Challenge Your Clients to Develop Smart Muscles

By Peter Twist

The value of strength training is well accepted in the fitness training model as it provides positive adaptations to metabolism and builds an aesthetically pleasing body.

Machine based strength training draws its history from body building where participants aim to isolate and overload specific muscles for appearance changes. Machines are simple to use and require little to no instruction and supervision, helping people safely begin and follow new exercise programs. Yet the benefits are superficial, without the key principles which restore and improve the body’s functionality.

Given today’s high rate of youth obesity and decreased adult wellness, my philosophy is anything that gets someone moving is a good thing. There are few bad exercises. But, collectively, a program consisting primarily of isolation exercises, even with free weights, limits benefits beyond appearance. Further, for those placing appearance at the top of their goals, there are other lifting styles that have a much higher caloric cost to reduce subcutaneous body fat to a desirable level. Smart muscle strength training is a recommended lifting methodology to blend appearance goals with real life function and sport performance goals.

Strengthening the Kinetic Chain

The human body is designed to move through the linking of bones, joints and muscles into a kinetic chain from toe to fingertip.  The brain acts as the command center and with communication through the neurological system to the muscles, movement is created.  Actions performed by one section of the kinetic chain have a direct effect on the next segment of the chain with any breakdowns in muscle activation reducing performance throughout the entire body.  Muscles and joints at various levels work together as a team to produce basic to highly skilled movement.

Whole body lifts harness the work accomplished at each individual link in the chain.  Movement is initiated by the legs, transferring the force through the core, collecting power through the kinetic chain before expressing it with the arms or a sport implement (golf club, tennis racket). Smart muscle exercise integrates balance, movement and whole body strength, teaching the kinetic chain to produce stronger and more coordinated movement using Twist’s Neurological Complexity variable first developed to quantify a continuum of balance challenges from simple to difficult.

Overload through Neurological Complexity

Integrating instability and movement skills into a lift raises the metabolic cost by demanding the entire body participate to execute each rep, and enables muscle groups to work harmoniously in action, during movement. With a computer analogy, imagine your muscles, heart and lungs as the body’s hard drive, the mind and nervous system the software.

It is desirable to possess a stronger, more powerful hard drive yet it is only as useful as the intelligence of the software programming. I prescribe strength exercises which challenge whole body coordination, where some muscles contribute as prime movers, others for force reduction, some act as stabilizers. Integrating instability and movement with strength permits the coach to define a prime mover overload at a set lift tempo to gain time under tension and hypertrophy, but not without the rest of the body contributing to the action. This is particularly applicable for everyday athletes and active adults who don’t really desire to be a world class shot putter but do want to move well and remain injury free in their preferred activities as they age. My clients in their 40’s and 50’s live large in life, staying active in any activity they desire, confident their body will perform.

Exercise Progression

To create smart muscle exercises, begin with the basic isolation exercises you currently use like a standing bicep curl using a Smart Gym™ (Insert Image Standing Bicep Curl) as the foundation.  The exercise complexity can be increased simply by adding a squat to the bicep curl requiring properly sequenced whole body movement as well as core control to transfer the force developed from the ground by the legs, through the core and express it using the upper body.

The exercise complexity can be increased to another level when the athlete is required to safely execute a balance challenge along with a strength requirement such as the Lunge to Bicep Curl using a Smart Gym™.  

This exercise requires the athlete to create and control forward movement into a lunge position as well as create and control upper body movement with the bicep curl.  The strength and balance challenge both come from the Smart Toner™ which is resisting the athlete’s forward motion (strength requirement) and also pulling back on the athlete toward the anchor point (balance challenge).  Safe and successful completion of this exercise is based on the athlete’s ability to lunge then sequentially perform the bicep curl with control and precision while maintaining strong posture and core control along with total body symmetry on both right and left sides.

Safe Challenges – Lift Tempo

While sport action requires a quick reactive body and as such training should progress to more explosive lifts, actually slowing the lift tempo is the easiest way to remove momentum and expose weak links in the body, increase the coordination challenge, increase full body activation, and inherently by the slow speed of movement make the exercise safer.

Slow paced whole body balance and movement integrated strength exercises force muscle groups to ‘think’ their way through an exercise – the participant interested, engaged and present in the moment. This develops a strong yet responsive and skilled body for a client who enjoys the exercise experience and lives the results.

Peter Twist, MSc BPE CSCS TSCC-L3 PTS is President of Twist Conditioning’s 3 divisions: franchised Sport Conditioning Centers, product wholesale and the Twist Smart Muscle™ Coach Education program.  To learn more about the Twist training methodologies, education and equipment available in Canada contact