What & Why
How To Train Safely, Yet Productively
How To Train Smart:
Exercise should always be performed in the safest manner possible. And anyone who unnecessarily adds an element that compromises the safety of an exercise has no business instructing others. This can happen in many ways: lifting quickly, adding elements of balance, subpar exercise selection, teaching/using poor form, or trying to emulate specific activities with exercise, and more. On this page, I’ll address the aforementioned aspects.
Why Joint Health Should Be A Focus:
The bones and connective tissue that constitutes your joints receives far less direct blood flow than your muscles and organs. As such, joint injuries often take far longer to heal and recover from than injuries to muscles. There tends to be a very muscle-centric mindset with respect to exercise. A big problem with conventional exercise is if you are using high force movements, you may be causing subacute trauma to your joints. This subacute injury can accumulate and potentially cause an injury down the road (think of someone who exercises a lot, then randomly tears a tendon while training.)
Joint friendly fitness ultimately comes down to using movements that comport to muscle and joint function, limiting force especially near the end points of the range of motion, and having slow changes of direction.
The Problem With Lifting Quickly:
99% of fitness professionals will tell you to lift quickly (or sadly, explosively). But the positive adaptations that happen from exercise are not a result of force, they are a result of metabolic stress and mechanical tension. Because muscles pull on joints, any force generated by the muscles is transferred to the joints. The only thing that lifting quickly produces that slow lifting doesn’t – is injuries.
Why You Shouldn’t Combine Balance & Weights:
Nowadays it’s trendy to perform all manner of exercises while balancing on a ball or standing on one leg. It’s generally thought that adding balance will emphasize stabilizer muscles and will positively transfer into more stability in everyday life.
There are a couple of problems here. By adding an element of balance, the movement is inherently more dangerous. The more mental and physical energy that is expended towards not falling, the less is available to safely move the resistance in its desired path. Most injuries are causes by bad form, so you’re making yourself far more likely to get hurt. You’re also reducing the effectiveness of the exercise by limiting the overload towards the targeted muscles.
Think about it this way. People perform bicep curls to strengthen their biceps. In a standing bicep curl, the abs, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and lumbar extensors all contract isometrically to stabilize body posture as the weight is lifted. Those muscle groups are working as stabilizers. But no one performs bicep curls to work those muscles. Similarly, it’s silly to add balance to work muscles for stability when they can be more effectively and safely worked through separate exercises.
The positive benefit that people experience from performing balance related movements comes from the involved musculature becoming stronger, not from practicing balance itself. As such, the safer and smarter way to train is to use exercises that directly train the core to strengthen the supporting musculature.
If you took away all of the connected muscles, the weight of a full soda can is enough to cause a perfectly aligned spinal column to collapse. All spinal stability and strength comes from muscles contracting to maintain proper posturing or permit a natural range of motion. Most mobility issues then are a neurological protective mechanism. The body recognizes weaknesses in muscles and limits movement to prevent injury. Think of how many individuals struggle to bend forward and touch their toes – many will feel a lot of tightness in their hamstrings or lower back. Yet, if you put them on a leg curl machine or lumbar extension machine they can perform full range of movement exercises. The issue isn’t some intrinsic inability to move past a certain point in the range of motion, it’s weak muscles.
Exercise Selection Matters:
There are many ways to work a particular muscle. Because there are many ways to work a muscle, not all of them can best comport to muscle and joint function. Some exercises are inherently better than others. Things like shaking battle ropes may look fun, but it’s a suboptimal way to work the biceps, forearms, and anterior delts. It can be strenuous on the elbows and shoulders.
You often see exercises like tricep kickbacks performed to work the back of the arms. People may feel the triceps working, but the strength curve of this movement is opposite of the resistance curve (see my YouTube channel for more detail).
Using suboptimal equipment can create a false sense of hard work and effectiveness. You deserve a trainer who understands the following: strength curves, resistance curves, variable vs fixed resistance, the length tension relationship, the force velocity curve, and the principle of orderly recruitment. If your trainer doesn’t understand all of these extremely well, you should get a new trainer.
Never Compromise On Form:
The most common cause of injury from exercise is from bad form. Anyone who has ever studied any martial art knows how painful joint locks can be. Applying force on a joint near its limit of the range of motion is extremely painful and can very easily lead to injury. A simply thumb lock can easily bring a 250lb bodybuilder to his knees.
I’ve been fortunate to have never had any severe injuries from exercise. The closest I came was a strained shoulder from an overhead press. I was using a weight that was heavier than I should have used, and in pressing it, the weight drifted backwards, exaggerating the external rotation of the shoulder and causing me to yell out in pain and drop the weight.
The overhead press is a perfectly safe exercise when performed with HIT protocol, but for individuals who are arching their back in overhead presses, or are swinging weights during bicep curls, or are rounding their backs during deadlifts… they’re looking at exercise with the wrong focus. Exercise isn’t about what your muscles can do for the weights. It’s about what the weights can do for your muscles. Your job isn’t to arbitrarily move a weight for a number of sets and repetitions. Your job is to safely use the weights to overload and inroad the muscles.
Proper exercise should look very mechanical and methodical. Any compromise on form compromises safety, and should not be permitted.
Don’t Use Exercise To Simulate Sport:
It’s common to see golfers or boxers using cables or dumbbells and quickly swinging through familiar movements like a golf swing or a punch. I’ve already talked about how lifting quickly is a bad idea, but simulating specific movements is also problematic.
Skill specificity is extremely precise. I have two MSI laptops – one at work and one at home. The keyboards upon a visual inspection appear to be identical. I do far more writing at work, but when I work on my laptop at home, the subtle differences in the keyboards become evident with me making significantly more typos. This is known as a negative skill transfer – the idea that performing an activity that is extremely similar to another will cause a reduction in ability or efficiency. Me being extremely used to my work computer causes a negative skill transfer in my ability to write at home.
It’s this reason, that golfers shouldn’t use cables and rotate their torso like a golf swing. I get the idea, they want to strengthen those muscles in that movement. But it’s just going to cause them to less efficiently swing a club. The better idea is to strengthen the muscles of the trunk through crunches, lumbar extension, and something for the obliques and let your golf swing maintain and improve upon its neuromuscular efficiency.
A very common example is a baseball player who is on deck. They often put weights on their bats and swing in a similar timing as the pitcher throws the pitch. The problem is, by adding weight to the bat, you’re changing the relative involvement of the muscles involved. Forearm flexors/extensors and the posterior delts will have far more involvement swinging a weighed bat. A few swings are taken, and then when the weight is removed and the batter steps up to the plate, they’ve just conditioned a similar pathway different than the activity they are about to perform. No batter should do this. And any athletic trainer seeing this should stop it immediately for their team. Yet players and teams are so inculcated in their beliefs they continue to do it always.
Take Home Points:
Exercise has the capability to produce incredible positive changes in the body, but it can also produce massive injuries. Safety should never be compromised and should be the primary focus of any movement.
I could talk at length about these topics, but you really need to experience this workout to understand it. Book an appointment below for 2 FREE workouts and let’s get your fitness journey started today.
Master HIT Trainer
I’m a lifetime drug free bodybuilder interested in helping people improve their health and functional ability. I’ve trained athletes, active and former service military, the elderly, and numerous individuals with chronic conditions in this manner, and all have seen marked improvements.
I’m based in Southeast Wisconsin and own 18 Minute Fitness. I also produce content on YouTube and am writing a book on philosophy & fitness.