I meet new people every day and as soon as people hear that I am an ex IFBB bodybuilding competitor and a Strength Coach, people start asking for my opinion about certain Fitness Guru’s and different strength training programs out there. As soon as I tell them that I don’t support almost any of them, their eyebrows go up and they look at me with a look that almost says “How can you think that you know more than such famous people?”
Well, I always tell them, in order to get to be a Fitness Guru, all you need is a tight summer body, some taint, some expensive fitness clothes and an Instagram account. However, very few of them are truly passionate about the functions of the body and truly understand how it works. Most of them follow the crowd and their only goal is to look good in the mirror. Not many have ever heard about words like core and it’s importance. I can even guarantee that a lot of them don’t even have a basic idea of their body’s anatomy. Not to mention that very few of them have been through the hardships of what it means to be a professional athlete and to push your body beyond its limits, to strive for performance instead of just looks, to get injured and to recover.
In conclusion, most of them overlook a lot of important things that should be present in a training program if you want to stay healthy and to train long-term because they just do not have the knowledge about stuff like proper biomechanics, rehabilitation and injury prevention concepts. Having said that, if you are a beginner looking for some good advice on how to get in shape, you’ll normally start following these people on Instagram, thinking that they know what they are doing when in fact, most of them can’t even train themselves properly. If you are someone who would like to stay healthy during your fitness process, you won’t find many people that really know what they are doing, sadly enough, not even if you pay a professional.
Let me explain what I mean by that (and this is that moment when I start throwing anatomy terms at you and you’ll start hating me…)
WE LIVE IN A THREE-DIMENSIONAL WORLD
If we look in our anatomy books, we will learn that our body was created to move in a three-dimensional world and has, therefore, three planes in which movement can happen, the sagittal, coronal and transverse planes.
The problem is that most training programs out there are sagittal plane dominant. So, what ends up happening is that all our stabilizing muscles get weak over time because they do not get the attention in order to keep our body healthy and functional. Over time, this will lead to movement dysfunction, altered motor control, muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction and, ultimately, injury!
Most of these programs will emphasize exercises like crunches, chest exercises like benchpress and quads exercises like the squats. But there is little to almost no focus on your back muscles, for example. No, I am not talking about your lats, but about muscles like lower and middle traps, rhomboids, even serratus anterior (a scapula stabilizer). Another area that is being overlooked frequently is the core. Did you know that there is much more to your abdominal muscles than just the rectus abdominis (like transversus abdominis, internal & external obliques-major stabilizers which provide stability all the way up and down throughout the entire kinetic chain)? In case you’re wondering, the transverse abdominis can’t be seen in the mirror!
Did you know that the main function of your abdominal muscles is not to flex the spine (like in crunches) but to protect your spine through it’s stabilizing function (like in planks)? The obliques actually have the purpose of preventing excessive rotation from happening (like in cable twisting exercises)? Did you ever train your gluteus medius (a major pelvic stabilizing muscle that is always involved in any type of lower back pain)? Did you even know you have one?
Why are these key areas being overlooked? The simplest answer that I can come up with is really simple: “You can’t see them in the mirror!”
This is the reason I don’t agree with most training programs out there. They do not mirror our human biology. Most of them promote heavy crunches, squats, deadlifts and benchpress. These are all exercises with a focus on the sagittal plane and because of the other areas being overlooked, it will lead to problems over time. Not to mention that almost everyone is doing them wrong.
The last 5 years of my life have been a living hell because I missed seeing this. I was just like you. Before my injury, I had no idea what I was doing, I was just following the crowd with my training. After my injury, however, I started paying a lot more attention to stuff like injury prevention because I know now how important it is for our athletic longevity. Had I known all these things before, I could have avoided 5 years of pain and pure hell. And believe me, people that get bitten by the iron bug tend to want to stick for life, so, you’ll want to do it in a way that will allow you to stay safe on the long run.
If you are already dealing with at least one such dysfunction, you know exactly what I am talking about, you know how frustrating it can be to live in pain, to be unable to train the way you want to train. Usually, the long-term bill for this type of training will translate into any type of impingement, anterior knee pain (example: runner’s knees), lower back pain (SI joint dysfunction), neck pain (I even saw jaw pain) and any other type of dysfunction throughout the body. The most common problems that I hear of coming from fitness enthusiasts (but most certainly, not limited to) are shoulder impingement, scapulothoracic dysfunction, SI joint and lower back pain and patellofemoral pain. Could it be that your training program is causing all these problems?
ARE YOU SAYING THAT WEIGHTLIFTING IS BAD FOR ME?
My answer to the question above is this: “There is a huge debate nowadays between “functional” and traditional strength training enthusiasts, each of them supporting their beloved practices. The discussion here is much longer than what I can ever cover in this article (article on that coming up soon) but for the sake of this article, I will only mention that there is a lot of controversy in regards to what “functional” even means. Some call strength training a functional type of training, the “functional training” population say their training mirrors our most natural daily movements in the actual training and that’s what it makes it functional. I don’t support either of these ideas more than the other one. I still haven’t decided on which side I am, to be honest. I certainly understand where this controversy started and why the discussion is important but I am still deciding. For me, however, proper biomechanics comes before anything else and that can’t be argued around, that’s science! A training program should be tailored to our human biology, to the way our body is supposed to move and it should not overlook anything. Period!
The problem is that people always want to see things in black and white terms but the truth is that life is made of many grey areas and so is this question. Weightlifting has benefits and disadvantages and you need to be willing to decide for yourself, which are worth doing and which aren’t. Not to mention that the level of risk you’re exposing yourself to is going to be dependent on whether you have the ability to “train smart” or not, meaning becoming a complete athlete, who doesn’t overlook anything in his/her program. Still, training hard is not optional!
Despite my injury, I still believe weightlifting is completely necessary as any orthopaedic problem starts with muscle weakness and only by having really strong muscles will we be able to walk through life pain-free. Will weightlifting put pressure on your joints? Absolutely! But gravity does the same thing daily at a slower pace. On the other hand, weightlifting will result in more muscle strength which will help you fight gravity. I didn’t even start talking about all the psychological advantages that weightlifting brings. I will only mention one thing though, weightlifting will make you mentally strong!
Honestly, I don’t even think that is the right question to ask as I believe weightlifting is a personal decision. But if you are like me and if you decide the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, then I am here to show you how it can be done in the safest way possible. You’ll never be able to achieve perfect biomechanics and a completely injury-free state but there is a lot that you can improve right now to reduce that risk considerably.
Squats are not bad for you. Squats are an awesome exercise. We start getting problems, however, when we put too much focus on certain exercises. So, what we end up doing is training our bodies into dysfunction. The same thing applies to deadlifts, bench press and any type of sagittal plane dominant exercise that is usually used in these programs. For some, it might take months and for others, it will take years. Improper training, however, will get you too sooner or later! Hopefully, you get the idea by now…
Just to make it clear, I don’t hate any exercise in particular. I got bitten by the iron bug myself when I was 13-14 years old, and my face brightens up the same way when I can lift some heavy iron. I am not picking sides here either but I will always choose proper biomechanics and balanced training over anything else from now on. Five years of hell thought me that! Hopefully, you won’t need such experience yourself in order to start caring about your health.
So, the question becomes, how can I make sure that I stay healthy while continuing to lift weights?”
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO INSTEAD?
Have you noticed that people have a tendency to want to stick with familiar things? We tend to avoid changes because whatever is new is unknown and the unknown scares us. The same concept applies to your training. Probably you have been training in the same way for years now and you got, as a result, all kinds of pains in your body. You might even have tried once to do different exercises but immediately resumed your previous training because it just wasn’t comfortable for you. Then I must ask, however, what’s the purpose of your training if not to become better than you were yesterday and how will you ever become a stronger version of yourself if you continue to do the same things? Doing the exercises that come easily to you is comfortable but that’s not the purpose of training. You’ve got to become comfortable with being uncomfortable!
There is one thing that you can start doing RIGHT NOW in order to make sure you stay injury-free in your fitness journey before a really bad injury happens to you and that’s choosing to embrace change! When we do the same movements for a long period of time, our bodies adapt to that program. Your brain will adapt to it as well and will start telling you to move differently (it’s called motor control). Only by adding complexity and diversity in our training program can we make sure that we stay injury-free as long as possible.
So, change up the exercises on a regular basis, challenge your body constantly in ways you never did before. If your abs training consists of multiple variations of crunches, start doing planks (including side planks) instead, if you’ve been doing back squats for years, start adding front squats as well, if you’ve been bench-pressing until now try to do pushups instead. There are so many variations that, no matter at what level you’re at, you’ll always find one to suit you and your current strength level. By doing this, you’ll be able to create a much better training program and you’ll target muscles that you never targeted before (like the core – a very important aspect when dealing with any type of joint and muscle pain).
The last tip is, try to add single arm and single leg exercises to your program. By doing this you will challenge the coronal and transverse planes, which are extremely important for our ability to stay functional and healthy. Add some single leg RDL’s and some step ups, some single leg box squats and Bulgarian split squats, add some single arm exercises and watch all your joint problems vanish. Do this and your body will thank you later! The best thing about doing this is that you’ll get much stronger and you’ll be much more shredded as a side effect while staying healthy! It doesn’t get any better than that!
Strength training is the best thing that you can do for your overall physical and mental health, but you need to do it in a way that will match your human biology if you want to stay healthy long-term. You need to start training intentionally and not habitually and this is exactly what we try to create at MihaPower Training Systems, a training system that will not only help you look good and become stronger but that will also consider your long-term health in the process by implementing physiotherapy concepts into your training program to try to cover all the things that traditional training programs usually overlook in order to eliminate the dysfunctions present in our modern world today (YouTube Channel coming soon).
Our goal is to give you the ability to get stronger while staying injury-free as long as possible and this thing alone is priceless, believe me. Take it from someone who has spent the last five years laying on the floor the entire day, dealing with chronic back pain and spinal instability and screaming for relief.
What’s the point of it all if we can only do it for a short time and then we end up spending our entire life in pain?