Doug: It is very naive to assume that the heavier weight you’re moving, the more you’re loading a muscle. You can actually load a muscle more with less weight, based on the kind of physics you’re using. So if you’re using a longer lever, you’re magnifying the weight that you’re using much more. If you have better alignment, you’re magnifying the weight much more. If you are able to use a lot of weight, it means you’re using inefficient mechanics. It means basically you’re lifting something up with a crowbar. The heavier the weight feels, the more efficient the mechanics is. If you can load your side deltoid maximally with 30 or 40 pounds, and you think it might be better to overhead press 150 pounds, then you’re just missing the point.
Tim: Hey what’s up InForm Nation. Thanks again for joining us, here on the InForm Fitness Podcast, where we discuss slow motion, high intensity strength training in a safe and effective manner. I’m Tim Edwards, the founder of the InBound Podcasting Network, and a client of InForm Fitness, and in just a moment, we’ll have the founder of Inform Fitness and New York Times bestselling author himself, Adam Zickerman, who will lead the show, along with GM of the Manhattan location, Mike Rogers, and co-owner of the Toluca Lake, Burbank location, Sheila Melody. The voice you heard at the top of the show belongs to professional bodybuilder, Doug Brignole. Now listen, if you’re not interested in bodybuilding, don’t go anywhere because you are really going to enjoy our time with Doug. Not only does he have a really big and fun personality, but he’s chock full of valuable information that would be both interesting and useful for anybody interested in strength training safely. Doug’s going to share his deep knowledge of biomechanics and training principles, including compound movements versus isolation movements, exercise versus recreation, the pros and cons to adding variety to your workouts, static versus dynamic exercises, the proper form of exercise to improve your balance and core strength, and finally, intensity and recovery. Now we’ll touch on all those topics and more which means that this episode might last a few of your commutes if you’re listening in the car, or several walks around the block if you’re walking the dog. However you might be listening, we hope you enjoy our time with Doug Brignole.
Adam: So glad to have you with us.
Doug: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
Adam: It’s a real honor to talk to somebody with your experience and expertise in this field. So Doug is a bodybuilder, right Doug?
Doug: Yes, I guess you could say that, although that’s sort of like a small piece of what I do. There are a lot of body builders who don’t do what I do.
Adam: What makes Doug so unique is that Doug is an intellectual body builder, I guess you can call it. He hasn’t really fallen prey to all the cultural and mythological aspects of bodybuilding that existed for, I don’t know, 50 years, 60 years, 70 years, and beyond.
Doug: A hundred years actually, yeah.
Adam: There you go. What I like about you Doug is as a bodybuilder, you debunk a lot of the myths that people have had about bodybuilding, like for example, we’re going to get into a lot of things about this, but for example, you say, which is unusual for the bodybuilding community, you say that varying exercises for the same body part is really not essential for muscle growth. So many popular exercises are just downright dangerous and at the very least, inefficient. You talk about why it’s impossible to isolate your lower abs, for example, and the myths go on and on that you talk about, that we’ve been talking about too. So it’s nice but no one listens to me really sometimes, because I’m not big and muscular, and what do I know.
Doug: Right, the title holder ends up getting more attention than the PhD.
Adam: Right, so what do I know, look at you, you’re a skinny little 5’9” Jew and come on. So the thing is, this is why I like talking to guys like you because you are not
following the culture and still you’ve been a very competitive and very successful body builder. So can you just give us a little brief synopsis of your bodybuilding
history and some of your accomplishments? Not just for bodybuilding, but also as succinctly as possible, talk about your career as well.
Doug: Alright, I started weight training when I was 14 because I was very skinny, and I just wanted to gain some muscle. I was fortunate enough to be living about five blocks away from a gym that was owned from [Inaudible: 04:46] and I went there, I had no money essentially, and we struck a deal that I would go in there every Saturday and scrub the showers and do janitorial work and make change for a membership and then I started competing within a year. 16 years old was my first contest. By the time I was 19, I had won Teenage California and Teenage America. At 22, I won Mr. California. At 26, I won my division of Mr. America and Mr. Universe. I continued competing on and off until I was 56, which is a 40 year span of competitions, longer than most people who have been in that sport. So along the way of all these years of competing, I was very analytical about what it is that constitutes a good exercise or a bad exercise. There has to be mechanical components, and whatever those mechanical components are that could be deemed good or bad would naturally be consistent across the board if incomplete range of motion is bad in one exercise, it’d be bad in all of them, for example. Bench press is one example of that; when you finish a bench press, your hands are far away from the center of your body, so if that’s an incomplete range of motion anywhere else, why wouldn’t it be there? So a lot of the things that I was realizing were very profound, and had names, technical names. I would later discover them as I would go to cadaver dissections and read university textbooks and just sort of ponder sort of the correlation between the physics, the anatomy, the sociology, the brainwashing that has been happening through all these years that have led people to believe that certain things are to be not questioned, like compound movements. People will say you need a foundation in the power lifts, to body build. There’s just no logic in that really, I mean a muscle doesn’t know if it’s working alone or if working at the same time other muscles are working. So I came up with this book about a year ago called the Physics of Fitness which basically explains
biomechanics and explains what works and doesn’t work and why and how physics and anatomy sort of join forces. I guess you could say it’s making waves because it goes against conventional wisdom.
Adam: As far as I see, I always see approaching exercise and how to build a program for yourself as coming at it from two fronts. One, you have the biomechanics front, and then you have the physiology front. So what I like to focus on initially, because I do want to get into both fronts, but initially I want to get into the biomechanics front, and when I was first introduced to you, you had sent me a chapter of one of your books basically talking about compound movements versus isolation movements. Which is really fascinating because when we were talking about beliefs before, and all these beliefs that exist in exercise culture, one that can be traced back hundreds of years like you said is the belief that compound movements, otherwise known as multi joint, multi muscle type movements, are generally better than simple isolation movements, single joint, single muscle movements. Now I want to talk about how this belief got started, but before I do, just for people listening that don’t know the terminology, quickly explain the difference between a compound movement and a simple
Doug: As you said, a compound movement is a multi joint, multi muscle movement that some people refer to as functional, which is absurd because it suggests that something that isn’t compound is dysfunctional. That would almost suggest that if you do isolation exercises that somehow your body isn’t going to be able to coordinate all of its various muscle strengths at the same time. It’s absurd. Yes it’s true that if you’re doing [Inaudible: 08:57], you get skilled at [Inaudible: 09:01]. So that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can cross that over into something that doesn’t, well you think, I can [Inaudible: 09:08], just means you’re learning the skill. You’re looking to coordinate all of the muscles that participate in that movement in a particular event, but the idea that it’s a compound movement that would then make you better able to use those participating muscles as compared to isolation exercises has no logic in it whatsoever.
Adam: So how did this get started? Where did this fascination and this reverence of
compound movements gets started?
Doug: It started in fact, in my book I talk about, once upon a time, without superior strength as a man, you were in big trouble. You couldn’t provide food for yourself, you couldn’t protect yourself in battle. You couldn’t provide for your family, you couldn’t provide for your offspring.
Adam: It’s a good thing I live now.
Doug: That’s the whole point, in my book I talk about today, how survival is about
knowledge, skills, earning ability. This is how we survive today in a civilized society, but back then, none of that mattered. What mattered was literally your physical strength, and so what ended up happening was that there would be stories, whether it’s Hercules or any of these people that have superior strength, [Inaudible: 10:27], that he would carry a bull every day on his shoulders as he exercised. So it became this sort of like fabled thing where exhibitions of strength were really, really, really respected, and so what ended up what happening was it eventually became circus acts. There would people that would hold a platform up with sixteen people standing on the platform, or a man lifting an elephant. So nobody cared how strong each individual muscle was. What they cared was how much total the lift was, and so when bodybuilding came along, and by the way, in the early years of bodybuilding, it was considered vain, it was considered dishonorable to pursue aesthetics.
Adam: I remember you saying that isolation exercises were regarded as vanity exercises and it was only focusing on one’s appearance.
Doug: There was actually a magazine that actually had several issues, had a banner at the bottom that said, “weakness a crime, don’t be a criminal.” Well it might as well have said is, “failing to exhibit strength is a crime.” So if you did a variety of exercises that were isolation exercises, you could be deemed a criminal because you weren’t exhibiting a large lift at one time. Never mind that each individual muscle that’s working in isolation might actually be working in a compound lift. So it just became that this sort of conventional wisdom—that if you wanted to body build, you had to start off with deadlifts and heavy squats and bent over barbell rows, and overhead presses, but if you look at the body as just a machine, of pulleys and levers and pivots, then you realize that it’s just a mechanism. The idea that you can—I mean you would never, let’s say, look at an actual machine made out of steel and pulleys and somehow come to the conclusion that that machine would work better if it had multiple things working at one time than one. I mean a machine is a machine, and the body is a machine. If you really want to train as efficiently as possible, meaning the lowest risk of injury and the maximum amount of loading for the energy and the amount of weight used, isolation exercises are actually better.
Adam: So are you telling me then that in your career as a bodybuilder, you avoided
compound movements and most of your training was done with isolation
movements? Or you mixed it up?
Doug: Well, I will tell you this, that I had a very, very good sense from the very beginning of what felt natural or what didn’t feel natural. So a squat for example is a compound exercise but it involves basically two natural movements: hip extension and knee extension. Now we can talk about how efficient that is in just a moment, but at least each of those two joints are doing what those joints do best. Now let’s look at an upright row. That is an absolutely not true for an upright row; an upright row is a very contorted exercise, which makes you twist your wrists sideways, your deltoid does not end up where the deltoid would end up if you were doing a lateral abduction. And so I always tell people, if you look at someone doing an upright row and you imagine them straightening their arms when they’re on top, you go, oh guess what, that pretty much ends where a side raise would end. The only thing you’ve done now is bent the elbow and inverted it forward, and there’s no benefit to the deltoid for doing that. It’s just a less comfortable movement, so I avoided the compound movements that seemed unnatural, but I did do the compound movements like squat, that seemed
natural, without joint distortion. But then you can get into things like—if you look at—let me just get into a little tiny bit of physics here, I won’t dwell on it too much. In physics, any lever that is parallel to the direction of resistance, and right away people are glazing over right, as I say that. Like a lamppost is vertical, because a lamppost is vertical to gravity, and so it’s bound over its base, but if you try to anchor that lamppost at a 45 degree angle, you have to bolt it down to the ground with a lot more force, a lot more bolts, because now it wants to fall. So a lever that is parallel to gravity or whatever resistance it is is going to be a zero neutral lever, and one that is perpendicular to gravity or whatever you happen to be using for resistance, is going to be what I call a 100% lever, a maximally active lever. So when you look at a squat and you realize that the lower leg is the operating lever of the quadricep, and you realize that it doesn’t even reach a 45 degree angle, you say wow, it’s actually closer to neutral than it is to fully active.
Adam: It’s more of a glute exercise than a quadricep exercise.
Doug: Well, we’ll look at that in just a moment. So what I want to say is if you’re doing, let’s say a 200 pound squat, you’ve got 200 pounds pressing down on your spine, that’s the cost. The benefit is 30% of that is going on your quad. That’s not a good tradeoff, 30% benefit and all this spinal compression.
Adam: As opposed to let’s say a knee extension.
Doug: Right. So then someone would say, well yeah, okay, maybe the lower leg actually only does go to about a 30 degree angle from neutral, but the femur does get vertical, I mean does get horizontal. It does get perpendicular and I go yes, but look what’s happening with the lower leg. The lower leg is doubling under the femur. It’s doubling back under the femur which is effectively shortening the femur. When we talk about mechanics, there’s a thing called a [Inaudible: 16:32], and it happens when you draw a vertical line straight up from say, the heel, straight up, and straight up through the hip joint. You realize that instead of being the length of a regular femur, it’s about half the length of a regular femur. So yes, you’re getting an active femur, but a very shortened femur. Someone said how can we make that better, well ironically, the way you make the femur more effective is by taking that lower leg and instead of having it be an inward angle, having it—
Adam: Straighten it.
Doug: Straight down, and then you eliminated the quad. So that’s the irony, by working both, you’re compromising both. That’s a good argument for why it’s better to isolate because as soon as you try combining a glut and a quad exercise, you literally compromise both. You get a percentage, and this is all about percentages by the way. When someone says, what is your method all about, I basically say, well it’s about efficiency, which is about percentages.
Mike: In the context of how we use our muscles in our life, when people talk about
functional training. Muscles work together; the quadriceps, the glutes, the hamstrings, the hips, and should we be thinking about how to train these muscles in the context of working together?
Doug: The first thing we should probably do is define what an actual movement is. So if we go by the fact that all muscles pull towards their origins. The muscle can do nothing other than pull towards its origin. If you a pectoral muscle fiber origin standing on a sternum, and you’re holding that pectoral fiber that goes across the chest, crosses the shoulder joint, ties into the upper end of the humerus, the only thing you can do is pull towards you. You’re going to pull that humerus towards you. Now whether that humerus actually does come towards you depends on whether or not other pectoral fibers are also pulling, so maybe collectively they’ll pull them in a slightly different direction. I can only pull towards me, so the most natural movement would be taking a limb towards, directly towards, that muscle origin. The other way of looking at natural movement is to say, how have our joints evolved, and for what reason have they evolved that way? So once upon a time, we were quadrupeds: we walked on all fours. Little by little, we started walking slightly more upright, which meant that when we were quadrupeds, we were pushing straight down with our pecs. As we got more and more upright, we were pushing progressively more downwards, but we never had to push upwards. There was never a reason, there was never a need to push towards an incline angle. There were no incline benches in the early days of [Inaudible: 19:22] and the only way to create an incline angle would have been to elevate your upper body so that your head was much lower than your feet, and there would have been no functional, purposeful reason to do that. So our shoulder joint nor our musculature has evolved to perform an incline movement. It has evolved to
perform forward and downward decline movements. So this is how I typically say, let’s start off by saying, what is a natural movement, it’s something that we have evolved to do. An overhead tricep extension is not something that we had to do with that shoulder joint on a regular basis. If the objective is to work the triceps, you can work it with the shoulder joint in a much more natural position, that being with your upper arm alongside your torso. Anyway, so what I say is this. Since my background and my focus is bodybuilding, what I try to do is I say how can we get the most bang for our buck in terms of muscle development? Well, the best way we do that is by working in as pure of a form as possible. By making that lever going directly to and exclusively to the origin of that muscle.
Adam: The most efficient way of using that muscle.
Doug: Yeah. Now if you do that, the strength you gain in those pectoral fibers can be applied anyway. They can be applied when you’re washing dishes. They can be applied when you’re juggling, they can be applied in a million different ways. It’d be ridiculous to assume that it would only work for exercises that were similar to the ones you did in the gym. So it is functional. There is no way that a muscle can get stronger and then not coordinate with other muscles when the time comes, but when someone says, so you’re saying that we should never do compound exercises, I say no, because if you combine, let’s say you’re doing a curling with a step up. You’re stepping up and at the same time you’re curling. Well you’ve got more muscles working, you’ve got more oxygen demand, you’ve got more cardiovascular stimulation. There’s benefits there. If you’re working only in isolation, so if you’re trying to combine some strength training with some cardiovascular and some [Inaudible: 21:32] training, which is
basically the coordination, that’s a good thing to do. But if your goal is to build
muscle, then you’re going to care less about [Inaudible: 21:41].
Adam: That’s why we do both. That’s when we program most of our clients’ workouts, and we recommend to people how to work out, we like mixing both things. We like the efficiency of the isolation movements and really working that muscle to its true function, tracking its truest function, and like you said, there’s no doubt that doing a knee extension tracks that function of the quadriceps a lot better than a squat would or even a leg press would, but I also take into consideration what you were mentioning before also. A compound movement is metabolically much more demanding. You go from exercise to exercise doing compound movements—
Doug: And it’s more athletic. There’s more athleticism that is required, and that’s a
Adam: Yeah, and I see physiological benefits from pushing the energy systems drastically, and the best way to push energy systems to their max is through compound movements, as long as those compound movements are generally safe. I’m not putting barbells on or recommending people put barbells over their shoulders to do a compound type of movement. Like you mentioned this, I know you mentioned this Doug. There are other ways of doing squats or compound leg movements without putting huge levers on your shoulders with lots of weight on both ends.
Doug: Putting a metal barbell at the very top of your spinal column is not a good idea. I mean the spine is a lever. So if you put a load at the top of that lever, and I always tell people, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has its greatest stress at the base opposite the lean, that’s the lower back. So there’s no way you’re going to be able to put a weight on the top and not strain the lower back. A purist, someone like say me who just says, I want to get from point A to point B as forcefully and dramatically and as quickly as I possibly can. Then I’m going to exclude the stuff that isn’t maximally productive, but when we’re dealing with the public as trainers, we also have to realize that there’s a compliance issue. There’s a motivation issue. There’s a fun and enjoyment issue. So if we’re too monotonous—monotonous by the way is certainly productive, but it makes it less fun and there are some people with a psychological profile that just absolutely need some variety or else they will get so bored that they will end up quitting. So for those people, it’s better off to just keep things a little interesting, even if it means that what you’re trading away is 5%, 8% productivity, but you’re bringing more enjoyment to the program so it helps them with their compliance. If you were to lay out in the sun every day for 30 minutes, and after doing this for two months, you think you’re plateauing. So you think you need variety, so you decide that you’re going to go try some incandescent light instead. Or you decide you’re going to try some fluorescent light, or infrared light, or neon lights, and you realize no, because these aren’t all equal forms of stimulation. So if you plateau from being in the sun, it doesn’t mean that sunlight or UV light isn’t the best way to tan. It just means that you need a little break, take three days to six days off, and then when you come back, everything’s fresh again. So now let’s compare that to exercise. Let’s say someone says, I’ve been doing these tricep pushdowns with the cable for the last three months. I think I’m going to switch to parallel bar dips. Well guess what? The tricep is still doing the exact same thing; the tricep extends the elbow, that’s all it does.
Adam: Just not as efficiently. Far from it, actually.
Doug: Far from it.
Adam: It’s more stress on your anterior delt than it is your triceps so why do it?
Doug: This is why I explain to people, getting back to what we were talking about before with parallel levers versus perpendicular levers. When you see somebody doing a bench dip or a parallel bar dip, and you notice that their forearm is almost vertical, it only breaks from the neutral vertical position by about 11 degrees—which means your tricep is only getting about 11%. So here’s the math I do on that. If you’re a 180 pound guy and you want to figure out how much load each tricep is going to get, you say okay, I’m 180 pounds, I’m going to divide that by two arms, that’s 90. The length of your forearm is about a 12:1 ratio so you have a magnification of 12, so you say 90x12x11% active lever, gives you about 119 pounds of load per tricep, at a cost of 180 pounds of effort. But if that same person were to lie on a flat bench, with a pair of 20 pound dumbbells, where the [Inaudible: 26:53] does actually cross gravity at 100%, you do the same math, you say 20x12x100% is 240 pounds of load per tricep at a total cost of 40 pounds. So this is efficiency. Why would you bother doing an exercise that costs you 180 pounds of effort but only load your tricep with 119 pounds, when you could do 40 pounds of cost and 240 pounds of load, and it’s not like it’s working a different head of the tricep. All three heads are working in both ways, it’s just that they have drastically different efficiencies.
Adam: Let me translate that for somebody for example, because most of our listeners don’t understand a word you just said. This is the bottom line, the bottom line is this. That what you’re saying is we’re trying to work the triceps and the triceps don’t function as well for that barbell dip as it does for the other exercise that you talk about, the skull crushers, and the thing is this, let’s make an analogy just so you understand this. We use word processors nowadays to write letters and just for variety’s sake, we’re getting bored with our word processors so we decide to dust off our old Corona. It’s a much less efficient system, but we’re just doing it because what the hell, I’m nostalgic, and I want to go back to the old days of using a typewriter, but it’s not going to do the job as well, it’s just not. It can still do the job, it does the job, but much less efficiently, so the question is—
Doug: If you’re doing it for fun and you’re understand that you’re trading down, and you’re willing to accept that trade down, but don’t think they’re equal.
Adam: And I want to add one more thing to that. Now in the case of the typewriter and the word processor, you’re not taking any risks to get injured, you’re just wasting your time, and if you want to have fun and go back to the old Corona days, have fun and type a letter with an old Corona and kind of go down memory lane. In the case of what you’re talking about, choosing an inferior exercise is not only less efficient sometimes, but it’s also much more dangerous because in the case of parallel dips, you are parting undue stress on the anterior delt and the pecs for that matter, because they’re being stretched in an unnatural position, and they’re being—they’re not bring the humerus towards the middle of your torso. It’s going up, so not only is your deltoids, your anterior delts taking a strain that’s unnecessary, but so is your pecs. It’s all a very inefficient way of working your triceps, doesn’t make sense, why do it.
Doug: If you ask the average person, why are you doing curlball dips, they would say for pecs and triceps, but ironically, as you said, the pecs and triceps are getting far less work than the front deltoids, and that’s not the objective of the exercise, and there are far better front deltoid exercises.
Adam: Okay, so let’s move on, that covers that. So just choose your exercises carefully, we’ve been saying this forever. I want to talk to you about a couple of other things. I read something that you wrote that reminded me of something that we also always talk about. We say there’s a big difference between what we say, Ken Hutchins came up with this. Are you familiar with Ken Hutchins and his work, the super slow technique? So Ken Hutchins came up with what I consider one of the seminole articles in exercise history, which is “Exercise Versus Recreation,” and I know you agree with this because I’m going to quote something you wrote actually if you don’t mind. This is you. “It is important to understand the difference between the goal of muscular development, bodybuilding and general fitness, and the goals which also involve the use of weights but are not intended for the purpose of muscular development for general fitness. For example, power lifting and olympic lifting are sports that incorporate the use of weights but are fundamentally different from the goals of getting stronger. The goal of a power lift is to lift the maximum amount of weight in specific lifts. The goal of the bodybuilder or the person who’s trying to get into good shape and get real strong is to develop the physique to gain a reasonable amount of useful strength to improve one’s health and remain injury free.” So you’re right, so this kind of reminds me of all of the things that the brand CrossFit is doing and trying to make those sport and recreational activities into some kind of fitness program.
Doug: And then what I tell people it is very naive to assume that the heavier weight you’re moving, the more you’re loading a muscle. You can actually load a muscle more with less weight, based on the kind of physics you’re using. So if you’re using a longer lever, you’re magnifying the weight that you’re using much more. If you have better alignment, you’re magnifying the weight much more.
Adam: Which means you don’t have to use as much weight if you’re taking those into
Doug: And in fact, let’s go one step further, I’ll go so far as to say that if you are able to use a lot of weight, it means you’re using inefficient mechanics. It means basically you’re lifting something up with a crowbar. The heavier the weight feels, the more efficient the mechanics is. If you can load your side deltoid maximally with 30 or 40 pounds, and you think it might be better to overhead press 150 pounds, then you’re just missing the point. The point is to overload the muscle, not to lift a lot of weight.
Adam: Again, now you’re involving rotator cuff muscles that just can’t handle that kind of strain when you add all that extra weight. Alright, good. Another question for you. Static versus dynamic exercises. Some people add static contractions into their routine to increase strength and break plateaus. That’s the thought process. Do you see static exercise as a viable technique, or is its application limited?
Doug: I think it’s extremely limited. There have been a number of studies that have shown that isometric exercises are far less productive, both from the perspective of developing a muscle, enlarging the muscle, and from the perspective of gaining strength through a muscle’s entire range of motion. It gains strength right where you’re holding it. It gains a little strength in the other parts of the range of motion, but not nearly as much. So if you want strength, let’s use the word functional strength. Strength through a muscle’s entire range of motion, you’re better off using range of motion. So is there a place for isometric? Sure, if you have an injured joint…
Doug: …Then you use it as part of your rehabilitation, but this idea that we’re going to do planks as the best exercise for the abs would be like saying, well let’s just do static everything then. Let’s just do static wall squats where you just hold the squat position. Let’s just do static barbell holds, let’s just do static pectoral holds. I mean if it’s good for one, it’s good for all. If it’s not good for one, it’s not good for all. So the idea that you’re going to—people like the idea of doing planks because they think—if you’re a boxer and you’re trying to remove the rigidity of your spine against an opposing
boxer hitting you in the gut, okay fine, that’s a very specific application, but dynamic tension on the abdominal muscle is going to be more productive for the same reason that it’s more productive on any muscle of the body. So opening and closing the spine, if you look at the function of the rectus abdominus, it is spinal flexion, that’s its job… closer and closer together.
Adam: And you’re citing studies that have shown hat doing dynamic exercises for a muscle group is more effective for strengthening than doing the static version for that muscle group. It’s interesting because statics are done all the time and people think—there’s some equipment being made—what about [Inaudible: 34:52]? What do you think about [Inaudible 34:53]?
Doug: I don’t know enough about that, again this is just physiology and my speciality is
mechanics. I would have to refer to studies that were done to know about that. I know there’s benefit to e-centric motion, e-centric tension, so I would be far less critical of that than I would be of static, but the reason why static is popular right now is because the industry has declared it to be popular right now. The industry needs to keep everyone with something new. Otherwise how do you bring trainers back every year to a new convention? They need you to keep coming back, they need you to keep coming to new seminars. It’s not like the body changes from one year to the next, it’s like what’s good for the body this year is going to be good for the body next year.
Adam: That’s true.
Mike: I think that part of what creates debate is that people are different, they react to
stimulus very differently. I mean I know that the muscle is going to act the same way if it’s flexed or if it’s holding a static position, but observationally, I have plenty of clients who when they try to do an abs crunch on the abs machine, or when they actually have to flex the abdominal muscles and they feel it and they get a decent—they feel like they stimulated the muscle but they don’t feel like they quote unquote, worked out, versus then I’ll say, holding a plank for 60 seconds, they’re like, man that was like 50,000 times harder than doing what you told me to do before, and I feel it in my abs so much more.
Doug: You make a good point, and part of the game that we have as trainers is to, again, keep the workouts interesting for people, and make them feel gratified by the workout they got. I will say however that when someone says, wow, I’m surprised that parallel dips only load my triceps with 119 pounds of load, it feels like I’m working so much harder. Well you are working so much harder, but the triceps aren’t. So getting to the plank, you might be working harder because now you’ve got quadriceps working, you’ve got hip flexor working, but if—
Adam: All the spine stabilizer muscles working. Spinal rectus muscles working.
Doug: Right, so the question is, for all of the work and our job, to some degree, is to educate these people and say well you’re working hard but only 20% of what you were doing is actually stuff that is useful to you. The other percent of the effort, the isometric quadricep, the isometric hip flexor, is not going to be as productive as the dynamic hip flexor or the dynamic quadricep. So let’s not let ourselves be dictated entirely by the false impression we get by this, quote unquote, I’m working harder thing, and because we’re talking about planks, we’re talking about hip flexors, so what I want to say is that anytime you involve the hip flexor as part of an ab exercise, you already have a conflict. The reason I say that is because the hip flexor, the primary hip flexor, as you know, is the [Inaudible: 37:47], and the [Inaudible: 37:48] originates on the lumbar spine. So when you activate the [Inaudible: 37:54], when you activate the hip flexors, you are pulling forward on that lumbar spine. Well the objective of an abdominal exercise is the opposite. It is to pull forward on the pelvis, on the tailbone, to curve the spine under. So anytime you’re trying to do a leg raise, you have one muscle that’s trying to arch the spine, and one muscle that’s trying to curve the spine.
Adam: Very unsafe, very unsafe. And it’s unproductive for abs.
Doug: You end up getting a conflict of interest where netter muscle gets what it wants to do very well.
Mike: Even if you can create a posterior pelvic tilt but maintain that position, you know what I’m saying?
Doug: Look, if you’re doing let’s say like a roman chair knee tuck, where you’re bringing your knees up and you’re deliberately trying to pull your tailbone up under, so that you can bring your pelvis up towards the ribcage.
Adam: Yeah, but the best way to do that then is to keep your legs up and then just keep that very short range of motion of that tuck, and that’s all you have to do is that tuck. You don’t have to have your legs going up and down so far.
Doug: Well here’s what I was going to say is, whether you intended or not, you’re still
activating the hip flexor, and that hip flexor is pulling forward on that lumbar spine. So it is actually making the movement less successful. It is literally preventing the abdominal muscle from fully contracting because it has something that is actually blocking that from happening.
Mike: And then maybe also causing strain on the back.
Doug: Now here’s the thing, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but if you ask
yourself, any book that you look at, an anatomy book will say here’s the origin, here’s the insertion. Well guess what, there’s a pattern here. The pattern is whoever the anatomists were that first designated which to call the origin and the insertion, you’ll notice that whatever is the origin is the more stable. The insertion is the more mobile. The insertion of the bicep moves towards the origin, it’s not the other way around, we don’t bring the origin towards the insertion. Same for the pectoral, we don’t bring our sternum towards our humerus, we bring the humerus towards the sternum. Well guess what, the origin of the rectus abdonimas is the pubic bone. The origin, excuse me, insertion, is on the ribcage, so the ribcage is meant to go down towards the pelvis, not the pelvis towards the origin, and either way, the muscle doesn’t know the difference because it’s just shortening. So the idea that you would try to tuck, you would try to bring the pelvis up towards the ribcage, thinking that somehow it’s going to create a different effect. All you’ve done is just made an exercise more difficult than it needs to be, with the same outcome or less outcome.
Adam: Alright, we veered off a little bit because you were going to talk about the lower abs, not the hip flexors. Can you work the lower abs? Can you just isolate the lower abs?
Doug: The reason I even mentioned lower abs was because the exercise that is always given as the one to improve lower abs is the leg raise, but the abs do not connect to the legs. So the idea that you’re raising your legs to work a muscle that isn’t even connected to it is ridiculous. So the only thing you can sort of imagine is that, oh yeah, I’m
bringing my legs up with a different set of muscles. I’m also bringing my tailbone, my pubic bone up towards my ribcage, but if you have two guys on a tug of war and first the guy on the right is winning and then the guy on the left is winning, that tension is going to be even throughout the whole rope, it doesn’t matter who’s winning. It doesn’t matter which end is moving towards which end. Tension is always even throughout.
Adam: So you can’t isolate the lower abs.
Doug: You can not, preferentially—now here’s what interesting. They did an EMG study on about eight different exercises, and they connect an electrode to the top row of abs, the next row, the next row, and by the way, for those people that are listening that don’t understand the genetics of this sort of thing, the dividers between those rows of abs are called tendinous intersections. Those are essentially tendons.
Adam: So it separates your six packs from each other.
Doug: They’ve been there since birth. You can never add another tendon. So if you’ve
already gotten super lean, and you know that when you’re lean, you have a four pack, you can never get a six pack or an eight pack. You cannot add tendons. What you have is what you have, but what I was going to say is that the muscle fibers that stretch between the tendinous intersections have a very, very slightly different contractile ability. So what this EMG study discovered was that always, regardless of the exercise, regardless of whether it’s a cable crunch, a machine crunch, a leg raise, whatever it is. You’re always going to slightly more contraction in the upper rows, second most contraction in the second row, third most contraction in the next row, and the reason for that is logical, again, mechanical. The ones that contract with the most force are straight across from the place of your spine that bends most. That’s why, no matter what you do, you can do a leg raise from here until the day you die. You will never get more contraction in the lower fibers than the upper fibers because that is, again, genetically predetermined.
Adam: The all or nothing principle.
Doug: Well, it’s all or nothing, the abs are slightly different, except it’s still not variable. You’re always going to get more in the upper than in the lower regardless of what you do, but the fact that the rectus abdominus is anchored at the ribcage and at the pelvis, for that muscle to do its job, it has to contract in its entirety. You cannot exclude part of it.
Sheila: I’m chiming in here for the first time because of the abs. I’ve been listening and
paying attention, but the abs. The abs are a big, big thing with obviously everybody that we train. So what is the best ab exercise that you recommend?
Doug: Okay, there’s two things you said right now that are buzz words. One is that abs are a big, big thing. That’s actually not true.
Sheila: I mean for clients that it’s a concern, they always talk about it.
Doug: No, I know that that is what they come to us and complain about, but the reason I say it’s a buzz is because what they’re really saying is I want to get rid of the fat that’s covering my abs. They’re calling it the abs, but they’re not saying that their
abdominal muscle is only a four pack and not a six pack or weak. They’re saying I want to work on my abs, which is code that I have fat there that I want to spot reduce.
Sheila: That’s true, we do tell people that.
Doug: That’s part of the problem is that people come—we’ve all been in this right, they come to us and the first thing they say is, I want to work on this, and I want to work on this and I want to work on this, and everything they’re pointing to are fatty deposits. Suggesting that I want to remove these localized areas with some spot exercise. As we know the fat loss switch is either on or it’s off. If our body—and for those people who are listening who don’t know how this process works, let’s just say that you’re riding a stationary bike, and your legs are doing the pedaling, your legs are doing the work. Your quadriceps, your hip flexors, your calves, your glutes, and let’s just say that you haven’t eaten enough fuel so you have a fuel shortage that you and your muscles are hoping will be fixed, accommodated, by releasing fat cells. That fat isn’t going to come off the legs. It doesn’t come off the muscle or the fatty deposit that’s nearest the working muscle, and there’s two reasons for that. One is because body fat is called adipose tissue; it is a form of fat storage that in and of itself is not usable yet. It needs to be converted to a free fatty acid before it’s actually a usable fuel, and that conversion process doesn’t happen locally. It happens systemically, so if I’m a quadricep muscle and I’m pedaling this bike—
Adam: Has to go through the liver first.
Doug: It has to go—I’m going to send out a systemic signal to the body for tiny little amounts of adipose tissue to convert to free fatty acid and then eventually enter the bloodstream and come to the working muscle which is why we lose fat everywhere on our bodies when we’re doing a stationary bike or anything. We lose it on our face, even though we’re not pedaling with our face.
Adam: I was just thinking, think about how many times when people start losing weight and everybody says to them, look at you, you lost weight! Yeah, thanks for noticing, yeah your face looks so thin! It’s not like they’re working out with their face as you said, but that’s the first place you notice it.
Doug: It comes off in the sort of reverse that it came on. You can—I always tell them, you can’t choose where to put fat on, so you certainly can’t choose where to take it off. All you can do is either put yourself in fat loss mode or not.
Mike: We should start using our face then, maybe it’ll come off the abs.
Doug: When someone says to us, I really want to focus on my abs, and I tell people, look. We’re going to focus on all of the muscles in your body including the abdominal muscles, but we’re going to get more fat loss results in your midsection by doing leg exercises and stationary bike. The abdominal exercises are not very metabolically active. You’re not going to burn a lot of calories doing abs, and you’re certainly not going to get a lot of localized fat loss doing abs.
Adam: So suffice to say, if you want six pack abs, just watch what you eat. Anyway, we were talking about dynamic versus static movements, and when you talk about dynamic movements, you’re going through a range of motion. When you talk about dynamic movements, it’s hard to have that conversation without also talking about speed of movement, how quick these reps should be, momentum. So there have been arguments and the [Inaudible: 47:59] of exercise of course as you know, is that some people say that explosive movements are using speed and momentum to help you train for certain movements in real life and sports. In other words, if you are an athlete, and you are required to play basketball for example and be very quick on the court, or a boxer that needs to be quick, that you should train quick, and when you’re lifting weights, that you should be lifting weights explosively to mimic that sport movement, or to improve your quickness. Would you agree with that?
Doug: Yes. I would say if you’re sports conditioning, you want to mimic your sport as much as possible. The problem is that a lot of people fantasize about being a sportsman of some sort, and then in the real world, they don’t actually do it. In other words, they’ll train like a boxer, but they’re never really going to box. They just like the idea that they’re training like a boxer. If your idea of working out is mostly fun, then that’s great, but if you’re lying flat on your back with a pair of 20 pound dumbbells and you’re going to explode with those 20 pound dumbbells up, you’re going to basically catapult those 20 pound dumbbells up, and that’s going to pull your arms up so if your objective is to gain strength, basic usable strength, I would say always use deliberate speed, not an explosive speed. Control it up, control it down. If your goal, your niche, is so specific that you want to compete in boxing, you want to compete in tennis. Then you do want to actually mimic what you’re doing but my observation has been that, especially in men, they have this fantasy they want to be a 400 pound bench presser. They want to be a boxer, they want to be a swimmer, they want to be a surfer, and they want to—and there’s only so many hours in the day. You can’t spend three hours—I mean you’ve got to work, you’ve got to sleep. You’ve probably got a job and family and you’ve got to pick and choose, you can’t do it all.
Adam: True, but you’re not saying however—let me just make sure that you’re clear on what you’re saying because we have clients that are true athletes, they’re amateur athletes, and let’s say you have a tennis player. You’re not suggesting that we kind of mimic with weights in the weight room a tennis stroke just to improve their tennis stroke, are you?
Doug: I would say that that could be part of what you do, not all of what you do, but I would definitely—if I had a tennis, a competitive tennis athlete, I would definitely work specifically on let’s say a backhand, trying to mimic some resistance on the backhand, so he’s getting an improvement of power on the backhand, or on an overhand. You don’t want these people to go out on the court or wherever they’re going and then—
Adam: Why don’t you just strengthen their deltoids that are involved in this and the posterior delts, anterior delts, congruently, according to muscle and joint function and let them go out on the tennis court and start playing tennis.
Doug: That would work also, but I’m just saying that if I had a tennis athlete, it wouldn’t hurt to also incorporate some very, very—I would say maybe 10%, 15% of how I would train them would be mimicking certain—especially if they have a weakness in a particular part of their game, because it couldn’t hurt to do it. If you didn’t do it, they’re still going to improve on the tennis court just because they worked the muscles that are involved in that stroke. I certainly would not do if they’re just pretending to be competitive, I would try to talk some sense into them and say, yeah, but you know, the cost benefit, the amount of investment in time and the reward you’re going to get for that. I mean look, I see people spending hours and hours and hours in the gym, hitting their fists on rubber mats, hitting their shins against plastic surfaces.
Adam: For what purpose.
Doug: Hoping for someday that when they punch some guy in the face, their hand isn’t
going to break. The reality of them every punching some guy in the face is
astronomically small, but to me it’s like their developing arthritis.
Sheila: They’re probably attracted to themselves.
Mike: More practical for our situation like for example, a lot of golfers for example do a lot of resistance—there’s a lot of things with medicine balls and all sorts of things with like resistance, backwards resistance, and Adam’s point is about often times, with too many repetitions of that, you’re taking it out of proper muscle and joint function and perhaps injuring them while training before they even get to—
Doug: And I agree with that. There are some things that you can actually argue are more damaging to you. If you’re a pitcher, and you’re doing a lot of repetitive pitching in the gym, and that’s already a stressful thing to do, all you’re doing is adding to the stress.
Adam: That’s how I see it. Moving on, I want to talk about balance and core training. We started this whole talk, talking about myths and belief systems and here’s another
topic that’s fraught with a lot of different belief systems. So I think you’d agree that many physical trainers and therapists misuse the word balance when they refer to doing specific types of exercises that improve balance. Aren’t they really referring to improving proprioception rather than balance and isn’t proprioception and balance two different things?
Doug: Yes, absolutely. Balance is equilibrium, balance is an inner ear—also the bottoms of your feet and your eyes are your censors, basically inform you whether you’re
standing upright or leaning to the right or about to fall, whether the ground you’re standing on is flat or not. That is actually balance, and as people get older, their
senses start to deteriorate. Their eyes, they have neuropathy, so they don’t feel their feet as much. So when someone says they lose their balance, they could have inner ear problems, they could have visual problems, they could have neuropathy problems, and those things are contributing to them not understanding, not being informed as to whether or not they’re upright or not. If you put that person on a [Inaudible: 54:20] ball, which is basically proprioceptive training, it’s not helping their censors. They need to see a specialist, an ears, nose, and throat specialist, an eye doctor. Someone that’s going to address their neuropathy in order to really fix their equilibrium issue, but what bothers me about the fitness industry is that it has sold proprioception as balance because balance seems to have more value as a buzzword than proprioception, so people don’t want to argue with fixing with their balance. They might argue with fixing their proprioception which is basically a skill. It’s coordination at a particular skill. They might say oh that’s fine, but if it’s going to compromise, and it always does by the way, if it’s going to compromise the exercise portion of it when I’m combing it, then I’d rather not trade it off.
Adam: So doing unstable exercises, let’s say doing squats on a [Inaudible: 55:22] ball, or a wobble board or something like that. You don’t feel that that improves balance for someone.
Doug: No, what it improves is it improves your ability to coordinate yourself on that
[Inaudible: 55:35] ball. You’ll eventually get very good at that—
Adam: Which of course we all know is very important in life, to be able to do that circus trick.
Doug: It is a circus trick, and that’s exactly what I was going to say. Once you get off that [Inaudible: 55:47] ball, you’re no longer in that environment in which you have adapted, so it’s essentially worthless. I had a client who said I had a trainer who had me standing on [Inaudible: 55:58] balls and I didn’t find my client any more easy to stand on one leg when I’m washing one leg in the shower. Well that’s because when you’re standing in the shower, it’s not the same thing as standing on a [Inaudible: 56:08] ball. You got good at the [Inaudible: 56:11] ball by a coordinated trick. It’s like learning how to juggle.
Sheila: So when you’re talking about balance and strength. I find that I have some of those exercises in yoga. Yoga, standing on two feet, balancing, standing on one foot, whatever. I really like doing those, and it’s definitely a skill but you don’t feel that that—to me, I guess it has an impact on my confidence maybe. My confidence and my ability to—
Doug: Let’s talk about that, and here’s where we can’t ignore the sociological aspect of
fitness. People pick certain types of exercise for identity based reasons. So they’ll pick yoga because it appeals to their sense of identity, or they’ll pick martial arts, or they’ll pick bodybuilding because something about that labels appeals to them. They want to be known as holistic, or they want a certain belief system. It’s all part of, like, you show up with your rolled up yoga mat, you say namaste.
Sheila: It’s true and I love it.
Doug: It is, and very few people say from a mechanical standpoint and a physiological standpoint, here’s how I’ve improved in yoga. What they say is, don’t I look good in this particular pose. Here’s a picture of me in a beach.
Sheila: I feel like it also helps with release of stress and my hips are tight and it definitely helps with—
Doug: Listen, I’m not poo-pooing yoga, let me just explain. What I’m saying is we have to understand that there’s certain aspects of anything that we select, that are based on our ideals and our sense of self.
Sheila: Selection bias.
Doug: And then part of what happens when we do this proprioceptive training, this
[Inaudible: 58:09] training, yoga training, standing on one leg. Part of what happens is that we improve at that thing, and when we improve at that thing, we feel successful. That feeling of success may or may not misplaced. In other words, yes, you can be proud of the fact that you’ve gotten part at standing on one leg. How useful that is in day to day life, whether or not that’s actually lowered your cardiac risk factors. Whether or not it’s going to make you live longer.
Adam: Maybe you get an acting position where you have to be a stork.
Sheila: Well I think it helps with your focus.
Mike: For practical purposes and thinking about it from a training perspective, like the idea of just forget the idea of a wobble board or a [Inaudible: 58:55] ball, but just the idea of standing on one leg, practicing doing that. I mean clearly I would assume for most people, standing on two legs is more stable than standing on one leg, just because of the nature of the way our bodies are in general. In life, going back to training people, let’s say the elderly population who are very concerned about falling all the time, being knocked into, tripping over a crack in the sidewalk or something like that, and being able to sort of catch themselves, or put all of their weight onto one leg for a split second, just to prevent them from falling. I understand we’re talking about skills here, but I feel that actually standing on one leg, not necessarily for yoga, but for the sake of just being able to do so in various positions. With the leg that’s in the air, to the front, to the side, to the back. You’re asking the leg to actually develop the skill and how to actually stand on one leg. I think—it seems to me that for training purposes, people develop confidence to stand better, or to be able to catch themselves if they have actually practiced something like that. I know it’s not the same thing as being pushed or shoved or tripping, I mean you can practice training doing those things, but I feel like it’s a step in the direction of being able to—
Adam: Hey Mike, trip me, see how I do!
Mike: But more stability when you are confronted with a time in your life when you want to be stable and not fall.
Sheila: Or going up and down stairs.
Adam: I bet you can’t trip me now, I’ve been practicing.
Mike: I guess that’s how you train for that.
Adam: Kind of do like the Pink Panther, you know.
Doug: Let me parse that out for you. First of all, we’re talking about actually sort of vastly different things. What happens is as we get older, we narrow our movements down to straight and forward. When we’re young and we’re playful, and we’re playing in the beach and on the sand, we’re playing volleyball, we’re doing lateral movement, we’re doing backwards movement, we’re jumping up and down, and as we get older, we pretty much move straight forward. So we lose our ability to move laterally, we lose our ability to coordinate our brain with these automatic leg movements. So let’s just say that you are at a party and somebody has put their purse down right next to your right foot, and all of a sudden you realize that as you started to move to your right, something blocked your foot. By this point, you’ve already leaned your body weight so far over to the right that you are going to fall. Having stood on one leg will not help you. What will help you is having practiced lateral movement, repositioning that foot. So if I were training you, I’d say okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to throw this basketball to you, you’re going to shuffle two or three stops to the right. You’re going to catch it, throw it back, you’re going to shuffle to the—and maybe I won’t tell you where it’s going to go. It won’t be right or left, you have to think and then all of a sudden your feet will start to become automatic again. Preventing falling is more about coordination. It’s more about having your legs work in autopilot. It’s not about standing on one leg. Literally when you’re standing on one leg, you will not prevent a fall. It may give you the false sense that you may prevent a fall, but a fall happens when you lean your body weight too far over, and the only thing that will save you is lifting that leg and moving it somewhere else, and that has to have happened time and time again in some kind of exercise program. Where you’re actually learning, basically athletic coordination.
Mike: That makes complete sense to me, to evolve into that. I guess what I’m saying is when you’re dealing with an elderly person and I feel like in my mind, I’m thinking step one could be starting with getting the muscles activated. I know that the skill of standing on one leg is not the same as being pushed, shoved, or tripping over something and having to catch yourself.
Doug: I train seniors, and I have a lady that’s about 78 years old, and this is exactly what we do. I have her shuffle—I started off having her two steps left, two steps right, catch the ball, throw it back. She’s thinking about the ball, she’s not thinking about her feet. The other day, we were in the gym, guess what happened. She got her foot snagged, she lifted it, repositioned it. She said oh my god, I did it. Well that’s exactly what you trained to do. When your foot snags, you have to have autopilot, auto reaction to let them replant and that is very different than standing on one leg. That’s number one. Number two is the muscles that you’re talking about, that are activated on one leg, do work with two legs. When you’re squatting, when you’re doing calf raises, when you’re doing leg raises and hip extensions, hip flexions, those muscles will be strong if and when you have to lift that leg and reposition it.
Adam: I agree with you 100% on that.
Doug: Here’s what happens. If someone says, I like the way I feel when I’m standing on one leg on a [Inaudible: 01:04:10] ball, I like what that does. Whether it’s right or wrong I say okay, but try not to do it at the same time that you’re doing your dumbbell curls, because you’ll compromise the dumbbell curls. Now if you’re okay with that, then I’d say okay, the question is how much am I losing, how much am I gaining in terms of the one legged, whatever you want to call that, stability, and I would venture to say that you’re going to gain, maybe, 2-5% benefit on the leg part and lose 10-12% on the dumbbell part. You’re going to lose more than you’re going to gain, but if you want to do them, I would suggest doing them separately.
Adam: I would want to add one thing, and this is kind of—it’s not too common, but it’s something to consider anyway. When you’re doing these one legged exercises to
improve proprioception, balance, call it what you will. You also have to take into
account the person that you’re doing it with because I have a couple of clients for
example that have knee issues, and they’re a little bowlegged, and when you’re
standing on one leg, you can actually strain the knee and you can actually hurt the knee by standing on one leg. So here you are working on balance, but you’re actually going to screw up the knee, or the lower back for that matter. So you have to be careful with the person’s knee anatomy.
Doug: And by the way, even if they don’t have that, that’s exactly what happens in all cases. So for those who are listening, here’s what happens. You’re standing on two legs, you basically have a foot under a knee under a hip. Now if you were to just lift one leg up off the ground, you’re going to fall to the side you lifted, unless you reposition the standing leg so that it’s straight in the center of your body. So that means that instead of having two parallel legs, your one remaining standing leg is actually, now, turned sideways. That changes what is called the Q angle at the hip, and in order to compensate for that Q angle at the hip, the lower leg goes the other direction which is called [Inaudible: 01:06:05], which is what you’re talking about. Which is that knee, having to compensate. So you get that person who’s standing with a pair of 20 or 30 pound dumbbells, so now he’s added a load to the Q angle and the [Inaudible: 01:06:19], and you’ve got more hip strain and more knee strain, and at the same time, he’s compromised his ability to coordinate the curling movement in exchange for what he thinks is going to be better equilibrium? No. Maybe better proprioception, in that one specific thing, but how often will that be necessary?
Adam: It becomes riskier when you have older people because they’re the ones that have the knee problems, the instability in the knee. You’re much better off probably just doing some knee extensions with them and just really strengthening their quads.
Doug: So while we’re talking about one legged things, let’s talk about one legged squats. We see people doing these one legged squats, and again, this delves into the sociological issue which is a guy is in the gym, he sees a guy doing one, and right away he feels challenged. Hey, I bet I could do that. Well you know that isn’t why we should do things, we’re not kids anymore. When you’re 12 and 14 years old, you want to keep up with the kids, but when you’re 40 years old or 50 years old, you want to make sure that you’re getting nothing but reward and very little risk. So the guy goes over there and maybe he has a conversation with the guy that’s doing the one legged squat. Why are you doing? I’m improving my core, I’m improving my balance, I’m doubling up the load on one leg, instead of using my body weight on two legs, I’m using my body weight on one leg. So I would say okay, let’s parse all of this out. If it’s just a matter of load, you can actually hold weight, dumbbells in your hand, and compensate for that load factor. Use two legs, maintain your balance, maintain your neutral spine, and get that aspect of it. What about the balance? Again, we’re not talking balance, we’re talking proprioception, but more importantly than that in the Q angle and the
[Inaudible: 01:08:08] and all this is what I’m going to say right now. If you see a
person doing a regular two legged squat, with good form, you’ll notice that their back is slightly arched, right? They’re holding a neutral spine. You will never see a neutral spine on a one legged squat.
Adam: It’s rounded.
Doug: It’s rounded, and there’s a very, very good reason why it’s not rounded. Not that it’s beneficial, it’s a very clear reason, but here’s what happens. We haven’t talked about this but I know you know about reciprocal innervation. For people who don’t know about what reciprocal innervation is, it’s basically the body has a system that evolves, a central nervous system, so that you won’t compete with yourself. If you’re doing a bicep curl, the central nervous—the tricep shuts off. Well the same things happen by the way when we stretch, that’s why a [Inaudible: 01:09:00] curl is harder because when you stretch the quadricep, the hamstring loses power. Alright, so what happens is when you go down into a one legged squat, you obviously have to have one leg out in front of you. Well the fact that that leg is out in front of you means that you are actually stretching your hamstring. The lower you go, the more you have to lift that leg up. The more you lift that leg up, the more of a hamstring stretch you get. Well that hamstring stretch is trying to shut off the hip flexor and the quadricep which is holding the leg up. So what would end up happening is if you had a neutral spine, the hamstring stretch would increase, completely shutting off the hip flexor and the quadricep. So in order to have that not happen, the spine gets rounded to diminish the hamstring stretch, to allow the hip flexor and the quadricep to hold the leg up. So you end up with basically a risk of herniating a disc, because you’re descending into this squat with a rounded spine. And all you had to do was a two legged squat, maybe holding a pair of dumbbells, to compensate for the resistance difference, and eliminate the [Inaudible: 01:10:14], eliminate the Q angle, eliminate the rounding of the back. A lot of what we use as deciding factors is whether or not it’s hard. Like a guy will hang upside down by the ankles and do his abdominal exercises hanging upside down. That’s because it’s hard, it’s not because it’s good, it’s not because it’s productive. It’s because it’s hard, it’s because he’s going to get a lot of admiration by his peers in the gym. It’s because other people don’t want to dare it, or maybe can’t do it, but that is a good healthy way to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Obviously you’re going to have a major hip flexor component in there, which creates that lower back strain because you have your abdominal muscles pulling forward on the tailbone, and the [Inaudible: 01:10:58] pulling forward on the lumbar spine. So we have to be smart, we should be smart, on how we select exercises. We shouldn’t just do them on the basis that it’s hard to do.
Adam: Or it’s impressive.
Doug: Or it’s impressive, yeah. It’s hard to sever that but a lot of people are completely ruled by showing off in the gym.
Mike: Honestly I think that’s a great majority of people who walk in our door and walk into gyms everywhere. When they feel, quote unquote, the workout, that’s what dictates that they got a good workout. Unfortunately you don’t see the results that day, you see them over time, or you don’t, but there’s also a reason why a lot of people don’t stick to their workouts, because they don’t get results over time.
Doug: The fitness magazines—and by the way, there’s a reason for everything. Fitness
magazines have a good function in our society, but let’s face it. If you were a
publisher of a magazine, a lot of the exercises that we know are best are not very
interesting to look at or photograph. The ones that are more dramatic, the ones where you’re hanging from your ankles, the ones where you’re doing a one legged something, those are more dramatic. So they make a better visual.
Adam: One armed pushups.
Mike: You know something though? I was going to say that the physical therapists have people doing one legged stuff all the time, and that’s not fitness magazine, that’s
medical rehab type of stuff.
Doug: If I can make this one comment about physical therapists, and again, there’s a time and a place for everything and there’s a good way and a wrong way to do everything, but I remember one time I saw like a five point method of physical therapy, and one was assessment and then this and this and the fifth thing was, return the patient to the thing that injured them. In other words, if overhead presses are what injured you, the goal is to be able to get that person to be able to be doing what they were doing before. It’s like no, no! How about reeducating people and saying you shouldn’t be doing overhead presses to begin with.
Adam: But doing overhead presses is natural!
Doug: I’ve got a funny story about that, but what I was going to say is if you’re a pitcher, and you have to—if you’re going to make a million dollars or ten million dollars
because you are one of the greatest pitches in the country, alright, maybe the risk to the shoulder joint is worth the risk. It’s worth the money you’re making, but for
people who are not making millions of dollars, it’s just not a sensible thing. What I was going to say was, I actually heard someone say, what happens if you get stuck in a basement and something heavy lands on the trap door above you, and the only way for you to escape is for you to push that trap door up and out, and you haven’t done overhead presses? I thought, oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Does anybody even have a basement anymore?
Adam: With that type of door.
Doug: And by the way, I never do overhead presses, by the way. I haven’t done them in 20 years, and my delts are—
Adam: I can tell, your shoulders look a little—
Doug: What I was going to say was, if I found myself in that situation, I’d be able to push that trap door up just fine. My deltoids and my—like what you said, it’s not the healthiest thing on a repetitive basis.
Adam: It’s funny, we’re moving right now, we’re redoing our house, and redoing the floors. So we had to move all this furniture off our main floor into the upstairs, and my wife and I actually carried a small couch upstairs, and she works out with us. Credit to my wife by the way, as a little aside here, just to plug my wife a little bit. We’ve been married ten years now and she’s been working out with me ever since we met. She has been doing high intensity exercise ever since we met, and here we are—
Doug: She wasn’t doing it before she met you?
Adam: No, she wasn’t. She was doing the conventional stuff, but anyway, that’s a whole
other story. She’s been working out with me ever since, and I’m very proud of her, she’s very dedicated to it. We were carrying this couch up the stairs and it was heavy, and it’s awkward. If you’re at the bottom, you’ve got to lift it up, so it’s not going up one way and she handled it like a trooper because she’s really strong. What’s really funny about this is we never—when she trains with me, we never do that particular movement. Somehow however, she got that couch up the stairs, it’s amazing.
Doug: Well the whole point I made earlier was the muscles are stronger through isolation exercise; they’ll know what to do when the time comes.
Adam: We’ve been doing lower back extensions, her low back held up. She struggled, it’s a long staircase, but she did it. Just case in point that you don’t have to do that action, you don’t have to carry—you don’t have to join a moving company to—
Sheila: I also think doing our exercises because we’re always—when you’re lifting the heavy weights very slowly and in perfect form, you’re being guided to do that, you do that for years and years. Whenever you’re doing a movement, you’re more mindful of it, you’re more mindful of your movement and how you’re doing it.
Doug: You’re aware of what’s doing the work.
Adam: That’s an excellent point Sheila, because you think about those tai chi masters that move so slowly, but I wouldn’t want to throw a punch at those guys. So we’re
running out of time Doug, and I could talk to you all day actually, but I don’t know how our listeners are going to feel about that. I do have one more thing that I’d love to talk to you about and that is the topic of intensity. We’re talking about—which is different than just working out hard. This comes up recently in the New York Times article, because they were talking about—they had an article about [Inaudible: 01:16:50] or technically speaking, [Inaudible: 01:16:54]. Is that how you say it? Yeah, I guess so. Anyway, it’s [Inaudible: 01:17:05] for short and that’s a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle breaks down very rapidly and it can really lead to kidney damage and it’s a very bad condition. It’s been getting a lot of press lately because high intensity workouts have definitely come into vogue. The brand CrossFit comes to mind, there are all these bootcamps, and the high intensity spin classes, which is what this article kind of talked about. This woman who was doing a spin class, she ended up with a case of [Inaudible: 01:17:32], which is a very serious medical condition that sometimes is not reversible, and you can actually have long lasting effects from that.
Doug: Right, because the muscle releases toxins that affect the liver.
Adam: Exactly. So extremes aside, because that’s an extreme case, and they are relatively rare. I think some people have a genetic predisposition to reaching that, but aside from those extremes, many people do believe though that going to deep muscle
failure will lead to maximum muscle gains. The harder you work out, the deeper you inroad a muscle, the better your gains. So in regards to intensity and recovery, do you agree with that? Is there a right amount of intensity? How do you measure intensity? Do you think the more intense an exercise, the better?
Doug: Absolutely not. There is a right level of intensity. In my book, I have a chart where I show what happens if the intensity level is too low, what happens if it it’s too high, and what happens if it’s just right. Clearly just right has nothing been benefit, but if it’s too low, you won’t get the benefit. If it’s too high, it’s like getting a sunburn. In other words, instead of giving you stimulation, you get injury, and when you have an injury, you actually basically have to heal. So some people think, hey, if I work out super intensely and I just work a body part once a week, in other words, take a longer amount of time in between workouts, I can compensate for the high intensity. No, you cannot, it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like recovery time is the great equalizer, like if you do more frequency, you can do super low intensity, or if you do super high intensity, just take a little extra time and everything will be fine, no. Pretty much the way the body works is when you work a muscle, you’re going to have somewhere between a two day and four day amount of recovery, after which comes what they call super compensation. That’s when the muscle’s getting stronger, so the goal is to not work that muscle again, assuming you worked it relatively hard, to not work it until you’ve passed recovery and have gotten into super compensation. Super compensation then goes up and back down, so your goal ideally is to get that muscle worked again when it’s at the top of super compensation, before it comes down to the baseline again. So if you wait, say, seven, eight, nine days before you work that body part again, regardless of how hard you worked it, you’re basically always going back to your baseline. That’s why ideally, you want to work a muscle no more frequently than every other day, and no less frequently than once every for or five days.
Adam: How do you find the right—one rationale for working out to full intensity, until
muscle failure, is that you know where you’re at. You can be consistent with that time after time. Once you reach muscle failure, you’re done, but how do you stop short of muscle failure consistently, and how do you find that sweet spot of intensity? I assume it obviously differs between each individual and there’s a lot of other factors involved, but who do you go about as a technician, training people or training yourself, how do you know where to find that sweet spot for intensity?
Doug: There are people who have thought that a muscle will not grow unless you take it to failure, and that has been completely disproven in research. They’ve shown that not only is it not necessary, it’s actually less productive than if you go to a 90-95% effort. So how you find it, the only way you can find it, is experimentation, and
experimentation only happens with really, really, really good consistency. So when a person comes into a gym and they’re sporadic with their workouts, they’ll never find it. You have to be intimately familiar, intimately familiar with about how many repetitions you can probably get with this weight on your fourth set. You have to know that, and the only way you’re going to know that is if you haven’t missed a workout for the last three months. Then and only then will you know what 90% is, what 95% is, what—I know exactly where my 95% mark is. I know that I can get the next rep or that I can’t get the next rep, or that the next rep will be beyond the amount of effort that I want to use. So that’s why I always tell people, before we even start talking about how much intensity is right, we need to get you absolutely 100% consistent. You need to be really, really, really on track so that you are very familiar with what you can predict will be your level of failure with this weight, with this rep, with this set. Then you can start to say okay, I’m going to get better results doing, let’s say, eight sets of 95% effort than I will with four sets of 100% effort. Now that takes more time, but for muscle growth, that has been proven to be the point. You will get better growth with a little bit more volume and a little bit less intensity, and by a little less intensity, I basically just mean less max. I don’t mean like time intensity.
Adam: Yeah, don’t wimp out. It’s not an excuse to wimp out. Oh, Doug said you don’t have to work out—
Doug: That’s why I made it clear, I’m not less intensity in that sense, but I am saying you don’t have to go to 100%.
Sheila: Well for what purpose are you talking about here, because what we do is we do one set to, well we call it temporary muscle failure, but I would think that most of our clients probably are doing only about 95%, because they can’t go that intense.
Doug: They don’t have the psychological makeup, yeah.
Sheila: So we do time under load, so we’re timing it, we’re checking their time.
Doug: My context usually is bodybuilding, but in your context or the context of people who are basically doing their three or four day a week workout, and they’re doing fewer sets because they’re trying to get in and out, yeah. You can go 90-95% maximum effort—
Sheila: They’re just strengthening.
Doug: For one set, you’re fine.
Adam: And stay very strong and [Inaudible: 01:23:43] but yeah, bodybuilding is a whole other ballgame. Obviously volume and baring intensity, you’ve got to be so exact when it comes to maximizing muscle hypertrophy, and you have to have the genetics too. I’m noticing that some people do better like what you were saying, Doug. Some people do better at this level of intensity and this amount of reps versus somebody else. There’s so many just genetic components alone that can affect all of this, not to mention what else they do in their lives, their stress levels, their age, their sleep, it goes on and on.
Doug: Yeah, I was going to mention that when you talk about intensity, you have to take into consideration their age, their hormone levels, their nutrition, how much sleep they’re getting, their other activities that are requiring calories. All of that factors into how much intensity is appropriate for that person today.
Adam: But you also said something that is very key, and that is that the starting point for all of this is consistency. I can’t tell you how much I implore that to all my clients, that you have to be consistent with this.
Doug: That is the most—I always tell people intensity and frequency are less important than consistency. Consistency and frequency and regularity matter much more than
Adam: Amen brother. Thank you very much. Well this has been great, I really appreciate all the time you spent with us.
Doug: I hope to do it again sometime, my pleasure.
Adam: Oh god, alright. I’ll take you up on that.
Doug: Okay, it’s a deal.
Tim: Thanks again to professional bodybuilder, trainer, and biomechanics expert, Doug Brignole for joining us here on the InForm Fitness podcast. We will have links in the show notes to Amazon for you to pick up Doug’s book, Million Dollar Muscle: A Historical and Sociological Perspective of the Fitness Industry. And also in the show notes as always will be a link to grab Adam’s book, Power of Ten: The Once a Week, Slow Motion Fitness Revolution. Included in Adam’s book are several exercises that support this protocol that you can actually perform on your own, if you are not currently near one of our seven InForm Fitness locations across the U.S. And to find out if you are lucky enough to be near an InForm Fitness, click on over to informfitness.com. There you’ll find blog posts from Adam, we have several videos and of course bios and photos of all the trainers that you’re hearing here on the InForm Fitness Podcast. We really do appreciate you InForm Nation, for joining us each and every week, and until next time, for Sheila Melody, Mike Rogers, and Adam Zickerman of InForm Fitness, I’m Tim Edwards with the InBound Podcasting Network.