Weight Lifting Programs Are Largely Incomplete

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) published an article on their Fitnovatives Blog that could surprise many exercisers who think that their weight lifting programs are complete. The basic premise of the article entitled “Shifting is the New Lifting” is that workout programs comprise mainly lifting techniques that directly oppose resistance from gravity, and are therefore missing a large chunk of what people need for a comprehensive strength training program.

People use strength training for a range of purposes: building bigger muscles, increasing maximal strength, and enhancing functional fitness and/or sports performance are the main ones. To simply increase muscle size, the types of muscle movements don’t really matter, but for performance goals the directions in which people lift weights has a significant impact on their success. No one spends all day lifting objects in a straight vertical only motion. For every time we pick up a box from the floor, there are many times that we move objects, including our own bodies, in diagonal and horizontal directions. You may pick an object up straight from the floor and bring it up to waist level, but then you likely twist your torso or lift it up and to the side to set the box onto something or hand it to someone. We don’t live in a fixed environment where weight is lifted straight upwards against gravity. We shift, we glide, we twist, and we swing, and therefore we need to include exercises that involve multiple directions.

Exercises such as squats, pull-ups, and bicep curls build strength, but only in one movement plane. Add some side lunges, walking lunges, and rotational lunges on top of your squats and you have a more complete leg workout, for example. The article argues that people should add shifting and twisting exercises to their programs. I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve trained many types of people – teenagers and seniors, males and females, athletes and reformed couch potatoes – but I’ve never trained anyway who only moves in one plane. Everyone I know uses their muscles in multiple directions with momentum and in unstable postures. I certainly agree about adding the twisting and shifting exercises but don’t stop there.  Single-leg and single-arm exercises build better real-world, functional-style strength too because rarely do we carry grocery bags with two hands or bunny hop up stairs. We are often on one leg, even if only momentarily, with every step we take, when we put on pants, when we stand on one leg to reach something off a high shelf, and when we make time to play hop scotch. Or is that just me?

People also carry, swing, and hold objects with one arm. So how do weight lifters add shifting and twisting? That’s simple. Incorporate exercises that include resistance to move objects in directions other than straight up. An easy and well-known example is to add twists to crunches. Instead of simply moving one’s body weight up against the force of gravity, strength is required to twist the torso side to side. Exercises with resistance bands offer opportunities as well, such as wrapping one around a pole and doing chest flyes from a standing position. Because the weight you move the most is your body, I recommend doing multi-directional movements with core exercises first. That way, your body is prepared for handling the additional stress of moving free weights in new directions.

A simple exercise to get you started is multi-directional planks. Everyone knows the regular plank exercise: You get into push-up position or lower onto your forearms, and maintain a straight, plank-like posture for a specific amount of time. Multi-directional planks start in the same static position, but then you walk your body sideways in each direction, and then forward and backward, all while keeping your spine perfectly straight. Try it, and you’ll quickly feel the difference.

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