strength training. Functional exercises trains for functionality. It integrates and coordinates movement. This real life movement (functional) for performance is impeded by single plane training. Rather than training individual muscles, functional exercise is training chains of muscles & joints to enhance coordinated movement.
Machine exercises produce larger muscles without developing the inner core muscles that are required for real world integration and coordination. The best athletes are not the ones with the biggest thighs or biceps. Rarely! Their distinguishing qualities are motor control: the ability to exert strength quickly and with perfect synergy throughout the body linkage while in a dynamic balance. Many body building principles such as “isolating a muscle during training” were intended to hypertrophy muscle, mainly for a certain esthetic. Isolating single muscles with machines or weights retards the various levels of motor learning required for optimal functional performance. Overuse of large muscles not only retards the inner core muscles, but dominates them. This domination creates asymmetrical movements in everyday activities and in sports. Needed functional movement and performance is impeded, and exchanged, by movement lacking integration, balance and coordination. The person with such an unbalanced gait may appear to walk like a dinosaur, the hulk, or governor Schwarzenegger.
Further weight training will not enhance an athlete’s performance. But functional training gives you functional strength by enhancing coordinated movement. It utilizes a broad use of all types of muscles that include the inner core, as well as those that adjust structure that will provide balance and adaptation. Integrated and functional strength you can really use. Much of functional training is asymmetrical to mimic asymmetrical movements in daily life and sports. Core muscles are more engaged when exercise has an unstable surface. This enhances global muscles from the core on down the entire kinetic chain.
Free weights like dumbells are used asymmetrically and without a stable platform for isolating large muscles. Their use integrates more muscle coordination throughout a kinetic chain of muscles and nerves. The nerves need to adjust to position sense to facilitate core stabilization. The constant change and repatterning of our position sense allows for refinement of movement. A complete core stabilization workout wouldconsider sensory (position sense) and muscle balancing (functional exercises). Activities and exercises that are considered more functional would be volleyball, basketball, dance, soccer, swimming and tai chi.
Bikes, weight lifting and workout machines are inefficient in enhancing position sense feedback, integrating and recruiting core muscle utilization, and increasing coordination and balance.
Many exercise studies are now revealing that the over encouragement of weight lifting and machine trainers for overbuilding large muscles are actually making athletes more prone to injuries. All the strength in the world is worth little if one cannot stabilize or balance it. Overly controlled exercise environments contribute to instability and injury. Dynamic functional training stimulates body posture, balance and the coordination of all muscle groups. It enhances integration and globalization of muscle groups while improving overall performance. Any form of exercise may be of some benefit. However, the most efficient kind that benefits daily performance are functional exercises. A hamster may run well on his treadmill, but treadmill training won’t allow him to avoid the agile cat.