Lilian Jarvis
Family Practice
September 1994


It would be helpful if a consensus could be reached amongst professional fitness instructors as to how to do exercises correctly. As it is, the advice given in workout classes and magazines is often conflicting, and the non-professional can scarcely be blamed for not knowing which to follow – or worse, blindly accepting advice that may be wrong.

The differences of opinion exist because, while there is no disputing the anatomy of the body, how to make the body function at its best from a physical standpoint is something that has not yet been determined. This is partly because the importance of a “mechanically” sound body as it relates to both physical and mental wellbeing has not been given the recognition it deserves. Consequently, except for the relatively few individuals who have over recent decades developed “bodywork” techniques, and who have come to understand and value the proper mechanical functioning of the body, there has not been sufficient research done along these lines. Thus except for the guidelines as set by such bodies as the National Fitness Leadership Advisory Committee – and which guidelines change as new theories emerge – there are no established standards that define what is best or correct.

An article in the Globe called Fitness a top priority for golfer (April 13, ‘94) is a case in point. It said that the golf swing stresses the legs, hips, abdominal muscles, back, shoulders, neck, arms and hands – which leaves little that isn’t stressed, it would seem – and that the rotary, twisting motion occurring over a four-hour period means that strength, flexibility, endurance and balance are all required. But it went on to say that the jury is not yet in on how golfers should exercise in order to bear the weight that swinging the golf club creates.

Johnny Miller and Faldo bulked up their upper chest muscles, only to pull back from developing too much upper body strength, while Gary Miller, despite being warned that he would hurt his golf by becoming too muscle-bound, disagreed and worked with a world weight-lifting titleholder. The consensus with instructors now, it said, is that strength training is important but the exercises should be golf-specific. And a warning was given for caution when reading popular magazines that publish articles on golf fitness because they may be too general.

Depending on what “general” refers to, the warning may or may not be justified. Chris Dalcin, Associate Director of the Fitness Institute’s Olympic High Performance Center, believes that because the total body is involved in golf, a good general conditioning is needed to provide overall strength and flexibility. Specific exercises would focus on the forearm, scapula, rotator cuffs, lower back, balance and power in the legs.

In last April’s issue of Prevention magazine, the article Get Your Back on Track discusses the body demands and the hazards of various activities, including tips on preventing injuries.

For example, cycling can cause stress on the lumbar spine from leaning forward without adequate support from the arms and, depending on the height of the seat and handlebars, arch the neck and cause it to ache. A tennis serve and the crawl in swimming cause hyperextension of the spine. In bowling, the shoulders and upper torso twist in one direction while the hips and legs twist the opposite way, with added strain coming from a heavy ball held in front with the body bent slightly forward. Swinging a bat in softball carries two sports risk factors: muscles must contract with great force to accelerate the twist and the sudden stop at the end of the swing applies pressure to both the disk and the spine’s facet joints. And the vertical impact loading of running can damage the disks and other structures.

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Stephen Hochschuler, assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Texas and co-founder of the Texas Back Institute, is quoted from his book, Back in Shape, as saying that exercise is probably the most beneficial remedy for back pain. Yet all of the tips given for the sports mentioned above are concerned with some aspect of the sport’s “technique.” This is not, to my mind, advice on what kind of exercise is best for the different activities.

It would appear from this article – and many others I’ve come across – that a deeper-lying problem exists than that of agreeing on how to do exercises correctly: What do we mean by exercise? The word itself is the first cause of confusion since it’s used to mean both an activity and what is more rightly called conditioning. It’s the latter that prepares the body for activities and helps prevent injuries. So the first step in dispelling confusion is to recognize the difference between the two kinds of exercise. Then we can perhaps deal more directly with how to exercise correctly to improve the overall musculo-skeletal condition of the body, which would benefit all activities.