The original and current expertise of the personal trainer is in exercise prescription. If you paid attention in your foundational personal training qualifications, you will be comfortable with exercise physiology related to the body’s three basic energy systems which are recruited during various levels of muscular work.
Anaerobic A-Lactic (ATP-CP) – Phosphate Energy System
Anaerobic Lactic – Glycolytic Energy System
Aerobic – Mitochondrial Respiration Energy System
You are officially their saviour from the world of poor wellbeing. A privileged role for the personal trainer indeed. By recalling the details of these energy substrate pathways your mind begins to visualise high intensity back squats, burpees, and kettlebell swing circuits performed two to three times per week with one to two days of longer duration cardio as recovery work.
Let me paint you a scenario: A wonderful new client approaches you at the gym. You have been selected as the facilitator of this individual’s new, healthier, lifestyle. A life of exercise, fitness, better food choices, new routines, and fat loss.
You’ll have this individual throwing around respectable weights, spraying glorious sweat and reaping the benefits of good old fashioned work in no time. It gets to consultation time:
Trainer: ‘Ok great, so we’ve established that you want to loose some weight, we’ll work out how much weight and by when. You used to run a bit, but haven’t really performed any strength training for quite a while; No worries – are there any injuries I should know about?’
Client: “Actually yes, I’ve had this back problem for the past three years, it comes and goes, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad. I’ve had some physio work done, but my Doctor says that I just need to strengthen the muscles. Oh, and this knee plays up – it’s hurting a bit now actually.”
Just like that, your well intentioned Glycolitic exercise prescriptions are blown out of the water, but still you want to take this person on because it’s a tough old world out there, and you want to make a career out of your passion.
This is a situation I’m sure you’ve found yourself in before. You’re a good trainer, a great relationship builder and you get good results. As you’ve most likely already encountered this scenario, you may have even looked into the world of ‘corrective exercise’.
However, these days the personal trainer has to be so much more than purely a prescriber of exercise based on an introductory understanding of mitochondrial energy production and the electron transport chain.
Unfortunately, the “perfect client” is rare. The person who is injury and pain free understands how to deal with and manage stress, trains often on their own, has no real health issues and follows all recommendations that you make. What is typical however, is the client described previously. The person who is in pain, hasn’t really been sorted out by the route they’ve taken already and certainly isn’t prepared to jump in to the type of training that you know could potentially improve how they feel about themselves.
A lot of the type of musculoskeletal complaints our clients present us with on a daily basis (the sore knee, a tight back, a painful shoulder that’s “ok once I’m warmed up”) are related to muscle imbalance.
Your Brain Doesn’t Really Know What Muscles Are
The motor system consists of the motor and sensory cortices of the brain, the thalamus, basal ganglia, brainstem structures, cerebellum, the spinal cord and the neuromuscular apparatus. (2)
Notice I don’t mention the muscles directly: The brain’s representation of muscle is derived from the neurological apparatus embedded within the tissues, and the junctions which carry information to and from these sensors. The potential of our actin and myosin fibres to interlink with each other, providing muscular contraction, is relative to the muscle facilitation. Muscle facilitation is controlled by the motor system.
Volitional and Reflexive Pathways
Electrophysiological studies have shown that the motor cortex (MI) resembles a topographical map displaying an upside down, back to front, and reversed – left to right – image of the body.
Within the cerebral cortex, and other brain areas mentioned previously, exist motor neurons which cluster together to form descending tracts within the brain and down to the spinal cord. Some of these tracts, such as the corticospinal tract, carry volitional commands to the motor neurons which tell our muscle to contract at the conscious level (2). Others, such as the rubrospinal tract and the vestibulospinal tracts carry reflexive signals to the motor neurons to control muscles below our conscious awareness (3).
Neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington referred to the motor neuron as the final common pathway. His comments point out that there is a huge array of descending signals from multiple sources converging at the motor neuron, where incoming information from the environment also converges, yet somehow the appropriate signal and response is conveyed out to the muscle.
The Balancing Act of Muscle Balance
So it’s the motor neurons which tell the muscles to contract or not, and there’s a whole host of signals which inform the motor neurons in the first place.
Our new client with a sore knee and tight back is most likely suffering from various levels of muscle inhibition and altered muscle facilitation. Being able to uncover which muscles are switched off and which ones are turned up too high really should be within the expertise of the personal trainer – especially as we want to move people around and load them effectively as we have been so graciously hired to.
The AMN Level 1 Certification teaches the foundational neuroanatomy and all of the useful neuro-drills to reflexively switch muscles on from the top down. We consider the Cerebellum in detail, the spine, and coordination pathways as discussed here.
The Level 2 training teaches the practitioner to uncover multiple other potential sources of muscle inhibition including the viscera, the endocrine system, the TMJ, specific proprioceptive pathways and, crucially to evaluate the function of our muscles form the level of the spinal cord.
These days, the personal trainer really needs to be an expert in muscle facilitation. If you can help a client’s body to facilitate the muscular system at the start of every training session, your expertise in exercise prescription can be realised. But a body that is loaded and drilled through high intensity workouts with marked muscle imbalance or numerous sites of muscle inhibition, is one that is going to experience more pain, more training sessions missed and again will carry their story on to the next health and wellness consultation they find themselves in.
Becoming a muscle facilitation expert INSTANTLY makes you a better exercise prescription expert, which leads to you becoming the fully booked, modern day, high level trainer in your area.
- Julien S. Baker, Marie Clare McCormick, and Robert A. Robergs. Interaction among Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Energy Systems during Intense Exercise. J Nutr Metab. 2010; 2010: 905612. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005844/
- Yunuen Moreno-López, Rafael Olivares-Moreno, Matilde Cordero-Erausquin, and Gerardo Rojas-Piloni. Sensorimotor Integration by Corticospinal System. Front Neuroanat. 2016; 10: 24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4783411/
- Randy W. Beck BSc(Hons) DC PhD DACNB FAAFN FACFN. Functional Neurology for Practitioners of Manual Medicine.