I guess before I begin my anecdote I’ll throw in somewhat of a disclaimer. We all started somewhere, and whether you have/had guidance, it is very important that you consistently seek guidance on your life-long journey of health and fitness. I’ve been doing this for about 35% of my life and I still seek guidance…because – and yes, some of you might chuckle – I don’t know everything.
I digress; I was assisting a friend of mine at the gym yesterday with what I call ‘course corrections’, when I happened to overhear a couple gentleman talking about their chest workout (banal as it is). During their conversation, one of these upstanding gentlemen turns to the next and begins to sneer and mock a totally different man at a squat rack doing split squats. He says to his friend,
“leg workouts are for women…”
I’ve left out the rest of that due to profanity about female hindquarters, but I think you catch my drift. Unfortunately my attention was shifted from my friend to these gentlemen after such intelligent remarks were made; and I couldn’t help but notice the proportions of these two men. Proportional in the sense that they looked like human Doritos; big chest, large lats, bulging biceps, elastics for quads and hamstrings, zero definition of calf heads, and an extreme lack of any midline-back musculature.
The point I am trying to elucidate is the “big muscles get you noticed” ideology. Anybody who is serious about health and fitness is well aware of how to properly achieve muscle hypertrophy (i.e. growth) and the benefits of keeping it even. However, there is a vast majority of people out there with such qualities inclusive of improper training and foolish fitness schemes (I blame a lack of education, but that’s for another time).
Sure, it’s funny when we come across people with attitudes inclusive of animalistic puffery; and there might even be some evolutionary merit to having an overtly buff chest (perhaps if we were more akin to gorillas). But how does that make us any better? I choose to assist, and to educate these individuals on the importance of periodization and isolation of muscle groups. With that, let’s talk about the “overt chest phenomenon” and its effects on the rest of the mechanical body.
The importance of training different areas of your body is necessary for proper posture, proper flaccid positioning of muscles, and – I can’t stress this enough – crucial for recovery. Overtraining the chest, as I’m sure you’ve all seen, creates a concave chest, pulls the shoulders forward and the trunk down, and creates extreme stress on the thoracic spine. About 36% of all weight training related injuries are shoulder-complex related, and 28% prevalence of injuries to the shoulder joint (AC joint) are known as “weightlifter’s shoulder.” Such an injury has been specifically correlated with a bench press in the eccentric phase. It’s quite obvious that the frequency of an injury is representative of overtraining and insufficient rest. So what I’m saying is, if the injury is named after your sport, it occurs way too much. Overtraining the chest muscles won’t necessarily make them bigger, and on the off chance it does, you are creating extreme disproportion in your kinetic chain (refer to above reasons why).
In the spirit of a take-home message, I’ll leave you with a synopsis. First, pay attention to your technique, because the bottom of the rep is where your muscle is at its highest stress point (i.e. eccentric phase)! Second, change up your exercises. It is superfluous to do a bench press every week, so challenge your muscles by doing one of the dozens of other chest exercises available. Third, allow your muscles to rest! Rest is equal in importance to the exercise. Proper rest allows for you to maintain peak performance and gather noticeable results more than overtraining ever will. Last, train equally. I realize that we all have some workouts that we enjoy far more than others (for me it’s legs), but it is beyond important – for your spine mostly – that you average your workouts and keep the stress even.
Matthew Picanco, BHSc.