Woohoo, chess!

Divided, You’ll Fall

I recently posted an article about functional strength training. I felt that this type of training needed explanation because (1) it is the best way to exercise, (2) it’s a far cry from what’s popular today, and (3) there’s a lot of misinformation from mainstream fitness sources about what “functional” workouts are, and what they do.
Today I thought it would be good to look at the opposite of functional strength training: isolation.
For a while now, isolation has been the method of choice for gyms and personal trainers everywhere. When you isolate muscles, or so the logic goes, you can develop them individually.
This theoretically allows you to target the weak areas of your body and build them up. In reality, it allows tan, hairless guys to target their pretty muscles and ignore the muscles that, you know, hold their bodies together.
Muscles work together with ligaments, tendons, bones, and other muscles to do what they do in the real world. When trained properly, all these components develop together in healthy, natural ratios.
However, when muscles are artificially isolated in a gym and then called on in a real-world situation to do something strenuous, you end up with strong muscles pushing weak muscles and joints to do something they haven’t been trained for. And then you get an injury: torn muscles and ligaments, ruined joints—you name it.
And the only way to perform these isolating exercises is to use ridiculous, expensive, complicated equipment. That’s good news for gym owners, but it doesn’t actually make any sense.
Think about it. Hopefully, you’re going to the gym to become healthier and stronger. A strong and healthy body is able to operate in the real world effectively and without injury.
But the whole reason you go to a gym is because of all those special, expensive machines—they put you through a workout you can’t get any other way.
If the motions that the machines put you through are unlike anything you can do in the real world, on your own—why do you want to use them?  Shouldn’t your workout use real, natural movements? Shouldn’t it hit a lot of muscles at once, which is how muscles work best?
This is why strength gains through muscle isolation tend to stay in the gym—they don’t apply in an unpredictable environment, where muscles must work together in unexpected ways.
But this ‘isolation’ doesn’t stop with muscles. We also isolate balance, strength, agility, flexibility, coordination, and other skills. But, again, if you actually want to use any of these in the real world, they will have to be in some combination with each other. Sure, most physical activities will emphasize one or two more heavily than the others, but you can rarely, if ever, use only one.
Unfortunately, the most popular solution for the people who are willing to recognize the problem is just more gadgets: balance balls, oddly-shaped pieces of foam, and the like. But that’s another article for another day.
Try exercising in a park, or at least spend a day away from all that machinery. Get in some work on parallel bars, or a pull-up bar—even some floor space. While you’re at it, turn off that iPod and get your mind involved, too. When you really start using your whole body as a unit, you’ll never believe you bothered with isolation.

I recently posted an article about functional strength training. I felt that this type of training needed explanation because (1) it is the best way to exercise, (2) it’s a far cry from what’s popular today, and (3) there’s a lot of misinformation from mainstream fitness sources about what “functional” workouts are, and what they do.

Today I thought it would be good to look at the opposite of functional strength training: isolation.

For a while now, isolation has been the method of choice for gyms and personal trainers everywhere. When you isolate muscles, or so the logic goes, you can develop them individually.

This theoretically allows you to target the weak areas of your body and build them up. In reality, it allows tan, hairless guys to target their pretty muscles and ignore the muscles that, you know, hold their bodies together.

Muscles work together with ligaments, tendons, bones, and other muscles to do what they do in the real world. When trained properly, all these components develop together in healthy, natural ratios.

However, when muscles are artificially isolated in a gym and then called on in a real-world situation to do something strenuous, you end up with strong muscles pushing weak muscles and joints to do something they haven’t been trained for. And then you get an injury: torn muscles and ligaments, ruined joints—you name it.

And the only way to perform these isolating exercises is to use ridiculous, expensive, complicated equipment. That’s good news for gym owners, but it doesn’t actually make any sense.

Think about it. Hopefully, you’re going to the gym to become healthier and stronger. A strong and healthy body is able to operate in the real world effectively and without injury.

But the whole reason you go to a gym is because of all those special, expensive machines—they put you through a workout you can’t get any other way.

If the motions that the machines put you through are unlike anything you can do in the real world, on your own—why do you want to use them?  Shouldn’t your workout use real, natural movements? Shouldn’t it hit a lot of muscles at once, which is how muscles work best?

This is why strength gains through muscle isolation tend to stay in the gym—they don’t apply in an unpredictable environment, where muscles must work together in unexpected ways.

But this ‘isolation’ doesn’t stop with muscles. We also isolate balance, strength, agility, flexibility, coordination, and other skills. But, again, if you actually want to use any of these in the real world, they will have to be in some combination with each other. Sure, most physical activities will emphasize one or two more heavily than the others, but you can rarely, if ever, use only one.

Unfortunately, the most popular solution for the people who are willing to recognize the problem is just more gadgets: balance balls, oddly-shaped pieces of foam, and the like. But that’s another article for another day.

Try exercising in a park, or at least spend a day away from all that machinery. Get in some work on parallel bars, or a pull-up bar—even some floor space. While you’re at it, turn off that iPod and get your mind involved, too. When you really start using your whole body as a unit, you’ll never believe you bothered with isolation.

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