Biomechanics in Bodybuilding: Some FAQs

By Martin Haines RGRT MCSP SRP MBCA, Biomechanics Coach, Intelligent Training Systems
January 2012

Article in partnership with iMoveFreely: a unique web site that has been designed by experts to help you move freely from home or even at your desk at work.

We really enjoy reading the MuscleTalk Forums, we learn so much about your concerns and about your ideas on the many different solutions to the problems we all experience. Let’s have a look at some of the more common problems you experience; we’d like to offer our thoughts too.

Foot Position for the Squat
Here is a common question: "When I squat, I get some knee pain and when I go heavy I feel it in my back. I wonder if this could be due to my foot position which could be causing a problem. How do I decide my best foot position when I squat?"

Many of you wonder about your squat position and the best foot placement. This is hugely important to any squatter to allow the best form for the lift, to reduce the risk of injury and to make sure you’re engaging the big and small muscles in the best way. The problem is, because we are all different, there is no one way to squat or place your feet. We all have our own biomechanical problems, many of which we often don’t even know we have. The only safe, effective and personalised way of figuring out where to place your feet is like this; close your eyes, walk on the spot for a few seconds, then stop, get your feet comfortable, open your eyes and see where your feet point. This is where your feet should be when you squat, deadlift, lunge, step-up, leg press or any weight bearing leg exercise. Any attempt to adopt an unnatural or enforced position that is not natural for you will result, sooner or later, in pain. If you have perfect biomechanics (there must be someone out there who has!), then you may be well be able to adopt a perfect foot position; but then everyone will now argue where that is. Best way of finding out? Close your eyes, walk on the spot...

The foot placement is important especially if you have recurrent injuries and if you have a body part that lags behind, like your glutes. The wrong foot position can prevent gluteal engagement by placing the muscle in a disadvantaged position and it can also put a large amount of pressure on your knees, often causing pain. So if your glutes are down and you’re not using this technique to get your foot placement right, try using it and see if it helps.

Shoulder Training and the Rotator Cuff
Another common question: "I get a lot of shoulder injuries and my therapist has told me to work on my rotator cuff strength. How can I do this safely?"

This is another common post about how to train the rotator cuff. According to the research, the rotator cuff is a reflex muscle group (like the core muscles) and so we should train them in a reflex manner. In practice this works well too. However, the cuff muscles need to have the right ratios, as every muscle group around a joint has to – this is to ensure that the joint has the capacity to be stable. The same applies to the knees, spine, ankles; every joint needs the right muscle strength ratios round it.

Here are some good and safe rotator cuff exercises that you could try:

There are many rotator cuff exercises, some of which are safe and others not so safe. Generally speaking avoid doing rotator cuff exercises with your upper arm (humerus) parallel to the ground. This merely increases the risk of impinging the delicate soft tissue structures beneath the tip of the shoulder (acromion process) and causing shoulder pain. Make sure your elbow is always lower than your shoulder when doing rotator cuff work.

Once the ratios are fine, then you can train the muscle group reflexly. What do we mean reflexly? Well, your cuff and your core are deigned to stabilise your shoulder and spine respectively while you perform other movements without you thinking about it; its nature’s way of preventing you from getting injured. Imagine you having to consciously contract your cuff and core when you do shoulder or trunk (or any) exercises: you’d forget; you’d not time it right and you’d ultimately get injured. Your brain is the most sophisticated computer chip ever created and it’s deigned to make the sort of decisions like when to contract your core and your cuff when you exercise. Any attempt by you to artificially change this will result in failure of the system and you’ll more likely get injured. So once your cuff ratios are is in good shape, forget about your cuff. Once your core ratios are in good shape, forget about your core. They are both working reflexly anyway, anything you consciously try and do will just mess it up!