I see strange things all the time at the gym, but generally don’t butt in unless asked or if I see something just plain dangerous occurring. But there certainly are some horrid techniques being utilized. Of course, there are a variety of ways to do MOST things (side laterals, elbows straight or bent, pinkies up or down, elbows/hands going above shoulder level or not, etc.). And everyone has an opinion, and some even a REASON for doing it how they do it.
I do believe there are optimal ways to do most techniques, but that certainly doesn’t mean the other methods WON’T work, just that there might be a more effective way, based on the science of torque, leverage, lines of force relative to the resistance (usually gravity, but sometimes cables or machine lever arms, etc.).
But all that being said, certain myths perpetuated by word of mouth or misinformation continue to bug. So, today I was substitute teaching, and took my prep and lunch to use the High School weight room. A class came in, and I offered some advice to a kid doing squats (the current “safe” method, is to use a bench and touch the butt to the bench) The kids are NOT instructed on correct spotting technique. And the coach is adhering to a much perpetuated myth that full squats are dangerous to the knee. At the risk of offending a “teacher” and thus costing myself work as a sub, I had to really backtrack, justify, and appease my way out of telling him his old school myth was BS.
So, here’s the truth. The danger to the knee in squats comes from what is called “sheering” force, meaning that the femur runs the risk at a certain point of ’sliding’ either forward or to the side, overstretching ligaments and moving the bone perpendicular to the meniscus rather than directly down onto this cartiligenous cushion. As a muscle contracts to flex a joint, ALL joints undergo certain sheer forces, which is why ligaments exist, to hold stuff together. Sheering forces in and of themselves are not bad unless the exceed the ligaments’ ability to withstand them. Now, in the squat, if you go all the way down, ATM (ass to mat), or in other words, hams to calves, there is NO SHEERING FORCE because the legs are essentially locked into place, fully supported, hams on calves. The knees don’t, almost CAN’T go beyond the toes in the squat, unless you come off your heels. They can be misaligned outwardly or inwardly, but the degree of joint flexion (ATM) doesn’t affect that. So, we are basically at rest. Observing mechanically, then, when ARE the sheer forces maximal?? With the knee bent at 90 DEGREES!! That’s when the femur is stretching away from the patellar insertion the MOST! So to descend to that point and reverse direction into the concentric motion at that point is MUCH MORE stressful to the joint than to squat full range and move THROUGH that danger point with the muscles in full contraction rather than beginning the concentric/upward motion with the ligament in its maximally stretched position!!!!
Not that partial squats are bad, but the rap on full squat danger is total BS, given all the same sane safety measures of a good spotter or cage, and knees toward the toe line, and chest out/butt out good technique. Can I say all that to an established teacher on whom some of my future employment may depend?? Nope. So I vent here.
With lateral raises there’s a lot more room for variation. Shoulder flexibility also comes into play. But since the primary function of the deltoids is upward extension, any move that raises the elbows works them. Also, just by looking you can see that the delts, like all muscles have many individual muscle fibers, and each operates at a slightly different angle. So, we want to extend the elbows upward, along the line of gravity, reducing stress on other arm muscles as much as possible while hitting all the angles necessary for full muscle development.
PERSONALLY, extending the arms is unnecessary, bending preferable. How much? Depends on your triceps and grip. The further from the shoulder the weight is extended, (longer lever arm), the greater the torque, and thus resistance on the delts, but the grip, forearm, and triceps come into play and may fatigue or inhibit maximal recruitment of the primary target, the deltoids. So, a “comfortable” bend in the arm is preferred.
Thumbs up, parallel, or pinkies up – “tipping the bucket”? Thumbs up, again, engages biceps now and takes focus off the targeted delts. Pinkies up, or at least attempting to do so, better targets the medial delts simply because it brings them in line with the direct line of gravity. A very slight bend forward at the waist helps, too, as when you are bolt upright or leaning back, the anterior delts are now directly in the gravity line. The same is true on bent laterals. Pinkies up lines the muscle up better.
Elbows above shoulders? Maybe on front raises for the anterior delts, but even then, unnecessary. Beyond parallel engages the traps which overpower the delt focus.
And always, always, always, contracting the muscle is more important than moving the weight. If moving the weight is the goal, then just swing it!!!! (Another argument AGAINST going above shoulder height, where the weight is generally moved by momentum rather than contraction) That is not to discount the value of power moves that utilize momentum, but primary focus on contraction is better for hypertrophy.
Always remember, too, that there are 4 types of resistance training, which from “easiest” to “hardest” are: endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power. There are also 3 types of muscular strength – concentric, eccentric, and static. Your goals, needs, and activities determine your training style. Your genetics determine how much of which muscle fiber types in what percentages are present in every different muscle group of your body.
Training with too much intensity goes contrary to trying to put on mass. Not training intensely enough or avoiding cardio makes fat loss tough. Rest periods, rep/set schemes and protocols, everything about your training must take into account the 4 resistance methods and how best to utilize them to achieve your specific desired results.
Adjusting the main variables, Frequency, Rest (between training sessions or between sets), Intensity (a combination of several variables), Time (tempo, time of day, total training duration), Type (type of resistance/type of training), and Order (sequence of exercises, split sequence), in a fashion appropriate to your goals is vital to progress. It is called PROGRESSIVE resistance. Otherwise, it’s just lifting and pulling stuff.
MS, Sports Conditioning
NASM-CPT, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Golf Fitness Specialist