Dec 3, 2007

Chris Ecklund Featured in Muscle & Fitness Magazine

Stand Up Sit Down
By Bill Geiger, MA, CSCS
Featured in Muscle & Fitness Magazine
October 2007

If you happened to stumble into a gym in some odd alternate universe--hey, you never know, it could happen--you might find people doing their barbell curls while seated, leg extensions while standing or even seated cable crossovers.

While such notions may seem a little crazy at first glance, those alternate-reality inhabitants could actually be on to something big--interchanging seated and standing versions of the same exercise has particular benefits that can spur physiological muscle-building reactions in your body. If your gains of late have all but disappeared into a black hole, what exactly do you have to lose by turning your workouts upside down?

New Approach to Old Favorites
While performing a move such as a barbell curl from a standing position may seem essential, you're probably already aware of a number of ways to do that same exercise somewhat differently, such as with an EZ-bar, dumbbells or a cable. Doing the movement from a seated position is just one more way to vary how you perform a particular exercise and its muscle recruitment pattern.

"Adding variety by making simple changes in how you do a move such as a standing barbell curl is one easy way to ensure that your body doesn't become too accustomed to a routine," says Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS, a strength and performance coach for youth through elite-level athletes in Santa Barbara, California, and founder of Prevail Conditioning ( "We tend to be creatures of habit, falling into a rut in terms of what becomes comfortable at the gym. When you perform the same exercise the same way again and again, over time there's a point of diminishing returns, even if you're training hard.

"To fully work a muscle and keep it responding, you need to continuously strive to stimulate it in new ways--from new angles and with various approaches," Ecklund continues. "While doing a move standing that you would normally do seated isn't a largely different movement, it isn't identical and there's enough variation--you can cheat by using more body english, allowing you to use a heavier weight, for example--to force you to work differently, and those changes help promote muscle growth."

Take a Stand
Each body position offers pros and cons that relate to stabilization, strength and risk of injury, Ecklund says. "While it's easier to cheat and you can generally use a little more weight on most exercises when standing, you end up with less isolation of the target muscle. That can be beneficial when a bit of momentum can help you overcome a sticking point, but it can also increases your risk of injury when bad form collides with using too much resistance."

Ecklund recommends using good body pasture on all standing exercises: chest out, shoulders retracted with a slight arch in the low back, abs pulled in tight, knees unlocked and a hip- to shoulder-width foot position. "It's critical to maintain spinal alignment; you can cheat to some extent with knee and hip extension, but once you start to lose the natural curve in your back, you significantly increase your risk of injury," he notes.

Recreation and serious athletes should exercise from a standing position because it more closely resembles what they'll do on a playing field, Ecklund argues. "Athletes who play on their feet should train on their feet as much as possible. Remember, subtle changes affect the body."

On Your Seat
Performing a move seated, as you'd expect, has just the opposite effect. Although you can still use a bit of body english when sitting down, you simply can't use as much because your legs and hips are essentially taken out of the move. If you're accustomed to curling 45-pound dumbbells while standing, for instance, you may have to drop down to 40s to reach the same target rep when you butt's on the bench.

"It may seem contrary that you want to use less weight, but in fact you'll be better able to hit the target muscle because all the synergists [assisting muscles] will be de-emphasized," Ecklund explains.

He laments that some individuals lose their posture and slouch when seated--sitting erect is still crucial because your spine now carries almost the entire brunt of the workload. "You still need to keep your chest out and your shoulders back, and your abs tight with a slight arch in your back--that doesn't change."

We've provided 25 exercises that are commonly done either seated or standing, and given a tip for performing each in the opposite fashion (see "Stand Up or Sit Down," page 90 [not included in this blog]). Sample a single movement from any of the seven major muscle groups listed and insert it into your workout for variety, or completely overhaul your training by choosing 3-5 flip-flopped moves and do them as a routine.

Give yourself time to become accustomed to doing an exercise from a different position, and progressively increase your training weight over time. Try various benches--some with back, some with footrests--and foot positions (feet together, wide or even straddling a bench for stability) until you find the combinations that both feel right and allow the weights to move unobstructed through the range of motion. Ultimately, one position isn't inherently better than the other, so learning how to perform a move from both the seated and standing positions can increase the number of ways you can train--and thus help you keep growing, no matter what universe you currently find yourself in. M&F

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