In a previous newsletter I printed a conversation between myself and my friend Bill, an avid climber and mountain biker who is also a retired physicians assistant.
We discussed how some compound, or multi-joint, exercises may be beneficial to some trainees depending on their goals—for example, exercises that mimic moves they do in their chosen activity, like NFL linemen doing bench presses, rock climbers including pulldowns, or skiers squatting.
We also said that some compound exercises may even help in daily life by training muscles to work together in specific movement patterns.
And that last thought had 2019 Drug Free Mr. Universe and biomechanics expert Doug Brignole firing off a response to me. Here it is, in its entirety…
For starters, I believe that when you strengthen muscles individually, they work together (synergistically) just fine when called to do so.
For example, if you strengthen your glutes (hip extension muscles) and your quads (knee extension muscles) by way of two separate exercises, you will be able to perform a “squat” action just fine…when that need occurs in day-to-day life. There’s no reason to think otherwise. Standing up from a squatting position does not require much skill. The idea that a person would not be able to use both muscle groups at the same time, because he didn’t exercise both muscle groups simultaneously (i.e., squats), is not sensible.
Proprioception is a skill that allows a person to perform a challenging task in “autopilot.” It is not the same thing as “functional exercise.” Learning how to use a speed bag, walking a tight rope, balancing on one leg, juggling, playing guitar or piano, etc., are examples of proprioception. Standing up from a squatting position is not.
Stiff-legged deadlifts do stretch the hamstrings, and that’s a good thing. Stretching is always good, and using some light resistance to a stretch makes it better, usually. I would not necessarily categorize that as “functional” exercise, per se. There is a bit of safety enhancement in doing it, in the sense that if you ever encounter a sudden stretch of the hamstrings, it will be more able to handle it safely. Of course, that’s not likely to happen very often. A person might want to compare the cost / benefit of spending much time in preparation for that possible event. But it also does not require much time, so even if you never encounter that sudden hamstrings stretch, it’s really no skin off your nose. But I would NOT call it “essential.” I might call it “low-cost safety insurance that you’ll probably never need”.
(Note: I get a fairly nice stretch from one-legged uni-lateral seated cable leg curls. Also, having now been doing only that exercise for my hamstrings, since I no longer have access to a leg curl machine, I realize it’s 100 percent good enough….maybe even better than a leg curl machine. My hamstrings are getting gnarly again, which is super cool.)
If a person is training for a particular sport—meaning that certain multi-joint movements are extremely important in that sport—then it makes sense to mimic those particular movements. This would include the forceful inward humeral rotation of a baseball pitch, the pole-pulling and pole-pushing of a pole vaulters vault, the “incline press” direction of thrust used by a shot putter, and the “iron cross” mechanics of a gymnast who performs on the rings. But, of course, none of these requirements occur for us in normal day-to day-life, and none can be compared with standing up from a squatting position in the backyard, after starting the barbecue.
Incidentally, when I do stand up from a squatting position after starting the barbecue, I can feel the strength of my quads and glutes and erector spinae in action, despite having worked those three muscle groups separately.
Thanks, Doug. Good stuff, excellent points. I’ll have more thoughts on this in the future. Stay tuned.
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Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
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