Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Do It If We Know Better?

Below is another article I read recently on the TRAINING AND CONDITIONING website. As before, there are some concepts I totally agree with and I appreciate the way Vern Gambetta expresses them. There are a few things that I don't agree with, such is life. But overall I am in total support of the concept "Why do it if we know better?" There are so many sacred cows out there that are thoughtlessly perpetuated. The NFL combine bench press 225 lb. for max reps comes to mind. No knowlegable strength or football coach that I know really believes that it has anything to do with football performance, yet many still invest a great deal of time, energy, and even money trying to produce high numbers in this useless endeavor. Let's not be afraid to get off the lemming express and think for ourselves. In the most recent Milo magazine (another one of my favorites) Bill Starr wrote a column on how the old York Barbell Club lifters all had their unique methods of training, often in contradiction to one another.He stated that some responded best to low volume work while others thrived on high volume training.Some only did the competitive lifts while others included a more general body building type routine. The only constant was that each athlete found out what worked for them and were smart enough to follow it. I know I, myself, have fallen into the trap of hanging on to some exercise that seemed to be working for someone else when it was obvious that it was only beating me up. It takes a certain amount of integrity and courage to admit that there are some exercises and/or programs that don't work for you when others around you seem to be thriving on them. Know yourself and be honest and courageous enough to follow your own instincts. I like to call it "cutting the fat". Don't do anything that doesn't need to be done. Training should lead to increased performance, not become a ritual that is repeated regardless of outcomes. If an exercise doesn't have a specific purpose in your program, or produce a measurable outcome, then don't do it. A lot of teenagers come into my weight room and immediately park themselves in front of the mirror and proceed to do set after set of seated dumbell curls. I always ask them why they persist when it is so obvious to all that their arms are not getting any bigger. I explain to these lost souls that they will never be able to develop 18" arms on a scrawny 135 lb. body, then I kindly direct them to the squat racks. (The whole premise is flawed anyway,the reason they want big arms is because they think girls like big arms. Us more mature men realize that girls are really attracted to big bank accounts, not big arms) Anyway, below is the article with a few comments from me in Mustang Red.

"Why is everyone so infatuated with the ham/glute raise and the Russian/Nordic hamstring curls? These are both exercises that I threw out of my toolbox years ago because I found that they were ineffective and predisposed the athletes to injury.
I am not sure what people are trying to accomplish with them. They are both training muscles. I prefer to train movements that stress muscles in an appropriate manner for the desired training objective.
I really like the concept of training movements, not muscles, although I personally like the feel of the Glute/Ham Raise. For me personally, it seems to help me align and strengthen my SI joint which tends to be a problem area. That may not be true for others.
No doubt the hamstring muscle groups are very important in movement, but they do not work in isolation, nor do they act in slow eccentric moments and they work both at the knee and the hip. I hear another buzzword as justification, they work the posterior chain--so what?
I hate Buzzwords too. Please don't say Core Stability in front of me or talk about "functional training" in the same sentence as stability balls. If you are interested in Pilates, then please go somewhere else to workout.

How about the total kinetic chain and fitting the hamstring in that context? The hamstrings must be integrated and coordinated to be effective in doing their job.
I agree that closed kinetic chain movements are the best way to insure balanced and functional development.

To help understand exercise selection lets look at the three movement constants. Start with the body, which is what we are trying to change and get to adapt through training. The second constant is gravity--an ever-present force that constantly loads the system. Last but not least, there is the ground where we live, work, and play.

I like this concept. Simple, basic, and common sense.
Without applying force to the ground we cannot move. Lets look deeper into the body and look at hamstring function and its architecture that helps to determine its function. In running linear and multi-directionally, the hamstrings' main job is to decelerate the foreleg and in stance extend the hip, along with gravity it also helps to flex the knee (not it's primary job).
Based on its architecture (the pennation angles within the muscle) it is designed for speed and large amplitude movements. They work in all three planes of motion, not just the sagittal plane. The hamstrings work synergistically with all the muscles of the hip and the leg to produce the required efficient movement. They are like any good team player; they can't do their job without help.
Succinct and to the point. Nice example of closed kinetic chain in action.

Now lets look at the specific exercises. The ham/glute raise isolates the hamstrings through a limited range of motion. It works in a horizontal orientation against gravity. No use of the ground and slow speed of movement. The Russian/Nordic hamstring curl basically isolates the hamstring at one joint, the knee through a very limited range of motion. It is a very slow, almost grinding eccentric movement that places tremendous abnormal stress on the distal hamstring. And there is no use of the ground. Based on basic exercise selection criteria, both of these exercises fail on all counts.
So what should you do instead? The solutions are actually quite simple and involve no fancy names and have minimal equipment needs--just manipulation of the three movement constants. Lunges and lunge and reach in all three planes of motion with appropriate resistance. Step-ups with both a low and a high box, simply provide a no-frills integration into the total chain.
These exercises train force reduction, force production and have high proprioceptive demand. They involve triple extension and triple flexion at a relatively high speed. Simple, get all the parts working together to produce efficient flowing movement that will transfer into the competitive arena.

I love it. Well said. No fancy names or equipment needed. Just basic functional movements in the bodies natural patterns. Of course Vern Gambetta doesn't need me to support or agree with him. He is making a fine living and has been for many years by selling sound training principles. More power to him. Heed his point though, just because it works for Koji, Reese, or Gerd; it may not be the best way for you to train. Train smart and be an independent and self-reliant athlete.
Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog.

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