Time To Fire That Trainer


So, there I was…at the gym.   Well, I’m there a lot, and I’ve trained myself to ignore the people wasting their times (and potentially injuring themselves) on the exercise machines.  You know, pulleys, gears, seats, etc.  That stuff doesn’t work because it targets micro muscle groups.  And I’m pretty sure the people using those things have no idea how much weight to actually use or how many reps to do.  It’s like a babysitter for adults.

Really, do you think she's getting a work out?
Really, do you think she’s getting a work out?

The thought being that by individually working out muscles, you’ll, uh, get better results than if you had done large muscle groups.  I’m sure the manufacturer’s marketing and need to sell new equipment never entered into the equation, nor did the need to provide complicated machines for trainers to train you.

But there are some people you can’t ignore.  The people who invade the free weight area and then exercise…sitting down.

I don’t get it.

These people are doing curls and various forms of dumbbell over head presses while seated.   Or, God forbid, on a bosu ball.

It’s pretty obvious why most people exercise, it’s to:

1. lose weight

2. gain muscle

3. get abs.

4. be better at sports.

You can choose from anyone of these.

Of course, we now know that you need to train for hours on end to lose weight…to be able to do the fabled “eat whatever I want“.


Anyway, for the real benefits of working out, better strength, performance, and shape, when you work out, you want to work out with big muscle groups.  And sitting down eliminates a large chain of muscles that could be exercising along with you:  you know, your abdominal muscles and those things you call your legs.

Consider this image in which the benefits of the seated overhead press are glorified:

Notice that the red zones are fairly isolated and small.
Notice that the red zones are fairly isolated and small.

Now compare this to the chart for the complete standing overhead press:

More work, more muscles, more good.
More work, more muscles, more good.

I can’t find a good image for this, but stabilizing that weight while doing the overhead press, I tend to notice that my midsection…the abs…are fully involved to the point that I can see abs through my shirt.  That’s because that’s what your abdominal muscles are made to do, keep your spine straight under load. See below as Lord Ripp guides you through it all.

Throughout the lift, your entire torso is engaged to stabilize the load. And that’s a good thing.

A special note for you naysayers, naying that they sit down to avoid back injuries:  First, centuries of Olympic style prove you’re wrong.  People have lifted tons of weight over their heads safely.  Second, isn’t a tad unnatural to have your spine just end in the sitting position with your pelvis awkwardly absorbing all that weight?  After all, isn’t science saying now that sitting itself is unhealthy?  So why add weight to the equation?

Isn’t your body made to hold a load standing up?  In addition, no matter how much weight you are pressing or curling, your legs can handle it.  Get it?  Your squat threshold is probably 5 times greater than what you can curl, so who cares, you aren’t going to hurt your legs or your back, but you will get them some exercise.

To put it another way, your legs and abs are stabilizing your body as you lift things above your head or curling them.  You do want abs, don’t you? Well, consider this a free abs exercise while you work on your guns.  Furthermore, in most real world athletic endeavors, you are not sitting down, you will be using your legs in coordination with your upper torso.  And for most throwing or punching motions (you know, about 95% of all sports) you will be doing those things in coordination with your legs.

In a throwing motion, draw a line from the tip of your extended finger to your toes.  That is the space through which all your power is generated for that motion.  Yes, you will be using your legs and feet to help propel your projectile.

So why ignore that muscular pathway?

“Ah,” you may say…”doesn’t the bench press exercise rely on the bench to press?”  The answer is yes.  But that’s more of a glamour muscle, eh?  There are few athletic endeavors that require you to brace your back and push against that brace.  Of course, you don’t need to a bench to do push-ups, do you?  And push-ups require abdominal coordination, to say the least.    The point?  Bench-press isn’t a complete exercise, and some would recommend you do overhead presses instead.  But, since the pectoral muscle group is highlighted by that exercise and the exercise is ubiquitous and fun and a benchmark (to throw in a pun), people everywhere do it.  Even the NFL combine includes the bench press in their evaluation of players.  But the question isn’t how much weight the player can ultimately press, but the number of repetitions of a set amount, 225 pounds.

On a side note, back when I exclusively did bench press, to the point that I was benching 150% of my weight, I developed shoulder pain.  It turns out that, yup, I had created a serious muscle mismatch in that region by focusing on a bench assisted exercise.  That is, the bench was doing the work that various stabilizers in my shoulder were supposed to do, causing a mismatch between them and the muscles that were actually being worked.  The pain went away when I started doing overhead presses because the shoulder joint was more naturally exercised.   One lesson learned is that the bench or chair you are using is doing to work of some group of muscles or bones, and those should be involved in the exercise so that they are all engaged and working together properly.

Returning to the main point, if you’re going to do an exercise, stand up.  Let your whole body get involved. Otherwise, the chair is doing work for you.  And the chair doesn’t need the exercise as much as you do.


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