We Don’t Live in a Bubble
So stop training in one.
I’ve noticed a growing trend in recent months within the fitness community, and it’s something that really grinds my gears.1
It seems it’s become trendy or a “thing” for some (not all) people to avoid certain exercises – specifically, lifting appreciable weight – due to the stress it can cause. I’ve been seeing this trend a lot in the comments section of this site and in the comment sections of other training forums I frequent. It’s certainly not at pandemic levels or anything, but it’s happening enough where I felt compelled to get a little ranty today.
“Don’t do this exercise because it’ll stress your knees.”
“It’s probably best to avoid lifting heavy weights because it’ll stress your joints and back.”
“You shouldn’t do “x” or “y” because it’ll cause too much stress.”
Now, let me preface everything by saying I understand that it’s not everyones goal to get stronger, hoist barbells and dumbbells every which way, and/or, I don’t know, deadlift a mack truck. It’s not everyone’s bag, and that’s cool.
Likewise, any conversation of this magnitude should come with the assumption that whatever exercise or modality we’re referring to – squats, overhead pressing, juggling chainsaws – is, in fact, an appropriate fit for someone. I mean, we can make the case of any exercise being dangerous if it over-steps someone’s ability level and/or is performed incorrectly.
That said, it’s not lost on me there’s a heavy bias on my end given I’m a strength coach. It’s what I do and it’s what I’m about. Well, that, and crushing ice-cream. And telling my cat how much of a beautiful princess she is.
I have rarely found anything negative that can result from getting someone stronger; whether we’re referring to helping an athlete perform better in his or her’s respective sport, helping a grandmother be able to carry her own groceries, or helping anyone achieve living a life in a non-fragile state.
Everyday life is filled with trials, tribulations, and general levels of shitstormery. What harm can come from getting stronger and to be better equipped and prepared for it? I don’t see it.2
Yet, time and time again I see people’s retort to strength training – or any sense of straining – as “too much risk at stressing the body.”
The point of exercise, and more specifically, lifting weights, is to stress the body.
Strain, effort, and some level of discomfort is warranted, nay, needed, in order to make the body more resilient and ready for sport AND for life.
I’m not making this stuff up either. There are laws (meaning, proven, undeniable facts backed by science) to back me up:
Wolff’s Law – states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed.
As a corollary to Wolff’s Law there’s also the term known as Minimal Essential Strain (MES) which also states there’s a threshold (strain) that must be reached and repeated often enough to signal to the osteoblasts to travel to the area of strain and lay down collagen to increase the strength of the bone.
Davis’s Law – describes how soft tissue models along imposed demands.
We can’t always live in a bubble or “safe space” filled with non-threatening exercise, pink dumbbells, and Adele radio playing on Pandora.
It behooves us to teeter with end-ranges of motion and to sometimes tinker with our upper limits and thresholds.
Lets take the squat. A common argument against it – again, for some, not everyone – is that it should be avoided because it stresses the knees. Well, when done incorrectly I’d agree. There’s much that can go awry with the squat. However, some trainers/coaches take it to delicate flower levels I can’t begin to comprehend, to the point where, if there’s any deviation from perfect, they’ll start hyperventilating into a paper bag and shut the set down faster than you can say “When the hell is Game of Thrones coming back?”
Sometimes you have to let people figure things out for themselves and stop over-coaching. The knees caving in isn’t always bad. Caving into neutral is a lot different than actually falling into knee valgus.
Don’t be so quick to pump the brakes on people. If you’ve done your job as a coach and properly progressed people it’s okay to allow people to deviate from perfect. It’ll help them in the long run.
I’d make the case it’s beneficial to allow people to experience compromising positions anyways. That way they’ll know how to get out of them if or when they happen again (and they will).
We need to make the body do more work in order to make progress and to get better. We need to challenge it.
It’s pretty cut and dry.
Other Miscellaneous Tidbits I Wanted to Write About But Didn’t Know Where to Put Them
1. It should go without saying, but I need to say it to cover my butt. This entire “rant” is said under the umbrella of taking into consideration each person’s goals, needs, past/current injury history, and ability level.
I am not, for example, insinuating everyone needs to show up on Day #1 and straight bar deadlift off the floor and go all out.
That’ll be super awesome and automatically get you a spot at the cool-kid table, but it’s NOT my goal nor is it for everyone. Most people are going to be better off starting with a KB Deadlift or Trap Bar Deadlift or whatever hip-hinge variation (pull-throughs?) that allows them to get into and maintain proper joint positions, can be performed pain-free, and elicits a training effect.
It’s important to learn to refrain from contraindicating exercises altogether, and start to learn to contraindicate lifters from said exercises instead. Eric Cressey wrote a nice summary on this train of thought HERE.
2. Much of the fault has to do with personal trainers overstepping their scope of practice and performing bastardized physical therapy like a bunch of asshats.
We now have a group of trainers diagnosing things like Femoral Acetabular Impingement or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and then going out of their way to provide manual therapy. What the what?
In the case of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (nerves in the Brachial Plexus region becoming compressed or impinged underneath 1st rib), a pretty freakin serious diagnoses that requires more than a weekend certification to diagnose, in the hands of someone who’s not qualified to deal with it, there’s a lot of irreparable harm that can result. You know, like blood clots and death and stuff.
I don’t know about anyone else reading, but if someone is coming to me with a serious neck issue I am avoiding that like a case of raging gonorrhea. As my good friend and colleague, Dr. John Rusin (someone who actually has the education to diagnose and treat TOS), has noted several times, many personal trainers and coaches are risking sooooooo much by overreaching their scope of practice.
Don’t be stupid – refer out.
Also, it would be cool if trainers would stop being so corrective. People need to move, find a training effect, and not blow into balloons for 30 minutes prior to each session.