Are you a cook or a chef?

Michael Goulden

Last updated: 

29 Jul 2022

4 min. read

You’re an exercise professional. Do you follow someone else’s recipe or do you make up your own?

I can take my Jamie Oliver book and create a meal from one of the recipes. The results are usually not bad!

But if I were to open my fridge and check the contents, could I create a meal from them? Perhaps, but it probably wouldn’t be that good.

That’s the difference between me and Jamie: an amateur cook and a professional chef.

I can definitely follow a script, but he can take a bunch of ingredients and make something special. I’m lost without the instructions!

As an exercise specialist, what are you?

Are you a cook mindlessly following someone else’s recipe?

Or are you the chef that understands all of the ingredients and how they interact?

As exercise professionals, we have a wealth of resources to study. Think about your education program to date. Were you discovering more details about this complex neuro-muscular-skeletal system? Or were you learning a new recipe?

It’s tough to be the chef. There are a lot of ingredients that we have to manage, and as Barry Schwartz discusses in his book ‘Paradox of Choice 2, too much choice leads to analysis paralysis. The more choices we have to manage, the harder it is to make decisions. Schwartz found that choice makes us feel unsettled, so why try to reinvent the wheel when we can find someone who has developed a kick-ass system that delivered results?

However, what happens when you apply a pre-determined program that doesn’t work? Are you aware that it didn’t work? Are you measuring all the variables? Would you know which piece didn’t work and why?

Pre-determined protocols lead to bias. Which often leads to the wrong conclusion.

You must squat to have bigger quads – Them

Really? How do I know that a squat is a challenge for the quads? And how do I know that it is a challenge for EVERYONE’S quads?

Why I study biomechanics / exercise mechanics

I love studying biomechanics. Just one of the many ingredients, but it’s a fairly important one. It turns out that we don’t know that the squats challenge the quads. At least, we don’t know without the person in front of us.

What do we need to make an exercise a challenge on the quads?

a) A moment arm at the knee joint creating a flexor torque
b) That’s it

In the 2003 paper ‘Effect of Knee Position on Hip and Knee Torques During the Barbell Squat’ (Fry et al.), the authors assess the moment at the hip and knee during two variances of the squat; one that allows the knees to go past the toes and one that doesn’t.

Their results were simple: restricting the anterior displacement of the knee relative to the line of force from the GRF, decreased the moment and therefore decreased the torque at the knee.

That’s great, so let’s allow the knee to travel in front of the toes and then the squat is a challenge to the quads. – Them

Not so fast… let’s start looking at some of those underlying mechanical variables.

What goes into the making of a squat?

If we look to at structure, all of the following will affect how someone ‘folds up’ in a squat:

  • ankle range of motion (ROM)
  • tibia length
  • knee rom
  • femur length
  • hip rom
  • trunk length

This doesn’t even begin to cover potential differences in talocrural joint shape, femoral neck angle, acetabulum shape, etc – all variables we can’t really see – but will affect how our clients squat. Short tibia and long femur? (hello hip moment), long tibia and short femur? (hello knee moment).

If I need to challenge the quads and my client had a long femur, a short tibia and a restricted ankle ROM what do I do? Because squats will not challenge their quads.

I’ve made a personal choice to not follow a career in cooking. I don’t have the time or passion to be a chef. And I don’t charge clients for this service.

But I’ve made a conscious choice to be a chef when it comes to exercise and understand all of the ingredients and how they work together. I owe this to each of my clients. And I hope, each of your clients expects this of you.

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