MOVING THE BODY
Training movements and not muscles may be the paradigm shift needed for today's functional conditioning.
By Chuck Wolf, MS
e are all athletic performers. Whether an elite athlete or weekend warrior, a patient in rehabilitation or casual exerciser, each of us must meet the
For example, during a biceps curl you must overcome the forces of the weights, forearm and gravity during the concentric contraction. If you do not control the eccentric contraction, gravity will return the weights and forearm to the starting position. If muscles are not recruited to control this phase of the exercise, gravity causes the movement. The transverse plane divides the body into superior (upper) and inferior (lower) halves. Movement patterns in the transverse plane typically involve rotation and require "pure" muscle actions to accelerate and decelerate motion. Because rotational movements are "perpendicular" to gravity, there isn't any gravitational pull, which naturally accelerates and decelerates movements when in the other two planes of motion. Therefore, muscle control alone slows and reverses the action. In reality, movements often occur in more than one of the three cardinal planes. I've observed many fitness programs that emphasize exercises using movement patterns predominantly in the sagittal and frontal planes. The tendency is to isolate the body part, rather than making the body part a component of the whole. In my opinion, when you plan exercise programs that exclusively use machines or isolated, repetitive exercise movements, you are not training your client's functional needs. Machines can help strengthen a weak link in the kinetic chain, but they also prevent the body from moving in the most functional manner within the three planes. With this in mind, adopting functional, integrated training concepts can enhance the "pure function" of movement in an exercise program.
physical challenges of daily life. While our move-
ment goals are individual, they possess a similar theme--that of optimal performance of the task at hand. Volumes of research, techniques and protocols are produced so we can learn how to train for improved outcomes. Despite all the techniques, however, we may forget one important component: incorporating function into our training processes. A tennis player rushing the net or a senior citizen climbing stairs are combining motion patterns in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes to pro-
duce triplanar movement. All the movements that generate life's activities are performed within these three cardinal planes. Let's examine them briefly. The sagittal plane bisects the body into right and left halves. Flexion and extension movements such as biceps curls, knee extension/flexion and abdominal curl-ups are generally performed in this plane. The frontal plane divides the body into front and back halves, with abduction and adduction movements typical to this plane. Examples include hip or shoulder abduction or lateral spinal flexion. Movements in the sagittal and frontal planes work with, and against, the pull of gravity. Gravity provides a constant force that must be resisted and counteracted, particularly during extension and abduction. This gravitational pull naturally accelerates and decelerates movements.
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MOVING THE BODY
Planes of Motion
This table details the planes of motion and the joints of the lower extremity in each of the three planes.
Frontal Transverse Sagittal
adduct/ abduct adduct/ abduct
internal rotation internal rotation adduct/ abduct
adduct/ abduct adduct/ abduct
external rotation external rotation adduct/ abduct
plantar flexion to dorsiflexion eversion dorsiflexion inversion
plantar flexion to dorsiflexion inversion plantar flexion eversion
Defining Functional Training
Although the phrase "functional training" is frequently used nowadays, it is not a new concept. Almost a century ago, John Hughlings Jackson concluded that the brain controls muscular movement. Moreover, he theorized that humans do not move by isolating muscle groups. "The motor centers of every level represent movements of muscles, not muscles in their individual character," Jackson stated. Almost three-quarters of a century later, Irwin M. Korr (1976) stated: "The spinal cord is the keyboard on which the brain plays when it calls for activity. But each key in the console sounds not an individual tone, such as the contraction of a particular group of muscle fibers, but a whole symphony of motion. The brain thinks in terms of whole motions, not individual muscles." For example, a golfer thinks about hitting the ball as far as he can off the tee. To achieve this action, he swings in one fluid stroke toward his goal--not by consciously trying to activate the muscle groups that will interact to get the ball down the fairway. The brain does not isolate individual muscles or movements, but initiates a series of impulses to attain a synchronized movement pattern.
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Does an exercise program that isolates joints and muscles without integrating the entire kinetic chain enhance performance? I believe these types of programs are training muscles, not movements. Today's trainers should be training movements, not muscles.
People perform a range of activities: standing, walking, turning, rotating, flexing, extending, squatting, lunging, hopping, reaching, lifting, pushing, pulling, balancing, accelerating, decelerating, jogging, running, jumping, climbing. All these activities involve a free-flowing, nonrigid movement in the three planes--movements within a functional spectrum. In my opinion, traditional training methods limit the client's ability to function across the real-life functional spectrum. By incorporating different exercises within an exercise program, you can train movements across the functional spectrum. Here are a few examples: Traditional training: Many leg exercises are performed on the leg press, leg extension or knee curl machines. These exercises primarily require force production (concentric contraction) because the exerciser is seated or other-
wise supported. When seated, it's not really necessary to stabilize and balance the body. Generally, these movements are done in one plane of motion. When exercising with free weights, the squat or lunge exercises are frequently utilized. While these exercises require greater balance and stabilization, the movements are also dominant in one plane of motion. Integrated function: Exercises that can be used as an adjunct or alternative to traditional leg exercises are: I Squat and Reach. During a squat, reach with one or both hands to one side. To add further challenge, stand on a 4- to 8-inch step. Step down with one leg and touch the toes to the floor. While doing this, reach with both hands to the same side as the leg that is stepping down (i.e., right leg to the floor while reaching both hands to the right side). The squat and reach strengthens the lower extremities and requires simultaneous motion in all three planes. This movement pattern improves balance and stabilization, effectively recruits the lateral hip stabilizers, and while moving through the transverse plane, incorporates force reduction (eccentric contraction) phases. I Single-Leg Squat. Supporting one's body weight on one leg requires considerable balance and, at the same time, recruits all muscles of the gluteal complex and lower extremity. Additionally, this movement involves the transverse and frontal planes more than a two-legged squat. Traditional training: Often abdominal exercises are done while supported on the ground and only in the sagittal plane. This position does activate the abdominal muscles. At the same time, the muscles are isolated from the rest of the body. That isolation does not enhance the muscles' functional ability to decelerate the trunk during rotation or help stabilize the spine when it is extending. Integrated function: Use a medicine ball when performing rotational move-
MOVING THE BODY
ments, overhead two-handed throws, or just balance on one foot while holding the med ball or a dumbbell overhead. In this way, the abdominals are recruited for stabilization, rotation and deceleration, and work in tandem with the hips to maintain a strong core when in an upright posture. Traditional training: Strength machines position the exerciser to move repeatedly in the same path, an artificial environment that limits the freeflowing motions of function. Machines do have a place in strength training, but overutilizing them can limit the client's ability to stabilize "from the ground up." This is because the client is sitting while exercising. Integrated training: In addition to using selectorized machines, incorporate actions that require clients to support their own body weight and balance during the exercise. Exercises using dumbbells can allow free motion within the movement pattern, as do stability balls and medicine balls.
Sample Functional Exercises
Goal: Single-leg squats force the client to dynamically balance. Range: Work within the client's comfort zone of control. Stop the movement as soon as the client loses control of the motion due to imbalance or muscular weakness. As client develops greater strength, stability, proprioception and confidence, range will naturally increase. Technique: Stand on one leg with the foot of the nonweight-bearing leg directly next to the ankle of weight-bearing leg. You can place hands at the hips. With shoulders and torso erect, squat until loss of balance or control begins (end of comfort zone). Drive heel into ground and extend knee and hip back to starting position; repeat. As you become stronger and more proficient, externally rotate the nonweight-bearing leg. This movement further challenges lateral hip stabilizers of the weight-bearing extremity and hip. To challenge the proprioceptive system, perform exercise with one eye closed, then the other and finally both. Lastly, add cervical rotation for greater challenge. Reps: Beginners or clients in postrehabilitation: Start with 2 sets of 5 repetitions, performed at pace of one squat per second. Gradually build up to a set of 20 reps.
Functional Training Methods
The buzzword in the fitness industry today is function. There are myriad interpretations of "functional," but little definition beyond "a program that simulates actions similar to the desired activity." What are the characteristics of a functional program? This is how I define that concept. Functional training requires the body to "absorb" gravitational forces and simultaneously react to these forces when moving upward from the ground. Movements integrate multiple joints (no isolation) and occur within a threedimensional environment that requires stabilization of the musculature from the ankle through the knee, through the gluteals, abdominals, and erector spinae, up through the cervical spine. Functional movements add challenge by changing body angles, vision direction and cervical rotation and adjusting body weight. Dynamic activity that requires the performer to slow, stop or change direc-
tion creates the need to reduce force (eccentric contraction) in one direction, stabilize, and then produce force (concentric contraction) in another direction. By performing these activities in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes, the individual recruits ankle, knee and hip stabilizers. This cycle can be called tri-plane loading and then triplane unloading. In an environment that allows tri-plane loading, the body works eccentrically to decelerate body weight, extrinsic loads and gravitational forces as muscles prepare to propel the body. Often muscles lengthen to reflexively store energy in preparation for an unloading of an efficient and powerful concentric contraction. Tri-plane unloading promotes propulsion, acceleration and concentric loading. Here's an example of the triplanar loading and unloading cycle: As a basketball player prepares to jump, she often takes a short step and allows gravity to lower the torso, causing her to dorsiflex at the ankle, flex at the knee and hip
and flex her spine slightly. All these actions prepare the body for flight. As this preparation is taking place, the muscles are storing energy as they are eccentrically lengthening. The body must be able to absorb the downward forces from gravity, and simultaneously react against the pull from gravity as the player transforms into a leap. This ability is ground reactive. During the transformation, the player must convert the stored energy from the deceleration phase into an acceleration phase by concentrically shortening the muscles that propel her upward. The plantar flexion of the ankle, knee and hip extension, along with spinal extension are concentric movements that propel, unload and accelerate. Without the "preload" in all three planes of motion, the player will not "unload" with an efficient and forceful leap. Imagine trying to jump without the preload phase. The movement would be weak, inefficient and nonfunctional. One of the important characteristics of human function is the muscle's reacIDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JUNE 2001
tion in transforming energy from the eccentric or preload phase to the concentric or unload phase. To accomplish this, the body integrates multiple joint movements, resulting in greater coordination and thereby enhancing the pure functional effectiveness of the movement. During the transition from deceleration or force reduction to acceleration or force production, the performer must pass through a stabilization or balance phase. Functional, integrated training has characteristics that are: "life-like," triplanar, free-moving, integrated with other joints, ground reactive. Movements overcome the force of gravity; require proprioception (the ability to know where the limbs are in space and in relationship to other limbs); decelerate before accelerating; require stabilization, coordination and changes of body angles. When creating training programs, consider the client's objectives and design a functional routine based on the goal of the program. Even though many activities occur from positions such as sitting, lying and kneeling, my suggestion is to emphasize activities originating from a standing position. Standing affects the knee, hip and torso, which are also affected by motion of the trunk and arms--all characteristics inherent in pure function.
client's overall results. Use this checklist to incorporate these triplanar concepts into a functional exercise program: I Do multi-joint exercises. Example: With squats or lunges, the body is unsupported rather than supported by a bench or seat. To add a degree of rotation, try lunging along an anterior/lateral or posterior/lateral direction. This will definitely work the lower extremity in all three planes of motion.
I Involve a loading/unloading cycle.
I Incorporate actions that require balance and stabilization. Example:
In the above example, the exerciser must be balanced to achieve optimal movement. She must balance as she transforms from the preload phase to the unload phase.
I Combine movements of the upper and lower extremities. Combination
For optimal performance and mechanical advantage, the eccentric load precedes the concentric load as this stores energy and creates greater muscular efficiency and functional outcomes. Example: A lateral or sideto-side hop requires the performer to preload prior to unloading to achieve efficient movement. Additionally, she needs to absorb the downward forces before she can push off the ground and react to the next phase of the
movements stress the joints and muscles from above and below the working joint. They challenge the exerciser's proprioception skills. Example: As the client is doing a left leg, left anterior/lateral lunge (envision the left leg stepping to the 10 o'clock position), have her reach to the lateral side of the left leg with the right hand. This creates transverse forces from above the working leg muscles and joints, and allows gravity and ground reaction to impact the leg from below. A variation is to reach to the medial side with the left arm.
Sample Functional Exercises
Goal: Increase proprioception and rotational stability by incorporating motions in the frontal and transverse planes into exercise. The matrix movement sequence demonstrates how to accomplish this. 8-Point Technique: Imagine standing in the middle of a clock. Visualize the hours marked at 12, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 o'clock. All movements begin and end facing the 12 position. First series: The client's right leg does not move forward during the sequence, but will pivot on the ball of the foot. Starting with left leg, step forward toward 12. Return to starting position. Step toward 2 position by lateral crossing the left leg over the right leg. Return to starting position. Have client perform the same movement toward each hour on the clock. The right leg pivots but does not step.
Second series: The left leg is stationery, and the right leg steps forward and crosses over to the hours on the clock face. Key Point: Do not step and rotate while the opposite heel is planted in a fixed position; instead pivot on ball of foot when rotating to a particular point. Progression: Clients may be unstable, recovering from an injury or experience difficulty changing directions. Start with abbreviated versions of the matrix and work up to rotating through the 8 points. First use points 12 and 3 o'clock in the program. As competency is demonstrated, graduate to 12, 3 and 4 o'clock and 12, 8 and 9 o'clock. Client will step to 12, 3 and 4 with right leg and 12, 8 and 9 with left leg. Graduate to the 5-point matrix, which encompasses 12, 3, 4, 8 and 9 o'clock. Once these are mastered, involve all 8 points.
Functional Program Checklist
A functional, integrated training program can dramatically enhance your
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MOVING THE BODY
When designing programs, ask yourself these questions: I Is the activity triplanar? I Does the activity utilize the client's own body weight? I Is the movement ground reactive? I Do joint isolation exercises meet the training goal? I Does the exercise work "from the ground up" (from a standing posture) to improve reactions necessary for the demands of the activity? I Does the movement pattern include actions requiring force deceleration, stabilization (balance) and force production? Regional Healthcare in Clermont, Florida. Contact Wolf at email@example.com. Special thanks to Gary Gray, PT, and David Tiberio, PhD, PT, for their critical review of this piece, along with their encouragement and wisdom.
© 2001 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.