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Building Strength On Dysfunction

What Is Strength on Dysfunction

I have had a lot of people ask me what this means so I want to clarify it so we are all on the same page going forward.

We have already discussed that the basic fundamentals of weight training are necessary for anyone that wants to pick up a weight. If you are doing any kind of resistance training you need to have already mastered the basics and should be able to lift them with considerable weight before moving on. How much weight that means is for another article. This not only builds strength but makes the body less injury prone by correcting imbalances created from years of curls with no tricep work or years of bench pressing with no back work.

The body works in symmetry with itself and there is a give and take. One muscle is the agonist and the other the antagonist. This is required for certain muscle pairings because a muscle can not push itself back into place; it must be pulled by another muscle. For instance, the bicep in a bicep curl is the agonist and the tricep is the antagonist. The bicep is contracting and the tricep is assisting this movement by lengthening. If one is worked and not the other an imbalance is created, which is only going to lead to injury. The more this imbalance is allowed to grow the higher the risk. When weight is then put on this dysfunction the path is set for a big problem.

 How Does This Happen

I will illustrate an instance in which I have seen this occur and where it is most common. Many of you have probably seen this as well to some degree.

The individual that loves the bench press. It is like men have to go to this. Of course it is a valuable training tool but a lot of men use it exclusively as though there is no other way to train the chest. We will call this man, Alpha1. Alpha1 likes the bench. He shows up and puts 225 on it right off the bat. Not a big deal since he is weighing in at 200lbs but still a hefty sum. He churns out a warm up set and then decides its time to blow the chest out. He throws on 285 and we are off. He lifts the iron off the rack and is working his butt off to get through the set. The elbows are flaring out, his butt is climbing inches off the bench, his feet are squirming like a fish on dry land and he is bouncing this bar off his chest like it was a trampoline. Then it happens, POP! You hear it clear across the gym and you know that wasn’t a weight dropping.

What happened? Rotator cuff is dunnzo. Alpha1 has torn it clean and he is clearly going to be down and out for at least 6-12 weeks. Good luck with that.

So whats the problem here? Besides the glaring ruined shoulder and terrible form? The problem is this guy wasn’t set for that weight, clearly. I used this as an example but this could just as easily be someone lifting a more modest amount of weight. Its not even necessary that the weight be high, its the underlying dysfunction in his body that increased his risk of injury. I see people every day that have terrible form but that doesn’t mean they are going to blow their back out or tear their rotator cuff. It makes it more likely to happen but not a given.

If this individual had also been working his back to an equivalent degree he would have had better control over his movements. He wouldn’t have been flailing like a dying fish, he wouldn’t have needed to raise his butt off the bench or flare his elbows because he would have had the assisted strength of the antagonist muscles as well as the fundamental strength to manage the bar and put up the weight.

Of course he could have probably been just fine with 255lb and never blown his shoulder, who knows. The whole point is to increase the weight, build additional strength and muscle he will need to make certain he is working all points so his strength is symmetrical. He needs to be doing the row, the press, the chinups (with weight) etc. These would have assisted in building that base. Instead he usually just finished up the bench and walked over to the dumbbells to spend an hour curling.

This is especially true when starting squats and deads. These should both be involved in a resistance program but not completed on the same day. Although compound exercises working multiple muscle groups the squat is hitting the quads, the dead lift is hitting the hamstrings. Make sure you have the form right because it is always harder to correct incorrect lifting patterns later on than if they were addressed in the beginning. Do not be afraid to start small and build up. The strength gains will come quick if you are doing it correctly and doing all the fundamental lifts. Do not be surprised to see initial jumps of 10-20% on weight in the first few weeks just don’t shoot for the moon right off the bat. Sometimes adding just 2.5% to your weight is enough. Better to under judge and up your weight next time then to injury yourself and be out completely for a few weeks.

This addresses simply the strength portion as there are weaknesses in muscle groups that usually need correcting before even beginning a training program. For example, in today’s world many people have tight hip flexors due to sitting for long periods of time, which have created a real weakness. Attempting to increase the weight on your squats without correcting this imbalance can cause serious problems with your lower back. Make certain to address any potential imbalances before getting started. My suggestion? Find someone certified in functional movement systems that can take a look at you and recommend some corrective exercises if necessary. Don’t build strength on dysfunction. Correct imbalances, utilize all the fundamentals to build proper strength and then you can fool around with any training you like without fear of injury.  

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