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CEU Quizzes

The National Council on Strength and Fitness offers its certified professionals the opportunity to gain Continuing Education Units (CEUs) with our easy Online CEU Program. The NCSF Online CEU Program allows fitness professionals to choose CEUs from a variety of categories.

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CEU Quiz Categories

Training & Programming

Stress and Exercise looks at the acute stress response and the dynamics of the orchestrated interplay of several neurotransmitter systems in the brain. The article will provide an overview of the various psychological as well as physiological responses to stress and how each effects exercise outcomes. The article discusses the important factors related to stress and health.
Personal Training has experienced an industry shift towards integrating exercise for function and human performance. The concept of stability training aims to not only burn calories and strengthen an individual, but more importantly to see those components of health and physical fitness translated into improvements in one’s day-to-day activities. Center of Gravity examines training modalities geared specifically to this type of integrative exercise programming.
Working as a qualified personal trainer requires the ability to devise exercise programming specific to the wants and needs of your individual clients. Oftentimes personal trainers, like some of their clients, can get stuck in a rut with their programming and neglect to draw from the plethora of training techniques they have available. Due to the fact that many exercise systems and techniques can be employed for the same outcome, personal trainers have many options to keep exercise physiologically challenging and psychologically stimulating. Traditional resistance training programs (2-3 sets with 8-12 repetitions of the prime movers) interspersed with aerobic training is a very typical exerc
Adding an alternative mode of exercise training can be a great way to increase aerobic capacity and running performance. Cross training is a concept that allows for higher volumes of training without overtraining specific tissues of the body. Repeatedly performing the same movement increases one’s risk for overtraining and developing muscular imbalances.
When attempting to increase one’s lean muscle mass, it is important to realize that several factors play key roles in this process and that the interaction among these components can greatly affect one’s success in this endeavor. Focusing too intently on a simple aspect such as resistance training, or neglecting a given component, such as nutrition can have a direct influence on muscle development and the degree to which it occurs. One key factor involved with increased muscular growth is related to body composition.
The popularity of sports specific training has grown in recent years. Clients strive to improve in their sports and activities and look to personal trainers to help attain those goals. Many trainers though, are at a loss when it comes to creating sports specific programs because the dynamics of the training are completely different than that of weight loss and health attainment. The key to success is to match the demands of the activity with the exercise selection and programming variables. Applying traditional strength exercises is the most common error made when programming for sports performance enhancement because these exercises do not match the demands of the sport. Benching and squatt
A common issue facing many personal trainers on a day-to-day basis relates to program management and limited client contact time. The majority of personal trainers will typically train a client two or three times per week for approximately 60 minutes per session. In order for the results that most clients are looking for to be achieved, trainers must employ specific training strategies to maximize the training time. Two common requests made by clients are weight loss and increased muscle mass. The difficulty of programming for successful attainment of these goals lies in the fact that they require concurrent training for aerobic and anaerobic adaptations. This suggests resistance training fo
Prescribing exercise for aerobic training, circuit training, and conditioning has traditionally used heart rates to quantify the intensity based on premeditated structured training zones. Two common methods to identify the heart rate training zones include the Max Heart rate Formula and the Karvonen or Heart Rate Reserve Method. Of the two, the heart rate formula is most widely used and recognized. The formula simply uses a prediction of heart rate max (220-age) and defined percentages (75-90% HRmax) of that value to determine the training intensitie
Performing routine exercise as recommended for health improvements is hard enough for most people, finding the time, establishing a routine and sticking to it requires focus, motivation, and a daily commitment. For those who have the fortitude to accomplish this challenge it would seem that the rewards should be forth coming. But exercise performed for positive adaptations requires more then just the commitment to daily training.
There are so many variables to programming exercise that proper design can be challenging and sometimes confusing, even for experienced trainers. Analysis of proper programming requires a review of program principles, exercise principles, and their respective application relative to a client’s needs and capabilities. When programming for personal training clients the difficulty is increased because contact time is limited and numerous stress variables are necessary to produce the various adaptation response. This takes the tradition out of traditional programming. One way to make the programming easier is to utilize a system for defining the implementation of the exercises selected for the c
Increasing interest in personal training has focused on training for sports performance. More participants in recreational and organized sports are recognizing the importance of conditioning for competitiveness and injury prevention. Personal trainers can take advantage of this growing market-interest by becoming more proficient in the techniques that can be used to enhance speed, power, quickness, and specific movement economy. Immediate limitations though, stand out in personal training for these goals, compared to traditional strength and conditioning programming due to the limited contact time. Strength and conditioning programming is usually developed in a 4-7 hour contact f
Serious fitness and performance participants routinely battle with the need for concurrent training models which include both anaerobic and aerobic components. Due to the demands of the activity it is valuable to identify the magnitude and intensity of each type of training to optimize the desired performance characteristics without the adverse effects of overtraining.
Physical function is a factor of efficient performance of tasks; where neural patterns cause harmoniously synchronized muscle contractions that transfer energy effectively to accomplish a desired action. Standing on a physioball is not functional – it is a circus act. Picking up a relatively heavy laundry basket of wet clothes and placing it on the dryer is functional. Functional training applications should emphasize improving components of the body that present limitations to the performance of activities the body is exposed to at some level of frequency.
Strength and high-velocity power training components are not commonly included in the training regiments of many endurance athletes. Although there is widespread acceptance related to the benefits of including power and strength training in endurance programs, many coaches and athletes still forgo the training. Strength and high-velocity power training components are not commonly included in the training regiments of many endurance athletes. Although there is widespread acceptance related to the benefits of including power and strength training in endurance programs, many coaches and athletes still forgo the training. Several reasons are given for the exclusion, but most focus on the fear that added bulk will make the athletes slow and that the high tension training will compromise the endurance training performance due to fatigue or soreness. This explains the current trend of avoidance of power and strength training for many endurance athletes.
The implementation of a new training system is an excellent way to rejuvenate a workout or add more volume and intensity to a training program that must be completed in a specified period of time. A training system employs a technique that allows an exercise or group of exercises to better serve a defined purpose. One of the most popular of the anaerobic training systems is the supset. Supersets combine two or three exercises (tri-sets) in sequence with only transitional rest between the sets. Transitional rest refers to the amount of time it takes to switch from one exercise to the next with no additional rest.
The body’s ability to learn and improve explains why progressive stress must be applied for continued training improvements. When a training stress is placed upon the body, the body responds via a unified reaction of systems in varying proportions that attempt to manage the stress as efficiently as possible. Initial actions by the body are often distressed due to the lack of experience with internal management of the exercise. The metabolic systems try to deliver the appropriate amount of energy, while cardiopulmonary actions work to increase oxygen to active tissue.
Adaptation response is very specific to the physiological demands experienced by the body and the frequency with which the stress is experienced. An individual who routinely goes to the gym ensures two things: 1) a frequency of physical activity has been established, and 2) more calories are being expended by the body than if the person was sedentary. For some reason, people believe that by simply being in an environment where physical activity occurs and engaging in some level of the activities, they should attain all the desired results associated with the activities. From a physiological standpoint, this is way off base, as specific research in the area indicates otherwise. An evaluation of a traditional approach to weight lifting and the common intensities used based on one’s own accord indicates these actions will likely yield a low caloric expenditure and no overload on the tissue. The obvious variable is the intensity. According to several research studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, most people self-selecting intensities train between 40-60% of 1RM but do not use corresponding repetition ranges that cause volitional failure and therefore do not stimulate any overload. The research also suggests that both men and women have a tendency to select intensities far below threshold for the repetitions they perform, which explains why so many people exercise with limited results.
Improving one’s performance in sports and daily activity is a factor of neuromuscular efficiency and metabolic enhancements. To attain proficiency, reaction force must be effectively transferred through force couples at a velocity consistent with the requisite movement speeds of the activity. The attainment of efficient movement is dependent on the muscle’s force production and reduction capabilities, magnitude of reaction force, and proprioceptive management of the action (including postural equilibrium). This is accomplished, in part, through the use of neutralizing and stabilizing muscles to prevent diminution of reaction force across joints and to accelerate the movement as needed for the action. Much of the recent literature has focused on the trunk musculature to transfer ground reaction force across the spinal segments in closed-chain movements. By now many professionals are more familiar with the muscles of the inner unit (transverse abdominis, diaphragm, muscles of the pelvic floor and the thoraco-lumbar fascia) and the role these muscles play in stabilization and energy transfer. These muscles should be trained to functional levels specific with the highest demands of routine stress. This being said there are additional stabilization and energy management demands once the reaction force has been transferred through the trunk. Since most actions outside of slow bipedal locomotion use the upper body, stabilization at the articulation sites of upper limbs is very important. Most of these actions manifest in the hands, therefore energy must effectively reach this terminal area. Analyses of the joints of the upper limbs identify the shoulder as the weak link in the system. Working backward, the wrist is a gliding joint and the elbow a hinge, both of which are very stable joints. The shoulder, though, is an incomplete ball and socket joint, giving up stability for mobility. The glenohumeral articulation, as it is formally referred to, has a shallow fossa which allows the limb to be fully abducted and flexed and provides for large ranges of motion in multiple planes. In fact, the human body is designed specifically for range compared to speed or high force. This factor limits the application of high force in exchange for lower force over a greater range. This fact lends itself to the importance of stability.
A December 1st article in the New York Times reports that in Boulder, Colorado parents have been given the opportunity to genetically test their children through Atlas Sports Genetics. A $149 test is now available, which aims to “predict a child’s natural athletic strengths.” Atlas states that focusing this testing on children from infancy to about 8 years in age is ideal, because “physical tests to gauge future sports performance at that age are, at best, unreliable.” Research primarily performed at the University of Sydney and published in 2003 regarding the gene ACTN3, prompted this business endeavor. This single gene, of the more than 20,000 in the human genome, is being touted as a reliable predictor for whether a person would be well-suited for speed and power sports versus endurance activities.
Exercise principles define adaptation response. Most Americans who work out lack an understanding of basic human physiology, causing them to forego specifically applied progressive overload. Selye’s general adaptation theory states that when the body is strained it will adapt to and overcome the stress. However, after adaptation has occurred, a new level of stress is required. The same absolute stress will not be perceived as “a new stress” by the body. If the stress is reduced, the body will in turn reduce the response and the principle of reversibility is invoked, explaining the adaptational diminution. This being said, physiological adaptations are simply a response to stress that is applied at a frequency significant enough to require the body to change in order to better manage it. Inherently the body does not like to change, and in fact, is resistant to chronic adjustments. For instance, muscle hypertrophy training can be applied for 4-6 weeks before the body will increase contractile protein content, and the body will continue to resist significant change for 18-24 months before a shift to higher protein synthesis, associated with higher anabolic hormone concentrations, occurs. This is a natural defense mechanism to heightened metabolism. Tens of thousands of years ago a human with more muscle would need more calories, and in the type of environment experienced at that time, a high metabolism was a curse rather than a blessing. Likewise we have defensive mechanisms for weight loss. Consider the same human 30,000 years ago; a high metabolic rate equates to a need for more food, and a low body fat meant risk for starvation and hypothermia when exposed to the elements. Most resistance to physiological adaptations stem from defense mechanisms for survival. These mechanisms also explain our actual impressive initial resistance to obesity and paradoxical ability to add fat and mature lipid cells.
Fitness professionals, sport coaches and physical education teachers have been recommending and implementing warm-ups prior to exercise for a variety of reasons including psychological preparation for game/activity focus, injury prevention, and physiological preparation. Research has demonstrated some equivocal evidence related to the use of warm-ups on certain measures, including injury prevention. Yet despite the relatively limited scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness, pre-exercise warm-up activities are well-accepted and commonly employed in fitness/performance environments.
The back squat is one of the most functional exercises among the repertoire of compound lifts. The high axial position of the resistance places significant demands on key spinal stabilizers as the center of gravity is elevated while the muscles of the hip and knee act to coordinate acceleration and deceleration. The squat yields significant benefits for several applications, including strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy. When performed with correct form, the action at the acetebulum (hip) and the knee create force couples that strengthen hip and knee extensors while stabilizer contribution secures the axial and upper appendicular skeleton. When this system functions efficiently, ground reaction force is effectively transferred into the bar and the skeleton moves in proper alignment.
Although the anterior chain often receives more attention in most fitness centers than the posterior chain, next to the pressing machines undoubtedly there will be an equal number of machines aimed at training pulling movements. Likely, 50% will address shoulder adduction (lat pulldown) and 50% will serve the actions of horizontal abduction and shoulder extension (seated row). Since many of the machines are done in the oblique plane (somewhere between true sagittal/frontal or sagittal/transverse) the muscles of the shoulder complex work together with the muscles of the shoulder to accommodate the force demands. In a seated high row for instance, where the load is elevated above the chest, the rhomboids are involved in some level of scapular retraction and downward rotation aided by the trapezius, while the latissimus dorsi contributes to shoulder extension and adduction. When the resistance is lowered for the seated cable row, the rhomboids and mid-trapezius dominate but are assisted by the lats and teres major for shoulder extension. Exercises like the lat pulldown, high row, and seated row certainly have merit in a resistance training program aimed at strength and hypertrophy but for performance and function these stable, machine-based exercises pale in comparison to exercises like the pull-up and bent-over row.
Properly challenging the core musculature through resistance and stability training techniques for adaptations related to sport performance is currently a topic of debate. To ascertain what methods could be considered optimal, one must first understand muscle action inherent to the core region of the body. The core does not simply refer to the abdominal musculature as many believe, but is actually a functional group of muscles that act on the spine and pelvis. The core of the human body constitutes all of the lumbopelvic musculature and is utilized to maintain proper body alignment and protect the spine. A few of the major muscle groups and functional connective tissues that are emphasized when enhancing core function include: the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae which serve prime movement and phasic energy transfer and the diaphragm, thoracolumbar fascia, multifidus, transverse abdominis and pelvic floor which stabilize both static and dynamic action. These groups are further coupled with muscle actions of the hip including both flexors and extensors. When stability, range of motion, and/or balance in one (or any number) of these muscle groups becomes compromised, an individual may have reduced ability to efficiently transfer force through the trunk to the upper or lower extremities. Essentially, force capacity may be lost during movements utilizing the entire kinetic chain. Due to the need for ground reaction force transfer, energy loss along the kinetic chain presents a predominant challenge in optimizing the efficiency of the often complex movements demanded in competitive sports. For this reason core stabilization has been indicated as an important aspect of athletic conditioning.
The integration of ballistic exercises and ballistic circuit training has gained popularity in recent years fueled by television infomercials (P90X and Insanity) and performance based group exercise programs like CrossFit®. Oftentimes utilized in the athletic environments, ballistic training can certainly present new challenges to an exercise program and promote additional adaptations beyond traditional strength training, but not without certain risks. As fitness enthusiasts look for new and entertaining stimulus to promote physical fitness, many activities once reserved for conditioned athletes enter mainstream fitness. Personal trainers should have a clear understanding of the risks, benefits, and purposes of these training techniques so they can best implement strategies to promote safe and effective training.
The fitness industry has made significant advancements in using research to improve the biomechanics of lifting and to prevent imbalances by connecting motion segments to optimize coordinated efforts in sports and in life. For knowledgeable exercise professionals the traditional approach of body part isolation using “3 sets of 10” has faded in light of programming for purpose using stress specific exercise techniques. Of interesting however is that with all this new knowledge common biomechanical errors still exist and are performed in fitness centers everyday throughout America.

Likely, some of the most common errors that exist include actions at the shoulders and low back during pulls and presses, knee translation and pelvic instability during hip and knee flexion and excessive recruitment of the hip flexors during abdominal exercises. The usual reasons behind poor lifting technique is exercisers receive incorrect instruction or copy what they see in the gym, or movement compensation occurs due to weakness along the kinetic chain. When force couples fail to exceed the resistive stress along the movement plane other biomechanical actions are used to create momentum to accommodate the movement range of motion.
Yoga has become an extremely popular form of physical activity in the United States over the past decade and has even generated enough interest to support studios that focus on a particular form of yoga or a variety of activity-related disciplines. There is no questioning the many benefits of yoga which include reduced stress, reduced risk of lower back pain, and improvements in flexibility among both fit and unfit populations. In sedentary populations and untrained populations, studies have indicated some improvements in strength and mild improvements in cardiovascular conditioning. However it is important to note that although these benefits certainly can contribute to an improved quality of life, using yoga as one’s only form of exercise may leave some physical deficiencies.
The muscles of the calf are often considered “genetic” muscles among fitness enthusiasts, suggesting that one is born with sizable and well developed calves or not. Do to the symmetry and balance with other leg musculature the calves are commonly trained mainly for aesthetic purposes. But the muscles of the lower limb play a more important role than simple accents to basketball shorts or high heels. During standing posture, the soleus muscles act to control sway in the anteroposterior (AP) direction aided by contractions of the gastrocnemius. Since the soleus does not cross the knee (meaning it is not involved in knee flexion) it serves as an anchor to the foot, fibula, and tibia. In contrast, the gastrocnemius crosses the knee and contributes to locomotion via both plantar flexion and knee flexion.
Variations to exercise programs are an integral part to maintaining a continued level of adaptation response. Although motor pattern development varies among people, generally it takes 7-12 exposures to the stress for adaptations to accommodate the physiological challenge. If the stress is simply a new movement the nervous system will begin learning immediately and with subsequent rehearsal develop a motor pattern through muscle synchronization. In most cases the body has adequate potential in the musculature for appropriate force management, it though needs to figure out how to access the motor units properly which comes from practice. Once the nervous system figures out the situation the demands are reduced. This is easily exemplified with the act of swimming. Asking a person relatively unfamiliar with fitness swimming to perform a 100 meter free stroke distance and they will likely have a high perceived exertion with the activity. But after repeat bouts over a one week period will likely consider it a relatively easy task to perform. This is not due to some newly developed muscle or exaggerated improvement in VO2 but rather an improvement in economy.
Competition is heating up as other companies enter the active video gaming (AVG) sector to challenge the Wii. Children and adults alike have taken to the fun associated with physically interactive games. In fact, manufacturers suggest that these games may be an important part of modern lifestyle activities. Several recent research studies have explored the actual contribution these games have on daily energy expenditure with mixed reviews. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2010) examined gaming outcomes in energy expenditure for 11 and 12 year old boys (n=26). Subjects participated in both sedentary (resting, watching television and sedentary gaming), and active playing activities on the Nintendo Wii (Bowling, Boxing, Tennis, and Wii Fit Skiing and Step), as well as performed traditional walking and running, including a maximal fitness test.
If you know someone who is overweight and trying to shed a few pounds, chances are they have been told to use the stairs more frequently for physical activity related weight loss; and if you’re a personal trainer, you’ve likely been the one to make the recommendation. The stairs are a simple physiological challenge to the body based upon the laws of physics. Stairs combine vertical and horizontal displacement, thereby increasing the force demand beyond normal horizontal locomotion. Stair climbing’s positive contribution to weight loss explains the popularity of the Stairclimber machines in the 90’s and although the elliptical trainer has since replaced many of the traditional Stairclimbers, they are still commonplace in most gyms/fitness facilities.
Effective use of training time is a key priority for all personal trainers. The 120-180 minutes of usable training time per week often makes it difficult for trainers to help their clients reach all their perceivably attainable goals. This is particularly true when the needs include all aspects of health related fitness. The traditional, but antiquated, model of personal training that uses body part emphasis and three sets of ten repetitions provide limited benefit for the average person with multi-factor need. Attempting to fix range of motion issues, musculo-skeletal imbalances, as well as body fat reduction and the often associated metabolic and cardiovascular conditions with three sets of ten using bodybuilding exercises is an inefficient use of time. Rather, the exercise program should be broken down into segments with specific emphasis. Separating the needs into discernable categories allows for a more efficient use of the training time and places specific stress related to the desired adaptation.
The body has numerous defined actions and movements. Providing resistance to those actions or movements represents an exercise. However, effective exercise selection should entail more than simply identifying a movement and loading it. Rather, the decision for a particular exercise should be based on individual client need, which in many cases is multi-factorial. Does the joint need more stability? Should the prime mover experience higher loads? Do the hip and trunk play a role, and if so is it for acceleration, deceleration or stabilization? Is range of motion an issue? Does the individual have the musculoskeletal or neuromuscular aptitude to perform the activity? All of these questions should embody the thought process of a certified personal trainer, which then leads to a prudent exercise decision in the workout design.
When people are new to exercise or returning from a long time away from the gym, there are often deficiencies in key metabolic and movement systems of the body.
In the fitness industry the quest for caloric expenditure during exercise has reached a pinnacle as boot camps, industrial training, and pseudo-athlete conditioning have all become trendy and popular. However, if one is training to optimize safety and promote performance, an emphasis simply on caloric expenditure is counterintuitive. Strength and conditioning programs and skill-specific practices for athletes should be aimed at energy conservation so that adequate glucose is available to support the highest level of performance for the longest tolerable time. This requires proficiency in both the neuromuscular and metabolic systems. The improvements come from repeated rehearsal in the appropriate pathways in conjunction with the removal of resistance to the movement. While the prior suggests practicing the skill or task in the appropriate environment, the latter suggests foundational corrections for postural imbalances, improved stability, and improved range of motion at each joint.
Recent year trends suggest the number of Americans with postural distortions and back pain continues to increase. This is due partially to weight gain but more so from a chronic lack of activity which has contributed to strength imbalance and changes in seated and standing posture. When boney structures become conditionally manipulated the attached musculature responds by adapting to the environment.
Programming components in personal training often require more knowledge and adaptability than the traditional programming approach of three sets of ten repetitions. Programming starts with a laundry list of client needs that often limit program aggressiveness due to low levels of fitness, inhibitory dysfunction from musculoskeletal imbalance, and lack of flexibility; this is compounded by a lack of training frequency. The standard 120-180 minutes of contact per week makes it difficult to provide effective results, particularly when the client’s exercise tolerance, whether psychological or physiological, is low. Most clients are driven by vanity-based goals; they want to lose weight and look better, both of which indicate a need for greater training volume.
The word deadlift references one of man’s oldest movements; picking up a static object from the ground. Even today man cannot get away from the functional task on an almost daily basis. Much like the squat, the deadlift exercise has several variations but differs in the fact that the load does not change its location. During the squat exercise the resistance is moved around the body to change the muscle activation emphasis, whereas in the deadlift the body makes the adjustments around the load. The three most common exercise variations include the traditional deadlift, modified deadlift, and Romanian deadlift; all of which use a straight bar as the requisite loading medium. Of interest, each of these exercises can be further manipulated to produce a more specialized, desired stress by changing the loading conditions (i.e., dumbbells) hand positions, and symmetry of the lift.
While aerobic exercise is an important fitness component for health and weight management it rarely gets the appropriate emphasis in a program aimed at cardiorespiratory improvements. Whereas most people recognize lifting light weights and performing inadequate volume limits strength gains and related benefits, when it comes to “cardio” people often climb onto a treadmill and start walking without taking into account the training zones in which they should be working. It is not uncommon to see exercisers reading the paper while riding the bike or intently watching a television program on the cardio theatre. As a result, the only physical response they can expect is the production of heat because the intensity is too low for cardiovascular benefits. On the other end of the spectrum is the former athlete who decides to get back in shape; recalling former training volumes they start out at too high an intensity and quit as a result of burnout or injury. Therefore, it stands to reason that to make the most of each bout of exercise, individuals should train in an appropriate and systematic manner.
The term “Core” has become all the rage in the fitness industry; both athlete and fitness enthusiasts alike are aware of the need to maintain a solid foundation. However, the meaning of the word may be very different depending on the person. For instance, at the collegiate and clinical levels, the term represents the more than 30 muscles that act on the motion segments of the hip and spine. But in a gym, a core class may be comprised primarily of crunches and multiple variations of supine trunk flexion. Arguably, the core concept is appropriately applied in the relationship of stability and energy transfer, where the inner unit functions with the global stabilizers and movers of the outer unit.
Adequate flexibility is fundamental to a functional musculoskeletal system which represents the foundation of movement efficiency. Therefore a commitment toward appropriate levels of flexibility should be part of every comprehensive exercise program. Due to the limited changes in body aesthetics associated with its inclusion, many fitness enthusiasts forego the stretching segment for activities that may have a greater affect on vanity or perceived performance. However, appropriate flexibility is linked to improved joint function, reduced movement restriction, a reduced risk of low back pain or injury.
Flexibility can be defined as the ability of a joint to move through a full range of motion (ROM). ROM defines the functional capacity and movement potential of a given joint or a bodily segment. Therefore, flexibility plays a major role in one’s ability to engage in various types of physical activity; and while a significant factor in human function, it often receives modest attention in many exercise programs. Major benefits associated with superior flexibility include a reduction in the rate of functional decline; increased training capabilities; improved postural symmetry and muscle relaxation; reduced tension in muscles, joints and connective tissues; a reduction in the risk for injury; potential relief of pain; and improved quality of life (QOL). Maintaining a level of flexibility over one’s lifespan is associated with a decrease in functional decline and greater independence, whereas a reduction in flexibility can ultimately lead to restriction, chronic pain, dysfunction, and reduced QOL. Inflexibility generally leads to musculoskeletal injuries as a result of various mechanisms, including the loss of postural symmetry, distorted muscle alignment, excessive soft tissue stresses, and movement compensations during exercise and movement. Prime examples of flexibility-related distortion include an anterior shift of the shoulder joint as part of upper-cross syndrome and pelvic instability due to a compromised tilt position.
Most people recognize that stress is not healthy but most fail to realize the significant impact stress can have on both physiological and psychological well-being. Estimates vary, but experts believe about 70% of doctor visits and 80% of serious illnesses may be exacerbated or linked to stress. Whether it is an acute bout of frustration, as experienced when cut off in traffic, or a major life event such as a divorce, losing one’s job, or being diagnosed with a disease, stress can negatively affect all systems of the human body. Interestingly, even though stress is an innate response it varies by person. Stress is heavily rooted in perception; one individual’s unpleasant experience can be another’s enjoyable undertaking. Essentially, stress can produce positive or negative metabolic and hormonal responses based on the internal environment and the balance maintained between the stress itself and recovery measures to attenuate its response (e.g., proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management techniques). Adequate stress, whether physical or mental, is needed to promote adaptations in a bodily system; while excessive stress results in systemic breakdown. Eustress is the term utilized to describe appropriate stress routinely applied for the provision of positive adaptive outcomes; distress describes an excessive level of stress that promotes negative outcomes.
The growing cost of health care combined with an aging population experiencing health decline is creating a significant social/economic burden upon the country. Strategies to pay for our traditional approach to medicine, particularly with the current social distribution of resources, are driving forces for change. Without significant changes, it is apparent that the strategy outcomes will result in reduced markers of health for the majority of the country. It has become quite clear that the “medication generation” was not appropriately managed as pharmacological interventions have not cured any of the major risk factors associated with disease. Rather, many medications allow people to continue to function while developing other comorbities which has created the most costly group of Americans to date. Clearly, behavioral change is necessary and multifaceted, placing emphasis on physical, psycho-emotional and dietary modifications. In the current model, only those individuals who pay for one-on-one services receive some level of support and in many cases the attention is categorically specific. People hire personal trainers, dietitians, or psychologists to help them with behavior modification. Of the three professions, personal trainers as defined by the scope of the profession have the technical skills to provide assistance in several areas of behavior change and may best function to serve in the preventative care model.
Any resistance training activity, regardless of complexity, can be performed in one of two ways: (a) correctly, and in a manner that optimizes potential adaptation and muscle activation, or (b) incorrectly, and in a manner that increases the risk for injury and reduces intended muscle activation due to biomechanical compensations. For the purpose of this discussion we will review common compensatory actions associated with one of the most popular recreational lifts - the bench press. Even with a relatively stable, single-plane and straightforward activity like a chest press, numerous actions can be performed that reduce the transfer of force, or place joints/bodily segments in positions that minimize the workload of the prime and assistive movers for the movement.
The recent popularity of the Olympic lifts within the fitness industry has added a new dimension to many training programs. The increased use of highly technical exercises requires adequate preparation on behalf of the client from a musculoskeletal stand point, as well as a greater degree of instructor competence to properly teach the lifts. Clearly a weekend workshop is insufficient instruction for an individual to safely teach these types of skill-based lifts. Therefore, personal trainers who want to employ these exercises will find it beneficial to pursue additional training so that they can properly instruct them. Unlike a traditional strength exercise like a military press, the Olympic lifts are velocity based and increase neuromuscular and musculoskeletal requirements. Trainers must be familiar with proper teaching cues as the movements are complex, fast and place significant stress on the body.
In this second segment of the “lift correctly – optimize gains” series we will cover aspects related to proper technique during the forward lunge. Lunging exercises of all types are very popular among fitness enthusiasts and offer variety to training the hip and knee. Since most people are not properly instructed on the movement techniques, the actions are commonly performed with movement errors or in a way that creates an elevated risk for connective tissue irritation or acute overuse injury at the knee joint. This is quite unfortunate as the lunge is a very programmatically-useful, closed-chain exercise; activating a number of muscle groups in the lower body and trunk. An added advantage of the lunge movement is the muscle activation and ROM can vary based on the direction of the action and the position of external load. Adjustments allow for improvements in strength and flexibility at the hip, knee and ankle joints when performed correctly. Another relevant aspect of the movement is related to the split stance position used during forward and backward lunging. The exercise action enhances pelvic stability by preventing undesirable tilts of the pelvis during the movement.
Overhead lifts place the shoulder joints in relatively compromised positions that increase the risk for injury. An open glenohumeral joint combined with the intention to resist a significant load in a vertical direction against gravity can spell disaster if proper technique and biomechanics are not adhered to.
Variations in training volume and methodology as well as individual characteristics can impact a client’s ability to fully recover from training sessions. Muscular adaptations to exercise vary depending on the individual’s gender, biological and training age and the nature of exercise engaged. A common occurrence following a bout of unaccustomed physical activity is the delayed sensation of skeletal muscle discomfort or pain, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The discomfort associated with DOMS is often characterized by muscle stiffness and tenderness. It is generally accepted that DOMS follows an inverted U-shape curve over time, in which the intensity of discomfort increases during the first 24 hours following the cessation of exercise, peaks between 24 to 72 hours, then subsides and eventually disappears by 5-7 days post-exercise. Eccentric exercises are primarily cited for evoking DOMS as the nature of the contraction as well as the potential for greater loading promotes more muscle damage than concentric or isometric contractions.
Observing the participants engaged in exercise in any fitness facility across America identifies that there is a general lack of understanding related to proper exercise technique. When it comes to training technique only two choices exist: 1) correct biomechanical form or 2) incorrect biomechanical form. Therefore, any deviation from that which would be identified as correct would in essence be considered improper execution (or just plain wrong). Interestingly, due to the movement capabilities of the human body it is plausible to “exercise” and not accurately perform any actual exercise when scrutinized for form and technique. This explains in part why there are so many variations in the way exercise is performed in fitness facilities, and possibly why many enthusiasts perceive themselves as having a high fitness IQ when much of what they do is incorrect. The most common errors include incomplete range of motion (ROM) (the half of a half squat), use of momentum (the barbell swing curl), incorrect body position during the exercise (knee crosses the toe lunge) and excess movement in non-motion segments (the hip extended side raise). Many of these errors stem from two issues, (1) no one ever taught the participant how to exercise properly, so their education stems from copying someone else’s bad form or (2) the weight is too heavy for the exerciser. It is fascinating that people often prefer to exercise incorrectly (so as to move more weight) than correctly with the potential to obtain better results. Is it a matter of ego, or the assumption that heavier loads provide better results?
Training systems can provide useful applications for many exercise programs when properly aligned with the desired adaptation. Pyramid sets, strip/drop sets, and supersets all provide distinctive benefits when programmed in accordance with scientific principles. Historically, each training system has been uniquely employed for an adaptation-specific purpose, but novel uses have expanded the utility of some of these systems for newer training techniques. Looking at the scientific support helps gauge the use of the training system and when it is most applicable to positive adaptations in a program.
Many exercise professionals are shifting the focus of personal training from vanity-driven exercise programs to those which emphasize health and improved quality of life. The general population is in an overall state of health decline; a lack of physical activity combined with excessive sitting and energy-dense dietary practices have created significant problems.
Tight hip flexors are commonplace among runners and cyclists alike (as well as those who habitually use the stair-climber and elliptical machines) and certainly require attention, such as adjunct stretching and muscle balance work, to avoid overuse injuries.
Varying demands placed upon the musculoskeletal system present different adaptation responses within the tissues. Properly identifying the muscular stresses needed to reach a given goal is a crucial skill which allows the personal trainer and strength coach to choose the best activities to include in a weight lifting program. There are a number of resistance training systems at one’s disposal which have demonstrated effectiveness for addressing almost any given need (or combination of needs) when applied in a proper fashion. Choosing the right systems for the right needs will enhance the magnitude and rate of desired adaptations. The exercise professional providing the leadership may be metaphorically described as a chef; when he or she uses the right ingredients (systems) in the correct quantities for their recipe (program) – the dish (adaptations) will come out as planned.
Medicine balls (MB) are an age-old versatile training tool in sports and fitness environments. They can be used during all types of activities including foundational exercises for technique mastery, ballistics and plyometrics for power improvements, and combination exercises using unique loading applications for kinetic chain enhancements.
Properly quantifying an endurance athlete’s training zones or “gears” when preparing for a marathon or similar long-distance event requires specific procedures and calculations. Interestingly, many methods for training elite endurance sport athletes are based on empirical evidence and routines shared among athletes. There is a comparative lack of published peer-reviewed literature on the subject as research relies on the stringency of the scientific method; which often creates limitations to real-world applications for coaching and conditioning. For example, research often emphasizes VO2max values when examining improvements in aerobic capacity, but many coaches prefer monitoring progress using heart rates (HR) or movement speeds for simplicity. The following information relies on strategies applied by successful coaches with progressively improved race times functioning as the supporting evidence for improved endurance event performance.
While pushing a sled loaded with multiple 45lb plates might make for a popular Instagram picture, utilizing an excessively heavy load is one of the most common errors associated with sled training for sport performance. Sled training actually falls under a category of sports performance called drag training. It can be used for short-burst reactive strength as well as improvements in strength endurance.
An athlete’s ability to handle their own body weight is foundational to competition-based actions. Thus, strength to weight ratio is a key correlate of improving sport performance.
The deadlift’s simple elegance combined with the potential for heavy loading makes it a very popular exercise. It is a connector drill – optimizing the kinetic chain that links knee and hip extension across a stable trunk to vertically displace a load.
The United States is becoming more sedentary. Physical education is being eliminated from schools, video games and multimedia are replacing physical activity, jobs in general are becoming more deskbound, and people spend inordinate amounts of time on their cell phones. This poses a serious public health problem; not only due to reductions in activity levels, but also toward lack of muscle activity creating relevant postural imbalances.
Many people go to the gym but few realize the potential benefits of the routines they perform. The body adjusts to newly-perceived stress, not the same stress. Certainly, performing a weekly group of exercises can help maintain strength, flexibility and body composition; but performing the same program ensures consistent outcomes – which explains why people go to the gym every day and look the same and perform the same. Progressions allow for continued improvement, and when applied over phases of emphasis, blend day-to-day programs into larger training cycles.
Just like any other body segment, the trunk should be challenged using various functional movement planes and patterns for balanced muscular development. Conventional abdominal training often includes excessive trunk flexion for development of the rectus abdominis, such as crunches, sit-ups and leg lifts, with a focus on sagittal-plane loading. However, the core musculature functions to perform various other complementary movements, and is utilized to maintain proper bodily alignment for protection of the spine. Therefore, trunk training should unite the stress that supports a healthy spine.
Given its functionality, overhead pressing should be an exercise that everyone can do without limitations. Unfortunately, most people cannot perform the movement properly due to restrictions in the sagittal and frontal plane musculature. Standing overhead pressing exercises such as the military and DB shoulder press are often left out of programs or exchanged for pressing in the seated position. This is partially due to the combination of movement limitations and core weakness. The overhead position, especially with a barbell, requires adequate range of motion from muscles surrounding the shoulder capsule; mainly the latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, and biceps brachii. Furthermore, proper scapular function must occur as well, with the scapula rotating upward as the humerus is abducted away from the body. Serratus anterior weakness, an overactive trapezius, and/or rhomboid weakness can cause dysfunctional movement of the scapula. To compensate most people will over-extend the lumbar spine to elevate the chest; disengaging the core musculature and adding reliance on the pectoralis for mechanical advantage.
All adaptations to training occur during recovery periods between workout sessions hours, the specific timing of which depends on the activity performed (usually within 4-8 hours after resistance training or 8-12 hours after endurance training). Therefore, it is in the exercise professional’s best interest to maximize systemic homeostasis during recovery periods for clients via nutritional education as well as teaching the individual how to use recovery enhancement tools. Even though nutrition will be one of the most useful tools in itself, there are also various economical tools a trainer should have in their repertoire (or recommend the client purchase when necessary) to enhance the comprehensive service experience. Long gone are the days where static stretching is the primary recovery protocol for improved performance. There are several factors which can impact recovery as seen in the following figure, but there are simple tools available to address the most common client complaints.
Box jumps have historically been used by athletes with the intention of enhancing multiple aspects of vertical displacement. Conceptually, if an athlete increases vertical center of mass (COM) change, this can improve both vertical and horizontal displacement in activities such as sprinting. Now popularized by high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT) models, box jumps are used commonly by fitness enthusiasts for other purposes such as metabolic challenges and group circuit activities.
WHO guidelines and recommendations have been updated and now recommend even more physical activity per week to combat the growing health issues associated with physical inactivity and obesity. The following summarizes the report for those starting at age 5.
Strength training periodization historically has been based on a predicted or measured 1RM. It is a proven method but comes with limitations inherent to its implementation. It is a very rigid model which does not consider the primal utility of force.

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