Monday, June 18, 2012

Entertainment Value

I read an interesting article in the Harvard Healthbeat magazine one day, and then subscribed to their email version.  Occasionally, they print something informative, mostly it's almost comedy in that they keep recommending dietary and fitness material that seems either non-scientific or just plain wrong.
But the entertainment value is there sometimes, so I still read. 

Here's a post that started to get my attention:
Exercise is more than just a good health habit; it’s also a specific and effective treatment for many knee and hip problems. Strength in the muscles around a damaged knee or hip can help support that joint by taking over some of its responsibilities. For example, your hips have to do less work to support your body weight if your quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles are stronger. A strong quadriceps can take over the shock-absorbing role usually played by the meniscus or cartilage in the knee.
So far so good, right?  I see this phenomenon every day - "My joints hurt so I'm not active" is the near universal refrain.  Folks, that is the E-ticket to more joint pain AND overall frailty and the daily increase in the limits of what you can do, how you will feel, and what you life experience can be.

The proper balance of strength in the muscles can hold the joint in the most functional and least painful position. With any knee or hip problem, the first muscles to lose strength are the largest antigravity muscles, the quadriceps and gluteals, so an exercise plan for any injury is likely to focus on these.
Muscles work in pairs — one contracts while the opposing one relaxes. For example, when you straighten your knee, your quadriceps on the front of your thigh contracts, and the hamstrings on the back relax. Imbalances in the function of paired muscles can cause joint problems and invite injury. 

Why would they reduce the magnificent complexity of the interaction between the hamstrings, glutes, quads and back to such drivel?  Here's a bet I'll never lose - try and pull your best deadlift or stand up under a big ole squat by relaxing your quads to let the hamstrings work, or vice versa.  My friends, it you did it, I would be impressed, you would have learned how to overcome all of your natural instincts.  

In short - the quads and hamstrings and back and glutes all play a critical role in the "straitening of your knee", which is really as much about opening the hip as it is the knee when you are applying force in the real world.  Try and kick a ball by "straightening your knee."  WEAK!  Now do it right and use the hips - POWER.

One does not really need to know anything about straightening one's knee - one needs to know how to lift an object from the ground, or to raise one's center of gravity, or to lift an object overhead, or how to use the strength gained from doing these movements when one needs to shovel, or saw or push an object, or climb a ladder or stairwell.  

In other words, if you have monster strong hamstrings but cannot safely lift your fallen parent from the ground, who cares about the hamstring strength?  Being able to use a let extension machine with a big weight translates to nothing, being able to squat, deadlift, and press translates to everything.  Or as Greg Glassman said, more or less, you can do any amount of leg curls, leg extensions, abduction, adduction, and calf raises - that's never going to give you a big squat.  If that's not self evident, you have some thinking and experimenting to do.  

On the good note, even Harvard is on to the idea of functional movements:
Open-chain exercises may be more effective for particular therapeutic goals such as increasing quadriceps strength after ACL injury. But over all, physical therapists are incorporating more closed-chain exercises into rehabilitation programs and recommending them for people with painful joints because these exercises involve more muscles and joints and help to create stability around a joint.

This is why the experiment in using man made machines to create fitness hasn't accomplished much.  It does allow people to do something without having to get help in relearning how to squat or deadlift, but it leaves a lot of fitness on the table when compared to functional movements.

The overarching point is that there's a lot of mis-information out there.  The learning starts by refusing to believe what these authorities say unless you can satisfactorily subject their claims to validation.  

More on the mis-information coming from the kinds of high fallutin' sources soon - but the takeaway today sports fans is if you want more work capacity for life, sport or combat - squat and deadlift.  If you want to move better, run jump climb throw kick and punch.  If you want your body to work well, forget the goofy isolation exercises and do the stuff your great great great ancestors did to feed themselves.  Don't worry about what muscles do what, just move and work.  

If you can't sort this out on your own, consult a CrossFit coach, who can teach you the fundamentals of human movement, which you can then apply to barbells or tree limbs.  

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