Let’s break down topics. Let’s start with the fact that if you want to gain muscle mass, you must sacrifice flexibility and mobility. It is not true. Having a square back should not prevent you from reaching for the typical tomato can that always flees towards the back of the closet. Not even the one on the ground. Second: you have to be careful with people who have biceps like a cantaloupe melon, that the bigger the muscles, the more force they display. Admittedly, if they push trucks in the competition to be the strongest man in the world, it is clear that every ounce of muscle mass is thoroughly trained, but this rule is not inexorably enforced in your neighborhood gym. Third, and most important: strongmen have sawdust on their heads. To clarify this absurd cliché, suffice it to say that Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the famous Spanish Nobel Prize winner, was one of them in the times when hypertrophy stalwarts were called precisely that, strongmen. And now, a truth: if you only see strength work as a way to chisel a body worthy of Instagram, you probably do your best, but you are not taking the exercise your best prize: wellness for today and health for tomorrow.
It is not about feeding the myth that aesthetics are not important; To a greater or lesser extent, everyone likes to look good and have a more or less defined body. To some extent, the image matters. But having a perfect abdominal tablet, herculean arms, or a perky butt isn’t the only thing fitness training is worth, and coaches typically advise against settling for that. The ultimate goal should be to improve your fitness and, with it, your long-term health. This, which seems obvious, is often far from reality: you can be the best cyclist in your group and not be able to reach out to reach the dishes in the highest cupboard in the kitchen, or carry shopping bags with joy, but come home puffing because not your resistance is zero.
Where is the fault? In that you do not approach training from a global perspective, something that is more difficult than it seems. “You have to work on strength, endurance, speed and flexibility,” says Lara Pablos, a university specialist in Personal Training and Director of Operations and Projects for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in Spain. Doing this work without help is even more complicated because “it is always convenient to individualize routines based on the characteristics and needs of each individual.”
Fortunately, little by little research on how to train so as not to end up being a strongman with hardly any elasticity is taking hold, with which the word training it’s changing for the better. “You have to abandon the clichés that the typical ‘hunk’ is only strong but lacks flexibility. Not always more muscle mass is equal to being stronger, nor does it mean that one cannot have adequate flexibility and range of movements ”, Pablos reviews. And he adds: “Regardless of whether we seek an aesthetic goal or improve our sports performance, strength will always be beneficial for the user without implying a loss of mobility or flexibility. You just have to include specific mobility exercises within the training. Even resorting to the same strength exercises but using the full range of motion safely possible ”.
Every exercise in the gym has an application outside of it
There is no gym worth its salt that does not include the famous functional training in its menu of classes. Juan Ramón Heredia, from the IICEFS group (International Institute of Physical Exercise and Health Sciences), defines it such as that prescribed with a goal to maintain or enhance certain functions. The point is that the hours of exercise allow you to move your body properly when you have to respond to the demands of daily activities.
To promote this type of class, it was normal for them to tell you that they made you strong to face everyday life without ending up with kidney pain (the typical pull in the lumbar region) or spikes in the neck. But this is not exactly the case. It is about strengthening the muscles to do things correctly, not creating titanium lumbar to lift sacks of flour from the floor without bending the knees. Nor does it consist of strengthening the cervicals to spend hours with your head down looking at the mobile. Another thing is that you pilot a Formula 1 and you have to concentrate on putting the muscles of the neck to fight to counteract the G force; pilots are capable of cracking nuts with their necks, but — obviously — that’s not the point of their routines.
Well-understood functional training helps to develop correct postural hygiene applied to all everyday situations, from the way of carrying the groceries and getting into a vehicle to the way of achieving a good night rest posture. “That is why more global exercises are incorporated, which involve several muscle groups and not so analytical (those that are performed on a machine and usually focus on a single muscle). Those with a certain ‘transfer’ are also incorporated into the activities of daily life ”.
It is useless if you go to the gym just to enlarge the diameter of your arm if you are losing strength and range of motion in the rest of the body, which you will notice at work whether you spend 8 hours sitting or if you remain standing. Functional training is much more effective than just lifting dumbbells, but it is also more complex. It requires meticulous preparation: “The first thing is to analyze muscle deficits and what movement patterns are repeated in daily work activity. With these data we make a postural re-education so that you acquire a correct posture in the exercise of your work activity and stress is not generated on the spine or other body segments. The next thing is to create push and pull patterns (to understand each other, push and pull, lift and lower), in different planes of motion. And, of course, work on strength, endurance, speed and flexibility ”.
You’ll have to get up to do it
There are training disciplines in which you have to stay on your feet throughout the session, such as classes inspired by fighting disciplines (boxing, martial arts …). Others, like Pilates, take place on the floor. What happens is that in real life we do few things lying down and a lot standing up. “In my opinion, Pilates offers a lot of exercises on the floor, but a qualified trainer will always be able to suggest you a standing variant.”
Something similar happens in the gym. The easy thing if you are a beginner is to sit on a machine that only allows you to move one or a small group of muscles in one direction. There is no need to think: you choose the weight and open-close, push-pull or open-close. “With the machines a more analytical work is done, but also easier to execute and safer for the user. It is ideal for people with little training experience, since it does not require excessive body control. The Achilles heel is that these movements do not reproduce everyday situations at a functional level. Ideally, as we have some control of the body, we will integrate more complex exercises using our own body weight and external materials (dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine ball …) ”. When you’ve got the hang of analytical exercises with the machines, it’s up to you to level up, add difficulty and control, and dare to incorporate exercises with a greater movement handle.
Following some of the proposals of Juan Ramón Heredia, general director of IICEFS, and Raúl Notario, director of the Sports Area of the Alfonso X El Sabio University, in a webinar carried out last May, “we could include pushing exercises with the involvement of the ‘core’, such as a bottom with one of the hands on a higher surface (resting on a dumbbell instead of resting on the ground, for example), thus implying also to the ‘core’ and transverse abdomen. Another could be one-sided squat row: we make the gesture of pulling a pulley row with one arm while the body is supported in a squat. Or we pull the pulley handle into an isometric stride position. Obviously, the ‘core’ intervenes to stabilize the posture and prevent us from falling. Positions like this are more complicated, but they add a component of dynamic balance and make the result more global ”.