Exercise Muscle Testing

By Ken Kinakin, DC, CSCS


John, who has a membership in a gym in Toronto, makes an appointment with me to treat his right shoulder injury he sustained while bench pressing two weeks ago. After my initial history and orthopedic muscle testing and exam, my differential diagnosis was an A/C joint sprain with subscapularis myofasciitis. After eight treatments of chiropractic adjustments, Active Release Technique, Percussion Therapy, Laser and Rehab Exercises, the shoulder pain was gone. That was until he started bench pressing again. Then the pain came back worse then before.

Another failed treatment? Do I tell him to stop bench pressing from now on, knowing that the problem is not the bench press, because his left shoulder is fine? Or is it my inability to find his dysfunction and treat it appropriately?

The Strength and Weakness of Muscle Testing

After 20 years of attending and presenting muscle testing seminars, I have come to some insightful realizations. The strength of muscle testing is that you can determine if the muscle is strong or weak and whether the weakness is due to a muscle, joint or nerve dysfunction. The weakness of muscle testing is the muscle if often tested in abnormal positions and ranges of motion in order to become as specific as possible. An example is testing the pectoralis clavicular muscle. The set up is the arm is extended straight in front of you with it being fully internally rotated so the thumb is facing downwards towards the floor with the arm being pushed out laterally by the tester. This setup does isolate the pec clavicular, but that motion is never performed in everyday life.

The Evolution of Exercise Muscle Testing

The main reason I got into chiropractic was to help people with weight training injuries. I even created an organization called the Society of Weight Training Injury Specialists (SWIS) and put on large symposiums with some of the top doctors, therapists, bodybuilders and powerlifters in the world. My quest was to get a better understanding on how to treat and prevent weight training injuries from the brightest minds in the world. (go to swis.ca for a list of who presented) Of all the diagnostic procedures that I saw, muscle testing was the most informative and useful. But it was not as accurate as what I needed, especially with some of the top pro bodybuilders and powerlifters that I treat. Then an epiphany occurred after attending one of Dr. David Leaf’s muscle testing seminars when he stated that you want to test a muscle in the position and range of motion that the patient uses it in. That caused me to shift my focus from testing the muscle being used in a weight training exercise to testing the weight training exercises plane and range of motion. Now my muscle testing has become more accurate and representative of the actual mechanism of injury and dysfunctions. I can also test the stabilizing and synergistic muscles used in the specific weight training plane and range of motion. The dysfunctional motion patterns now reveal themselves because I am testing it instead of the muscle.

How to Perform Exercise Muscle Testing

Exercise muscle testing is very similar to Active Release Technique where ” it’s simple, but it’s not easy”. To become proficient and accurate, you need to master knowing the weight training plane and range of motion, amount of strength and direction of the force to be used by the tester. With exercise muscle testing, you try to replicate the weight training range of motion as close as possible to determine if there is any weaknesses caused by a muscle, joint or nerve dysfunction. Also known as a subluxation complex. An example is shown below with the Barbell Bench Press which is a popular weight training exercise that may cause shoulder pain with your patients.

Figure One – Barbell Bench Press

Barbell Bench Press Exercise Technique

Lie on a flat bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Keep the feet flat on the floor and your hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar off the rack and slowly lower it to the highest point on chest. Finish by exhaling, while driving the bar to a fully extended position.

Barbell Bench Press Exercise Muscle Test

Figure 2 – Start Position

Client Start Position (Figure 2)

  • Arm Straight In Front of the Body -30° Lateral off the Midline (similar to the start position of the bench press shown above in figure 1)
  • Palm facing downward with the thumb facing in

Tester Start Position (Figure 2)

  • On the opposite arm side
  • Body facing tested arm
  • Forearm parallel to the floor
  • Forearm perpendicular to arm
  • Wrist in between thumb and index finger
  • Support shoulder with other hand

Client Direction of Force

Adduct (Pull In) Arm Straight Medial to the Midline 

Tester Direction of Force

Abduct (Push Out) Arm Straight Lateral from the Midline

Strong Test – End Position (Figure 2)

Arm Remains in Start Position

Weak Test – End Position (Figure 3)

Arm 90° off Midline

Figure 3 – End Position

When testing the exercise plane and range of motion after your treatment, you can now determine whether they are ready to start the exercise again or if more treatment and rehabilitation is needed.


  Dr. Ken Kinakin is a chiropractor, and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He has also competed in bodybuilding and powerlifting for over 30 years and regularly lectures across Canada and United States and Europe to doctors and personal trainers on the areas of weight-training, rehabilitation and nutrition. Dr. Kinakin is the author of “Optimal Muscle Training” and is the founder of the Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists – SWIS that educates and certifies doctors, therapists and personal trainers in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of weight training injuries, www.swis.ca  


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