Paul Chek, HHP, NMT
Bodybuilding was once focused on building not only beautiful
bodies, it was about building healthy, functional bodies.
In fact, if you review old bodybuilding magazines from 1950
or earlier, you will find many of the top bodybuilders were
also competitive Olympic lifters! An excellent example of
the athleticism that existed in bodybuilding, John Grimek
(a multiple Mr. America winner) regularly demonstrated his
ability to military press 285 lbs for reps!
Review bodybuilding magazines published between 1900 and
1940 and you will find there was a strong emphasis on whole-food
eating, not on chemically mediated get-big-quick schemes and
florescent-colored drinks containing 20-syllable ingredients!
1 - John
Grimek, multiple holder of bodybuilding's prestigious
Mr. America title demonstrates his athletic ability
to the crowd by performing a military press with 285
pounds for reps!(Strength and Health Magazine, March
Women in the '30s, '40s, '50s and even '60s were not exposed
to the she-men seen in today's televised female bodybuilding
contests. Beautiful women lifted gracefully, becoming ever
more beautiful (See Figure 2). In fact, Marilyn Monroe is
reported to have lifted free-weights with a trainer several
times weekly. Unfortunately, TV exposure to modern bodybuilding
has produced a culture of women who think if they touch a
dumbbell or barbell they will begin sounding like Mr. Ed (the
talking horse) and need to shave twice a day!
2 - Ladies lifted free weights and were the better because
of it! Here you see a swim team lifting weights as presented
in Strength and Health Magazine in May,1952. Since steroids
had not entered female bodybuilding, women had not yet
developed a fear of free weights.
3 - Eugene Sandow demonstrates the unique, beautiful
physical development that can be developed through free
weight training. Sandow proved this by developing thousands
of bodies around the world, as documented in his book
"Life Is Movement", published 1929.
image is from his book "Strength and How To Obtain
It", published in 1897. Not only do women in general
much prefer the naturally beautiful physique of a free
weight lifter over the modern bodybuilder's physique
(as developed on isolation machines and, all too frequently
via the use of steroids), few, if any modern bodybuilders
could match the strength of the old bodybuilding champions
such as Sandow, who could perform a single arm press
overhead with a 300-pound dumbbell!
Today, if you were to take a poll in any major city and show
people photos of modern bodybuilding champions and the champions
of the pre-1950 era, I'm sure you'd find the women
prefer the bodies of the original bodybuilders. The men were
hard looking, not puffy, or manufactured in appearance. Free
weight lifting in general and Olympic lifting exercises produced
a unique muscular development (see Figure 3); the muscles
were longer and more natural looking, reducing the look of
being muscle bound.
Today's bodybuilders commonly suffer significant health
problems, often struggle with skin blemishes, foul-smelling
sweat and other indicators of toxicity. This is a common byproduct
of so-called scientific nutrition and its super foods and
supplements ... sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but
nothing produced under a microscope will ever top what Mother
Nature has consistently provided!
I write this preface to make sure you understand my intent
and the message contained in this article. No, I am NOT against
bodybuilding, not even against modern bodybuilding with all
its pills, props, drugs, packaged and processed foods, and
the rest. I just want to be sure that everyone wanting to
achieve health, fitness and/or beauty through resistance training
really understands what they are getting if they use the modern
approach to bodybuilding. I want to be sure they understand
that just because you have big muscles, it doesn't mean
you are a superior athlete, that you will feel healthier,
or even that you will be able to lift better on a construction
site or any job for that matter.
All modern bodybuilding really offers are bigger muscles
and better symmetry if you are properly coached. What true
bodybuilding offers (the kind of bodybuilding that was alive
in the pre-'50s or even '60s in many areas of the
world) is a healthy, athletic body that will work for you.
A body that you can be proud to live in, one that is less
likely to hurt ... the kind most people would look at with
envy, not with fear of the unknown!
Now that we are clear that this IS NOT an attack on bodybuilding,
but an opportunity to benefit from my many years of experience
as a trainer of athletes (including bodybuilders!) and a specialist
in orthopedic rehabilitation and nutrition and lifestyle counseling,
let us get into it:
Does modern bodybuilding aid in athletic preparation? To
answer this question, we must also consider another; could
a modern bodybuilder using today's machine-based routines
and processed nutrition survive in the primal environment
in which we evolved? Skills and abilities necessary to be
competitive in sport today are very similar to those essential
for survival in a Neolithic environment. If we evaluate which
biomotor (bio = life + motor = movement) abilities were necessary
for survival as a primal being and which biomotor abilities
are necessary for sport we find numerous similarities, placing
the primal being far above the genus "Bodybuilder"
on the evolutionary scale!
There are six physical factors (biomotor abilities) that
athletes must possess, the exact order of importance varying
from sport to sport.
How many of these were necessary for Primal Man? Is Bodybuilding
really the best way to train for each modality today?
Primal Man certainly needed strength for the purpose of building
shelter, protecting himself/herself and family from neighbors
who did not agree about property lines, or who wanted their
food! But what kind of strength was it? Not the kind that
is developed on knee extension, leg press and hamstring curl
machines! These machine-based exercises don't help improve
functional squat strength and I doubt such exercises would
do squat in an environment that was as athletic as a good
football or soccer game!
Power, the ability to apply force quickly, would definitely
have been more of an asset to Primal Man than possessing bulky
muscle build using slow and super-slow tempo training. Just
consider that you would have had to feed all those cells during
periods when food was scare; certainly there were no muscle-building
shakes to keep you going. To put it bluntly, if you couldn't
throw a spear or a rock with serious intent, or run like hell
when necessary, you may well have smelled cat breath, and
I'm not talking domestic cat here!
Balance and agility were no doubt high on the prerequisite
list for Primal Man. Running through the brush, hopping rocks
across streams and down mountainsides was risky business when
you consider that a broken leg could have very well been fatal;
sounds like rugby, not bodybuilding!
Flexibility would have been developed proportional to the
working environment; if you lived in the mountains your flexibility
would certainly have been greater by necessity than those
who lived in the plains. Although I doubt Pebbles and Bam
Bam held regular stretching sessions, today we have evolved
to the point of realizing the prophylactic value of stretching.
However, there is a definite science behind correct stretching
Golf Biomechanic's Manual" by Paul Chek) and
the nonscientific method most used by athletes and teams makes
you wonder if perhaps they would be better off back in the
Endurance was also very likely related to Primal Man's
dominant activities. If you were an inland Aboriginal who
trekked for miles to obtain a specific plant, grub or water,
you would no doubt have developed a strong endurance base.
Alternatively, if food was plentiful but moved quickly (think
rabbit), you were probably very cunning and had a high anaerobic
capacity. Pure speed was not the entire issue, as I have never
met a sprinter who could outrun an animal you would eat in
the wild; well, I take that back--Ben Johnson outran a race
horse a few years ago, but I don't think he ate it!
An interesting fact with regard to energy systems is that,
by necessity of survival, Primal Man developed the energy
system most dominant in his daily activities. This is important
when applied to athletes today. I consult with and see numerous
athletes, coaches and sports teams that compete in a purely
anaerobic environment, yet still run 5-10 Km regularly as
part of their training program. Would someone please pass
on this very insightful quote I picked up from Al Vermeil
(Retired Strength Coach of the Chicago Bulls and holder of
numerous championship rings from both the NBA and NFL!); "Train
Slow - Be Slow!"
Let's get down to brass tacks here. If you are in a
sport that requires any form of first step quickness or explosiveness
and you are lifting with the traditional bodybuilding protocols
(8-12 rep sets on a slow (3:0:3) tempo using 1:00 rest periods),
you are training strength endurance, not maximal strength
or explosiveness! Just look at the time under tension (time
the muscles are actually under load) for each set:
8 reps x 6 seconds = 48 seconds
9 reps x 6 seconds = 54 seconds
10 reps x 6 seconds = 60 seconds
11 reps x 6 seconds = 66 seconds
12 reps x 6 seconds = 72 seconds
This equates to an average time under tension of 60 seconds,
which is well into the fast glycolytic energy system, or what
is often referred to as the lactic acid energy system. This
is clearly strength/endurance training. This type of training
is fine in a base-conditioning phase for a rugby or football
player that needs to put on 8-10 Kg of muscle, as part of
a carefully periodized plan, or for a tennis player that must
perform for hours at a time.
The point here is that the only athletic component current
bodybuilders encounter is having to walk across a stage and
selectively spasm their muscles to their favorite tune! That
is not how you win a tennis match, test match (rugby), wrestling
match or volley ball game. Sadly, those practicing modern
bodybuilding constitute a microcosm of people at best, yet
for financial reasons, the machine and supplement industries
have funded the popularization of inferior training and conditioning
methods. Somehow, they even managed to penetrate major university
physical therapy departments, regardless of the fact that
motor learning science and physical medicine research has
negated the concepts since about 1950!
What is Functional Exercise?
Today, many athletic programs and professional sports teams
use bodybuilding machines and protocol to condition athletes.
When we consider that most bodybuilding exercises require
neuromuscular isolation (working a single muscle), not integration
(working multiple muscles and muscle groups) and virtually
every sport or functional activity known to man requires high
levels of neuromuscular integration, we are off to a bad start.
Additionally, consider that most bodybuilding exercises are
performed on machines (Figure 4), requiring no activation
of postural muscles, minimal activation of stabilizer and
neutralizer muscle functions, and certainly don't require
that you continually maintain your center of gravity over
your own base of support; there's not much need to activate
stabilizers and postural muscles when sitting on a machine
with a huge base of support that is bolted to the floor!
4 - The Hamstring Curl Machine. Typically used to strengthen
the hamstrings by bodybuilders and uninformed athletes,
the strength developed on this machine has minimal carryover
to function when compared to the hamstring strength
developed during a deadlift, good morning or Olympic
lift. In addition, when using machines, you are teaching
the nervous system to use large muscles in relative
absence of other necessary stabilizer and neutralizer
muscles, which can't happen during any functional, unsupported
Compare traditional bodybuilding exercises to good old free
weight training exercises such as the front squat (Figure
5) or medicine ball exercises like the back toss (Figure 6).
When you perform a free weight exercise that requires maintenance
of your own center of gravity over your own base of support
and are unsupported by an outside means, you must co-condition
all stabilizer, neutralizer and postural muscles directly
involved with that given exercise or movement pattern.
If you want to see what happens when you do too much bodybuilding,
take any bodybuilder to rugby practice and watch what happens
when the team starts practicing agility drills; sort of like
watching a truck driver dance funk!
If I were a Bengal tiger in the wild, I would certainly be
hoping to see a bodybuilder or two about now; I wonder if
a tiger could taste the lack of neuromuscular intelligence
in a muscle should he have eaten a bodybuilder. A good athlete
will never know!
Now that it's obvious that primal beings were athletes and
most bodybuilders are praying that we don't wind the clock
back 2000 years, let's look at what athletes (and bodybuilders
if they are still here) can do to improve function and prevent
Add Some Balance and Proprioception
Training to Your Program
SWISS BALLS, also called Physio-balls, Stability Balls, Fit
Balls, Medi-Balls, Gymnic Balls, and most recently the new
super strong Aussie-made
Dura-Ball Pro (designed to be used with free weights)
are incredible tools for both rehabilitation and performance
enhancement. They allow unrestricted 3-D movement at any speed
and also require that you constantly maintain your base of
support. Exercising on a Swiss Ball enhances the development
of both righting and tilting reflexes (Table 1). This is important
because righting and tilting reflexes, or a combination of
both, are required for optimal performance in virtually every
sport, even posing in a bodybuilding competition!
For example, walking on a balance beam (fixed object) requires
righting reflex activation as the dominant reflex profile,
while tilting reflexes are activated when you step on an object
that moves under you (Figure 7), such as a moving sidewalk
in the airport, riding a horse, or riding a surfboard.
||Righting Reflex Use
||Tilting Reflex Use
|Walking on slippery surface
The Fitter is an excellent piece of equipment, originally
designed to improve ski performance. This unique piece meets
all the requirements for decreasing your chance of being eaten
by a tiger and increasing your chances of scoring goals! As
you can see in Figure 7, you will develop balance, coordination,
learn to maintain your center of gravity over a constantly
changing base of support, and by the way, you will have to
learn to do it fast! Sounds like sport, doesn't it?!
Olympic lifting and all unassisted free weight training will
improve performance to primal standard and beyond if guided
by an experienced conditioning coach. To clarify what I mean
by "primal standard", consider that as developmental
beings we had to squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist, walk,
jog, and run efficiently and effectively to survive. If you
couldn't perform these essential primal patterns, you were
a drain on your family or dead, one of the two! An important
point to make here is that all seven primal patterns (gait
includes walking, jogging, and running) required that you
maintain your center of gravity over your base of support
at all times.
Additionally, they require high levels of neuromuscular integration
and significant levels of coordination, and, depending on
what you were doing, required one or a combination of both
righting and tilting reflex activation. Can we say the same
for today's modern machine-based training environment? Even
if you don't consider yourself an "athlete", or
if you are elderly, all the principles of developing athleticism
apply to you! I commonly tell my patients, "If you can't,
YOU MUST!" because it's the movements you have a hard
time doing, or can't do, which get you that unfortunate day
when you have to move that way.
The length / force relationships developed with free weights
are exactly what the sports doctor ordered in every way. With
free weight training, our joint mechanics and gravity create
an environment that produces the greatest load on the muscle-tendon
complex at a point approximating the strongest point of the
length / force relationship of any given muscle-tendon-joint
complex. For example, if you were to do a biceps curl with
a dumbbell, the load is at its maximum when your forearm is
parallel to the earth; that is about mid-range with relation
to the sliding (contractile) filaments in the muscle.
In contrast, a biceps curl done against stretch cord resistance
produces continually increasing load as the stretch cord lengthens.
Therefore, the obvious point of maximum loading becomes the
point at which the muscle is maximally shortened, which is
not where we tend to use our muscles to perform functional
activities; with that in mind, you may wonder just how valuable
stretch cord training is over the long term.
To improve performance and prevent injury, consider we are
all still cave men and women wearing nice clothes and driving
cars. When embarking on an exercise program for general health
and fitness or for sport, you must ask yourself what biomotor
abilities your leisure, work or sport environment requires
and select exercises that will enhance performance, not detract
from it. In short, the best thing you can do is train predominantly
with free weights, a Dura-Ball and some balance and proprioception
You will not only improve performance and prevent injury
but you will have fun! If you feel you need guidance, there
is a network of highly skilled, highly trained C.H.E.K
Practitioners available to assess you and develop conditioning
and nutrition programs specific to your needs.
Paul Chek is a world-renown expert in the fields of corrective
and high-performance exercise kinesiology. He is the founder
of the Corrective High-performance Exercise Kinesiology Institute,
based in California and has developed three certification
programs. Paul is a sought after international presenter and
consultant for organizations such as the Chicago Bulls, Australia's
Canberra Raiders and the U.S. Air Force Academy. His information
is not only cutting-edge, but also very applicable.
Paul has produced over 50 videos and advanced level home
study courses designed for the fitness and clinical professional,
such as his Scientific
Core Conditioning and Back
Training series. He is a regular contributor to several
publications and Web sites. His book, The
Golf Biomechanics Manual, has been adopted for use by
professional golf schools and was featured on the Golf Channel.
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