For decades the western world has been obsessed with physical aesthetics. Fueled by the explosion of bodybuilding in the early 1970s and documentaries like “Pumping Iron,” the desire to enhance physical appearance by massive hypertrophy became an obsession for some athletes and non-athletes. Body building magazines, high protein diets, and strength training programs were standard practices for enthusiasts. When I was growing up a common question among my buddies at the gym was “How much do you bench press?” It’s still a good question, although the focus has shifted toward development of abdominal muscles. All this leads me to wonder: how did training to enhance looking good without a shirt, or to have a great derrière for yoga pants, become intertwined with athletic performance? Does the ability to bench-press more than double your body weight actually provide explosive functional strength? Do coveted “washboard abs” determine speed and quickness? Will that derrière help hold a difficult pose? Let’s examine scientific facts to answer these questions.
Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
Designed to provide an abundant supply of oxygen, slow twitch muscle fibers play a crucial role in activities that we as humans perform routinely such as climbing stairs, typing on our keyboards, and walking. Because these fibers have a great supply of capillaries, mitochondria, and myoglobin, they support activities that require endurance. The fascinating aspect about slow twitch muscle fibers is that they become bulky and swollen like a balloon from certain training. As these muscles hypertrophy, the diameter increases and the actual number of muscle fibers grow. This is the reason that when strength training ceases, the hefty appearance begins to subside.
REFORM: Training for Maximum Flexibility versus Bulk
Although training for lifting maximum weight is perfect for kettle bell enthusiasts and power, it is not always appropriate for dancers and athletes whose bodies must adapt to unpredictable environments, alter direction quickly, and store energy in muscles for release at high rates of speed. Don’t get me wrong, applying some of degree of heavy load can be utilized in periodization. It must be used intelligently and without abitrary intention. Heavy external load creates tension throughout the entire body, directing weight to the posterior chain of muscles, specifically the low back and the slow twitch muscle fibers. Like the brain, our muscles have a large capacity for memory. Exposing posterior muscles to heavy loads overtime causes these tissues to always be tight, bulky and inflexible. Maximum range of motion is compromised and the potential to release energy quickly is significantly decreased. Imagine a vehicle that has an external body tuned to look fast and be visually stimulating only to have a small, underpowered engine that lacks any ability to perform when racing is required. A sprinter attempting to run 100 meters cannot be tight and restricted; he or she must be loose and explosive.
REFORM addresses the training requirements for these athletes by using isokinetic exercise, a program that teaches muscles how to stabilize, stretch, and contract in all planes of motion and at various resistance levels. New muscle memories are formed that reverse the negative effects of stress, poor posture, repetitive movements, or injury. Similar REFORM exercises also address geriatric issues and problems full-time employees encounter from spending much of their days sitting in front of a computer. The results are greater flexibility, strength, and restoration of agility.