Brown, L. E., editor
Human Kinetics, P.O. Box 5076 Champaign, IL 61825 – 5076
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
This text from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) purports to “provide information on strength training that is supported by the latest scientific research.” That being said, it is our opinion that the reputable action for the publishers (the NSCA) to do is to recall (i.e., remove from bookstores) this text in order to revise it so that the contents accurately reflect their proposed aim.
Although it is not the authors purpose to provide an extensive in depth analysis of the muscle actions in the anatomy section (table1.1a), there are some inaccuracies which are then applied to the exercises depicted and even discrepancies between the muscle actions described in the chart and the muscles which are supposedly used in the exercises illustrated later in the text.
The fundamental problem with the kinesiology of this text is that it reflects the anatomical approach to classifying the actions of muscles; a muscle’s action is defined according to the torque it generates at a specific joint. The result of this philosophy means that sometimes the assignment major muscle actions involved in the exercises illustrated are assigned erroneously and others which should receive attention are left out altogether.
For instance, table 1.1b, indicates the adductor magnus and gastronemius and hamstrings are involved in the back squat. However, the adductors and gastrocnemius muscles are not included with those muscles listed on page 214, which are purportedly involved in the back squat.
Furthermore, the hamstrings are not major contributors in the squat (at least a squat with correct form) and should not be listed with this exercise. Table 1.1a indicates the hamstrings are knee flexors, yet these muscles are then listed as the main muscles in the “Romanian deadlift,” an essentially straight leg extension of the trunk.
The hamstring muscles are hip extensors as well; “the effectiveness of which is inversely proportional to the degree of flexion at the hip joint (Wells, K. 1976). In this context, the hamstrings can be involved in the squat should the athlete tilt the trunk forward excessively; this is how the squat is depicted in the text on pages 215, 296. Consequently, these muscles assist in straightening and stabilizing the trunk as the knees approach full extension. This is, of course, an undesirable exercise technique with a barbell on the shoulders.
Of all the important elements of sport training, correct biomechanics should be predominate. The perfect technique allows the athlete in dynamic sports to make the fullest use of his/her strength, speed, and power. Dynamic sports involve complex technique. Simple strength training exercises (bodybuilding, exercise machines) offer less transfer of skills in regards to the inter – muscular and intra – muscular coordination required in dynamic sports with complex technique. The majority of the exercises in the text are simple bodybuilding or powerlifting exercises with a relatively simple coordination structure.
The range of motions depicted in the exercises on pages 213, 215, 217, 218 and 219 are not full movements; yet the text advises the reader to “avoid performing a partial range of motion during an exercise.” Furthermore, the statement that “The length – tension relationship of a muscle tells us that the most difficult segments of muscle actions are at the beginning and end of a given range of motion” is absurd, even biomechanical voodoo.
“… in general a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.” This statement reflects the fundamental bias of this text that increase in muscle mass is necessary for strength increases over a long period and is the principle justification for the periodization model. Unfortunately, this “physiological” bias is carried over into the structure of the programs which consist mostly of bodybuilding and powerlifting exercises; many of which are proscribed for greater than six repetitions per set, i.e., these are exercises and programs associated with “static” sports which offer minimal carry over to dynamic sports such as track and field, football, basketball, and hockey.
Apparently, little thought went into the design of these programs as to how much muscle mass is appropriate to develop in strength training for competitive sports, and as to how the developing muscle mass should be distributed appropriately about the body, specific to each sport (the sport morphology of training). The amount of “necessary” muscle mass and even more importantly its distribution are key concerns in sports with weight divisions such as boxing, weightlifting, and wrestling. See more about this in the exercise selection section.
Exercise Illustrations (techniques):
The exercises illustrated are mostly ordinary bodybuilding movements. However, the techniques to perform some exercises are bio – mechanically incorrect (cleans, squats, push press, hang cleans, high pull and others). Some techniques are even absurd such as the performance and spotting of the squat.
For some unknown reason, the authors have decided it is better to perform exercises by subjecting the lumbar spine to an excessive shear force, i.e., unnecessarily increasing the force arm of gravity relative to this area by initiating the movement with a forward lean, rather than simply flex the lower extremities. This is a “fear of bending” philosophy, for want of a better term.
For instance, the advice for the back squat and the front squat is to “avoid bending the knees to initiate the movement.” So, the lifter begins by shifting the load to the lumbar area of the spine apparently to protect the “weak link,” the knees. The structure of the human spine is a specific adaptation to bipedal locomotion (an erect posture). The lumbar area lacks substantial structural support for significant loading in a tilted forward (approaching horizontal) disposition.
Here is another example of the same unsubstantiated, unsupported (by the “latest scientific research”), and even oxymoronic advice offered for exercise technique; “Avoid moving the knees forward while entering the squat” (for the power clean and hang clean), and “Keep the elbows high and pointing nearly straight.” This is hard if not impossible to do if you do not flex your lower extremities, and, as a consequence, you are about to fall on your face.
Furthermore, these techniques force the lifter to bend the trunk forward with a weight on the chest and thereby create an unnecessary, unjustified load on the lumbar spine. There is no “latest scientific research” offered to support this.
Apparently, the NSCA has in the past offered public rebuke of the business which publishes the magazine “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” by regarding their promotion of the squat to a bench (a bench this company sells in its magazine). Whereas, criticism of this method of squatting (especially for profit) is of course fully justified, caution is in order, since this book of the “latest scientific research” is proof positive that the kettle has called the pot black.
Now consider the pictures of the “correct spotting of the squat” (pages 214, 215, 296). This method should be discouraged to say the least. Furthermore, if the young lady squatting on page 296 were a size ‘D’ cup, this picture would be obscene. And, some people say Sponge Bob Square Pants© has a hidden agenda.
Program Design and Exercise Selection:
One would expect the culmination of all the science presented in the text to be reflected in the sample training programs in the later half of the book. Consider the program listed in table 15.4 which is designed for a “competitive strength or power athlete.”
There are seven exercises planned for Monday of which five are upper body and of these, two, the lat pull downs and triceps push down, do not belong in any program for any “power athlete.” On Wednesday, six of the seven exercises planned emphasize upper body muscles. Of these exercises “seated cable row, lying triceps extension and dumbbell biceps curls” are not suitable exercises for “power athletes.” They are bodybuilding exercises to develop muscles for show.
On Friday, seven of the eight exercises planned emphasize upper body, all bodybuilding movements with higher repetitions to develop muscle mass in the upper extremities. Furthermore, it is silly to even assign an exercise like “assisted dip” for a “competitive or power athlete.” Ordinary, full range of motion weighted dips should be well within the capabilities of most “gym rats” let alone any experienced athlete. The assisted dip exercise involves a special, expensive machine, which is usually inaccessible to the average athlete. You either have to join a health club, which has one, or buy yourself one for your place of training.
The “periodized training for strength and power” programs presented in Table 15.5 are primarily bodybuilding programs with movements which are of little or no benefit to an athlete training for dynamic sports: seated leg curl, seated cable row, dumbbell biceps curl, abdominal crunch, dumbbell upright row, lying triceps extension, assisted dips, leg extension, and lat pull down. These are exercises (and poor exercises at that) for the inexperienced, uncoordinated desk jockey.
Apparently, little or no thought went into the design of these programs (reflecting the “physiological bias” of the text) as to how much muscle mass a particular person or athlete needs to develop in general, and especially in regards to how much muscle mass should be developed in the upper body; there is no consideration in the design of the programs to avoid making the athlete/trainee “top heavy.” For instance, how much extra bodyweight (lean muscular or otherwise) does one want to add if the goals include running faster, jumping higher, and improving agility.
So this text has numerous factual and conceptual flaws reflected in the biomechanics of the exercise techniques, program design, and exercise selection.
This is why this book should be removed from the bookshelves. At the very least, the information presented in the text must not be left unchallenged, because it could “become fact” by default.