By Carrie Aspin, Exercise Physiologist

“Lifting weights” is a phrase that is synonymous with gym bunnies, weightlifters, powerlifters (yes there’s a difference), body builders and in recent times cross fitters. Previous times categorised it to having a more masculine undertone but there has been an evolution in those that partake in this method. Now there is not one population group that is excluded from lifting weights weather your intention be for daily activity tolerance, aesthetic or athletic performance.

So here I pose the question…….Why should we lift?

Fundamentally, when referring to movement associated goals the reason for lifting is the same at either end of the scale…..

  • Injury prevention through a solid and balanced foundation
  • Increase functional capacity by tolerating imposed demands with less stress
  • Increase strength, endurance, speed and power

Muscle cell physiology and biomechanics should direct the types of exercises you do for rehab, fitness or performance interventions.Too many misguided recommendations lead to physiologically impossible promises that are peddled to the industry. A basic understanding of physiology and muscle synergies is what truly should be incorporated to all lifting programme regardless of what end of the scale you’re on.

Your movement goal will define what type of prescription you need so your muscle fibers can adapt accordingly as your fiber type will shift in response to training or injury. Research has shown that fiber type responses to training, Type I to Type II (endurance to fast twitch), is typically a long term adaptation of more than six months, a realistic expectation. For example, endurance athletes with type I muscles are best for strength endurance (high reps low loads- preferably to failure). Strength athletes should manipulate their programme with moderate loads compared to power individuals with explosive fibers centering their training on high velocity and low load.

Muscle synergies or kinetic links throughout the body for force transmission are required for coordination and cohesion via a series of muscles that work together. One muscle can belong to multiple links therefore it’s important to understand movement patterns to prep and rehabilitate the correct transmission of force. In the athletic population, this is very important in order to avoid overloading from strength deficits leading to injuries such as strains and tendonitis.

Let us simply look at the four muscle synergies

Intrinsic Stabilization System (ISS): The trunk stabilization and pelvic floor platform of which all other subsystems interject. Known to most as the ‘deep core’ ie.Diaphragm, TrA, pelvic floor, QL and obliques this lot is commonly underactive

Deep Longitudinal System (DLS): Where the ISS is stabilization, the DLS provides a supportive role during gait, playing an important role of the muscles located at the knee, hip, sacroiliac joints and spine and is commonly overactive.

Posterior Oblique System (POS): The largest sling system in the body- commonly underactive!! The POS plays an active role in all pulling and rotational movement patterns and transmits force from the lower to the upperextremities via its diagonal sling linkage. Underactive glutes correlate to lowerback, SIJ and knee pain, anterior pelvic tilt, faulty squat, landing and running mechanics

Anterior Oblique System (AOS): The same role and sling pattern as the POS but on the front side providing trunk stability and force transmission. The AOS plays an active role in all pushing and rotational movement patterns. This group unlike the POS, is often overactive

The risk of not lifting in accordance to muscle synergies and movement recruitment could see a flood of compensatory recruitment. The goal for athletic performance or day to day activities is to have balanced strength. Balanced strength is requires coordination which is the foundation to speed, power, plyometric training, rotation, agility…….everything. The importance of incorporating specific movement patterns in multi-joint, multiplane fashion to our lifting format versus training muscles in isolation enhances the nervous system’s ability to properly recruit kinetic links. These transfers to everyday activities and sport seeing you move more efficiently.

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