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First, Do No Harm

Greg Roskopf, MA, wants health and fitness professionals to recognize that helping clients to improve health and lose weight requires a solid understanding of how to help them control pain and reduce inflammation.

A longtime athlete who found himself constantly falling prey to injury, Greg Roskopf, MA, created a new approach to recovery called Muscle Activation TechniquesTM. The process, which helps to identify unique causes of muscle tightness and weakness in order to remedy them, has been used by professional athletes playing for the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, as well as a wide range of other clients.

A specialist in improving muscle function, Roskopf focuses on how individual biomechanics affect the ability of one’s musculoskeletal system to handle the demands that come with participation in sports or training. A frequent speaker at fitness and allied health industry events, Roskopf also focuses on working with clients with special needs, such as those with autoimmune or systemic disorders. He holds a master’s degree in physical education from Fresno State University.

ACE: How often do you feel repeated injury or pain keeps people from engaging in regular physical activity?

Greg Roskopf: Pain is the key limiting factor when it comes to exercise. When I speak at conferences in the fitness industry, the common theme among trainers is that not only do many clients experience pain, but the majority of trainers
and health professionals also have some sort of chronic ailment. Most of the time, that pain is due to exceeding the physical capabilities of their muscular system. The end result is that muscles tighten up and go into a protective spasm that coincides with the complaint of pain. This typically forces clients to discontinue their workouts until the pain subsides.

From my experience, the reason that pain and injuries are so prevalent is that many of our clients’ muscular systems are not prepared to handle the physical stresses that come with exercise. In these cases, if we push our clients too hard, we can be setting them up for potential pain or injury. In my daily work, the goal is to identify and correct the muscular imbalances prior to prescribing exercise. In doing so, it increases the body’s ability to tolerate the forces that come with exercise, reducing the risk of injury.

ACE: In what ways do you feel pain or repeated injury has contributed to the obesity epidemic?

Greg Roskopf: When people have pain, it can limit their ability to exercise. If clients are not able to exercise, they cannot reach their fitness goals. Pain itself is also one of the signals of an inflammatory response triggered by tissue damage. The primary goal of an inflammatory response is to protect and repair damaged tissue. If the inflammatory response does not get resolved and the tissues cannot repair themselves, the result is chronic inflammation. With chronic inflammation comes chronic pain. When the body is in a state of chronic inflammation, there are many chemical changes that occur within the body that do not allow our clients to reach their fitness goals; one example is the inability to lose weight.

It is important to understand that intense exercise can actually contribute to obesity rather than eliminate it. If exercise is too stressful, it will compound the inflammatory response. Therefore, you may have to step backward before you go forward relative to exercise prescription. That may mean unloading weight during exercise to prevent it from being too stressful. Clients must have the strength to handle their own body weight before they add external resistance. If they are not strong enough to control their body weight, the muscles are placed in a constant state of overload and cannot heal. This compounds the inflammatory response, which in turn may contribute to obesity and insulin resistance.

ACE: What misconceptions—if any— do you believe our society has about people who may be struggling with their weight or with adopting healthy habits? Why is it important for us to overcome those misconceptions?

Greg Roskopf: One of the major misconceptions that people have toward people trying to lose weight is that they don’t work hard or they cheat on their diets. In many cases, this can be far from the truth. They may actually be the people who work the hardest; they are just not attaining the desired effect. In the exercise industry there’s a misconception that exercise is always good, and if we work hard enough we should achieve our fitness goals.

When exercise is not applied appropriately, it can stress a system that is already stressed. This is important for trainers and clients to understand because when the body is chronically stressed and inflamed, the chemical changes that occur in the body alter our
ability to make fitness gains. In this state, the “calories in vs. calories out” mentality isn’t valid. When the body is in a chronic state of inflammation, losing fat becomes more difficult; thus, attaining the results from diet and exercise also becomes more difficult.

It is vital that the exercises being prescribed do not compound the problem. Otherwise, exercise itself will impede our clients’ ability to lose weight. This is why—regardless of how hard clients who are overweight work or how strict they may be with their diets—they still have difficulty losing weight. The thought that “more is better” is probably one of the most misinterpreted concepts that we face in the exercise industry. It is important to understand that recovery is arguably the most important component of exercise training.

ACE: How do you feel health and fitness professionals can do their part to help people overcome injury, increase their level of physical activity and learn more about nutrition?

Greg Roskopf: Health and fitness professionals are accountable for the well-being of each of their clients. People come to us to get healthy. They are hiring us as health and fitness “specialists.” Therefore, it is not only our job but our responsibility to understand all of the
variables associated with exercise and its role in overall health.

My best advice to health and fitness professionals is to always continue to educate yourselves so that you can provide more effective service to your clients. Understanding anatomy and kinesiology is no longer enough. Trainers not only need to understand how to apply exercises, but they also need to recognize that exercise can have both negative and positive effects on the overall health of the body. Since two of the major factors related to improved health and weight loss are controlling pain and reducing inflammation, anything that you can do to positively affect these issues becomes essential in the training for every client.

Editor’s Note

Editor’s note: Bridging the Gap is a series of interviews conducted by ACE with professionals throughout the fitness and allied health industries, as well as our partners in the corporate world. ACE hopes this column will start a conversation among those entities about the impact of the obesity epidemic and how we can all work together to eliminate it by 2035.


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