Monday, June 18, 2018

Unnatural Exercises - John Grimek (1956)


Photos From a Time When Lifters Had Fun Occasionally.

Unnatural exercises. What are unnatural exercises? Is there such a thing? 

I'm well aware the above statement will shock many readers when they first see it, but let me explain that any exercise that feels awkward or strains the muscles or joints (and there are many that do just that) can be considered unnatural!

Barbell men think all barbell exercises are natural, and any signs of strain are often mistaken as "working the muscles hard" and are acceptable, instead of being associated with eventual injury. But check yourself and answer truthfully, when was the last time you recall nursing a sore shoulder, painful elbow, an aching back or bad knees? Chances are, somewhere along the line you have suffered some slight pain reaction. Nothing serious perhaps, so you let the matter slip by because you've come to accept a "few sore spots" now and the, especially if you train hard with heavier weights or perform extra reps in an intense style. 

However, there may be a morning when you wake up to find stiffness or pain in certain parts of your body. Naturally you'll rub it to stimulate circulation in the region, thinking a numbness developed while you slept in an awkward position and, feel quite certain the pain will leave after you move about. Instead, the pain intensifies as you move the limb. You try desperately to recall if anything you did in your last workout caused these annoying symptoms. Nothing you recall has any direct bearing on the incident, nor explains the reason for the pain. Once more you console yourself that all will be well as the day progresses

You may be right to some extent. Your duties occupy you and you forget the painful incident. As your working day draws to a close, your thoughts stray to training. You move the limb a few times to check any improvement, and while it feels better some pain still remains. You conclude that a good workout will fix it up and, at the appointed hour, you go to the gym and ready yourself for action. You feel fine and prepared for a terrific workout, but when you begin, you are sadly disappointed. With your very first movement the limb shoots out a painful warning in rebellion. It hurst! Man, ya gotta love the occasional spelling error, especially when trying to throw additional stress on a statement. Always good for a small laugh. You find it is difficult, downright impossible, to handle your regular training weights because of the aching limb that throbs with every movement. Somehow it doesn't figure. On your last training day, before this painful condition occurred you felt fit and unusually strong. You took a hard workout and felt like a million Dimons afterwards; no pain, not even a sore spot. Yet two days later you find yourself almost incapacitated and without a clue to the cause . . . where have you erred? 

Well I was wrong, self destruction's got me again
I was wrong, I realized now 
that I was wrong.

The injury, while not serious, may linger for days, sometimes weeks, making it increasingly difficult to train . . . so you rest a good bit. Certainly you've had sore shoulders before, but a couple days of rest usually made it well enough for you to continue training lightly. That's just it . . . if you train it must be very light, and such training may prove conducive to a quick recovery. However, if any degree of pain is associated with any of the movements, don't force it, thinking you can work it out. You won't, but might succeed in aggravating it. Forcing the muscle to work against resistance that promotes pain will only delay the healing processes, but light exercises to stimulate blood circulation into the inflamed region will help. Applying heat will also allay the stinging sensation, and a good rubbing compound could be applied which can help to retain warmth and circulation for longer periods.

But all this doesn't explain how the condition happened or what caused the pain to start, nor what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

Up until recently little attention was paid to the matter, since numerous letters are always received for advice pertaining to various types of physical injuries, but of late an increasing number seem to center around elbows, a condition rarely mentioned in previous years. Now, however, it's not unusual to find several such complaints in the mail everyday . . . why?

This article was prompted by just such a letter which was received from a young man who visited us some months back and trained here. It was while training one afternoon that everyone turned to see where the grinding noise came from and saw our visitor indulging in an unusual exercise that looked more like he was trying to tear his shoulders and elbows instead of developing muscle. Someone asked him if that didn't bother his elbows.

"Not much," was his reply, "although they get mighty sore sometimes." It was logical to assume that a painful reaction might result eventually if he persisted with this exercise. His letter verified our beliefs which added, he was forced to quit training because his entire arm had developed a painful soreness that wouldn't permit the slightest movement in comfort.

Here was a fellow who very obviously ignored nature's rebellion against the exercise he thought he should do, in spite of the grinding noises that issued from his joints while he performed this movement. Cracking sounds from shoulders or knees are quite common and no cause for alarm; they indicate there is a lack of synovial fluid within the joint to properly lubricate it, but exercise will eventually stimulate a better flow and thus eliminate the audible creak. But the sounds our visitor emitted indicated very definitely that the joints were being strained, not trained. 

Even ordinary back exercises could prove a menace to those who have weak backs and decide to strengthen them quickly. There's no such thing as "quick" where muscles are concerned as those who seek such shortcuts find out.

Stiff-legged deadlifts can be a wonderful corrective exercise if employed properly, but they can also be the prime contributing factor to a sore back! Whenever back exercises are employed utmost care should be taken to warm up this region thoroughly with numerous repetitions and light resistance. Once the back is warmed up, it can stand amazing strain and show remarkable flexibility, even among those who are naturally stiff and weak. Some of the outstanding twisting movement we've featured within these pages can boomerang on those who sit around in drafts and chill their backs and then plunge directly into vigorous exercise. This is dangerous and encourages strained and pulled muscles in this vital region, resulting in an aching back that can plague you for months.

Many bad knees stem from exercises that place an unnatural strain on them, mainly because of the position the legs are forced into. The Hack Lift has contributed to such complaints because very often the feet are not naturally spaced, I've always felt that if the limbs were used more naturally, complaints would be fewer.

Some years ago a chiropractor came up with a zig-zagged curved bar to ease the strain during curls, and while this was an excellent idea, dumbbell could be employed with equal success. Hint, hint. Dumbbells allow for more freedom of movement. Nevertheless, this odd bar was the first step taken in the right direction to eliminate unnatural strains from curling weights.

Another condition, less painful but more detracting, are stretch marks. Unheard of years ago except among the very fat, today stretch marks are found to be quite common. Note: There's a great little Kelso article, The Stretch Mark Machine, that I should put up sometime for people who haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet. The flying exercises recommended to build massive pectorals may do just that in some cases, but many develop skin tears instead, which eventually heal and show up as silvery streaks. Exercises that bring about such marks should be avoided or employed more carefully, but more important is to see that skin is supplied with all the elements that keep it healthy, soft and fully elastic.

Using excessively heavy weights at all times is not necessary in all exercises to build muscle, but very often results in sprains, strains and skin tears. Figure it out . . .

Why are such problems more prevalent today than they were years ago? There is a very good reason. On comparing notes recently our conclusions centered around some of the newly invented exercises which are widely practiced today, and are supposed to develop muscles bigger and faster. Too many cheating curls, for example, for those who aren't prepared to employ such poundages can pull the biceps attachments enough to make them painful for days, sometimes weeks. The idea of handling heavy weights appeals to the majority, capable or not, and because this movement brings into action stronger and larger muscles the strain always falls upon the weakest link, which may be the elbow, biceps or shoulder. It may seem odd to a novice that the shoulder can be pulled while curling, but have you tried curling weights when your shoulders were injured? Just consult your anatomy chart and convince yourself this is possible. It has happened many times.

Another exercise that could be labeled unnatural for many trainees is the French Press. This exercise works the triceps in an unnatural manner, therefore it often strains elbows, especially when overdone by using excessive poundages. The greatest strain results when the weight is heaved from behind the head, instead of bringing it up with a steady, gradual pull. Those who employ this exercise in its various forms should be careful to warm up first by using a lighter weight and repeating the first set numerous times. Such precautions will help to minimize the elbow soreness to some extent. Always bear this in mind when doing any exercises: first warm up the muscles thoroughly before attempting any heavy poundages. Much grief might be spared.

Numerous exercises have been hailed as new ideas for muscle developing in recent times, but most of them aren't any newer than the standard curl which has been know and used ever since exercise in any form has been employed. Many of the exercises accepted now were tried and rejected long ago because they felt awkward or unnatural.

Feeling unnatural doesn't always decrease the developing potential of the exercise, however, since many of us are constructed slightly different anatomically so that some of these exercises can be done more naturally by some while others find it impossible, which proves  

As I write this an incident comes to mind. One of our fellows become obsessed with the lying down curl done with an overhead pulley. He found it cramped his biceps faster, but always experienced a stinging sensation after. After finishing his training one day on which he included more of these lying down curls than usual, he joined some of us who were having fun lifting one end of a car. He lifted the car with ease, but while he was holding his end up with ridiculous ease, it happened! The biceps tendon snapped! This wasn't because his biceps were weaker than any of the others, but they were weary and played out from those cramping curls and snapped from pure exhaustion. It's possible, had he not exhausted his biceps with those unnatural curls, he could have lifter the car with all of us sitting in it without tearing the tendon. But unnatural exercises have a tendency to fatigue muscles faster because of the strained or cramped position the muscles are forced into. BE CAREFUL IN YOUR USE OF THESE TYPES OF EXERCISES.

From the foregoing readers are apt to assume I'm out to condemn their favorite exercises. On the contrary, I think most bodybuilders can reason things logically for themselves and realize when an exercise is doing them harm or bringing results. I would like to reiterate, however, that such exercises which feel awkward or unnatural should be done first with a very light weight and repeated many times with this light weight to warm up the tissue thoroughly. A muscle so stimulated absorbs the shock and strain better and offsets possible injury.

The most common danger lies when one attempts to show off for his friends or for the sake of his own ego when alone how much he can do without warming up. It's when the muscles are "cold" and not fully activated that they are so susceptible to injuries.

It also happens when the muscles have been overworked and fatigued, when the tissue is clogged with carbon dioxide, lactic acids and other body chemicals that are produced whenever a muscle is active or exercised. Any sudden exertion in an unnatural position could result in pulling or tearing a muscle.

By experience you will learn when any movement feels unnatural to you, and knowing this, the best thing you can do is discard it. If you eliminate the exercise, you can find at least a dozen to replace it, and perhaps several will prove much more effective. For example, there are many movements that work the triceps just as thoroughly as the French Press and with less strain on the joints.

The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is truer in exercise than any other field, and those who have suffered painful muscle soreness and even injury will realize the true meaning. So, don't try to show off without first warming up thoroughly. Don't train in cold or drafty locations without ample covering.

Take care of your muscles and they will take care of you. 


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