September 24, 2017
In his book “Your First Chin Up,” Steve Maxwell* talks about the body’s ability to pull it’s own weight is irrefutably one of the best tests of strength, yet today, about 90% of the general population is unable to perform a single chin-up.
Steve goes on to say that as a species we’re hardwired for serious pushing and pulling because we evolved from vegetarian apes capable of throwing their entire body weight around all day every day. Babies LOVE to pull and begin doing so long before they have any interest in crawling or walking...in fact if you present your index fingers to any infant he or she will automatically grab them and attempt to pull themselves up. But culturally we eat too much and move too little...most US babies' innate pull-up skills simply get de-conditioned over time.
Truth be told I'm NOT the greatest chin-upper...in my defense, women are genetically predisposed to have a tougher time with this movement than men since both the majority of our body weight and our most powerful muscles are typically located in our lower halves (between my large frame, 36" legs, and years spent practicing karate and running I'm DEFINITIVELY a lower-half girl!) But I still keep chipping away at improving this movement pattern because I know what a really important skill it is.
The pulling movement pattern is actually one of seven ...the remaining 6 patterns are squat, lunge, push, bend, twist & gait. Turns out that all human movement is based on these seven basic patterns and even the most complex movements, utilizing even the smallest muscles, are still just variations of "the big seven".
But you might be surprised to learn that when I'm working on either improving my own pulling skills or the pulling skills of one of my clients, I almost never use or prescribe machines. Why, you ask? Because you might also be surprised to learn that most machines were actually designed to rehab INJURED muscles, not strengthen healthy ones.
Yes. And here's why you can stop silently calling me a conspiracy theorist: because when muscles are touching something soft and squishy (like the backrest of a pec fly machine for instance...a machine commonly found in most gyms) the brain sends a signal to those muscles that it's time to relax so they basically don't work (at least to their fullest capacity) while you're performing the exercise. Now some folks think the arm muscles are the primary muscle group used in most pulling exercises but actually several groups of BACK muscles are the primary movers...trying to strengthen your pulling movement pattern by using a pec fly machine, therefore, is basically working at cross purposes to your goal.
It’s also been my experience (both in my own workouts and in working with umpteen clients) that some of the most popular workout techniques these days are either irrelevant or dangerous: when routines are machine-based your muscles aren't learning to be fully functional, and if routines are more crossfit-ish the unsystematic intensity OFTEN leads to injury. That’s why I'm a huge advocate of bodyweight-only exercise...in my opinion all you really need for a good workout is a water bottle, maybe a chair or a stretchy band, and (of course!) your body.
class is suitable for anyone...if you're an exercise novice or a full blown gym rat (or anyone in between) you'll walkaway from this class with a much better working knowledge of exactly what a high quality workout should always look like plus plenty of tips on how to safely increase your strength over time. Click for more info on my next class (but don’t delay…classes fill up QUICKLY!)
Photo courtesy of Steve Maxwell
*Arguably one of the top Trainers IN THE WORLD, Steve Maxwell is also the “American father of Kettlebells” since Maxercise Gym in Philadelphia, PA (where I was privileged to rehab a herniated disc many years ago) was the first Kettlebell gym in the US. Then in 2013 I was blessed and honored to be trained by him personally…thus began my serious love affair (metaphorically speaking!) with Steve. For more info on Steve and all the AMAZING “People I Like,” click