Movements vs Muscles









‘Movements over Muscles’. If you know any smooth talking trainers, I bet you’ve heard this. It’s the trendy thing to say. It has elitism written all over it, like a ‘oh you do bicep curls. HA! Well, I do functional lifts.’ This is similiar to the ‘bro, you are doing curls in my squat rack’ meme’s I see all of the time. It’s not that I have a problem with functional exercises or big lifts that are staple movements. Not at all. My problem is the elitism bologna, the ‘I am better than you’ garbage associated with comparing the two.

Understanding Every Person that Walks Through the Door

When someone walks into my gym and is interested in getting started, the very first thing I want to know is ‘who are you?’. This is a question rooted on many different layers. Yes, what is your name and what do you do? That is simple. But, ‘What are you looking for? What are your goals? What hurts on your body? What medications/limitations might you have?’ These are questions grounded in a business that is looking to form its knowledge, expertise, and services around that person. Otherwise, ignoring these things says “I could really give a shit about what you want or what you need”. The before is essentially is a methodology forged around each individual, customized for each person. This isn’t new age technology here. This is more a process founded by passion. Included in that passion is a desire to help each and every person no matter what they want or who they are. We call it versatility. It is a lesson I learned very early on in my career. When I worked at a fitness studio in Boston, it was a high volume establishment. Everyone got a different workout, everyone had specific goals/limitations/needs. Over 300 clients received my undivided attention, and main main objective was to make sure that they were working towards their goals…safely. The ability to be versatile, is a trainers #1 tool. I can’t stress that enough. Training the general population means being able to adapt to the person (oh, your clients aren’t general population? If they aren’t collegiate/pro athletes then you are just lying to yourself). You should be able to switch off from training a powerful athlete to being able to safely handle a mother of 3 looking to lose some weight, or a grandfather trying to fix his back pain. If those 3 people get the same routine, you are greatly dis-servicing at least 2 of them(and maybe all of them). Methodologies like this are built around forcing the client to adapt to the program. Here is where the rebuttal comes in of: ‘Well, we can scale exercises for every person’. This is a weak response because I have seen scaling not work. A good example is a client that came from Crossfit. His pullups were not very good, his kipping technique was weak. Sure, they scaled the exercise for him. But, 100 pullups and days of back to back shoulder punishment put enough strain to leave him out of commission. The problem was this was an ongoing problem, not some freak accident. ‘Hey, my shoulders kinda hurt’ was responded with ‘that sucks, lets do pullups with a heavier band today, and work on our kipping technique, oh and we are doing Push-Press Max today too’. Eventually, he had to stop. I hear stories like this ALL THE TIME. Yes, there is some personal responsibility. But, the responsibility also lies on the health professional you are working with to be capable to adapt for each person.

Accountability and Ego

What comes from all of this? It depends on the approach, and where the passion lies. Considering that my passion lies on the health of my clients, that is the very first ‘must-have’ for me. If we aren’t healthy, whats the point? For me, if someone gets injured during my watch or at my facility. I take that personally. Accidents happen. Injuries are never 100% avoidable. But, I will ALWAYS ask to myself ‘Where did I go wrong here?’ ‘What could I have done to prevent this?’ Because health is so important to me, injuries weigh heavy on my heart. But, we learn from them. We take in the information and figure out a better way to approach it. Thats the only thing you really can do…or…

As I’ve heard some trainer in my profession say ‘That person is just being a pussy!’. Its a rejection from all responsibility. The problem never lies within the program or within the trainer. Instead, ‘that person sucks. They are weak. They don’t deserve to be here.’ I’ve been pretty set back by comments like this. For me they are hard to swallow. But, it is clearly a sign of ego-protection, a defense mechanism we use to fabricate reality and delude our senses to come to an account that doesn’t tarnish our wildly over important ego and reputation (as the best trainer/fitness program the world has ever seen). This displays a lack of growth, an inability to show empathy towards our clients, and a bias built around forcing all clients to adapt to my wishes (and if they don’t, they are worthless).

Crossfit’s Owner Glassman’s Perspective

‘I’m better than You’

It has been well documented which style is better. A program that is built for the individual has lower risks for injury, and greater chances for success. Plus, the individuals goals get worked on, which greatly increases client happiness. Because, it doesn’t matter what your goals are. Honestly, I really don’t care WHAT they are, but I do care that you have goals. Lets work on them together. We will brainstorm and put forth the best path towards hitting that goal. Its pretty simple. Who am I to say that your goals don’t matter, or better yet, that my goals are better than your goals. That is classic elitism garbage. Am I better than you because I want to deadlift and you want to loosen tight hamstrings? Am I better than you because I want to work on my Clean and Jerk and you want to reduce back pain? Am I better than you because you got hurt doing the same exercises as everyone else? Am I better than you because I am looking to max out my bench press today while you are working on bigger biceps? Am I better than you because I want to tone my abs infront of a mirror at Planet Fitness while you are not even allowed inside because you ‘pick things up and put them down’? The answer is no, to each of those questions. In my gym, we are all equals. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you want. We are all treated equally, people that can’t do that or have some superiority complex are better off at a Crossfit, as the program is built around that. As stated earlier, this has been well observed. High injury rates, sub-par fitness levels, and highly regarded/knowledgeable coaches leaving because of these reasons.

Looking at the Sources

If you are thinking that I just sit on machines, and isolate my biceps. You are greatly mistaking. Actually, I do a lot of functional movements, dynamic exercises, and traditional power lifts and olympic lifts. But included in that are exercises that isolate, because quiet frankly, no one understands size and hypertrophy better than a bodybuilder. Right now, if you have an elitist mentality, you are thinking that no good information can come from bodybuilders. But, this is wrong. Bodybuilders have aesthetics down to a science. Better than most. When a bodybuilder wants to build up a lacking muscle group, they often times isolate it and hammer the hell out of it. Combined with their diets, and some time, and you have yourself a bigger, denser muscle. If we deny this fact, we are ignorant to reality, and cognitive dissonance wins. I feel sorry for you. This is not to say you can’t get bigger other ways. It is just that some methods are better than others at particular things. Muscle hypertrophy will always be dominated by the bodybuilders, I’ve worked with some, I’ve had one win first place in his division. Olympic lifts were not the core of his routine. Now, if ofcourse a Crossfitter comes around and wins a bodybuilding show claiming he did it all with Oly lifts and never isolated a single muscle group, I might have to reconsider isolation vs movements. The fact is, even athletes isolate muscles. Sure, they have their program, and it is designed specifically to get them stronger/faster for their sport, but once the programming is done for the day, athletes that are looking for a little more (bigger arms, etc), do go and isolate muscle groups. Again, these are exercises designed for specific purposes, and all goals are created equal, thus, all exercises are created equal. Yes, the deadlift packs more of a punch then a calf raise, but, if my goal is better calves, the deadlift is inferior to the calf raise.

Movements to Correct Injuries/Imbalances?

Claims that Movements are better than Muscles also discredits physical therapy and corrective exercise. In physical therapy you don’t walk in after surgery, or with an injury and start moving dynamically. You lie down and release tension in the muscles and joints, you isolate muscle groups through simple activation exercises. This is EXTREMELY effective. With the elitist’s ‘movements over muscles’ mentality, now we discredit physical therapy because better exercise like the kettlebell swing will fix your back, post hernia diagnosis (actually, I’ve heard this one before-no, the kettlebell is not magical). The same principles in physical therapy work well in the gym as preventative exercise. Thus, with a proper movement screen and evaluation, we can better understand how to isolate muscles in order to put less stress on particular joints. If my knees cave in during a squat. Verbally, telling the knees to ‘come out’ sometimes works, but if they still have a tendency to collapse inward, we need to address this mechanically. That is done by specifically addressing each muscle that may be overactive (like a tight rubber band) and dominating the movement. If we foam roll and stretch these muscle groups we are allowing the joints to improve their ROM. From there we activate the weaker muscles that are not used as much and often observed in conjunction with joint instability. There is a lot of science behind this methodology. But if we ‘expect it to fix itself’ we are falling back into the pit of forcing our clients to adapt to the program (a less efficient style). So, in this case, Movements are not better than Muscles.

Following the Trend vs Customization

So, the next time you hear this over simplification that Movements are better than Muscles, realize that it is recent trend that trainers have been adopting to sound cool and pretend to be better than other trainers/methodologies/programs. Understand that programs catered to the individual/the athletes/the sports/the goals, will always be better even if it is primarily filled with isolation exercises. For me, and the people that I work with, there is a combination of isolation exercises and big, complex movements. That has seemed to work for 400+ clients, low injury rates, and some pretty happy people.