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August 18, 2014, 12:00AM PT in Exam Preparation Blog  |  0 Comments

Exercise Science: Connecting the Dots With Your Certification (Part 1)

exercise science

As study coaches, we know how intimidating ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals can be. While it is so important that fitness professionals understand the basics of the science behind exercise, this book is NOT meant to be a secondary textbook. Rather, it’s more of a reference manual to expand on some of the topics that are briefly mentioned in your ACE Personal Training Manual or ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual. (NOTE: This information still applies to those studying for Health Coach and Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist, but as these are advanced certifications it’s expected that you already have an established base of knowledge.) What do I really need to know from ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals was written to help you understand which topics are essential and which ones require only a general understanding. This current five-part blog series will take you through all of the chapters of the manual and highlight the key topics that are important for you as a fitness professional.

This first blog covers the important information from Chapter 1: Anatomy from ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals, which covers the basic structure of the different systems of the body. To be able discern whether or not this information is going to be important, you need to ask, “How does this apply to training a client?” If there is no practical application, it’s probably a topic where a general understanding is sufficient. If there is a direct application to an aspect of training, it’s probably going to be a topic you want to dive into a little deeper.

Planes of Motion and the Segmented Movements Within Each Plane

Planes of motion and the movements within each plane are important to understand because it helps us break down movement mechanics. Most exercises are performed within a single plane (except for functional resistance training, which often incorporates multiplanar movements), and any additional movement can potentially take away from the effectiveness of a given exercise. For example, if your client is doing a squat (sagittal plane), you need to pay attention to the position of the knees. The knees are supposed to stay in line with the hip and ankles, but many novice exercisers or those who have underlying tightness or weakness in the hip and thigh muscles allow the knees to drift in (adduction) or out (abduction). As a fitness professional, you want to understand what actions occur in each plane so that you can effectively observe deviations from that plane to correct them. You’ll see this come into play as you’re performing postural and movement assessments or while observing the form of your class or clients. The goal is to help your clients develop the kinesthetic awareness of what proper postural alignment as we sit and move feels like so eventually they can understand how to make these adjustments on their own.

Muscles and Their Actions

Now, thinking back to that practical application, the way this topic is addressed on the exam does not involve the labeling of muscle charts. It’s going to be about applying your anatomy knowledge to the muscles that need to be stretched or strengthened. If you see that your clients looked sort of hunched over (maybe some slight kyphosis and shoulder protraction), you can generally assume that there will be tightness across the chest and weakness across the back. You can address this by incorporating stretches of the chest and strength training of the back muscles (i.e., trapezius and rhomboids). The body always wants to be in that proper postural alignment, but through extended overuse of certain muscles and underuse of the opposing muscles, we deviate from that balanced position.

Proprioception – Function of the Muscle Spindles and GTO

Proprioception is the understanding and awareness of where the body is in space and in relation to its surroundings. Part of what goes into our muscular control and coordination comes from our musculotendinous receptors (HINT: When there is an “o” in the middle of a word it means “and,” so these are receptors of the muscles and tendons), the Golgi tendon organ (GTO) and the muscle spindles. The muscle spindles are coiled around the muscles and when they sense that muscle being stretched, they cause two things to happen: 1) the muscle being stretched (agonist) contracts to prevent you from going too far too fast in that stretch; and 2) the opposing muscle force (antagonist) is inhibited (prevented from contracting) so that the muscle doesn’t pull us farther into that stretch. After about six to 15 seconds, the GTOs sense that same tension on the muscles and cause the working muscle (agonist) to relax so that you can sink a little deeper into that stretch. The muscles spindles and GTOs go through this cycle to help you stretch safely and effectively; it’s also the reason why, when holding a stretch, you’re usually able to go a little deeper into the stretch than where you started. For more detailed information see here: Autogenic vs. Reciprocal Inhibition GTO’s

Basics of the Cardiovascular System

The cardiovascular, or circulatory, system is a closed-circuit system composed of the heart blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules and veins) and the blood. The blood travels through the body in two distinct circuits: the pulmonary and system circuit. The pulmonary circuit takes blood returned to the heart from the body and pumps it to the lungs to be oxygenated by the lungs. It then returns it to the heart where it embarks on the systemic circuit to deliver that freshly oxygenated blood to the whole body. The heart serves as a pump to drive this blood flow, and each beat has two phases: systole and diastole. Systole is the contraction portion that actually ejects blood out of the heart and drives it into either the pulmonary arteries or the aorta to continue through the rest of its circuit journey. The diastolic phase is the relaxation portion where the heart relaxes so that each chamber can refill with new blood. With exercise, the heart can become more efficient with each beat, meaning it won’t need to beat as many times at rest.

Basics of the Respiratory System

The respiratory (to respire means to breathe) system replaces oxygen into the blood and removes carbon dioxide (CO2) and is made up of the nose, nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx, traches, bronchi and lungs. The diaphragm contracts during inspiration (inhalation) and draws air into the lungs, and relaxes during expiration (exhalation), allowing air to be released from the lungs. During rest, the body uses about 5 to 6 liters/minute of air, but during exercise it can use up to 20 to 30 liters/minute of air to meet the increased demands for oxygen and ridding the body of excess CO2. With exercise, the body’s ability to extract and utilize oxygen from inspired air is enhanced.

Basics of the Digestive System

The digestive system is responsible for extracting nutrients from the foods and beverages that we consume and excreting any leftover waste. It involves six processes: ingestion in the mouth (consuming food/beverages); movement of food along the digestive tract using involuntary smooth muscle contractions called peristalsis; mechanical preparation of food for digestion (including chewing and churning of the food in the stomach to break it down into smaller pieces for easier digestion); chemical digestion (chemical breakdown in the stomach); absorption of the digested foods into the body for use; and elimination of the indigestible substances and waste leftover. Most of the absorption occurs in the small intestine, but final digestion of water and salt occurs in the large intestine, leaving semi-solid waste for excretion.

Basics of the Skeletal System

The skeletal system is made of bones and bone is an active, living tissue that provides support, movement, protection, storage and formation of blood cells. There are four types of bones: long, short, flat and irregular. Bones have a dense outer layer called cortical bone, which makes up about 75 percent of the skeleton, and a sponge-like inner portion called trabecular bone, which makes up about 25 percent of the skeleton. There are two parts of the skeleton: the axial skeleton, which provides support and protection for the central nervous system (CNS) and includes the skull, vertebral column, sternum and ribs; and the appendicular skeleton, which includes the bones of the upper and lower limbs and the pectoral and pelvic girdles, all of which serve as a means to provide support and movement for the body. When two bones come together (articulate) they form a joint; some joints allow a lot of movement, while others allow very little (if any).

Basics of the Nervous System

The nervous system is comprised of the central nervous system (CNS), consisting of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which contains all other nerves. There is both sensory input and output that allow us to make the appropriate reactions and responses to the stimuli we receive. It’s also responsible for proprioception (see above).

Basics of the Muscular System

The muscular system is responsible for movement, and there are three types of muscles: cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is what acts on the skeleton and causes movement of the body in space. There are two types of muscle fibers: Type I (slow-twitch muscle fiber) and Type II (fast-twitch muscle). Type I muscle fibers rely on aerobic energy production and Type II muscle fibers rely on anaerobic energy production. For more information on the energy production for these muscle types see here. (This topic will also be covered in part two of this blog series.)

Basics of the Endocrine System

The endocrine system is made up of glands throughout the body and is responsible for regulating body processes through hormones. How hormones affect the body during exercise are addressed in greater detail in Chapter 2.

By Jessie Newell


Jessie Newell is a Study Assistance Representative at ACE. Jessie earned her B.S. in Kinesiology: Fitness Specialist from San Diego State University and ACE Personal Training Certification in 2012. She also earned a Basic Hatha Yoga and Let It Go Yoga Certification through Let It Go Yoga in Santa Barbara, CA. She loves to learn and enjoys being continuously challenged by the questions of those she works with. The choice to pursue health and fitness stems from her two passions: helping people and science! Since she was 19 she worked in a Wellness Center setting and she saw the positive impact that an active lifestyle has on one’s well-being in action, and because of these, aspires to help others find their happiest and healthiest self through her knowledge in the wellness field.

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