Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Your Client "Doesn't Feel It..."

If you are a personal trainer or someone that has had the fortunate task of instructing someone on an exercise, chances are you've heard the phrase "I don't feel it". Whether it is a stretch or a weight-bearing exercise, the unsuspecting client seems to alert you that they don't feel the expected "pain" or "discomfort" that [in their minds] the exercise or movement is supposed to elicit. For example,  the other day I was showing a young new female clients who played field hockey and squash a basic shoulder stretch. Her immediate response while she was performing the flexibility exercise was "I don't feel this one".
I chuckled inside and said, "Okay, well maybe you don't need this stretch".
Her response: "Yeah, but shouldn't I do it anyways?"

My response: "Nope".

Most novice exercisers have a perplexed understanding of how the body responds to exercise. They haven't learned their bodies and therefore,  don't have an understanding of normal stress indicators that are expressed by our bodies. Most general population only know 2 indicators: pain and pleasure.
Back to my client that didn't "feel" her shoulder stretch. There are physiological reasons why some people "don't feel a certain stress" to the body--be it from physical activity, environmental changes, psychological, or neurologically.  Lets stick to the weight-room on this one:

Why some people don't feel stretches:

1.) Joint laxity - Capsular spacing around a joint is actually decided by genetics, gender, and training type. Most children are very flexible and those youths who have been training in a specific activity for years (dance or gymnastics) will have a tendency to be more lax at the joints. People that are still active in this type of activity or training will present a very pronounced range of motion (ROM) simply because the activity calls for it. If the activity calls for it, the body is trained for it. Again, this starts at a young age. A second thing to consider is gender. Females are more flexible and certain joint structures are more pliable. Take for instance that most young girls are more prone to shoulder subluxations.

2.) Muscularity - My new young female client is a field hockey player. This sport uses predominately the lower body for locomotion. Upon observation,  her legs were muscular, but her upper-body was not even close to the degree of 'sturdiness'. Does the degree of muscularity have an effect on flexibility? This brings us back to the age old concern  that building muscle will cause you to be less flexible. To answer this question in simplistic form, extra bulk can restrict range of motion. Extra bulk can be in the form of fat, scar tissue, or sometimes muscle. Most people that spend alot of their time building muscle, do not spend an equal amount of time on flexibility and restoration. Therefore, muscles become tight and lose elasticity.

3.) Bone articulations - The ends of bones are formed in such a way that affix a corresponding bony process [end]. This joining is an articulation. In certain individuals, the bone articulations form a 'loose fasten' which causes ROM to increase by a small increment. This is usually the number one reason people can be "double-jointed". With this extra ROM, muscle lengths can also be altered to take on this genetic disposition making some stretches render-less. The idea of stretching is to increase the ROM at a joint. If the joint's ROM is already increased by default because of the structure, it makes certain angles null to purpose-ful flexibility drills.
Why some people don't feel certain exercises:
1.) Load - This is the most obvious reason. If a muscle(s) has not been loaded to a degree that will cause  stress, there will be no physiological changes present. What does all this mean? Besides the obvious signs that someone is working out hard or using a challenging weight-bearing exercise like sweating, grunting, or grimacing; there are other acute indicators that are not so obvious:

  • increase blood pressure

  • hormonal changes

  • increased heart rate

  • blood pooling

  • muscle action potential
So the next time someone doesn't feel a simple exercise like a dumbbell curl; remove the pink dumbbell from their hands and place a heavier object.

2.) Plateau/Adaptation - In my opinion, over-training and plateaus are two different conditions. A plateau can be reached because certain training variables have become stagnant. How many young lifters do you know that work out every Monday and perform multiple chest exercises, and also, perform the same rep schemes and the same poundages? For example,  this is what a typical bench press routine looks like:
In a case where you have an individual who performs the same actions with the same loads for years, the work capacity rate is "topped" off. Physical adaptation is in effect. The body will no longer respond because it has adapted to the stresses placed on it. This is a plateau and can lead to over-training.

3.) Over-training/Over-reaching - Over-training is a result of monotonous exercise programming and poor progression. When no goal is planned and no progression is measured, most lifters will fall into a repetitive mode of similar movements, similar loads, similar order, and similar results. Nothing. Over-training will eventually lead to injury, loss of energy, loss of enthusiasm, and loss of appetite.


  1. Something you touched on but didn't elaborate was simply that beginners may lack bodily awareness. Tell someone "squeeze your glutes" or something, they can't do it. This person will often be a bit awkward with exercises and stretches, finding it hard to consistently get into the right position.

    For example, during a hurdle stretch for hip flexors a person may consistently put in a large anterior pelvic tilt and hip rotation - so that the hip flexors get stretched less. Obviously the trainer or coach can correct this, but often it has to be done again and again, in every session.

    "Tilt your pelvis back, bring your hips square," will usually have no effect, you have to touch them to get them into position.

    The person simply doesn't have that bodily awareness, either was sedentary or worked out alone for many years. They don't "feel" their muscles, joints or bones. Along with their strength, flexibility and fitness, this is something that'll take time to improve.

  2. Didn't like my last comment? Marked as spam?

  3. Oh. Well, I posted a long comment about how "I don't feel it" can also - in beginners - be simple lack of bodily awareness. You know, ask them to contract their glutes, or try to get them to activate transverse abdominus while feeling their lower back, they just can't do it. Very common in formerly sedentary beginners.


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