What is a good exercise to strengthen (you name it)? – A Million $ Question!!!
Any form of movement done in a proper form, technique, and focus within individual ability, and need can be the best exercise to do. Basically, there are no good or bad exercises, only good or bad exercisers. Here, we will try to discuss a few key points to follow to be a good exerciser.
Movement Quality and Form
The first and the most important, inevitable component of a good exercise is the quality of movement and form or technique during any exercise. Without this quality, the exerciser will be loading the muscles, joints or whole body system in a faulty movement pattern, building poor motor pathways, and thus straining the body both physically and physiologically. Moving better with proper technique during exercise not only is safe but also increase exercise performance, thus increasing the results. Let’s discuss some science behind this.
“It is the phenomenon whereby a muscle or single muscle fiber displays different levels of maximum isometric force production depending on the length at which it is tested” Gordon et al., 1966. For muscles to contract, the muscle proteins called actin and myosin must interact with each other forming the cross bridges. This occurs when they are optimally aligned opposite each other. If they are too far away from each other, they can’t interact optimally, and the same thing happens if they are too close. So, exercising in a range where the cross bridge formation between actin and myosin decreases results in diminished force production and contraction strength.
Torque angle relationship
The ability of a muscle to generate a torque about the joint is dependent on its mechanical leverage. Mathematically, torque is the product of force and the moment arm length. The larger a muscle’s moment arm, the greater it’s capacity to generate torque required producing motion and counteracting external loads. However, when a muscle’s lever arm is decreased, it must generate a larger amount of force to compensate for the diminished mechanical leverage, (Wendy el al., 2002).
Otis et al., 1994, studied the moment arm length of supraspinatus on 10 fresh frozen cadavers by measuring muscle excursion with known torques applied to the arm. The results showed a moment arm length of 2.5 cm for the anterior portion of the supraspinatus during abduction in neutral rotation. With the arm in the internal rotation, the abductor moment arm of the supraspinatus decreased from 2.5 to 2.2 cm, which is consistent with the tendon having dropped slightly from the top of the humeral head. With the arm in the external rotation, the abductor moment arm length increased to 2.8 cm. The results of Otis et al are consistent with results of a recent in vivo MRI study that found the moment arm length of the supraspinatus with the arm in neutral rotation and 0° abduction to be 2.4 cm, and 2.6 cm at 34° abduction with slight external rotation (Juul Kristensen et al., 2000).
Thus, the position of the joint affects the capability of a muscle to produce a movement. Also, muscle size is another factor determining torque production, with larger muscles having longer moment arm lengths. For example, gluteus maximus muscle works as a strong hip extensor during standing upright or in the stance phase of running, while not much effective during deep squats. So, to gluteus strengthening exercises one should maintain hip extension, compared to in greater degrees of hip flexion.
Therefore, controlled movement with good joint positions is necessary to train the muscle to be more efficient and less fatiguing.
So, what are the components of a quality movement and proper form during an exercise?
- Steady, controlled movement throughout the entire range of movement. Even tempo – generally quick pump to lift against the gravity whereas bit slower, and controlled descending. (Tempo: 1 up and 1-2-3 down)
- Strong proximal joints control is the most for better stability – hips and core for lower extremity exercises, and thoracic spine and shoulders for upper extremity exercises.
- Begin movement through the range of motion a little slower and try to focus on maintaining good posture and joint positions. Use no or light weights to start.
- Practice within the shorter range until you learn a good form and technique of the exercise.
- Maintain good technique, posture, range of motion when fatigue sets in. Better to stop than pushing through a bad form.
- Keep head positioning neutral and jaw relaxed.
- Keep shoulder blades down and back.
- Hold the spine in a neutral position, and regardless of the exercise, consciously and actively engage your core muscles.
- Maintain hips in a neutral position.
- Focus on having slightly bent “soft” knees that track overtop the toes when bending and squatting for most exercises.
- Point toes straight forward.
As in any field, the focus is the key to success. An exerciser must focus 100% on what muscle he is exercising, movement quality and form, the tempo of the movement, and how the body is reacting to the exercise. If you are exercising one muscle but you feel strain somewhere else in the body then the exercise should be stopped as you may be compensating from stronger muscles to overcome the weakness of other muscle or you may be losing the stability or may be wrong exercise selection and technique.
- Focus on movement quality and form of the body.
- Focus on the tempo of the movement
- Focus on compensatory muscles being activated other than muscle group the exercise is supposed to be for.
- Focus on fatigue setting in. What’s fatiguing fastest? May need to do some exercises to strengthen that muscle group first.
- Focus on finishing the exercise in a good form. If not stop before losing stability and form.
- Listen to the body. Respect fatigue and pain.
A good exercise is the one which is good for you. You may not have good flexibility or strength to do a particular exercise although it has been researched to be the best for strengthening the particular muscle group. You may have to start somewhere else first. Exercise your posture, stability, flexibility, and overall movement integrity before you exercise your particular muscle. Jumping on to plyometrics without proper proximal joints and core control can be more harmful than beneficial.
A good exercise always follows a proper breathing pattern. Breathe out as you lift the weight (concentric phase – during anti-gravity movements – muscle shortening phase) and breathe in as you lower the weight (eccentric phase – towards the gravity movements – muscle lengthening phase)
A good exercise is never painful. If you feeling any sort of pain, discomfort, or strain during any exercise then STOP. Something is not right – may be pushing too much through the available range, too heavy, you are tired, faulty posture, overcompensation, losing stability, too fast or slow tempo etc etc. Again, a Good exercise is never painful. No pain no gain does not fit into a good exercise regime.
Consistency, patience, discipline:
No doubt, consistency, patience, discipline are the most to gain any result from any form of exercise regime.
Warm up, cool down and rest:
Of course, proper warm-up and cool-down periods, and adequate rest is the basic need of a good exercise routine.
- Never sacrifice exercise form and technique for weight, reps or sets.