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Avoid the Mirror Body

In kinesiology, the study of the movement mechanics in the body, we use a number of fancy terms to talk about the body and how it moves. As movement practitioners, it is important that we are all on the same page and can accurately describe what is happening. This avoid confusion and allows up to talk with over medical and movement practitioners about the body and movement.


I am of the mind that there are a couple of important terms for everyone to know once they get in tot he world of physical culture and fitness. Many weightlifter follow pre-written programs or coaches, and many other put their own programming together. Weather you program for yourself or follow one, it is helpful to beagle to identify the element of a good program and one that is lacking. A good was to see this is to compare the amount of anterior and posterior chain work.


Years ago when I first started weightlifting in the military, some old timers shared with me a weightlifting slang term that I dont think is used too often. He said that most people in the gym get “mirror body” and that I needed to avoid this at all costs. I looked at the 50-something beefcake quizzingly. “The body that looks really good flexing to themselves in the mirror. Then they turn around and poof - nothing.”


This was actually a seed of wisdom that ended up defining my weightlifting and movement philosophy. After years of working in the physical therapy clinic, I noticed we rehabbed most injuries by working primarily on muscles in the posterior chain. While coaching weightlifting, I curds over and over to use the large muscle groups in the posterior chain.



Let’s first talk about these concepts, the anterior and posterior chain. In kinesiology, we use “chain” as a term to describe the series of muscle being used in movement, the tendons over-lapping and linking them into a series. Anterior is the front of the body, while posterior refers to the back of the body. It’s is important that we see, think and refer to them as a chain because they all work together. Moving one muscle, moves others connected near it. Just as you cannot lift one link in a chain without disturbing the others, you cannot move just one muscle in the body.


Our anterior chain gets most of the action. It is scrunched up when we are sitting, stretches out when we stand and walk, and is most critiqued when we look at ourselves in the mirror. It is also easiest to move - it is easier to push and grab things in front of you than behind. Because of the disproportionate attention, we tend to over use the muscle in the front. This pulls the bones more forward, often causing impingements and pain in the shoulders and hips. It also stretches out the muscles of the posterior chain, causing weakness, tightness and under activation.


This no way to treat the side of the body with the largest and most forceful muscle groups. While our quads and pectoral are pretty big, it is the lats and glutes who take the cake for being the largest muscles in the body. These muscles are in charge when it come to explosive movements, prolonged endurance and overall stability. As the great Katie Sonier says, “Build the posterior chain, build the athlete.”


You should always be training your posterior chain twice as much as your anterior chain. For those with over developed anterior chain or pain, you need to train it three times as much. This ensures that the largest muscle are getting the attention they need in order to grow and stabilize the musculoskeletal system. Quite frankly, those muscle wouldn’t be the biggest if they didn’t have a big job to do.


Another way to ensure that your posterior chain is getting the work it need to thrive is to have a movement practitioner look at the way you lift and walk. While most people tend to walk using predominantly with their quads, the action of walking should involve a lot of glute action too. Same with pulling. Most folks initiate a pull at the elbow joint, using anterior chain muscles (the bicep) to take most of the work. This will quickly lead to elbow tendonitis. The pull movement needs to be initiated by the shoulder, activating the lats, and then move through the rest of the arm. I made a video about this rather important topic. https://youtu.be/gYIPnkGlwNM


So do your reverse planks and flyes. Do your glute bridges and hips thrusters. Use your hips to move the bar when your squat and your glute to control your loges when you walk. Don’t fall victim to the rut of building a mirror body.


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