// Re-thinking your workout - Resistance work or robotics

by Michol Dalcourt

As a self-confessed geek more obsessed with the way the human body moves than being a star athlete, it was an on-ice encounter
with farm kids that led Michol Dalcourt to a new realisation of functional, full-body training.

The next time you set foot in the gym, take a look around. What do you see? Do you see the club members moving freely as they exercise, unconstrained, or are they working out like robots – stuck in a pattern of movement in repeat?

Most of the time, when I make my way into the hallowed halls of training, I see the latter, and it troubles me.

Have you noticed that in general we are moving less at work, play, and in the gym? Doesn’t this seem odd? We were designed to move, right?

Our current, conventional approach to training is to split the body up into parts in the name of safety and periodisation. However, more and more research is indicating that, in fact, we cannot separate the body into parts, as much as we try.

I began my career quite differently than most. I was a geek, obsessed with the many mechanisms in which the body crafts its design. I was never a star athlete; in fact I was no athlete at all. I was an awkward mover who was always the last picked for the team, so you might think that I would have a penchant for the arts, but I didn’t. There was something compelling about the human body, how it moved, how it was designed. Thus my post-secondary educational pursuits were earnestly focused towards exercise science, so that I might find out more. As I entered the fitness industry, my mind was full of uncertainties. I took on the dubious honour of working with athletes – namely, ice hockey players.

You see, for most Canadians there exists only one thing, and that is hockey. In fact, if a Canadian cannot play hockey, they are kicked out of the country (which is why I now live in California, further reinforcing the notion that I am not an athlete).

I poured everything I knew into my hockey players’ training and programming – everything that I was taught, that is. But my beliefs and perceptions of the body were about to be challenged, based on the fact that I was not properly preparing these athletes for success on the ice. My viewpoint about the body was strongly rooted in the notion that we are made up of constituent parts. An arm, a head, a nervous system, a hamstring muscle – and these parts made up the whole. The most important factor in success,

I thought, was training these parts one by one. But then life proved me wrong.

SPEED, STRENGTH, STAMINA

For three years I trained my hockey players to develop speed, strength, stamina, and agility – all in a 14-week off-season training program. Then, every in-season, I asked the scouts (those that watch each and every game to evaluate players) how my players were doing. Their answer never changed for three years; ‘They need to improve their strength on the puck’, they said. That’s odd, I thought at the time, strength is what I am training! Yet there did not appear to be a significant transfer into their sport. For the first three years, I tweaked my programs in order to effectively obtain a strength transfer into hockey, and for those three years the scouts reported the same deficiencies.

It took me three years to ask a rather important question; ‘Who is beating my players to the puck, and why?’ The scouts’ answer has echoed in my head ever since. Their answer was neither arcane nor esoteric; it was not what was trendy or capricious; ‘The farm kids are beating your players to the puck’ they said.

I knew this to be true. In fact everyone in the sport did. The toughest players were always the farm kids. On the surface it made little sense. They did not train with weights (i.e., barbell/ dumbbell), in a gym, nor did they periodise any training stress. They would rarely overload a muscle, or perform the same motion repeatedly to get stronger, and yet they were. When I finally analysed what these kids were doing, it served to elucidate my training and program design. These farm kids were truly functional. Everything that they did was performed with varying loads, in all three planes, at various speed, and various ranges of motion: they called it chores. Moving farm equipment by hand, shovelling, lifting, squatting, crouching, rotating, lunging, pushing and pulling – all with an expressed goal that was task-driven. They had an objective (i.e., loading a trailer with dirt), and their bodies got the job done, by integrating every body part. Isolation training did not exist on the farm, and if it did it would not last long. It was too inefficient and ineffective. The body and its parts would wear out far too quickly.

The body is designed to spread forces and stress out into the system, through each joint and tissue in the body. The more effectively that this is accomplished, the less injury will plague the system. There is inherent wisdom in what those farm workers did, and as soon as I adopted similar strategies in the gym, I began to see something incredible. My players became stronger, quicker, and more agile, with less incidence of injury.

GETTING FARM FRESH

Here are four key points that must be addressed to be ‘farmworker-worthy’.

1. Integration
There is an adage that we are stronger as a whole than the sum of our parts. Human anatomy would agree. By connecting our myofascial system (muscle and fascia) together as one system, it is stronger. Fascia research is being compiled at a rapid rate, and holds a key to understanding human biomechanics. When one looks at human anatomy in dissection, one can easily see the morass of collagen (which is the fascia) that holds our structure in place. This framework is strengthened when trained as a whole and undermined when trained in its constituent parts.

2. Timing
Rhythmical motion allows structures to dissipate forces through the system. This is consistent with body design. Muscles need to turn on and off. Proper joint function is predicated by proper muscle timing.

3. Three-Dimensional
All muscles and all joints are designed to function in all three planes of motion. To ignore a plane of motion is to be ignorant of nature. Triplanar muscle and joint action serve to mitigate stress through the system.

4. Gravity-Infused
Human form was designed and shaped through the influence of gravity. Gravity loads our bodies and allows us to become stronger and more efficient. If we use gravity in the same manner as our intended goal (i.e., for hockey), we take advantage of the elasticity of tissue, which means that we can generate more force with less effort. This means that an athlete or client that needs to be successful while standing should train in upright positions most of the time.

THE FUTURE

Very shortly, the fitness industry will see new tools, new training methodologies, and new innovations (some are just around the corner) that speak to these fundamental truths of movement. The next time you train, think about those wise farm workers and ask yourself; ‘Do my exercise selections hold up to scrutiny? Are they farmworker-worthy?’  

 

Michol Dalcourt
Michol is an educator, author, trainer, inventor and industry leader in the areas of human movement and performance
training. As a personal trainer, he has worked with athletes of all levels, from college pitchers to professional hockey and
lacrosse players and Olympic gold medallists. Michol works with trainers and therapists in San Diego, California.


NETWORK MAGAZINE • WINTER 2009 • PP17-19