Articles of the Week

fitness-articles

Every Sunday Free Form Academy posts a list of the best articles that will help make you a better trainer. The articles are grouped into 4 categories: Exercise, Business, Motivational Psychology, and Nutrition. The links will be opened in a new window.

Exercise

Why External Focus of Attention Maximizes Motor Performance and Learning by Justin Kompf

Is Your Ab Workout Making You Look Fat? by Bret Contreras

Torch Fat with Free-weight Finishers by Ben Bruno

Nutrition

Nine Worthwhile Habits That Increase Fat Loss by Poliquin Group Editorial Staff

How to Eat Low Carb as a Vegetarian or Vegan by Joe Leech

My Testimony to Canada’s Senate Regarding Obesity and Action by Yoni Freedhoff

Psychology

Fast Weight Loss VS Easy Weight Loss by Sean Flanagan

5 Ways to Move Forward After Experiencing Failure by Tara Schiller

7 Strategies to Shift From Goal Setting to Manifesting by Nicole Cherisse

Business

Using “Reason Why” to Persuade, Influence, and Maximize Sales by Yanik Silver

Minimizing Key Man Risk While Scaling Your Business by Pete Dupuis

Knowledge vs. Experience by Mike Robertson

Feel the Burn! How to Teach the Mind-muscle Connection

Seated Row

By pursuing a career as a personal trainer, movement and exercise is probably something that comes naturally to you.

Neuromuscular control and body awareness are not things that you have to think about. It may come as a surprise to hear that some people simply are not able to actively contract certain muscles or feel when they are working.

In a push and flexion dominant society, the most common areas that people have trouble controlling are the muscles in their back and the glutes. These muscles have the most trouble getting consciously stimulated because of lack of use.

Our bodies like to be efficient. If it finds that a muscle isn’t being used very often, it learns to shuttle its resources to areas that are being used.

The term gluteal amnesia is used to describe the phenomenon of poor glute activation. I often joke about how the glutes are muscles and not just padding for people to sit on.

According to Stuart Mcgill, gluteal amnesia is no joke. In his experience, poor glute control leads to overuse of the hamstrings and back extensors, which is a factor in low back pain.

Why the mind-muscle connection matters

The brain controls the rest of your body through a network of nerves. This includes your muscles. The more you can feel a muscle during an exercise, the more it is doing the work.

The term isolation is used to describe single joint exercises that target a particular muscle. For example, the bench press and the fly are both exercises that target the chest or pecs.

The bench press is a compound movement, as it causes motion at two joints: the shoulder and the elbow. This means that in addition to the pecs, the triceps and other muscles are also involved to extend the elbow.

The fly is considered to “isolate” the pecs more because only the shoulder joint is moving. However, does that mean other muscles aren’t involved in the movement? With the fly, other muscles in your shoulders and arms are also involved in helping the pecs perform the movement.

The point is that all of our muscles are connected. One muscle group cannot be contracted without also stimulating adjacent muscle groups. The mind-muscle connection matters because it allows you to focus on muscles that you want to target rather than having more dominant muscles take over.

Prevent muscle imbalances

The most common example of not working the right muscle is during rowing exercises. The lack of control that people tend to have in their back causes them to use their biceps more than their back. Most people need to do more rows to counteract all of the flexion that occurs in their lives. However, a program full of rows is not very effective if clients are treating them as an arm exercise.

Incorrect row where mostly the arms are being used
Incorrect row where mostly the arms are being used

 

Correct row where scapular retraction is visible, indicating proper muscle activation
Correct row where scapular retraction is visible, indicating proper muscle activation

Avoid injury

As mentioned above, poor glute control is a factor in low back pain and injury. When clients complain of back pain, they always think that it is because their back is weak. This is not necessarily the case. It is more likely the opposite: their back is actually quite strong. The problem is that because the glutes aren’t functioning properly, the back ends up taking more of the load and become overworked. Overworked muscles become tired muscles. Tired muscles get injured.

After an injury, physiotherapists often use electrical stimulation on weak muscles to help them strengthen and contract. When you help clients improve their mind-muscle connection, you are strengthening their brain’s own electrical signals to the muscles. The stronger and more effective the signal, the greater the muscular control.

How to help clients improve their mind-muscle connection

As someone who may not have this problem, it can be difficult to know where to start when trying to teach someone how to contract a muscle that they can’t feel.

It can get quite frustrating for yourself and for your client. Simply saying “just do it” doesn’t work (believe me, I’ve tried). Here are 3 things you can do to help your clients develop a stronger mind-muscle connection.

  1. Touch the area that you want your clients to contract. This will help them locate exactly where the muscle is that they should be feeling.
  2. Use isometric holds. Get your client to hold the top of the movement for a few seconds. Tell them to really “squeeze” the muscle to give them a better sense of what it should feel like.
  3. Lots and lots of repetition is what clients need. It is important not to get frustrated. Don’t spend too much time on it during any single session, but make sure that they are practicing a little bit each day.

Exercise and Weight Loss: The Shocking Truth

123RF – Edward Olive

 

We are always scanning for the latest information that will advance knowledge about fitness, nutrition and other topics of relevance for improved health and wellness. But our latest find regarding exercise and weight loss is challenging, even to us, who are always ready and willing to be challenged….

What if we are to tell you that physical exercise does not make you lose weight? A bit shocking wouldn’t you say?  Yet it is the assertion made by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. During a presentation given to participants at a recent conference of Physical and Health Education Canada (https://www.facebook.com/WeightyMatters/posts/843298892409027), professor Freedhoff really debunked the generally accepted belief that if we exercise regularly, we will lose weight. Referring to a slew of scientific studies, Dr. Freedhoff’s contended that there is no relationship between exercise and weight loss. His conclusions are difficult to refute; the science is there.

Now, what do we do with THAT? All personal trainers might as well head for the unemployment line, right? And what about fitness studios and clubs? They might as well declare bankruptcy right now! Well, maybe not. Professor Freedhoff’s remarks need to be examined a bit more.

 

  1. Exercise remains the world’s best drug to improve your health

    No “ifs” or “buts” about it. Dr. Freedhoff is clear about this in his remarks: Exercise is the most important, modifiable, determinant of health. The important message here is that you will be in better health if you chose to exercise, since it is a choice that you control. Exercise is a proven remedy against most contemporary illnesses such as heart attacks and diabetes.

  2. Exercise, by itself, has little or no impact on weight

    Using objective results of multiple studies, professor Freedhoff contends that there is no realistic means to prescribe exercise to prevent people from gaining weight. One of those studies followed two cohorts of men over 20 years to measure the effect of exercise on their weight. Results are surprising: men reporting an exercise regimen of 150 minutes or more a week on average – which is a lot – all gained weight, but only .4 pounds/year less than those exercising only 90 minutes a week. It is a marginal difference per year (of weight gain, let’s not forget) between the super active and the less active participants involved in the study.

  3. The narrative about a “balanced life style” is used for promotion

    The narrative about healthy life styles has been hijacked by some food providers to link certain products with health benefits, including weight loss, even if there is no evidence to support it. A good example may be chocolate milk, which is touted as the recovery beverage of choice after exercise. Yet, the benefits are more nuanced. The caloric and sugar content of chocolate milk are much too high, but it contains seven to eight grams of good protein per serving, which may support muscle recovery after intense workout. So while chocolate milk may bring benefits to athletes, it may not be the case for the rest of the population. The food industry is sometimes telling only part of the story when they associate certain products with a healthy lifestyle.

 

Are there lessons that fitness specialists can draw from Dr. Freedhoff’s information? We can suggest only three:

  • Stay critically informed

    With access to so much information generated by technologies, remain critical of what you learn. What passes as information may sometimes be promotion;

  • Always promote the importance of good nutrition to your clients

    The benefits of proper nutrition as a healthy way to control weight are well documented and it remains a critical element in the trainers’ tool kit;

  • Be careful about the narrative when engaging clients

    The psychological and physiological benefits of exercise are undeniable. Stressing those benefits to clients that have difficulties exercising remains critical. But in light of the insight provided by Dr. Freedhoff, it may be time to reconsider the link made in the past between exercise and weight loss. Both those concepts may exist separately, but not together.

Note: For more insights on Dr. Freedhoff’s work, please visit his web site at www.weightymatters.ca. Any inaccuracies or omissions that may have been made when highlighting his work in this blog are mine.