Date: 5th January 2019
Author: Mark Wood
This is probably not the first time someone has told you that it is important to exercise with good form and good technique. At Origin series, we strongly believe movement quality is undoubtedly the most important aspect of any training protocol. Without this, you will be adding load to faulty movement patterns, building poor motor pathways and essentially teaching your body to move in a way which it is not designed. In this blog, we will explore some of the main reasons why moving better is not only going to protect you from injury, but also increase your performance in the gym, thus increasing your results.
The main key aspects we will look at are highlighted below:
Length Tension Relationship
The length-tension relationship describes the phenomenon whereby a muscle or single muscle fiber displays different levels of maximum isometric force production depending on the length at which it is tested (2). This essentially means that a muscle has a particular position where it produces the maximum amount of force, if it is either stretched or shortened from this position, then force production will decrease. This is demonstrated in these images below:
1) Here we can see a muscle is positioned at a certain length, in this case, the muscle is shorter than its resting length in the body. Within this you can see a blue line indicating an amount of force production.
2) Here we can see the muscle has now being stretched by 1mm when compared to image 1. We can also see a second blue line, which represents an amount of force production. In this instance we can see that as the muscle has being stretched it is also able to express a greater amount of force.
3) Here we are observing a muscle being stretched by 4mm when compared to image 1. As you can see, the blue line is again indicating an amount of force production. However, in this case we can see the force production has begun to decrease, indicating a lower amount of force production.
From the images above, we can observe that during this particular scenario, when the muscle was stretched 2mm (coincidentally, this length matched the length at which the muscle sits at in the body when at rest) when compared to image 1, it was able to express its maximum amount of force when contracted. This is largely due to the fact that the strength of a muscular contraction is a function of the number of cross bridge links made between the actin and myosin protein filaments within the sarcomere (1). If a muscle is shortened slightly from this point then it can maintain the maximum cross bridges linked. However, if the muscle length continues to increase in length then this causes the actin strands from each end of the sarcomere to interfere with each other, which reduces the number of available sites for further cross bridge formation, thus decreasing the amount of force the muscle is able to express and ultimately decreasing contraction strength. Similarly, the opposite action can take place. That being, when the sarcomere is stretched too far from its resting length, cross bridge formation between actin and myosin decreases, thus decreasing the number of cross bridges, which again, results in diminished force production and contraction strength.
Torque angle relationship
Now that we know the length tension relationship describes the force exerted by individual muscle fibers or muscles, we need to understand the torque angle relationship, which describes the torque exerted by a joint a different angles. A muscles ability to rotate a joint depends upon the muscles force of contraction and on its moment arm, the perpendicular distance from the muscle force to the point of rotation (5). The moment arm of some muscles such as the hamstring group can change several centimetres when going through the full range of motion allowed at the joint, while others, such as the flexor digitorum profundus in the forearm demonstrates very little change in length when going through full range (3,4). Therefore, a muscles ability to produce a movement varies depending on it’s joint positioning. We also know that muscle size is another determinant of torque production, with larger muscles having longer moment arm lengths (6). For example, if we take the strong backside muscles, the glutes, we know that the way that the moment arm length changes with hip joint angle makes the gluteus maximus a very good hip extensor while you are standing upright or in the stance phase of running, and a much less effective hip extensor when you are at the bottom of a squat. This is probably why the gluteus maximus is much more active in full hip extension, compared to in greater degrees of hip flexion (7)
If we take the information from above and try to understand this in a little more applicable scenario, then we should come to a conclusion that good strong movement is a combination of your joints being in good places to produce torque around a joint and your muscle being at an optimal length to produce force. Therefore, all human skilled movement is dependant on muscle contractions and force production, which is 100% dependant on messages from the brain and nervous system. And guess what?…the brain and nervous system recognise movement patterns and not muscle groups. Do yourself a favour and make your workouts more neurally challenging.
How does all this help you with efficiency? Well, if we put joints in the correct positions then muscles will do work, thus, making you more efficient. If you’re constantly in bad positions, then not only are you asking your muscles and joints to produce maximal force in sub maximal positions, but these muscles will be working so hard at producing force in an attempt to keep you stable and pull you back into good positions, whilst probably involving other muscles to help them too, which then costs you more wasted energy and forces you to fatigue faster. The combination of this means you’re not going to get the desired direction of force application from your muscles. However, if we focus on moving well and putting joints into good positions then we can rely on our muscle tissue to produce force in the direction we need to complete the movement, making that movement stronger, more efficient and less fatiguing.
All of time I hear people commenting on the fact that they are injured. They are doing thorough warm ups, choosing the best exercises to achieve their goals, and in more recent years, performing exercises which are to be considered to be more ‘functional’. Alongside this they are doing core activation exercises to ensure their core is engaged during their sessions, BUT people are still getting injured. Now, there will be a number of reason for this, but one of them will certainly be poor form and exercise technique. Lets face it, if you were honest with yourself, you too could probably perform exercise with better form and technique.
There are many opinions out there on what defines good technique, but a particular favourite of ours, and one that we regularly use is; good technique is one that works within biomechanically efficient ranges and angles at the relevant joints during movement. Our main rationale for this is that biomechanically correct movement patterns have been shown to reduce the risk of injury and are critical to anyone undergoing an exercise programme or some form of physical activity.
That being said, there will certainly be other reasons why people pick up injuries all of the time. Another common reason relates to possible past injuries. If you have been injured in the past and never consulted a qualified professional to help get you back to full fitness, you’re likely to have developed some fault movement patterns which is causing you body to compensate for the biomechanics flaws you have unfortunately developed. This rule doesn’t just apply to injuries, there are many lifestyle factors which could have the same negative impacts on your health and fitness. If you spend too much time sitting, driving, writing or in any other position which causes excessive flexion, then you too are likely to develop faulty movement patterns.
To manage this, it is of a high importance that at all times you are conscious of how you are moving when performing exercises. If you are not confident with an exercise then 1) attempt to move through the range a little slower and try to hold good positions and 2) if needed move through a shorter range until your nervous system allows you to increase this.
It is also equally as important that you spend time in a more extended position, walk around more, stand up more, pull your shoulders back and walk with a little more pride. If you consult a personal trainer, then ensure they are getting you into correct positions and spending time adjusting your form when needed. This is an integral part of coaching and as paying customer, you should not settle for anything less.
It is for all of the reasons stated above why Origin Series adopts the approach to coaching that we do. We believe that movement integrity is without question the most important aspect to your training. If you require any further information or advice on this topic, or any tips to help you move better, then please contact us.
Elftman H: Biomechanics of muscle, with particular application to studies of gait. J Bone Joint Surg [AM] 1966; 48: 363-377.
Gordon AM, Huxley AF, Julian FJ. The variation in isometric tension with sarcomere length in vertebrate muscle fibres. J Physiol. 1966;184(1):170–92.
Herzog W, Read LJ: Lines of action and moment arms of the major force-carrying structures crossing the human knee joint. J Anat 1993; 182: 213–230.
Ketchum LD, Thompson D, Pocock G, Wallingford D: A clin- ical study of forces generated by the intrinsic muscles of the index finger and the extrinsic flexor and extensor muscles of the hand. J Hand Surg [Am]. 1978; 3: 571–578.
Rassier DE, MacIntosh BR, Herzog W: Length dependence of active force production in skeletal muscle. J Appl Physiol. 1999; 86: 1445–1457.
Vigotsky, A. D., Contreras, B., & Beardsley, C: Biomechanical implications of skeletal muscle hypertrophy and atrophy: a musculoskeletal model. PeerJ. 2015; 3, e1462.
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