Weight Training and Joint Pain:
An Interview With Bill DeSimone
- Part 2 -

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Bill DeSimone
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Bill DeSimone
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Aaron:


Yeah, I've seen that. I've seen your YouTube presentation, and parts of the "Moment Arm Exercise" manual online. It's really interesting to see your approach to just the biomechanics and making every exercise work with the least amount of strain.

Now, you deal with some pretty intricate biomechanics in that book. I just want to address squats since virtually everybody does squats and talks about them. Are squats congruent? Are they a good exercise? Why or why not?


Bill:


As you know, the whole first chapter of the book is basically on that, more or less. I would say that body weight or hip belt squats are congruent in that they both do a pretty good job of matching the resistance changes to your own body leverage, i.e. the muscle torques for the glutes and the quads.

So, in other words, your body has a built-in cam that matches what the muscles are capable of, but more importantly, what body weight and hip belt squats require of the joints and muscles of the spine, matches how the spine is supposed to work.

The issue I have, is with the barbell squat or any squat where you load the spine at the neck, for all the reasons I lay out in the book. The issue isn't really whether the barbell squat is productive, because it obviously is. The issue is really the small margin of error when it comes to loading the spine that way. It's not just a muscular issue because when you're loading the spine, you're also loading the disks and the vertebrae and the attachments between them.

Having said that, while I no longer personally use barbell squats for myself or for clients, if that's somebody's tool of choice, there are ways you can make it less risky. My personal preference, though, is to just sidestep it altogether.


Aaron:


OK, and just focus on the squatting movement with the weight from the hip rather than trying to balance it on top of the back.


Bill:


Balancing is another interesting aspect, too, because of the mechanisms for balancing, again as I point out in the book. The muscles around the spine are adequate to balance around the spine. When you put a bar across your back, now you're extending what the spine is trying to balance several feet laterally. It's a unique skill just balancing the bar laterally. So, balancing the bar and the barbell squat is probably not going to serve you anywhere else other than barbell squatting.


Aaron:


Yeah, it builds that very specific ability. Moving on, you also talk about the 'full range of motion' in your book and how... Because when I was first being exposed to exercise, I was always told, "Well, you should always do everything through the full range of motion to get the most benefit." Is that right in your opinion?


Bill:


That's become one of those phrases too that in the context of the early or the mid '60s made a little more sense compared to what was happening at the time. But the whole concept of full range of motion doesn't really hold up when you look at it through the biomechanics. For instance, muscles express their strength as muscle torque which exists in a pattern. It is not an unknowable pattern. It's called a muscle torque curve.

As somebody's joint angle changes, so does the amount of torque that the muscle can generate, at least relative to other joint angles, all other things being kept the same. So, as long as your exercise includes the joint angle for peak muscle torque, it really doesn't matter if you omit the excessive parts of the range of motion because, again, how the muscle expresses its strength through each joint angle is set... You could never ever change the muscle torque of your biceps to be stronger with the elbow straight compared to with the elbow bent.


Aaron:


Yeah. That's just the posture.


Bill:


That muscle torque pattern is always going to be in play. On the downside of that, if you concentrate on the excessive range, the extremes to the range, not only is it going to make your workout more inefficient, because you're adding say, extra exercises, or extra... let's just say you're adding extra exercises.

But when you put the muscle at a full stretch, it stretches too much, the joints may shift. And keeping a stable posture is one way to stay uninjured during weight training.


Aaron:


Yeah.


Bill:


One final point that's pretty straight out of the textbooks, the idea of recruiting different fibers at different parts of the range of motion, just isn't the case. Because it's pretty clear that fiber recruitment is based on the loads, and maybe your effort, but it's not based on joint angle.

So, the same fibers in the curl that move your elbow from straight to say 90 degrees bent, are the same fibers that move your elbow from 90 degrees bent to your hand by your shoulder. They’re just acting at a different point in the muscle torque curve. If somebody wants to recruit more fibers, the answer is either, "Lift a heavier weight or you exert the greater effort”.


Aaron:


It's the same muscle.


Bill:


For fibers within a specific given muscle, the joint angle doesn't change which fibers are actually working.


Aaron:


That totally makes sense. And that is a brilliant way to describe it.


Bill:


Well, you know something, it makes sense if you look at the biomechanics and the anatomy. But for years, I've said “full range motion” also because I was only looking at the muscle magazines and Nautilus material. It just reinforces itself.

And in the context of say 1960s bodybuilding where there's a lot of partial reps being emphasized and lockouts, telling that person who is not doing anything near a full rep, if they did a slow range of motion, they may now start including that joint angle for peak muscle torque, and so they would get better results. But that is only because if you told the person doing partial movements to do more of a range of motion, they would get to that joint angle where the muscle is the strongest.

You could work all day at a weak joint angle, and it will fatigue and it will burn, but you're really not going to challenge the force capability of that muscle.


Aaron:


You're going from a very inefficient exercise, and by full range of motion, you make it better, by including that joint angle, though not...


Bill:


Right, but then it doesn't follow that, OK, if I extend the range of motion to include that joint angle, if I expand it even further, I'm going to get even more benefit out of it, because that's just not how fibers are recruited.

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