3 Fundamentals for Strength and Conditioning Training
I graduated from a Bachelor of Sports and Exercise Science, with Honours, in 2005. Back then, strength and conditioning training was done largely in the gym. Musculoskeletal rehabilitation focused on the injury site and on the performance of individual muscles. Since then, the world of sports and fitness training has changed dramatically! And it continues to change. It is very exciting. Although, even as a practitioner in this industry, understanding the current trends in sports and fitness is particularly perplexing. I often ask myself are the latest exercise trends overcomplicating things? Are we (exercise practitioners) putting people at greater risk of injury and worse performance? Are we forgetting simple fundamentals and at what cost?
Over the last few years, the trend in exercise training has become more dynamic and movement based. Whilst I think this is great because movement is key to good health, the flip side is that training modalities may be becoming unnecessarily complicated. Exercise strategies these days can be very ‘cue heavy’ and clients are expected to rely on a lot of verbal information. It is sadly comical to see individual bodies in a class trying to keep up with strange movements that exceed their functional capacity. The movements themselves may mimic animals, for example, or be based on martial arts and gymnastics, but I question the transferability of this into every day movement and function. Even the word ‘functional’ has been applied to so many different training modalities that it has lost its meaning. When I worked in Occupational Therapy, ‘functional’ meant being able to perform a function, such as washing your hair, lifting at work, pushing trolleys or driving. Functional training and conditioning then involved exercise prescription that helped a person perform these specific actions. How far are we moving from evidence-based practice? How far are we moving from sports-specific training and fundamentals such as appropriate muscle recruitment and isometrics? Is there a risk that in doing so, we are not enabling optimal joint stability? My mind boggles.
A) reduce risk of injury
B) best prepare your body for the exercise
C) enhance your ability to activate the muscles you need
D) help your body recover from the session and set you up for the next one
In the good ol’ days, these are what a ‘warm-up’ and ‘cool-down’ were used for. But, we can modify this and look at the following 3 simple strategies to enhance your exercise performance:
1. Set your body
2. Work within your functional limits
3. Re-set your body
Set Your Body
The idea of setting your body is to get it into a state of optimal postural alignment. So, think about which joints should be moving and which joints should be stable. How mobile are you through the middle back? How stable are you through your lumbar spine and pelvis? How are your shoulder blades moving around your rib cage? How stuck is your neck? Are you dropping through the arches of your feet? Good alignment helps your body enter a state of stability, from which you can safely add more complicated movement or load. It is also paramount to performing GOOD movement. I am a bit of a stickler for this. What is the point of training your ‘glutes’ (for example) if your pelvic alignment won’t allow the glutes to recruit well?
Be Goal Directed and keep within your functional limits
The next thing to think about is how much your body can handle. I get that overload leads to adaptation, but you need to ask yourself, what adaptation are you trying to achieve? Adaptation into faulty movement patterns? This is what may happen if you step out of your individual functional limits; that is, how well your body can stabilise as you perform a movement under load. A good trainer should be able to spot when you are at your functional limits. However, a lot of trainers don’t, especially in middle size to large size exercise groups. So, it’s great to understand what your personal functional limits are. As an example, ask yourself where you ‘feel’ your squats. Squats are used as a gluteal muscle exercise, so if you feel it in your quadriceps, knees, lower back, front of your hip or even your neck, chances are you are working out of your functional limit and the strain is being taken in places it shouldn’t be. Likewise, with push-ups, are they hurting your neck? Do you get headaches after an upper body workout? Some cues you may like to use to check in with yourself include:
– Do my knees turn inwards when I am squatting or lunging?
– Do I lift my waist on one side when I am squatting or lunging or doing calf raises?
– Are my shoulders up around my ears?
– Is my chest open or closed?
– Is the bottom of my rib cage sticking out when I am performing exercises or in standing?
– Does my chin stick out?
– Can I maintain a neutral neck and lumbar spine during this movement?
– Are my feet rolling inwards when I add load?
You can 100% stay goal focused but still work within your functional limits, just reduce the load until you can return to good stability and posture throughout a movement. As a side note, trying to sustain your functional limit will add to the intensity of your workout, because suddenly you cannot escape into faulty movement patterns. Just ask our clients, it burns!
Re-set your body
Training in a particular sport or modality, can wind your body up into a specific pattern. So, it’s great to check in at the end of training and re-set your posture like you did at the start of your work out. I call this ‘decompression’ as it allows your joints to rest in a re-aligned position. This ensures that your body can recover well and be ready for the next session. Importantly, you may also reduce your risk of overuse injuries if you use decompression strategies after training.
So, there you have it! 3 simple strategies to keep in your training toolbox, regardless of the modality: set your body, stay within your functional limits, re-set your body. I always use these 3 stages with my clients, regardless if I am training them for big-wave surfing or running a stability class. Use these 3 stages in your training and notice the difference!
Hope this information has been useful. Keep moving and all the best.
Enitor works with clients from all over the world. We can help you develop training tools and strategies that work with your specific postural type and goals. So, if you would like more support with this, just get in touch with us here. Simple. Enjoy!