Training movements, not muscles.

Your average gym monkey

Your average gym monkey

I work in a gym, but I don’t think I am your average gym monkey (at least I hope I’m not).  I am not interested in isolating muscles and “maximising the burn”.  Instead, because of my background in Karate, I am more interested in being able to move in strong, powerful, fast and well coordinated ways.

The human body is the most sophisticated, versatile and amazing gadget we will ever own.  Forget your iPad.  As sexy and funky as it may be, it is nothing compared to the body you are living in right now.  So I think everyone should be able to move it properly and get the most out of it.

I was chatting to my friend the other day.  He was telling me about some resistance machines he had used.  They had little flashing lights that guided how you should move, how far and how fast.  Now, I can see how that kind of thing may be very nice and quite useful for absolute beginners, but personally, I would hate it!  Maybe its just me, but I would much prefer to know what I was doing and why, rather than following mindlessly, sheep-like, a machine that was set for the lowest common denominator.

Talk about setting your sights low!  Which sounds best to you:

“I want to be the best I can be”


“I want to be bearly adequate”.

So, here are a few basic movement patterns that we should all be aware of, and should be able to do well, every day of our lives, whether you are in training or not:

Push (or press)

This is when the force in a limb is moving away from the body.  Examples include:

  • Pressups – the arms are pushing away perpendicular to the body.
  • Shoulder Press – the arms are pushing away parallel to the body.
  • Leg press – legs are pushing away from the body.
  • Punching – arm is moving away perpendicular to the body.
  • Kicking – the leg is pushing away from the body.
  • Throwing a ball – the arm (and ball) is travelling away from the body.
  • Tug of war – the legs are pushing the body away
  • Climbing stairs – the leg is pushing away from the body and down into the floor.
  • Standing up from a chair – both legs are pushing away from the body into the floor.

Pull (or row)

This is when the force of the limbs is moving towards the body.  Examples include:

  • Seated row – arms are pulling the weights towards the body.
  • Rowing in a boat – arms are pulling the oars towards the body.
  • Pullup – arms are pulling he body towards the bar.
  • Tug of war – the arms are pulling the rope towards the body.
  • Picking up a suitcase – arm is pulling the case towards the shoulder.

Twist (or rotate)

This is when the torso or limb moves around its own axis.  Examples include:

  • Throwing a baseball – the body “winds up” before the throw, then “uncoils” during the throw.
  • Swimming freestyle – the body and head twists as you take a breath.
  • Throwing a hook punch – the body rotates to generate the power of the punch.
  • Swinging a golf club – the body rotates as the club swings around.
  • Using a corkscrew – the forearm twists to screw it into the cork.
  • Passing a rugby ball to the side – the body twists to the side to increase the range of the pass.
  • Reversing a car – the body/head turns on its axis so you can see behind you.

Stabilise (or not move)

This is not a “move” as such, instead it is the deliberate prevention or stopping of a movement.  I use this mostly in core training.  Examples include:

  • The Plank – preventing your belly from sagging in the middle.
  • Squat or deadlift – stopping your spine from slumping forwards.
  • Tug of war – keeping your spine strong and still so it does not collapse and fold in the middle.
  • Using a corkscrew – the other hand has to keep the bottle still while the screw is being twisted.

As you can see from some of the above examples, in a single act (eg, tug of war, using a corkscrew) different parts of the body can be doing different moves at the same time.  And things will only work properly if you coordinate all these different moves.

Pec Fly

Pec Fly

A prime example is a guy I was helping in the gym.  Now this guy was very big and very strong.  He was showing me how good he was at the chest press and pec fly machines, and he could do almost twice as much as I could!  But he wanted to join the army, so obviously we got round to doing pressups…. …he couldn’t even do 1 of them. He had been training his individual muscles for ages!  And his individual muscles were very very strong.  But they couldn’t work together for toffee!  He didn’t know how to stabilise his mid-section while pushing with his upper body, and so his belly would crumple half way through each pressup.  If I was being harsh, I would say his muscles were fantastic…but his body was useless. And I don’t want that for myself or the people I train.  I would much rather fantastic muscles and a fantastic body.  Or am I just being greedy? So if you come train with me, you won’t find many bodybuilding routines involving “back & bicep” and “chest & tricep” days.  Instead you will learn how to make your body fitter, stronger, healthier, more capable of moving well…actually doing things in your everyday life. As Alfred said to Batman:

“What’s the point of all those push ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log? “

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