What Muscles are Actually Firing??


I’m a research guy. 

To me, well done research trumps anecdotal gym “bro science” any day. 

Show me some evidence in the form of good research, and I’m willing to test it in the lab (aka the Emerge workout floor) to see if it sticks in a real-world test. 

One of the most interesting research topics (for me at least) are the studies using EMG machines to measure the electrical impulses of muscle. (During rest and contraction). 

Basically, in these studies the EMG is recording what muscles are firing and to what extent. 

Here is a list of a few common exercises with the EMG activity (a summary) of the primary muscles involved. Of note is that many of these are considered “ab” exercises. It is important to minimize the recruitment of the hip flexors (especially the psoas) when attempting to train these muscles. The hip flexors are normally already short, over recruited muscles that, for 90% of people, need no extra work…

1) Side plank- 
Works the side of the hip (glute medius) as much or MORE than its works the abs and obliques. 

Glute Medius = Core 

2) Bent knee sit ups-
Works the hip flexors (psoas) equally to the abs. 

Hip Flexors = Core

3) Straight leg raises-
Works the hip flexors TWICE as much as it does the abs. 
As a matter of fact, a PUSH UP from the toes activates the abs almost equally to the straight leg raise. 

Hip Flexors > Abdominals

4) Bent knee curl up (crunch)-
Activates the abs SIX times as much as the hip flexors, and more so than the sit up. 

Abdominals > Hip Flexors

5) Dead Lift- 
a moderately loaded deadlift (150-250 pounds) activates the obliques, abdominals, and hip flexors equally (and at a relatively low level). The erector muscles of the back are activated SIX times as much. 

Spinal Erectors > Abdominals

These are just a few examples, and there are many more (many were a big surprise to me!)
I’ll be doing a brief article every week based on current evidence/research in the fitness field. 

It’s Your Turn. Emerge. 
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

THIS is what training the CORE is about

I was pleasantly SURPRISED with this succinctly written article. I couldn’t have said it better myself….
I’ve been a trainer for almost 13 years. In that time, I’ve spent A LOT of time studying the muscles that collectively are known as the core. 
Understanding the true function of these muscles and how they perform their primary job of spinal and hip stability has been a product of years of study and practical experience/ practice. 
So, when I see any blog or article claiming to explain core exercise or function, my natural instinct (from experience) is to cringe. I’ve come to not expect much, at best, from these articles.
If you’d like to understand the true function of the core unit and how to TRAIN it, read this. 

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.

Are you ready for the side plank?

The anatomy of a side plank.

A side plank is a very precise, very DIFFICULT exercise to master.
Most of the time when I witness a side plank, what I am seeing is an exerciser doing EVERYTHING they can just to stay off the ground. Most contort their body in an effort just to stay up.

Side planks, done well, are more than just staying off the ground.

When side planking, the body must be in perfect, neutral alignment. The ear in line with the shoulder, the shoulder with the hip, the hip with the knee, and the knee with the ankle.

When assuring this perfect neutral alignment, the challenge to the core is very high.
In addition, the hip muscles, especially the glute medius, are challenged to a great degree.

When adding to the side plank to your exercise regimen, make certain that you can hold a neutral position for at least 10 seconds. If you cannot, this exercise will be full of compensations. This will do nothing for performance and will actually encourage faulty

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.

Try this for glute and hamstring strength!

Click to view video:

Dusty performs a standing hip thrust on the Keiser cables. There are two advantages to this exercise versus the standard hip thrust on a bench:

1) the exerciser is performing the movement in a STANDING position. This is normally the position a person is in when they are using their glutes and hamstrings.

2) the resistance is coming from directly in FRONT of the exerciser. This means that even at the end of the movement (standing) the exerciser is under resistance (versus a bar that would simply be compressive resistance at the top)

Work this in with the standard hip thrust for a functional compliment to classic glute training.

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.

There are exercises for abs, and then there are exercises for the core

When training the CORE for performance, there are 4 core “abilities” that need to be addressed. All four relate to core/spinal STABILITY. They are;

1) anti flexion- stopping forces attempting to FLEX the spine
2) anti extension- stopping forces attempting to EXTEND the spine
3) anti side bending- stopping forces attempting to BEND the spine right or left
4) anti rotation- stopping forces attempting to ROTATE

By increasing the strength of the core muscles associated with these ANTI MOVEMENTS, you are effectively building armor around your spine that transmits force without leaking energy. If you are strong and stable in 3 of these, but not the 4th, you basically have a “kink” in your armor that may be exposed (through injury or lower performance).

The most effective way to train the core in these abilities is to expose the exerciser to forces that are attempting to do the very things that they are attempting to avoid.

For example, a planking exercise places the exerciser under forces that attempt to extend the spine (gravity), so the challenge is to stiffen the core muscle to NOT allow this movement.

Again, the ability to AVOID movement in the spine is true core performance work, as opposed to exercises that encourage spinal movement (crunches, chops, leg lifts etc.)

Loading the spine and then moving it is not recommended, and in many circumstances will lead to disc injuries among other problems. There are a FEW safe ways to perform these types of exercises. It’s a topic for a later post.

The four examples below are exercise examples of anti flexion, anti extension, anti side bending, and anti rotation.

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.

The WALKING DEADLIFT. A Big Bang-for-your-buck exercise.


Click above link to view video demo.

Anyone who has trained with me in the last two years has heard me reference, and has probably performed my “favorite exercise of all time.” This exercise is the Walking Deadlift. Much like the walking lunge, the exerciser strides across the floor.
The major difference is that the hip flexes as the front foot hits the ground. This change allows the exerciser to use the POSTERIOR CHAIN (including the all powerful glute max) to pull themselves into an erect position before the next step.
This is a functional strengthener, as it is a mobile exercise that utilizes the core for spinal stability (see that Corey’s spine stays neutral throughout) and uses the hips unilaterally (mimicking walking).

It’s Your Turn. Emerge
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Endurance Athletes! It’s Time to Add Strength Training to Your Regimen


Endurance athletes!
By now you’ve probably heard of the potential benefits of strength training as part of your endurance training regimen. A stable core and powerful hips will help any athlete perform better by increasing speed and optimizing movement efficiency.

If you’re resisting adding strength training into your training, consider this.

Strength training is different from hypertrophy training (bodybuilding).

The goal of strength training is to get the most out of the EXISTING musculature. The change comes from the optimization of your NEURAL connection to the muscle you currently have. The more motor units in a muscle you have firing, at a faster rate, the stronger you will be.

So, unlike hypertrophy training (which aims at increasing the size of a muscle fiber) strength training won’t add a lot of unwanted weight that an endurance athlete has to carry with them.

It’s all about RELATIVE strength. That’s basically how much horsepower you have in your engine versus your total bodyweight. You can effectively increase this horsepower without adding to the weight of your “engine.”

If you’d like more information on how to construct a strength program geared at endurance athletes (or bodyweight dependent sports), contact an emerge coach at info@emergetraining.com

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Chicken and Broccoli and Brown Rice, OH MY!

Chicken and Broccoli and Brown Rice, OH MY!

Although this hasn’t been an isolated event (as I have experienced this same thing many times over the last 10 years), I am going to reference one particular incident that I recently encountered.

A client of a trainer at Emerge brought her nutrition plan that she had been following to that trainer for review. That trainer shared this information with me. This plan was constructed by someone else in the industry.

The client is not a fitness competitor, but she enjoys running and (like us all) wants to look good, too.

Low and behold, the plan suggested the ole chicken and brown rice and broccoli route. There were minor choices to be made (like fish or quinoa or a couple varieties of green veggie) but on the whole this was the same tired meal, over and over, every single day.

Chicken. And Brown rice. And broccoli.

Eating like this WILL get old. And that’s the best of the worst.

What is really wrong with this approach is the glaring omission of foods that supply macro and micro nutrients needed to maintain health and performance. She was getting the same handful of nutrients at every meal (the most obvious missing piece in a plan like this is healthy fats, which should make up a large part of a menu).

There are much better and effective ways to lose bodyfat than an approach like this. Eating a variety of healthy foods, including a wide variety of veggies and meats other than just fish and chicken breast is a good start.
In addition, avoiding fat is avoiding health. Our fat phobic society has villainized this macronutrient with the false idea that dietary fat = body fat. These healthy fats are wonderful for heart and brain health, and can be used for energy.

On a side note, the amounts of food (even the veggies) suggested in this clients nutrition plan were almost comically low. That is a topic for a future post.

Bottom line, calorie controlled plans are a must for bodyfat loss. What these plans are composed of SHOULD be a variety of nutrients, not just the go-to chicken and brown rice and broccoli. Nowadays, there are tons of recipes available that give representation to many of these forgotten healthy foods and nutrients (and include plenty of healthy fats).

Stay tuned to our Emerge facebook page and our website at emergefitnesstraining.com for recipe and healthy eating ideas, as we post several each week.

In the meantime, here is a non-exhaustive list of healthy foods grouped by macronutrient.

Low glycemic fruits (berries, apples, cherries, oranges, grapefruit, pear, grapes, kiwi, plum, peach, necaterine)
Steel cut oats
Vegetables (a wide variety of colors)
Wild rice
Brown rice
Cheese and wheat free low carb crackers
Lentil Chips
Sweet potato

Avocado (guacamole)
Walnuts (or mixed nuts, no peanuts)
Almond butter
Cashew butter
Peanut butter (all natural)
Olive oil
Coconut oil
Dark chocolate
Almond milk

Sirloin steak
Strip steak
Filet mignon
Chicken breast
Pork tenderloin
Turkey breast
Whole eggs (some egg white, too) hard boiled or any prep
Whey protein

Trust Me, It’s a CORE Exercise

Virtually every exercise performed in a standing position, where the exerciser is controlling the path of motion of a resistance, is a CORE exercise.
Your ability to brace your trunk while producing force through the hips and shoulders is almost always part of training this way.
Make sure you’re consciously BRACING during these movements to train your core to do this AUTOMATICALLY out in the real world.

It’s Your Turn. Emerge.
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

All Horsepower and No Brakes = A Bad Day

SO many exercises focus on ACCELERATION. Thats a focus on moving forward as fast as possible. The problem? As you build your engine, the need for BRAKES becomes paramount. Building a 500 horsepower engine with no ability to slow down and stop will lead to a bad day eventually. Exercises focusing on DECELERATION must be included in a program to ensure an athlete remains safe and performs at his/her potential.
Here, Chris Givens of the St. Louis Rams performs a kettlebell step DOWN. This is challenging his ability to decelerate using his legs and hips, and his ability to stabilize his torso.