Q & A With James Wilson # 3.

Find out what books are best to help improve your training routine, what exercises would be best for someone with not meniscus, how to determine if you have carpal tunnel and an inside look at the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainers book.
Note: This Is Part Three, Click Here For Part One!
Click Here For Part Two!
Click Here For Part Four!

I am 45 years old and very active, but I am feeling that my weight training program is failing me. There are so many different trainers, books, etc. out there - it leaves me a bit baffled! Any suggestions?

Well, the best advice I can give you is this;

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Educate yourself on the scientific principles behind training.

By "keep it simple" I mean that the basics work best. Squats, bench press, deadlift, rows and other "basic" exercises deliver by far the most bang for the buck. Train 3-4 times a week for 45-60 minutes a session. They're not the most exciting things in the world, which is why you don't see them being sold on infomercials, but you can build a better physique with a barbell and some weight plates doing basic, compound movements than you can with all the junk you hear being hyped on TV - and that includes "celebrity" trainers, their books and advice.

Several well-written books are available which will get you familiar with basic training principles and allow you to judge for yourself if a workout or piece of advice is sound or not. "The Poliquin Principles" by Charles Poliquin, "Power to the People" by Pavel Tsatsouline and "Periodization Training for Sports" by Tudor Bompa are three books I highly recommend. They provide scientifically-based advice free of the hype and promises usually accompanying fitness info. Check out our huge article database, click here!

Strength training programs are by far some of the most important parts of a fitness routine, so if you feel that yours is failing, don't wait any longer. Snag one of those books (Power to the People would be the one I would recommend first), become familiar with its advice, and swing your program back on track.

One last note - I would also advise getting yourself a qualified trainer. They don't have to stand there at every session and count each rep, but find a trainer that shares the same scientific philosophies as yourself. A qualified trainer can, at least, help in your program design. Good trainers have a lot more experience applying training principles, and will be more objective in program design than your average gym-goer. So, cut down on wasted time by using that expertise.

I am wondering if a person with no meniscus in the knee joint who has had prior knee surgery years ago would benefit more from leg extensions or squats. I have a co-worker who advises squats for the client, but I disagree. I say that they should perform light-weight leg extensions and more isolation movements to the knee joint, to build muscle stability and disperse some scar tissue. What's your advice?

Well, you're both right. Both exercises can and should be used, assuming that the person has been cleared to do both. Have you had a chance to talk to the person's doctor? He or she should be able to give you some insight there. If the doctor says that it is fine to do both then do so. Otherwise, tailor the workout to suit the doctor's advice.

If it's possible, I would strongly advise that he incorporate both. Leg extensions are favored in most rehab settings for that client's situation. They help build the quad, can help keep the joint lubricated, help to disperse some of the scar tissue, and generally strengthen the knee joint without the risks associated with squats.

Squats, however, build functional or "real world" strength - like every time you sit up and stand down. Keep in mind though, that squats don't have to be your traditional bar-across-the-back style; they can be done in a variety of ways. Regular bodyweight squats, swiss ball wall squats, even partial-range deadlifts can be used to incorporate this movement pattern into the program. I'd concentrate on light leg extensions, but use some form of squat as doctor's recommendations, progression and client tolerance allow.

I would like to pose a question to you on two different strengths; Starting and explosive strength sound pretty much the same to me. In the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer text it says that explosive strength is your ability to keep the muscle fibers switched on over a period of time. What do they mean by this?

Also, for starting strength they give an example of a pitcher pitching a ball. But to me it's also explosive, due to the fact that he won't just pitch once, he has a number of pitches to pitch. So this would be explosive as well, because he is keeping the fibers switched on for the next pitch, right?

For the first part of your question we need to look at the definitions of each type of strength.

  • Starting strength is defined as your ability to "turn on" as many motor units as possible, and explosive strength is defined as your ability to keep them turned on through the movement. Starting strength only refers to just that - the start of a movement.
  • Explosive strength refers to how many of those initial motor units that you recruited stay "turned on" during the rest of the movement.

For example, when a boxer is throwing a haymaker the initial forward movement of the fist requires tremendous starting strength. His ability to keep those same motor units initially recruited to start the punch "turned on" for the rest of the movement is a measure of explosive strength. They are very closely related, and difficult to specifically separate in an actual movement. It's more of a concept that helps us to communicate about certain portions of a movement.

Now, as for the pitcher needing explosive strength to throw pitch after pitch, technically the answer is no, because he takes a break between pitches. You are right in that he does need explosive strength, but it would be for the pitch's follow-through (just like the boxer mentioned above). His ability to maintain speed pitch after pitch is a measure of his non-linear (non-continuous) starting and explosive strength endurance.

Like I said, it's very hard to separate the two concepts of starting and explosive strength, because you can't have one without the other. Just remember that starting strength refers to the start, explosive strength refers to the rest of the movement.

I have a client who has been experiencing pain in her wrists. After suggesting that she see her doctor, she came back saying she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. I've heard of this before, but don't really know what it is. What causes the pain, and what can I do to help her?

First let me applaud your professionalism. Even though you probably could have guessed what was causing the pain it's not our job as trainers to do that and referring your client to a doctor at the first sign of something outside your scope of practice is the only correct way to proceed. Now, on to you question.

The carpal tunnel is formed by the flexor retinaculum - a tough band of fascia (connective tissue) that runs around your wrist like a wristband. This acts to keep all the tendons in place so that when you flex your fingers the tendons don't bow out away from the wrist. Each tendon is covered with a protective synovial sheath. Thrown into this mix is the median nerve - the all-important nerve responsible for the innervation and therefore control of several muscles in the hand, including the muscles of the thumb and several for the first two fingers.

As long as everything is healthy in the carpal tunnel everyone gets along fine, but when the synovial sheaths that cover the tendons becomes inflamed (which is what happens during carpal tunnel syndrome) they crowd the other occupants of the wrist joint. More specifically, when they press on the median nerve it causes the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome - numbness, coldness, tingling and even the occasional loss of use of the thumb and first two fingers.

The best medication once carpal tunnel syndrome has set in is rest. The synovial sheaths must receive a break if the inflammation is to go away. Icing and stretching the wrists can help speed this up but continuing to participate in the activities that caused the problem in the first place will only make it worse. Concentrate on lower body work during this time and use upper body exercises that don't require much gripping, like the pec deck.

Once the problem is under control you can safely begin to exercise normally again, only this time be sure to include exercises specific to their problem. To avoid this painful condition in the future, continue with the wrist stretches and add some wrist curls, making sure to exercise both the wrist flexors and extensors.

Learn More About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Click Here!

Note: This Is Part Three, Click Here For Part One!
Click Here For Part Two!
Click Here For Part Four!

Thanks,