Athletic & Fitness Qualities – Part 2

In the first portion of this series, I covered the basics on how to become more awesome and athletic simultaneously.

Athletic & Fitness Qualities – Part 1

So how can we apply the same mentality of following principles instead of methods to the average gym-goer, whether you were a previous athlete or not?

“Whatever the majority of people were doing, I found myself doing the opposite.”

Ray Lewis

Let’s use this mentality and make sure to stay away from those pink dumbbells and funky looking exercises in those group exercise classes…

With that, we can continue our trend of looking at the principles, rather than the methods, for moving better and lifting heavier weights.

The Principles

We’ve determined that our goal is to move more athletically. Yet at times we aren’t necessarily aiming to increase our maximal strength qualities, but rather our power and endurance qualities from an energy systems point of view. This is because we want to be able to reproduce our movements with speed and force, just like an athlete on the field would want to during a game. Look no further than Ray Rice breaking tackles and sprinting for yards at a time.

Here are a few things to consider if we want to move like Ray Ray:

  • Proper Adaptation and Overreaching
  • Initial Training Level
  • Movement Quality

Adapting and Overreaching

Specific Adaptations to an Imposed Demand, or SAID, is defined as:

“…the underlying principle is that the type of demand placed on the body dictates the type of adaptation that will occur.” (1)

Following this principle alone can show us that for whatever “stress” (define that as however you want, ranging from lack of sleep due to school finals, or 400lbs on your back during a squat), we will at first experience the immediate ramifications of this stressor. The second portion is where our body attempts to recover or return to homeostasis. This may be in the form of your body forcing you to sleep extra hours (to recover) or even the craving of certain foods until we are satiated. The third stage we experience is the continual onset of this same stressor – think about working all week and then using your “weekend” to recover in terms of sleep (and booze, right?). If we don’t monitor this third stage, we may elicit some unwanted results in regards to our overall health… like slamming down those extra shots in the beginning of the night, and paying for it dearly the next day with your epic hangover. Ouch.

In regards to lifting a weight that is heavier than our previous attempt, I can oversimplify it and simply say – throw more weight on the bar! However, once we are at a higher training level of strength, such an idea may not be as practical. While there are many other individual differences that may factor into a specific program for you and everyone else lifting out there, ranging from particular mechanical lever differences, to how you adapt to a given exercise, this principle of progressively adding weight over a period of time is a mainstay.

It is foolish however, to think that one can simply add 10lbs to the bar every time they bench: If someone were to start benching weekly with just the bar on January 1 of the new year, by the end of the year they will theoretically be benching 565! Talk about moving weight.

Application of Programming Principles

  • Move with a purpose [in the warm-up].
  • Move explosively – whether it is the first week in your program or the last week of your program. Pause reps, dead stops, whatever. Think explosive explosive explosive.
  • Aim to increase the weight on the bar almost every time.
  • Listen to your body – surprise advice here.
  • Allow room for progression within your specific program.

Training Level

When talking about “gains” or increases on bar weight, a beginner might skyrocket from 135lbs to 225lbs on the bench press within one year. And on the other end, “gains” for an advanced lifter may be from 300lbs to 325lbs in that same time frame. An advanced lifter won’t see a 90lb increase in their bench in the same amount of time that a beginner will be able to increase his lifts. The reasons why a beginner will see more gains could be attributed to increased bodyweight, increased muscle cross section area (hypertrophy/strength), technique and form fixes, and most importantly adaptations from a neural point of view.

Application of Different Training Levels

Beginner

  • Use more straight weight across.
    • For example, if we are utilizing a 5×5 approach, aim for a straight weight across those 5 sets.
    • This is opposed to stopping at one top end set at the 5th set.
  • Stick with less variety in main compound lifts.
    • Go until you plateau, and readjust your numbers accordingly.
  • Keep in mind: almost anything you do will elicit an increase in muscle hypertrophy and strength. I just so happen to espouse the big, compound lifts as they have less of a ceiling in terms of effectiveness. This is opposed to using a more isolative approach seen in bodybuilding routines – in my opinion if the average Joe was lifting as heavy as these bodybuilders really do on the compound lifts, then he would see more gains across the board.

Intermediate

  • Vary programs volume (sets times reps, at a cost of lesser weight) and intensity or load (weight used overall, at a cost of lower sets x reps).
  • At this point, one should begin to understand what works for said lifter – do you respond better to higher volume? or higher intensity?
  • Lifters should begin to work up to one solid top set – that is, the athlete or client will progressively add weight to the bar or dumbbells in order to work up to one solid, intense set.
    • So if I have an athlete with moderate strength doing a straight bar bench press, I would progress them like so:
    • 95×5
    • 135×5
    • 165×5
    • 190×5
    • 215×5

Advanced

  • Begin to utilize more varied lifts.
    • Louie Simmons uses special lifts and accessories, ranging from chains and bands, to different bars, boards, and boxes in order to get past certain sticking points within a specific lift.
    • Cambered bar squats, sumo and conventional deadlifts, and specialty bar bench presses to avoid overtraining and chronic injuries.
  • Avoid a true one rep max in the gym.
    • In reality, the only time anyone should attempt a one rep max is on the platform if you are powerlifting, as it is often a contest that you are prepping for weeks and weeks ahead of time.
    • If you are going to attempt a one rep max, do it two or three times a year – anymore and you are putting yourself at risk for injury in the long run!
    • Failed reps do more than just make you look bad, they tax your nervous system to such an extent that they can reduce your ability to function to lift weights effectively day in and out.
  • One method I’ve used in the past is using percentages of a training max to help reduce the amount of ego I use when lifting. This helps keep me honest with my numbers, while also allowing me to see small increments of success over and over, which eventually will lead to a larger, bigger increase in my 1 rep max.
    • For example, if my deadlift is 405, I’d utilize 65%, 70%, and 75% for the first phase, 70%, 75%, and 80%, for the next, so on and so forth – while simultaneously varying the volume and and intensity of the assistance lifts.

Movement Quality

Movement quality is another factor as well in increasing the weights moved. Whether it is structural adaptations to the barbell or dumbbells used, or neural patterns that allow adaptations to move more weight, the quality of said movement is a large factor in how much weight we can move. From a mechanical point of view, if our technique is off for a bench press, squat, or deadlift, or even for a bodyweight movement such as a pistol squat or handstand push-up, a couple of things may happen: we may be more prone to injury, we will struggle to add weight, both on ourselves and on the bar, and we just won’t progress as fast as someone who is taking time to consider not only their respective biomechanical levers, but also the respective technique for the given exercise itself.

Handstand Push-Up

If we can move well, then there may be little to no restrictions we can place on our movement patterns. In reality, there are certain movement qualifications that we must pass in order to properly straight bar deadlift, back squat, straight bar bench press, or even do the advanced gymnastics movements that are gaining much popularity as of recent. There are specialty bars out there, ranging from The Renegade Bar, to the Giant Cambered Bar, and they are all equally awesome. And on top of that, we always have the option of using dumbbells for unilateral movements such as single arm dumbbell bench presses, or single leg single arm dumbbell RDLs.

Single Leg RDL

If you have an injury, I’d fully recommend finding a movement specialist that is awesome at identifying these functional movements (whether that is an FMS Certified individual, or a trainer who has a likewise mindset). Injuries, especially previous broken body parts, or soft tissue restrictions, can affect the way our body moves and how we absorb forces, of course physically, but psychologically as well. That is the kind of funkiness that we want to avoid!

Application – How can we move better?

Corrective exercise [in regards to dysfunctional movement patterns] has been making its rounds for the past few years, ranging from excessive overuse to others not even acknowledging its presence. It has both good and bad portions, and in my opinion the good out-weight the bad. If one movement is linked to helping you move better or more weight… then why not give it a go? On the other hand, some fitness professionals get caught up with the fanciness of correctives and completely ignore the fact that our clients and athletes still need a training effect – I myself am guilty of this as well.

What can we do if we are hesitant to try corrective exercises, either on our selves or on our clients? Use one or two correctives at a time – don’t necessarily overhaul your entire repertoire of exercises. See how they work over a period of time, and then make a decision for yourself. I’d rather see a client move extremely well with zero external loading, than that same client with a loaded barbell on their back and moving awfully.

Although not inherently “bad”, some negative portions about overusing corrective exercises is that we as fitness professionals should never substitute our scope of practice for an actual diagnosis from a physician, physical therapist, etc. Ideally, there would be a network of sports and medical professionals that we can refer out to in order to get the client or athlete the proper care that they need in order to return to work or to the field faster.

Stay tuned for the next portion of this series where we discuss how awesome Chipotle is.

REFERENCES

  • 1 – “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning – 3rd Edition.” Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 3rd Edition, Thomas R. Baechle (9780736058032). N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
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