by Charles Poliquin Iron Magazine
People who embark on a training program want to look and feel better, so the weightroom should not be a place they become injured. However, some commonly practiced training methods are potentially dangerous, so coaches need to provide safer alternatives to those practices.
Bench press with a wide grip. The risks of using a wide grip when bench pressing heavily outweigh the rewards. Using a wide grip on the bench press is thought to place more emphasis on the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid.
However, using a grip that is wider than 1.5 times the biacromial width (shoulder width as defined by the distance between the acromion processes) places undue stress on the shoulder, as it increases torque and stress around the shoulder joint.
In a study published in 2007, researchers found the risk for both chronic and acute shoulder injury increased when the shoulder was close to 90 percent of abduction when performing the bench press (“The Effect of Grip Width on Bench Press Performance and Risk of Injury,” Strength and Conditioning Journal).
The researchers go on to say, “Research has also demonstrated that altering grip width from 100% biacromial width up to 190% does not significantly (p > 0.05) affect recruitment of the pectoralis major or the anterior deltoid.”
In other words, using a wide grip (less than 1.5 biacromial width) did not place more emphasis on the pectoralis major or the anterior deltoid. So, using a wide grip when bench pressing does not develop the muscles of the chest and shoulders any more than using a grip that is less than 1.5 biacromial width.
Further, it was found that using a grip that is no more than 1.5 times biacromial width decreases peak torque and stress occurring at the shoulder joint, thereby decreasing the risk of injuries to these structures.
Therefore, to minimize the risk of injury to the shoulder, the bench press should be performed with a grip that is less than 1.5 times biacromial width in order to maintain a shoulder abduction angle within 45 degrees.
Plyometrics and jogging for fat loss. The term plyometric refers to the enhancement of force development of a concentric contraction that occurs when it is immediately preceded by a rapid eccentric contraction.
Although this training method is great for athletes who need to improve their explosive-reactive movements, such as takedowns in wrestling and in jumping, throwing and sprinting, plyometric movements are not the best choice for trainees whose primary goal is fat loss.
Here’s why: Force is equal to the mass of an object times its acceleration (F = ma). The ground reaction force (GRF) is both equal and opposite to the force exerted by the body upon impact with the ground. It has been shown that every pound of body weight produces five pounds of force on the knee, so even ten extra pounds can apply considerable stress on those joints.
Research has shown that the impact the body has to absorb when landing can be anywhere from 4-12 times body weight, depending on the height of the jump (Montante, 2008; McNair, Prapavessis 1999).
So, if a trainee is carrying excessive body fat, it is potentially dangerous to incorporate lower-body plyometrics, such as jumps, jogging or running, into their program because these activities place undue stress on the body.
For the general population, the stress and fatigue of daily life combined with an improper diet can compromise bone density and muscle, tendon and ligament strength in the legs, hips and low back. These factors can ultimately lead to fractures and orthopedic issues, and can exacerbate pre-existing orthopedic problems.
Cardiopulmonary health is important, so trainees need to know that appropriate strength training, along with proper nutrition, can improve cardiovascular health, increase bone density and strengthen muscles and tendons.
When it comes to fat loss, a better approach than plyometrics or jogging is to improve nutrition and to follow a program of strength exercises with set and rep schemes and rest intervals that will get a trainee strong while also eliciting a high anabolic hormonal output, such as growth hormone, which increases fat burning capacity.
Behind-the-neck pressing and pulling exercises. Trainees commonly have some muscular imbalances among the musculatures of the chest, back and shoulder. Rarely will you encounter a trainee who is structurally balanced within these muscle groups. Further, the shoulder joint is unique in that it is a very mobile joint, but lacks significant stability.
The shoulders of the typical trainee have become anteriorly rotated from a combination of poor posture associated with being seated behind a desk all day. A lack of specific exercises to bring these muscle groups back into balance only compounds the problem.
Behind-the-neck pressing and pulling exercises require the healthiest of shoulders, i.e., no injuries (past or current), fascial adhesions or structural imbalances.
If there are any imbalances between muscles in the shoulder area (e.g., scapular stabilizers, external rotators and pectorals), behind-the-neck exercises can lead to shoulder impingement or, worse, a tear in the rotator cuff.
Rather than including behind-the-neck exercises, it’s safer to program specific exercises, such as those taught in our PICP Level 1 course, to strengthen the scapular retractors and external rotators of the humerus to develop stability and structural integrity in the shoulder joint.
Also, because the shoulder is a relatively vulnerable joint and the risks of behind-the-neck exercises heavily outweigh the benefits, it’s best to perform all vertical pressing and pulling movements in front of the neck.
The weightroom should be a place for trainees to get fit and healthy, not a place to become injured. It’s the responsibility of coaches to provide effective training through intelligent program design and safe application of strength training principles.
Green CM, Comfort P. The effect of grip width on bench press performance and risk of injury. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2007;29(5):10-14.
McNair PJ, Prapavessis H. Normative data of vertical ground reaction forces during landing from a jump. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 1999;2(1):86-88.
Montante WM. Don’t jump: the potential effects of jumping from heights. Professional Safety: Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers. 2008 Apr;10:32-35. Web: 2014 www.asse.org.