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Want to get stronger, faster? Here are 7 secrets and 5 tips that no one will tell you!

Pilates 2 04

I see it all the time.  It’s frustrating. People performing strength exercises which are at best doing little to enhance their strength and at worst, making them more injury prone.  So here are 7 secrets that you can use to enhance your strengthening exercise program so that you can perform better, live better and achieve more.

Secret 1                                  Stabilise First

“You can’t shoot a canon from a canoe.”  In other words, you can’t perform strong, dynamic movements off a flimsy and unstable base.  And there are many reasons why supportive, stabilising muscles stop working as well as they should. Remember, these are the small muscles that attach closely around each joint to hold the joint surfaces in optimum contact so that they form a strong, stable platform.  The more stable your platform, the more resistance or weight that you can lift and the stronger you will get.  

Pain, swelling, inactivity, poor postures, repetitive movements can all reduce the activation of these muscles leading to joint instability and potentially injury.  Research has shown that these muscles do not begin working again without specific training.  They must be specifically targeted and activated.

To stabilise, “clench” or contract all the muscles around your joints to what is maximally comfortable.  Even better, position yourself correctly by having your knees slightly bent, feet apart and on a slight diagonal.  Then, stabilise your whole body by pulling your stomach in, tightening your butt and pelvic floor up and tucking your chin in.

Secret 2                                  Isolate

As mentioned above, pain, swelling and general deconditioning, can all act to stop muscles from being effectively activated.  And just because you perform a movement, doesn’t mean that these muscles start working again.  They need to be “woken up”. Research has shown that not only do these muscles need to be trained specifically to begin working normally again, but that if they’re not, people will begin to substitute other muscles and use different strategies for movement which mayl eventually lead to injury. 

To isolate a specific muscle for strengthening, you need to know what the muscles attachments are as well as the precise movement that the muscle performs.  For example to best strengthen your biceps, muscle on the front of your upper arm), you need to start with you hand turned with the palm facing backward and then turn to bring the palm forwards to the front of the shoulder as you bend your elbow only. 

Almost all muscles have a rotation component as well as an angle and direction at which they are best activated.  Know these and you will better target that muscle for strengthening.

I see so many people trying to strengthen muscle with the wrong starting points, wrong actions and with poor control, all making these exercises less effective whilst at the same time potentially putting themselves at risk of injury.  If you are going to exercise and you want the best results, learn to do the exercise correctly the first time.  It will save you much time

Secret 3                                  Activate

The more nervous impulses that enter a muscle and the more effectively and efficiently muscle fibres are activated, the faster your muscles will adapt and get stronger. 

Here are a couple of tips to engaging your muscles better. 

The first is to “clench” or contract your muscle first to the maximum you can comfortably. 

The second is to hold the muscle at this maximum tension throughout the movement and not allow it to be turned on during shortening of the muscle and off during the lengthening of the muscle.

Further from this, the third tip is to perform the movement slowly engaging the muscle with maximum tension and use holds at different parts of the movement.  This might mean that with very heavy weight (and only if you have been training for longer than a year) that you are still trying to perform the movement explosively but because of the high resistance, that you can only move very slowly. 

The fourth tip is to understand patterning.  In other words, position your body to better activate the muscle. For example, if you hold your hand open and backwards whilst trying to perform a bicep curl, you will be less effective at activating the muscle than if you clench your fist and hold your wrist slightly forwards.

The fifth tip is to know how to use your breathing to assist with stabilising your body but not so much as to increase the pressure within your body to dangerous levels.  Some authors have suggested that better results from strengthening may be achieved by breathing in during bending or closing down movements and by breathing out during straightening or opening up movements. 

Furthermore, if the breath is held just to a catch point (most difficult point of the contraction) the increased abdominal pressure will assist in stabilising your spine.  However, to prevent possible adverse effects of this pressure, you must breathe out just after this point to release this pressure. 

Secret 5                                  Use Feedback

Mirrors are not just there to show you how good you look! Visual feedback along with the voice and touch actually play a crucial role in ensuring the correct technique, maximum activation and optimal performance that is needed for the best results.

This feedback can be gained from mirrors, a coach or partner and even your own fingers placed on then muscles that you want to contract.   It is especially vital early on when learning an activity, as generally the more the better feedback, the better and faster you will learn.

It has been said that to learn a new skill requires about 300 to 500 repetitions and can take about a month.  However, to correct a poorly performed skill with a better technique can take about 3000 to 5000 repetitions.  So better to learn how to do things correctly the first time.  It can save you weeks and months of poor results as well as the possibility of injury.

Secret 6                                                          Integrate

For better transfer of strengthening over to everyday life, isolated strengthening exercises must be followed strengthening exercises that use these muscles in functional activities.  Muscles must work in co-ordination to perform an activity to achieve a result and the only way to improve at these functional activities is to practise and progress them. 

There are seven types of movements that are the basis for most of the activities that we do. They are bending, twisting, pulling, pushing, squatting, lunging and ambulation (walking / jogging / sprinting).  I call them Primary Movements as they are the movement patterns that you need to be able to live and function optimally. 

So to get better results, follow an isolated strengthening exercise with the functional strengthening of the muscle in a related everyday activity in which it is used.  This will enable you not just to look better but to live better as you will have greater strength and co-ordination in the activities that you do every day. Examples of this might be to follow a knee extension strengthening exercise with a double or single leg squat. 

Secret 7                                                          Automate

You can’t live by thinking about activating every single muscle during every single movement.  To live effectively, correct muscle activation and movement have to occur automatically and without thinking. This means that you must train your brain as much you train your muscles through performing these exercises with varying speeds, directions, amplitudes and on varying surfaces, progressing from very stable to unstable.

You must keep your brain guessing by progressively reducing feedback to the point that your brain is literally anticipating and automating muscle co-ordination and movement without thinking at higher and higher levels of control. 

Think about the primary movements of bending twisting, pulling, pushing, squatting lunging and ambulation.  Break them down into their component parts and then combine them again and progress them with ever increasing levels of co-ordination, speed and agility demands.  Activities such as learning to balance standing on one leg.  Then progress this by standing on your toes, then squatting, hopping first up and down and then at different angles and speeds whilst catching a ball.  Or progress from kneeling on a swiss ball to standing, squatting, catching a ball on and so on. You are only limited by your imagination.

If there is one thing that we are all short on these days its time.  Don’t waste your time by doing ineffective, inefficient strengthening exercises.  Use these techniques and strategies to enhance your program and you will enjoy the benefits of looking younger, feeling stronger and performing better in all areas of life.  

Be Bodywise and enjoy the best of health.

Best wishes,

Michael Hall


Bodywise Health

For a no obligation, FREE assessment for any injury or physcial problem that you might have, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994)


5 Reasons why working out on machines may put you at greater risk of injury and what to do instead

5 Reasons why working out on machines may put you at greater risk of injury and what to do instead

med x lumbar pic


By Michael Hall

Today, we have more technology, more health devices and exercise equipment than ever before. In particular, computerised strength training machines now promise you everything from protecting you against injury, to being the best type of strength training that there is!1 But do the claims really stack up in the light of the current health research. Read on to find out.

First a bit of background. This article refers to computerised and non-computerised strength training machines that control and direct movement and not to strength training equipment that uses cables, springs and slings.  This is important because your physical health is dependent on your core stability. Essentially this is the ability of your brain and body to utilize your muscular strength, endurance and control to maintain healthy working relationships of all your muscles and joints in all movements and under all conditions.2 And unlike what most health articles and marketing would have you believe, core stability does not just refer to the stomach region, but the stability of all your joints close to your trunk especially your neck, back, shoulder and shoulder girdle as well as your hips, pelvis, and upper leg.3

Global Vs Local Muscles

Over the last 30 years, advances in our understanding of the concept of core stability has led to a revolution in the rehabilitation and prevention of injury. The breakthrough came when it was recognised that muscles are differentiated in their makeup and function between global muscles and local muscles.4

Global muscles (called prime mover muscles) are larger longer muscles that attach further away from your joints. They are dynamic, phasic muscles in that they switch on and switch off and provide power and strength to movement.

Local muscles (called stabiliser muscles) are small muscles that attach very close to where your joints contact each other. These local stabiliser muscles are often called tonic or postural muscles because they are always switched on providing a low level (5% maximum voluntary contraction5), constant, directional tension to hold joints in ideal alignment.

Feed-forward Control - The Key to Injury Prevention

Even more amazing, it was discovered that these muscles actually contract before you move to counter-balance the pull of your large, global muscles. There is a feedforward or preceding command to the small muscles around your joints to “stiffen” your skeleton in preparation for movement.

Most movements within our bodies operate on this feedforward system.6 It seems that your brain and nervous system estimates the forces that are going to be applied to your body during the movement and prepares your muscles and joints in advance.

Joint stabilisation and body control should be sub-conscious and automatic. If it doesn’t occur before movement, excessive or abnormal forces will result and you will be more at risk of injury.6 And this is exactly what happens following injury or with restrictive, regimented and inadequate every day movements and training. The automatic, sub-conscious control becomes impaired and you begin to lack the background stabilisation of your body that protects you from injury.

5 Reasons why strength training on machines does not protect you from injury

  1. Machines primarily work your global, prime mover muscles. Whilst strengthening these muscles might improve the strength, tone and look of your outer muscles, they have relatively little effect on your local, stabiliser muscles, leaving you vulnerable to injury insufficient stabilisation. Computerised machines do not train your reflexes or stabiliser systems that protect you from unguarded, reflexive movements. Although you will feel stronger, you will still be at risk from quick, movements that you do without thinking because the background control has not been trained.
  2. Machines do not allow for functional movement, which is the type of movement that you do in everyday activities. Because machines dictate specific directions of movement, they do not allow your body segments to work together in a normal, functional way. Consequently, they don’t prepare you for and protect you from everyday life activities.
  3. Because machines are exercise isolated muscles in precise, predetermined directions, they are more likely to lead to muscle imbalances, incorrect postures and movement patterns, excessive or abnormal stresses and eventually to pain and injury.
  4. Whilst machines might train your muscles, they do not train your brain. In other words, they don’t train your nervous system’s anticipatory and sub-conscious control of your body. To improve your sub-conscious control, you must do sub-conscious training. Like many systems of your body, it is a “use it or lose it phenomenon”. Practicing and refining your balance reactions in every day functional activities will refine the feedforward control of the nervous system. Neglecting reflexive activities will cause your reactions to be inadequate and delayed, leading to worsening performance and the increased possibility of injury.
  5. Training on machines doesn’t provide the movement variety that is required in every day functional movements. You see, your body and your brain are very efficient at adapting to movement. This means that your body will get very good at doing machine based training, but this won’t transfer across to everyday activities.

Is lack of strength really the cause of your injury?

Most patients have attended Bodywise Health over the past year NOT because of some trauma but because of some insignificant, quick, unguarded movement that that have done without thinking. Statements such as “I just bent over to pick up a pen” or “I just reached forward to open the window” are all too familiar when people give their accounts as to how they sustained their injuries. In almost all cases, strength or the lack of it does not appear to be a factor as to the cause of their injury. It does not seem to be a strength issue, but rather a timing and control issue.  It is people’s lack of sub-conscious movement control that appears to be the common factor leading to the onset of their injuries.

Core Stability Vs Core Strength

Training on machines does not address these deficiencies, but rather compounds the problem because it reinforces global muscle strength at the expense of local stabiliser muscle control. In other words, whilst your power, dynamic movement muscles get stronger, the base upon which they work get weaker, leaving you vulnerable to quick movements and activities that you do without thinking.

Whilst health clubs, personal trainers and machine based rehabilitation centres often promote core strength as being paramount for optimal physical health, please understand that it is actually your core stability which is more important in protecting you from injury. Whilst core strength is a component of core stability, the more crucial components of core stability are the endurance of your muscles and your nervous system control.7

The term “core instability” implies lack of core control. Therefore, to improve your core stability you need to learn to stabilise better and the best way to learn to stabilise better is by “training” on progressively more “unstable” surfaces and then with increasingly more dynamic functional movements.

Some ideal unstable surfaces for training include swiss and bosu balls, pilates reformers, duradiscs, rockerboards, pools and even standing on one foot. The more unstable you are, the more you have to stabilise and the more you will train your brain and nervous system’s ability to protect you from injury.

What are you training for?

Training is highly specific. This means that the training effects gained in one activity do not transfer well over to other activities. Therefore, if you want to look good, want to perform well on machines and are not concerned with avoiding or preventing injury, then by all means “work out” on resistance machines.

However, if your main goals are to perform optimally and prevent injury in sporting or every day functional activities, then you must “train” your brain and body in these activities. Your brain and body only know movements, not muscles. Correct and improve the control of your movements and you will not just look better but you will stay better, perform better and live better as well.

Wishing you the best of health,

Michael Hall
Bodywise Health

For more information on how Bodywise Health can help you to improve your core stability, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994). 


  2. Panjabi MM. The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. Function, dysfunction, adaptation and enhancement. J Spinal Disord 1992;5(5):383-9.
  3. Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Inefficient muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine associated with low back pain. Spine, 1996;21(22):2640-50.
  4. Richardson CA, Hodges PW, Hides JA. Therapeutic exercise for spinal segmental stabilization in low back pain – scientific basis and clinical approach. 2nd Edn. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2004.
  5. Bergmark A. Stability of the lumbar spine: a study in mechanical engineering. Acta Orth Scand, 1989;230(Supp):20-4.
  6. Sahrmann SA. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, 2002
  7. Chek P. Primal Pattern Movements. A Neurodevelopmental Approach to Conditioning. Correspondence Course 2003.
  8. Grakovestky, S. The Spinal Engine. New York: Springer-Verlag Wien, 1988.


Why stretching can worsen an injury and what to do instead

670px-Stretch-for-a-Scorpion-in-Cheerleading-Step-1Stretching, it’s been a cornerstone treatment and training technique for decades. So ingrained and accepted has stretching been that for a long time its benefits pretty much went unquestioned. That was until a couple of years ago, when a 20 year review of the research revealed that pre-exercise stretching was ineffective at preventing or reducing the prevalence of exercise induced injuries. 

Given this, it is reasonable to question stretching’s effectiveness with injury treatment. You see, stretching has been promoted has having many benefits1 including:

  1. Increasing muscle and joint flexibility
  2. Increasing muscle relaxation
  3. Decreasing muscle soreness
  4. Improving circulation
  5. Preventing excessive adhesions
  6. Promoting a flexible and strong scar

Despite this, many of these benefits have not been fully investigated and / or proven.2

If you think about it, almost all physical injuries are due to some sort of breaking down of tissue. For example, a strain is a tear of muscle tissue and a sprain is a tear of the ligaments and / or capsule tissue that holds joints together.

Research has indicated that after about 5 days following an injury, a scaffolding or frame work of tissue is laid down randomly as a bridge over the damaged tissue.3 Initially, these fibres are fragile and easily broken if too much tension or stress is applied.

As the laying down of fibres tends to peak at about 3 weeks, these fibres become progressively more durable and mature. This means that applying tension to the healing tissue becomes progressively more important to align the fibres along the lines of force and ensure a strong and functional repair.4

Stretching, if applied before this phase of healing, may have a number of detrimental effects. These include:

  1. Re-injuring the healing tissue (overstretch strain) by tearing the new, fragile tissue repair;5
  2. Weakening tissue (overstretch weakness), making it more susceptible to re-injury;5
  3. Delaying healing by reducing blood flow;6
  4. Degrading the quality of tissue repair by impeding the nerve supply into the new tissue.7

In our experience at Bodywise Health, people will often state that they “feel” better for a short time following stretching. However, on closer questioning and analysis, it is often evident that over the longer term, the improvement in their condition has stalled.

What to do instead
Immediately following a soft tissue injury, ice and immobilisation should applied for the first few days following injury.9 Immobilisation enables a tissue framework to form across the injured tissue, knitting the damaged ends together and increasing the strength of the healing tissue so it can withstand greater muscle pulling (tension).9,11

After the first few days following injury, early active protected (using taping or bracing) movement into directions which are pain free and which don’t stress the injured tissue has been shown to have numerous benefits including improving circulation, preventing joint stiffness, reducing swelling, accelerating healing and stimulating a better, stronger tissue repair. 5,8,10

However, care must be taken when moving an injured tissue. Probably the number one cause why people don’t get better from injury or don’t get better as quickly as they should, is because they re-injure the damaged tissue. In the early stages, any movement must therefore be pain free and feel almost “too easy”. Progression in movement must only take place, after it has been established how much movement is safe for the injured tissue.

At about the 2 week mark, contracting the overlying stabilising muscles in the position of maximum comfort and below the threshold of pain has the benefit of aligning fibres and producing a stronger, healthier scar.11

It also prevents muscle wasting and begins conditioning the tissue repair to stress or force in a safe and measured way, thereby helping to protect it against re-injury.

As long as the injured tissue remains pain free, this strengthening program may be progressed first in the number a contractions applied and then with increasing movement, before increasing the loading force.

The specific exercise techniques and protocols that work best are beyond the scope of this article because they differ for different injuries and circumstances.

At Bodywise Health, we have found however that stretching as a treatment technique has most value if applied later in the treatment program, after the healing tissue is more resilient to force. At this point stretching can be important for remodelling the scar tissue into a flexible, strong repair as well as for restoring full bodily movement and function.

I hope that this helps.

Best Wishes,

Michael Hall
Bodywise Health

For more information or for a FREE injury assessment and 2nd opinion, please call 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994)


If you want to recover faster from injury, STOP using...

Suction Cups-mobile 01

By Michael Hall

… ice, at least AFTER the inflammatory phase has settled down. The same goes for immobilisation and anti-inflammatories. Why? Because ice (cold) slows down the healing rate1, prolonged immobilisation causes joint degeneration and muscle wasting2 and anti-inflammatories have been shown to “delay healing in acute ligament, muscle and tendon injuries”. 3,4,5,6,7,8

As mentioned in my last blog on “What to do if you get injured”, immediately following injury a short period of Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Referral (PRICER) IS the most effective means of reducing the complications of the bleeding and inflammatory phases of healing, namely those of excessive swelling, excessive tissue breakdown by the immune system and the release of free radicals as part of this process.

However, for soft tissue injuries, using ice and immobilisation should be limited to the first few days following injury.9 Immobilisation enables a tissue framework to form across the injured tissue, knitting the damaged ends together and increasing the strength of the healing tissue so it can withstand greater muscle pulling (tension).9,11

Complete immobilisation is mostly needed for acute broken bones (fractures). For muscle and other soft tissue injuries, early active protected (using taping or bracing) movement into directions which are pain free and which don’t stress the injured tissue has numerous benefits including improving circulation, preventing joint stiffness, reducing swelling, accelerating healing and stimulating a better, stronger tissue repair. 5,8,10

However, care must be taken when moving an injured tissue. Probably the number one cause why people don’t get better from injury or don’t get better as quickly as they should, is because they re-injure the damaged tissue. In the early stages, any movement must therefore be pain free and feel almost too easy. Progression in movement must only take place, after it has been established how much movement is safe for the injured tissue.

As with early protected movement, applying heat (packs, etc.) for 15 minutes hourly (once the acute inflammatory process has settled) is one of the best ways to increase cellular activity and accelerate tissue repair. Heat brings oxygen and nutrient laden blood to an area, thereby optimising nutrient and waste product exchange. Heat also accelerates cellular activity, increasing the rate at which new tissue is laid down.11

Heat can be both superficial (heat packs, ray lamps etc.) or deep (ultrasound, short wave therapy etc.) with generally, deeper heat applications being more beneficial with deeper tissue injuries. As with any application of heat, care must be taken to check your skin every 5 minutes to avoid burns.

One of the biggest barriers to healing is excessive swelling which can cause oxygen starvation (hypoxia) to the injured tissue. It follows therefore that reducing swelling and optimising circulation will accelerate tissue healing and repair.

There a number of ways of reducing swelling and improving circulation.
1. Not aggravating the injured tissue;
2. Keeping the body part elevated above heart level will promote fluid drainage;
3. Moving the body part within pain limits enhances the effect of elevation as the contraction of muscles promotes fluid movement;
4. Compression garments with pressures ranging from 30 mm Hg to 60 mm Hg;
5. Lymphodema massage, a gentle stroking massage that moves fluid back towards the heart;
6. Bodyflow, a muscle stimulating technology that has been proven to accelerate healing and speed recovery from injury and intense exercise, by reducing swelling and enhancing circulation. It has been used by the English Olympic team as well as many AFL clubs to promote a faster recovery and enable earlier preparation for the next event.

The beauty of Bodyflow is that it is portable, meaning that you are able to apply it to yourself anytime, anywhere. At Bodywise Health, we have found that by using Bodyflow in the first couple of weeks following an injury, this has translated into faster recovery times from injury, often cutting days and sometimes weeks off normal recovery times.

There is no doubt that there are many things that you can do to assist in your own recovery from injury. And, if performed correctly, they will save you time and money as well as the disappointment of not being able to participate in the activities that you want to do. Treating an injury earlier and correctly, really does give you “the biggest bang for your buck” in terms of outcomes for effort. You have only one life. Don’t spend it on the sidelines any longer than you have to.

I hope that this article will help you to achieve a better faster recovery from your injury.

If you are injured and would like to know what is the best and fastest way to get better, please call 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994) for your FREE assessment and advice.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Hall
Director Bodywise Health

  1. Bleakley C, McDonough S, MacAuley D. The use of ice in the treatment of acute soft tissue injury. Am J Sports Med 2004;3(1)251-61.
  2. Brukner and Khan and Colleagues. Clinical Sports Medicine. McCraw Medical. 4th Edition, 2012.
  3. Tischoll P, Jung A, Divorak j. The use of medication and nutritional supplements during the FIFA World Cups 2002 and 2006. Br J Sports Med 2008:42:725-30.
  4. Derman, EW. Pain management in sports medicine: use and abuse of anti-inflammatory and other agents. Sth African Fam Prac 2010;32(1)27-32.
  5. Wharaam PC, Speedy DB, Noakes TD et all. NSAID use increases the risk of developing hyponatremia during Ironman Triathalon. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006;38(4):618-22.
  6. Paolioni JA, Milne C, Orchard J et al. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in sports medicine guidelines for practical but sensible use. Br J Sports Med 2009;43(11);863-5.
  7. Ziltenher JL, Leal S, Fournier PE, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for athletes: an update. Ann Phys Rehab Med 2010;53(4);278-88.
  8. Alaranta A, Alaranta H, Helenius L. Use of prescription drugs in athletes. Sports Med 2008;38(6);449-63
  9. Jarvinen TAH, Jarvinen TLN, et al. Muscle Injuries: optimizing recovery. Best Prac Res Clinis Rheumatol 2007;21(2):317-31.
  10. Kannus P, Parkkari J, Jarvinen TLN et al. Basic science and clinical studies coincide active treatment approach is needed after a sports injury. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2003;13(3):150-4.
  11. Jarvinen TAH, Jarvinen TLN, et al. Muscle Injuries biology and treatment. Am J Sports Med 2005;33(5)745-64.

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