Everything we know about strength training might be wrong (Part 4/4)

In this series we have discussed how many of the top coaches in the world believe that proper strength training technique is the most important variable within a training program.  

Next we learned from a study that active collage men actually outperformed NCAA Div 1 Football players in an upper body strength, balance and control test.  This is surprising considering that the football players take part in systematic yearly strength training whereas the active collage group does not.

Finally we learned that load distribution was a very important training consideration to an athletes health and wellness. And while many athletes have built a stronger and more powerful body from weight training, most of that was built on a foundation of dysfunction.

Dysfunction in all of its forms is the destroyer of athletes.

So the question becomes how do we get all the speed, power and strength benefits from strength training without the dysfunction that often goes along with it?

Maybe the first place we should start is what is optimal function?

Optimal function is the absence of chronic pain conditions and common sports injuries. It is the highest level of performance based on ideal primary movement patterns. 

In terms of movement patterns....there are 7 primal movement patterns.  We call them the Big 7.

The Big 7 are in no particular order;

Hinge

Lunge/Step up

Squat

Horizontal Push

Horizontal Pull

Vertical Push

Vertical Pull

The interesting thing about the Big 7 is that if you have a dysfunction among any of them you have a higher change of injury.

I remember watching a group of CFL players training in Toronto.  From a distance they actually didn't look that big. But when you got close you realized that the guy that looked about 200lbs was actually 6'5" and probably weighed 240lbs...and he was a receiver!

I remember watching them swing kettlebells during a section of the workout.  Some of players had perfect and crisp technique, but there were a few that could not hinge properly and the form was wrong. Actually it wasn't that the form was not correct....it was the fact that their hinge mechanics were faulty....and therefore they couldn't do the swing properly. Interestingly enough those athletes that had trouble with the swing were also riddled with injuries. They were now fighting to stay healthy enough to keep playing.

That was a lesson for me...Optimal function must be based on Optimal Body Mechanics.

Optimal Body Mechanics are;

  • Biomechanically sound

  • Neuromuscularly efficient

  • Structurally ideal

Centration

From a physiological and biomechanical perspective Centration describes the position in which optimal stress and tension are spread across the entire structure 

rather than focused excessively on one particular area of a given structure. For example. When one performs the squat patterns under load the forces that the barbell creates on your body needs to be dissipated across the body rather then concentrated on a single structure.

Why?

Because we have learned that external loading of the body will cause enormous forces that need to be dealt with internally.  Lets use the example of a guy picking up a box.

The Box weighs 30kg. The guy picks it up one time.  Depending on the angle of the back we have the spine dealing with more than 5 x the load of the box or 150kg.  

Of course people are not just bones.  We have muscles, ligaments and tendons to help brace ourselves and dissipate that 150kg. So a Centrated structure or joint will allow for optimal transference of load and tension across the involved joints and muscles therefore placing the least amount of tension on the ligaments, joint surfaces, cartilage, joint capsules and other connective tissue.

Centration keeps you from overloading those connective tissues.  

Centration and Optimal body mechanics work together to keep all those forces spread across muscles and connective tissues.

Some of those CFL football players had problems with Centration and Optimal Body Mechanics and as a result were constantly battling injuries.  I can imagine that those injuries will very likely end their career at some point. So how do you know your Centrated when your lifting weights? How do you know if you have Optimal Body Mechanics?  

That's the easiest answer of all.

If you have been training for several years do you get injured often?

Or are you always sore?

If the answer is yes then you need to do the following.

1. Your body is structurally designed to produce the most force and be the most stable at around 90 degree joint angles. Train your movements with 90 degree joint angles.  Don't train to your maximal ROM, train to your IDEAL ROM.  Loading yourself up and hitting maximum Ranges Of Motion is recipe for disaster.  Your muscles will not be taking the load in those circumstances...it will be your connective tissue.

2. Make sure you are Centrated when training.  Does your knee buckle in when squatting?  If so this needs to be addressed.  Does your back hurt after squatting? It means your either mechanically performing the movement wrong or ( just as often) your not bracing yourself.  

When training with weights you must distribute the load amongst all the joints in the movement.  When squatting you should have both hip and knee bend and distribute the load equally...not focusing on excessive hamstring or quadricep activation. Not following that rule will ensure injury.  For stubborn body parts accessory lower load exercises fit the bill here.

3. In order to make sure you are achieving 90 degree joint angles and that you are Centrated you need to train with tempo.  Tempo means the speed at which you lift weights.  The eccentric or lowering phase should be 2-5 seconds.  The isometric or pause phase should be 2-7 seconds.  The concentric or overcoming phase should be done as explosively as possible.  Tempo work allows you to figure out where your joints are in space (kinesthetic awareness) and make small adjustments based on muscle spindle feedback.

Following the above training rules has shown to produce superior physical results over time.  If you are looking to function at an Optimal Level with high levels of strength and low chances of injury and ill health you should follow them. 

And so....I finally did learn what Matt Jordan was trying to teach me all those years ago.  Why technique was the most important training parameter of them all.  And I also finally came to learn how to get all the speed, power and strength benefits from strength training without the dysfunction that often goes along with it.

Dedicated to your athletes success
Greg and Charmayne

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