Why your gym workout could be exposing you to injury and creating weak points in your body, and how to fix it

Harry Thomas
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Around 15 years ago, a Canadian called Michol Dalcourt was approached by the team who finished second in the NHL, which to Canadians is as big as the Premier League.

The team wanted to find a way to be stronger and fitter than anyone else in the league, and gave Dalcourt all the resources money could buy, including a state of the art training facility and the back room staff of his choice.

He had four months to knock the team into top condition. They were mostly inner city kids, with the rest of them coming from farming families. During off-season, the farm kids all went back home whilst the city boys were put through their new training regime.

Dalcourt devised a detailed three month plan and the team were adapting to it well, with their average strength increasing by a whopping 30 per cent. They were virtually all squatting, dead lifting and benching personal bests, as well as recording the best bleep test results in the entire league. Dalcourt was super confident he had created a title-winning team. With a month left, the farm kids returned, far weaker than those who has undergone the program.

So everyone was aghast when they were running rings around the ones who had spent the summer training. They were winning 50-50 battles for the puck, accelerating away from their team-mates, and generally performing better than they had any right to.

Dalcourt took a trip to the country to find out why. It turned out these farmers’ kids had spent the summer shovelling, raking hay, and lifting farm machinery in all kinds of awkward ways. When they got tired, they would then change their stance or hand positions to continue the task.

Dalcourt realised that working in this uneven way was giving them strength across their bodies, rather than in narrow, linear areas.

This observation goes against the prevailing wisdom of the fitness world. Most gym programs you find online or in fitness magazines look at individual muscles groups – “Chest day!”, “Back and bis!” – but it’s time to move beyond this myopic way of thinking.

This doesn’t only go for top athletes, either. When you pick something up from the floor, which parts of the body are you working? Hint: probably way more than you think.

Pretty much every movement relies on more than just muscles: it involves joints and ligaments and tendons and, perhaps most importantly, fascia.

“Fascia” is a word that’s coming up more and more in fitness circles, and will be an increasingly important aspect in the training regimes of the future. These connective tissues run from head to toe, inside to out, an interwoven system that provides a framework to help support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body.

Every day your body is laying down new collagen (the main structural protein in fascia), positioning it depending on the way we move and the forces we put through our body.

So, if you work out one area at the expense of the rest, your fascia will become thicker and stronger in those places. And if you do something new – either on purpose or by accident – you will be impacting areas where the fascia has not been developed, leading to potential injury.

Loaded movement training is a great way to build fascia, as well as improving whole body strength, burning calories and increasing cardio fitness. At No1 Fitness we use a piece of equipment called the ViPR, which was created by the aforementioned Michol Dalcourt.

The ViPR is essentially a weighted tube with a number of grips, which you can swing in various ways. This kind of loaded movement, moving a mass through more than one plane of motion, allows you to train your fascia in subtly different ways, improving strength in areas that wouldn’t be worked by “regular” gym equipment.

This can help with virtually every movement you make, whether it’s something intensive – martial arts, rugby, football, dance – or just picking up a shopping bag or playing with your grandchildren.

So next time you go to the gym, take a few minutes away from the bench and check out the weird tubes lying in the corner where nobody ever goes: you might be surprised at the results.

Harry is a personal trainer and co-owner of No.1 Fitness, with gyms in the City and Tower Bridge. To book visit no1fitness.co.uk or call 020 7621 1312

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