|A well-conditioned body feels like a lethal weapon—one you’d like to use in the service of good, especially your own. You look great, you feel better and you’re raring to go—but where? You can always chase a rabbit but you’re never going to catch it.
Even in peak form, human beings are limited in what they can achieve physically.
Body conditioning values function as well as form. Time to start analyzing how you workout and what exercises best facilitate the innate strengths of the human animal.
“Our bodies are remarkable instruments that are made to do many different types of movements,” explains Dr. William J.Kraemer, professor of kinesiology, physiology and neurobiology at the University of Connecticut, Neag School of Education, and co-author of numerous strength-building manuals, including Designing Resistance Training Programs for Human Kinetics (available at Amazon.com).
“Most organisms are based on a prey/predator type evolutionary development, but we evolved differently because our prey/predator relationships were not consistent over the eons. The dimensional differences among humans covers a much wider span compared to other mammals. Most animals don’t see as much dispersion, and contrasting body sizes as the human population does. Even among apes and monkeys you don’t find the range, you don’t go from a slightly built Kenyan marathon runner to a six- foot-eight inch, 340-pound, NFL player. In our modern world we’ve learned to take advantage of our movement capabilities, particularly in sports.”
What exercises best suit so pliable a construct? Lacking specialization, our choices become crucial and provoke a number of important questions. Is the proliferation of sports injuries due to overtraining or unwise pursuits? Perhaps we shouldn’t be running marathons, or pitching curveballs. Do you we train to our limitations, or attempt to exceed them?
“The human body is made for activities in the close kinetic chain,” answers Dr. Kraemer, “meaning in the standing position, generating power vertically. Exercises like squats, dead lifts and high pulls, are the types of movements that really allow the body to work as a whole organism. Our bodies are made for structural types of exercise.”
We have a fundamental need for total body strength because much of our activity is related to upright positioning. Whether it’s shoveling snow, lifting an item from the ground, or carrying objects, the whole body is engaged. Rotational strength is also important to support the variety of manipulations we perform.
“I don’t know if we were built for the more modern construct of running,” comments Dr. Kraemer, “but the human body is built for locomotion, it’s just not designed for ultra-marathons. Overuse is a problem; with weightlifting you don’t see injuries unless there’s a mistake in technique or an accident. The majority of athletes are pushing their bodies to the extreme, and that’s why over-training injuries occur because they’re exceeding the structural limit of the body, and its ability to adapt and cope with stress. Not everybody is capable of squatting 1,000 pounds, or running a 2:04 marathon. Everybody can improve within their genetic potential, but there are different absolute genetic capabilities.”
Dr. Kraemer develops programs that encompass cardiovascular fitness, strength or power generation, flexibility and nutrition. He recommends cross-training to combat overuse phenomenon. In the case of running he emphasizes the need to strengthen tendons, ligaments and connective tissue, which is done through weightlifting:
“You must do supplement training to support your primary activity. Do fundamental whole body exercises. Prepare connective tissue to take the stress of running, which can also cause muscle fibers to get smaller, and when that happens you lose a lot of connective tissue. Weight training maintains it.”
A perfect training regime is varied, but consists of aerobic activity, weightlifting and flexibility exercises. It should include running/cycling, squats and bicycle crunches.
Dr. Kraemer endorses a vast number of exercises, but prefers those designed for total body strengthening: “Whether it’s fitness groups or elite athletes, they’re all doing a squat, they’re all doing lunges, and hang pulls, and they’re doing it to get structural power. They’re all doing dead lifts, and bench press. Then you have varied exercise loading. You don’t just lift heavy; you have light days and moderate days. Make every workout different, and prioritize. You can’t do everything at once; you can’t try to become a marathoner, and a weight lifter. You must develop each component of a total program.”
Built to Last:
Let “progression with variation” act as your motto.
Dr. Kraemer has developed a five-point, must-do list for fitness enthusiasts:
“Most injuries are the result of improper progression, mistakes in exercise techniques, and bad programs,” says Dr. Kraemer. “You have to do a lot of thinking about training, and people don’t like to do that. They get going, get really excited, fail to stay within their progression, and then hurt themselves.”
- Specificity: Precise determination of training goals.
- Periodization: Devote chunks of your training to attaining different goals. Adaptation of stress level.
- Variation: Avoidance of overuse problem.
- Prioritization: Working specific target zones.
- Nutrition: Meeting dietary needs.