Blog - Why we do certain exercises
As you well know there are an incredible array of exercises to improve and condition every muscle or muscle group in the body. There are isolation exercises targeting individual muscles or muscle groups which involve movement at one joint, such as a bicep curl. Then there are compound exercises which invoke multiple muscles or muscle groups and by definition involve movement at multiple joints, such as squats.
Every task we perform in life involves some sort of muscular contraction, there are 2 forms of muscular contraction. There are isometric contractions which involve no movement at any muscles or joints, exercise examples include a plank or a glute bridge. Isometric contractions will improve the strength of the muscle in that one position. Then there are isotonic contractions which involve movement through the muscles invoking movement at a joint or joints, examples include any movement performed by the human body. Isometric contractions will improve strength throughout the range of movement.
Isotonic muscle contractions are broken down into 2 phases concentric and eccentric. The concentric phase of a muscle contraction is the positive, muscle shortening phase; generally where the muscle must overcome a resistance in order to move. The eccentric phase is the negative, muscle lengthening phase. It’s important to understand that during the eccentric phase muscle tension should be maintained in that the release is controlled. This is vital part of improving muscular strength.
It is worth noting that there is also a 3rd type of musclular contraction known as isokinetic, which is the same as isotonic in that the muscle(s) changes length, the difference is that the same speed is maintained throughout the range of movement. This form of muscular contraction is very rare in the sporting world, the best example being breast stroke whilst swimming as the water produces a consistent resistance. We will be focussing on the isometric and isotonic contractions for the rest of this article.
Many exercises incorporate all of these aspects of muscular contraction. By understanding how particular exercises improve particular parts of the body you will be able to perform them better. This will cause improvements in muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, motor skills and flexibility.
Over the coming weeks/months we are going to discuss an individual exercise which is performed at bootcamps. We will break it down and look at the particular physiological benefits it produces when we perform it.
So let’s take the push up, also known as the ‘press up’; this exercise is particularly well known, both loved and hated the world over. Technique is critical while performing a push up, it is often performed incorrectly and as result the potential gains are lost. The exercise involves an individual lying prone (face towards the ground), with only their hands and feet touching the ground. There are 2 fundamental positions the push up can be performed in; the full position, where legs are extended and only toes are in contact with the floor; or, half position where knees are bent and in contact with the floor. If been done in the half position, decreasing the angle at the hips will decrease the intensity.
We will focus on the full position, hands are to be placed palms down onto the ground beneath the shoulders. At this stage the elbows should be fully extended, but not locked out. The body should be locked out, in a plank position. You are to lower under control by flexing at the elbow joint and horizontally extending the shoulder joint, until you are within 6 inches of the ground. At this point you are to push back up, returning to the start position, this is one repetition. A fluid continuous movement is to be maintained at all times, without any pauses. The body should remain locked out, in a plank position, throughout the entire movement.
Now when asked what muscles the push ups work, most people would state their arms. Some would potentially know that it works the arms and chest. The prime movers (muscles doing the majority of the work) are the triceps, pectorals and anterior deltoid. These are the muscles performing an isotonic contraction as you move up through the concentric phase and down through the eccentric phase. What tends to get over looked however, is the activation of the core muscles. It is essential that whilst performing a push up that the deep stabilising muscles are switched on, in order to prevent injury and ensure biomechanical efficiency. When you do your push up envisage you are performing a plank but you’re moving your arms in addition. The work being done by the arms, chest and shoulders may sometimes feel like the easy part compared to the work been done stabilisation muscles.
That’s the technical description done. Essentially the key points to consider when performing a push up is that it’s not only your arms, chest and shoulders getting a workout; it’s also your core muscles. That’s why it is difficult to maintain that locked out position. Overtime you can make incredible gains in the number of push up you can do, you can also progress in difficulty of techniques as well. Due to the nature of push ups and the stability required, they provide a good physical fitness test to test an individual’s strength not only in the arms, chest and shoulders, but also serve as a means testing someone’s functional ability to transfer a load without compromising their core stability. In a nutshell they get rid of ‘bingo wings’ and can contribute to abs so chiselled, you could grate cheese with them.
The science behind exercise is absolute and understanding it will help you improve your training. For more interesting information on exercise and nutrition check out our BLOG.
Wanting to take your training to the next level? Find out how by contacting Richie or Mark for more information.
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