Okay, first off, we have to define “wrong”. Wrong = performing an exercise in a way that shuts off your nervous system, even though you may not know its happening. Obviously, right? If you knew your form was wrong you’d correct it instantly.
For example, what’s wrong with the form of the dead lift featured in the picture above?
I can see four major things wrong with it:
- The lifter is wearing a compression weight-belt. These have an inhibitory effect on the nervous system 100% of the time, as revealed by a simple CNS Test.
- His legs are too close and the current angle of the femur fitting into the pelvic socket will cause torsional stress in the ball-and-socket joint itself, the CNS will pick this up and, again, result in an inhibitory response.
- His gastrocnemii (both of them) are over-contracted, as evidenced by the slight pigeon-toed stance and the tendency for over-pronation of the foot, meaning his tibialis posterior isn’t firing, the tibia and fibula are splaying, and he’s losing innervation in his rectus femoris and gluteus maximus. This explains why he needs to tape his knees (to offset the splaying) and why he doesn’t have enough biomechanical advantage to begin the lift at a 90º angle.
- Finally, he’s lifting more than he can with proper form, probably to impress his friends and the photographer, so he has put his spine in slight flexion, which means he will be relying on the cushioning of the intervertebral discs to take part of the weight off his muscles – a great way to herniate a disc.
If its so wrong then why is he doing it this way?
Why does anyone do anything the way they do it? A combination of personal preference and trial and error but primarily he learned it from copying what other people do. “Feet shoulder width apart” is an industry truism even though it’s completely wrong. And that’s what has been wrong with the fitness industry to date: everyone takes someone else’s recommendation on form, and they in turn got it from still someone else and the guy who started the rumor made it up.
Only by using muscle testing it is possible to develop a frame of reference where you can determine whether a person’s form is perfect.
Why merely thinking about it doesn’t work
Unless you’re muscle testing your form, you can’t use your brain to know whether it’s right or wrong. Here’s why not:
1. The structure of your somatic nervous system
2. The structure of your tendons and ligaments
Your Somatic Nervous System (SNS)
When you decide to perform a lift, your central nervous system (CNS) sends a command via the motor neurons (your Somatic Nervous System or SNS) to lift the weight.
The SNS is the strong, silent type. I’ve spoken to many women who are convinced the SNS is male. He takes orders even if they hurt, and won’t complain until things get really bad.
It is a well-known fact that if a nerve is compressed by 6%, we lose 60% of the innervation (strength) that nerve is responsible for. What is less well-known is that if the nerve is compressed 1%, or 2%, we will lose 10% to 20% respectively, but may not be aware of the loss. This is because our pain threshold is higher than our impingement threshold.
When your pain receptors fire, a message goes to your brain saying: ouch! But the pain receptors only fire when the nerve is impinged to a high degree (I don’t know how that would be quantified in a percentage, but let’s call it 6% for the sake of this example). If you feel outright pain at 6% impingement, you would only feel mild discomfort at 5%, a noticeable weakness at 4%, a barely perceptible weakness at 3% and nothing at 2%. But this doesn’t mean you’re not still losing innervation at 2%, it only means you’re not noticing it.
The reason you won’t notice it is that the inhibitory response is diffuse. If your femoral nerve is being compressed 2%, you will experience a 20% reduction in strength throughout the SNS, which is why CNS Testing a seeming unrelated muscle, like the medial deltoid, after performing a range of motion that causes 2% compression, will yield a weak response in that muscle. That’s why we call it an indicator muscle. Because the decrease isn’t localized in one spot you can’t mentally isolate that there’s a problem and instead, its normal to assume that in the absence of pain, the stress level is tolerable.
This is where the majority of people perform their exercises – in the 2% of impingement/20% of decreased innervation range. They’re not aware they’re impinging a nerve, nor are they even necessarily in pain.
The major problem at this level isn’t pain but rather a conditioned compensation pattern. When we work out in compensation, we are training muscles that aren’t in the right force vector to bear the required load. Over time this causes long-term degeneration of the joints and will lead to chronic pain.
But at the beginning, you’re not going to notice it. Pain is the last indicator you will get that there’s a problem.
The inevitable question I get from every personal trainer I explain this to is: if I’m shut off, why am I still able to lift so heavy???
Your Tendons and Ligaments
How heavy you can lift is a function of how well you can condition your nerves to activate your muscles, even if you’re doing it wrong, but how much pain you experience from bad form is a function of how tight your tendons and ligaments are. In that sense, pain has almost nothing to do with your form.
It is worthy of note that we almost never see 50-year olds lifting a 500 lb dead lift. Its almost always a 20-40year old. Why?
Tendons connect muscle to bone, ligaments connect bone to bone, and they both act like elastics to hold your skeletal structure in place. As long as they retain their elasticity, you will be relatively pain-free even if you’re in a chronic compensation pattern and work out in such a way as to impinge your nerves 2-5%. Here’s why:
Pain doesn’t come from being misaligned: it comes when the misalignment of your bones leads your nerves to be pinched at or above the 6% pain threshold (keeping in mind that we’ve chosen 6% as an arbitrarily number). If your misalignment results in impingement that is below the pain threshold, you won’t feel pain. Depending on how much below it is, you may feel nothing at all. The reason is that despite your compensation, elasticity will prevent excess movement. Only when elasticity noticeably breaks down will your joints move into a range of motion that cause impingement of nerves.
So how do you lose elasticity? The primary protein in connective tissue that allows the tissues to resume their shape after stretching is elastin. Protein synthesis breaks down with age, meaning the copies of the original cell become progressively less perfect (which is why your skin sags as you grow older – what a pleasant thought…). In this same way, as elastin replication deteriorates, your tendons and ligaments lose their ability to resume their shape.
You’ve already been in compensation for years, but relied on elasticity to correct the problem for you. Now elasticity slowly starts to fail, and your compensation pattern becomes progressively more noticeable. You start to feel more pain. We mis-label it the aging process.
Interestingly enough, decrease in elasticity is not only a function of age. I have seen 15- and 20-year olds with excessively loose ligaments, a condition known as lax ligamentis (latin for loose ligaments). I’ve also heard of a connection between lax ligamentis and deficiency in the mineral manganese (not to be confused with magnesium), and it may be that manganese absorption is a factor in progressive ligament deterioration.
Common Sense Rediscovered
We can now take a closer look at common sense and see where weight lifters have historically gone astray.
Common sense: If there’s no pain, there’s no problem
Rediscovered: Pain is the last indicator you’ll get that there’s a problem.
Common sense: If I can lift it, there’s no problem
Rediscovered: Chances are, you’re in a compensation pattern but not aware of it because you’re compensating below the pain threshold.
Common sense: If I can go heavy, I must be doing it right
Rediscovered: How old are you? You may be able to go so heavy simply because you’re relying on youthful elasticity to pick up the slack of your poor form. Even if youth is no longer a factor, good genetics (unusually high elasticity) may allow you to maintain poor form but that doesn’t make it right.
Common sense: Elite athletes use this form so why can’t I?
Rediscovered: The average career of a professional athlete is over by the time they’re 30. The reason is that excessive training under stressful loads and with poor form has stretched out their tendons and ligaments and in many cases worn away the cartilage or sinovial tissue in their joints (eg. the famous grinding knee of the football player). They’ll be spending their millions relieving the chronic pain they’ll be in for the rest of their lives. Is it really appropriate for you to do the same thing to yourself or your clients?
The only way to ensure perfect form is to muscle test the effect of the exercise on the individual. It is a simple process:
- Find a strong indicator muscle
- CNS Test it directly before performing an exercise
- Perform the exercise
- CNS Test the same muscle within 3 seconds following the stimulus
>>> If there is a strong response, the exercise form was correct.
>>> If its weak, there is a problem and you’ll need to adjust the biomechanics until the resultant response is ‘strong’.
The Future of Weight Training
It has been said that history is written by the victors. This is especially true of the weight training industry. The small percentage of people who have unusually high elasticity, and are thus able to endure poor form and chronic compensation patterns, have become famous for their feats of strength, muscle size, athletic prowess and terrible form.
We look at these “victors” and assume that because their training programs worked for them, they’ll work for everyone. Most people who try to emulate them fail miserably because the poor form causes people with normal or below-average elasticity to experience instant pain. These latter aspiring athletes quit (understandably) and it is assumed they are weak, lazy or both.
But maybe we’re simply overlooking a huge percentage of the population that has a tendency toward early decrease in elasticity. For these people, perfect form is absolutely necessary if they are to achieve any results whatsoever. What if we could level the playing field and ensure perfect form from day-one, so everyone could benefit from heavy lifting, even those with looser ligaments? What if we could find a way for everyone to work out pain-free?
With muscle testing, we can. Learn how to do it and enjoy the benefits.
Where to go from here?
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