Troubleshooting February 2013

on Friday, 01 February 2013.

What is the point of using chains when training with weights?

Chain training requires chains to be hung from the ends of conventional barbells and to drape on the floor. The conventional barbell with attached chains then is used during exercises such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and Olympic lifts. Theoretically, chains provide a valuable resistance unlike conventional barbells alone.

When lifting a conventional barbell alone, the weight on the barbell (i.e. external resistance) remains fixed. Although the external resistance remains constant, the force exerted by the working muscles varies throughout a joint’s range of motion as a result of the change in mechanical advantage at various joint angles

In contrast, attaching chains to the bar theoretically provides a variable resistance so that when the barbell is lowered to the bottom of the movement, the chains pile up on the floor and decrease external resistance. Therefore the rational for using chains is that the external resistance more closely mimics the actions of body joints.

Many elite facilities and industry experts support the use of chain training as an addition to conventional lifting. Advocates claim that chains positively affect their training, require greater efforts, and, in turn, increase performance. Practically, if an individual perceives chain training as more difficult and it allows him or her to work harder during regular training, greater exertion may lead to increased performance over time.

I am thinking about joining the gym closest to my workplace. It’s spacious, clean, and convenient and the staff is helpful. However I am concerned that it is mostly full of machines (including a massive cardio section). There are benches there but there are not a lot of options with free weights. Is this a problem?

Strength exercise machines are presently in broad use. When exercising on the machines, there is no need to balance or control the weight: the movement trajectory is prescribed (scientists would say that the system has only one degree of freedom). This is different from many real-life situations where objects must be stabilized. For instance, when lifting a barbell above the head the trainee must control the barbell position. If the barbell is displaced forward or backwards the equilibrium is lost, which may result in unsuccessful attempt and injury. In contrast, exercise machines constrain movements in certain directions. Other examples of mechanically constrained movements include opening a door and peddling a bike. When performers must stabilize an object in addition to exerting force on it in space, the force production stops. The force lost is the price we pay to stabilize the object.

When the movement is constrained, the performer may exert force in a direction different from the direction of motion and still perform the task. The actual constraints – the tangible physical obstacles to movement- may completely change joint torques. Consequently, different muscle groups may act when body motion is free or is actually (physically) constrained. In particular, when working on strength exercise machines, the direction of the end-point force and joint torques may be quite distinct from what it is observed ion lifting or holding free weights. This may be not very important for recreational trainees, but it may be detrimental for experienced athletes whose immediate goal is the performance improvement.

Training with exercise machines as compared to free weights has certain pros and cons. The advantages include the following:

The initial weight can be applied at low level and increased in small increments (1 kg or less)

The risk of injury is smaller (provided that over-exertion is avoided)

There is no need to study the performance technique – it is simple; and

Less time is consumed

However free weights are more specific to athletes and trainees. The general conclusion is that exercise machines are recommended for recreational trainee’s, novices and the elderly (free weights can also be used), while training with free weights – even though it requires studying lifting techniques- is advantageous for experienced trainees striving for performance improvement. As you don’t state your experience and goals I hope the above explanation helps you work out in your own mind whether it is the best gym for you.

I have been advised to look after my liver better. I train regularly but up until recently probably haven’t put the best fuel into my body. Any tips on liver management?

The liver has a very important role in maintaining the health of your body. If your liver is unable to detoxify the toxic environmental chemicals, they will have a devastating effect on your body. Other endocrine systems, body organs and your immune system can all be adversely affected/ your liver also controls the level of cholesterol in your blood.

The detoxification process involves the presence of anti-oxidants and anti-oxidant enzyme systems. These require the presence of specific amino acids, vitamins and minerals. These may be obtained from foods in your diet or you may need a specific liver formula supplement prescribed for you by a health practitioner.

One of the problems in today’s society is the large amount of synthetic toxic chemicals in the environment. These chemicals can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or enter the food chain to reach the human population. It is vital that your liver can efficiently break down these chemicals into a form in which they can be eliminated by your body. Drugs (both pharmaceutical and illicit), alcohol, invading micro-organisms, and other debris must also be handled by your liver. Many of these materials are fat soluble (they only dissolve in fatty solutions). The detoxification process which takes place within your liver, converts the substances into water-soluble elements. These can then be excreted via your kidneys in the urine or via the intestines as faeces.

Liver function tests should be performed before going on a drastic diet. These tests will give you the levels of the various liver enzymes, the level of bilirubin which is the reddish yellow pigment found in bile and will indicate the presence of excess protein. From these results, the state of your liver function can be determined.

To promote a healthy liver, the following steps should be taken:


·         Cow’s milk. Replace with soy, oat, rice or nut milk

·         Drugs, either illegal or excess pharmaceutical drugs

·         Excess alcohol

·         Food containing synthetic chemicals e.g. colourings, flavourings, flavour enhancers

·         Refined carbohydrates


·         Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as they are high in sulphur which is valuable in the detoxification process. Limit your intake if you are suffering from hypothyroidism, as these vegetables are goitrogenci which means that they interfere with iodine uptake. Garlic, leeks and onions are also rich in sulphur but do not have goitrogenic properties.

·         Drink a minimum of three litres of water a day

·         Eat good lean sources of protein – you need complete protein

·         Avoid refined carbohydrates including glucose and sucrose which depress immune function

·         Avoid stress as it lowers your body’s levels of vitamins and minerals. It also leads to the release of adrenaline. If under stress, undertake some stress management e.g. meditation, yoga, relaxation tapes.

·         Remove any foods from your diet to which you have a known allergy or food intolerance

·         Train regularly. Weight training will control stress levels, improve body composition and stabilise blood glucose and insulin levels.

I train at home by myself and I am keen to try some Olympic lifts. What are your thoughts on doing this at home alone?

Several factors are involved in keeping training safe. Avoiding high risk exercises, using correct technique (i.e. bar pathways), and having balanced musculature are all big factors. Highly skilled Olympic weightlifters are proof that’s it’s possible to train explosively without getting injured. But I prefer to build a significant margin of error into training, hence why I don’t promote explosive training or exercises that can only be done explosively. But I am definitely not anti-Olympic lifting. I’m all for it, but the proviso is that expert hands-on coaching is available, and the trainee concerned is suited to that type of lifting.

Different exercises have different “stroke” lengths. Some can be performed in smooth control faster than three seconds for the positive phase. But three or more seconds for the negative is still a good rule of thumb, other than in very short-stroke exercises. Let rep smoothness be your guide, rather than rep speed per se.

Over the decades, with few exceptions, the safety aspect of weight training has been played down or almost ignored by some of the training world. Form has been given short change. Rep speed and control is often ignored. And ‘cheating’ has been encouraged by people in certain circumstances and programs. Safety concerns and the prevention of injury should be of primary concern. Therefore I would think twice before embarking on explosive Olympic lifts by yourself, especially if you are not proficient in skills required to perform the moves properly.