I would like to dedicate this blog to a topic that can be a contributing factor to your fitness success; adding purpose and intention to your exercise by considering what muscle you would like to do the most work.
They say that motion is lotion! I would agree that exercise for the sake of exercise is always a win but are you getting as much out of your exercises, or your sets, or your reps as possible? From what I find in the gym with clients and in the clinic with patients, you’re probably not. A simple discussion with one’s self in regard to where do I want to feel this exercise and why can transform your benefits and eventually you!
I recently asked a patient of mine to complete an exercise she had completed hundreds of times before. The exercise in this example was a side-lying clamshell. A very basic and common exercise. She was performing these against a resistance band that she uses regularly. With a couple of cues and tweaks to this exercise, she went from being able to complete sets of 20 with relative ease to only being able to complete 10 reps with good form. The changes that were made were as follows:
First, we discussed where she wanted to feel the exercise. She immediately knew that she wanted to feel it in her glutes but we got more specific than that. Where in the glutes and why? Learning what muscles do what motions can dramatically improve your strengthening exercises.
Second, we changed the tempo of her repetition of extra focus to the eccentric phase, or lengthening phase, or the return to her starting position. I allowed her to move the knee up towards the ceiling with purpose but required a slow and controlled 3-second return. This, in turn, helped to keep activation and an appropriate load into the prime mover, her glute med.
Finally, we discussed how the body might start to cheat or compensate with this exercise as the appropriate muscles begin to fatigue and gave extra focus to avoiding these compensations.
Following all of this, the patient stated that she had been doing these wrong for years! I responded by ensuring her that she was doing them wrong but rather just with not as much intention and purpose as she could have been.
You do not need to be an anatomist to figure out what muscle should be doing the work while you exercise. Thinking about it is half the battle. Even with a compound movement such as a squat that uses multiple muscles, I still suggest choosing one group over the others and doing your best to activate and isolate those areas. If ever you’re completing an exercise and not feeling what you want, do it differently. That seems silly, but seriously, change something. Do it differently until you feel what YOU want! I slow controlled tempo both directions of a repetition is also a win and allows you an opportunity to assess what you are or are not feeling.
Try implementing this during your next workout. Slow things down, activate the muscle you want at the beginning of the set and keep it active! We are all busy, making these changes will make the most of your time spent working out. Good luck and get out there and build the better you!