The Method

Fitness Tips for Successful Body Sculpting

August 14, 2009

Joint injuries can happen to anyone.   My accident took me by surprise three years ago when I fell off a ledge onto some debris tearing an acl and some cartilage in my hip.   My ensuing journey through treatment and recovery took months.
Along the way, I learned an intriguing fact about how our muscles behave, one that my former, healthy self would never have guessed:  The muscles around an injured joint will not respond to exercise, even if pushed.   Before I found this out, I thought “no pain, no gain” was how it worked.  Now a team of doctors was telling me that even if I fought my way through workout after workout, my injured leg would get weaker and weaker until its underlying joints healed.  My orthopedist explained this to me after measuring my thighs.  I have a “one-inch atrophy of the right thigh,” he told me, “which is significant.” The reason, he said, was “pain.”

My injured joint was in effect putting the break on the development of my quads because of pain, whether or not I paid attention to it, and causing them to atrophy.  Later during rehab, my physical therapist confirmed this interrelatedness between joint pain and muscle strength.  “The pain in your joint will not allow your muscles to recruit,” she said.

runners kneeUndoubtedly this reluctance on the part of muscles to perform when the joint they surround hurts would be news to the runners who are often seen limping along roads with bandaged knees.  Are healthy runners who haven’t yet experienced problems also at risk for future joint deterioration?   Several studies have found a correlation between osteo-arthritis (joint erosion) and running.  In one especially creative experiment, different sports were compared on how much they break down cartilage – a bad thing – and “remodel”, or repair, bone – a good thing.  Rowing, a non-impact sport, turned out to be the best sport at both minimizing joint erosion and re-building bone, running the worst. (Click here to read how in some cases exercise can be used as physical therapy.)

So far no studies have turned this equation upside down and looked at the possibility that high-impact sports build muscle more slowly due to their impact on joints.  What we can be sure of is that high-impact strength exercise will eventually take its toll on joints.  And since healthy joints are a pre-requisite for muscle building, non-impact workouts like the Bar Method will not only keep joints healthier longer but will also give the bigger bang for the buck when it comes to building sculpted, strong bodies.

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