Thoughts on sub-maximal loading and core movement prep.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln.

This quote from Abraham Lincoln could be attributed to many forms of practice or task orientated procedure but it fits very well for the practice of getting stronger. Strength can be defined as the ability to carry out work against a resistance, or from a more gym based and exercise setting which is the premise of this post it can be defined as “the maximum force a muscle can exert in one voluntary contraction” Beachle & Earle, Essentials of Strength training and Conditioning 3rd edition.

Exerting the maximum amount of force one can is of little use if its executed at the wrong moment of a sporting skill or task or from the incorrect body position. Chances are if that individual is in an incorrect position they wouldn’t be able to exert maximum force anyway. Without getting caught up in the obsession of a single rep, the expression of force is also a skill. It is the application of load that leads to the adaptation. We see the end product of this skill as explosive athletic movements such as a 100m sprinter, an offensive tackle in rugby or Javelin thrower or the graceful control demonstrated in gymnastics and dance. First, individuals must have a sound foundation to work from. A grounding in some of the basic movement patterns from which sporting actions derive, is going to stand everyone in good stead whether you compete in sport, are a weekend warrior, recreational gym goer or you are in the early stages of a resistance programme. Movement foundations such as the squat pattern (not necessarily barbell squats) but we should be able to squat past parallel, deadlift pattern, that is to hip hinge, to push, both overhead and horizontally and to pull. How does one achieve full competence in these core movement patterns?

Practice the movements. Assistance exercises can support the musculature required to help the potential of strength, but you can’t get away from doing the exercises. Want to get better at squatting – squat more!… better at pull ups – do more pull ups. Use the warm up in your sessions to spend time in end ranges. Can you sit in the bottom of a squat? how long for? 2 minutes, 5 minutes maybe 10 minutes. Are you able to adjust and make small tweaks to your position? Use a mirror for some great biofeedback. The dead lift. Step to the bar – adopt your start position for the pull and lift 2 inches off the floor, use a light weight but hold here. This may be less but up to a minute. Again, use a mirror – adjust and tweak until you are set in a rock-solid position. Flat lower back – head in neutral position.

High reps, grease the groove. Get use to higher than normal rep ranges to master each rep. Whilst the expectation is not that is should be perfect 100% of the time, it’s not going to be but every rep should feel the same. This will also have huge benefits to conditioning and lean body mass

Start too light! Yes, too light. Too light in the sense that is does no good to miss or fail reps. For athletes it is critical to use sub-maximal loads, especially during their competition phase of a season. This will ensure the strength programme does not interfere with the athlete’s ability to devote required physiological attributes to their sporting practice which must never be forgotten, is the most important thing. There are field sport athletes who can’t bench or squat and are still successful yet not many who have been successful through missing practice due to injury or fatigue. Sprint coach Charlie Francis likened the central nervous system (CNS) to a cup and how the cups capacity is finite. An athlete needs to fill up their cup with the most important parts – sports practice. High intensity activities like lifting sprinting and jumping fill the up the cup in a big way.

Removing from a sporting context, the finite cup analogy is how we all receive stressors in our daily lives. If individuals throw into the mix attempting exercises they have not yet mastered the basics off, this will compromise their muscular-skeletal function, which in turn will affect biomechanics which will go some way to an injury around the corner. Then the impact of that on work life, home life and effect on relationships. That may sound a bit far-fetched for re-addressing a weights programme however, it comes back to what you throw at your body. We can all tolerate and accomplish far more physically and mentally than we think. First, we must earn the right to do so.