16 Oct You’re Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link: Why Not Training All Aspects of Strength is Keeping You Weak
You’ve probably heard the recycled proverb that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s usually used when describing the importance of teamwork in business or some other less formal organization.
But you’ve probably also heard that the human body is like this and that our training should take this into account. Many hear this, repeat it, but never give it much thought as to what it means. Sure, some lifters understand their progress may be halted by certain muscle groups and so go to work making these areas bigger, stronger, more resilient,
The smart powerlifter that falls forward in a squat knows that his trunk (abs, lower-back, whatever) isn’t strong enough and goes to work making it stronger.
But the weak links that keep you from being as strong as you could are more than just underdeveloped muscle groups. Let’s take it back a second…
The amount of force the body can create during a given movement is dependent on the strength available in all of the postures involved in the movement. This has traditionally been called the force-posture relationship.
You’ve probably heard about this before, but maybe it’s never been explained to you in an easily digestible way. I’ll break down the Chinese I just wrote in the last paragraph.
According to this concept, the heaviest weight an athlete can lift in a given movement (think squat, press, etc.) is dependent on the strength at the weakest point of the range of motion. You’ve probably heard this point described as a sticking point. The sticking point is the weakest point of your existing range of motion in that movement due to your specific levers. So the point that you get stuck or slow down at on the way up from the squat is your weakest point or range of motion due to your anthropometry. Arm, femur, and torso length all play a part in what part of the lift the lifter will struggle with.
Obvious stuff I know, but what’s not as obvious to some is that a plan for training strength should involve the systematic process to minimize weak points throughout the entire range of motion. This is what training for strength should be understood as.
Strength and conditioning coaches and exercise physiologists were made aware of this along time ago though and devised plans to overcome the weakest point of the human strength curve.
There’s no shortage of talk about developing week or muted muscle groups to contribute to overall force production but there’s not enough understanding about everything involved in applying force throughout a range of motion.
My hope is that after you read this you have a more clear idea of the variables involved in producing force quickly and the methods involved in developing these. Here are three methods, briefly described, to overcome anatomical weak points in applying force.
Method #1: Starting or Halting a Movement Just Before a Sticking Point
As I already mentioned, the so-called sticking point is where you’re mechanics limit you and overcoming gravity to move the load is hardest. Tension is highest at this point and so speed often slows. The amount of weight you can lift in any movement is always going to be limited by the amount of force you can produce at this point.
Training to develop greater force production at this point is actually pretty simple. Just start the lift a little before the sticking point. For example, if you stall out half-way up out of the hole in your squat, set the safety pins a little before this point, place the bar on them and start your squats from this point.
This method is designed to teach you to create greater levels of force where you may be at a mechanical disadvantage. Create the ability to sustain high levels of force in this sticking point and you get stronger in the movement. Plain and simple.
Method #2: Do Some Partial Reps
Partial reps are scoffed at among powerlifters and other serious strength athletes but the use of them within a program that addresses all points of concern is a legitimate method in building strength. But, the partial reps we’re talking about here aren’t to feed a bruised ego. We’re not trying to squat high or lower the bar halfway down on the bench press so we can brag to our friends that we can lift two or three stacks of high society…That’s right, I just brought back that obscure saying. I’m talking about plates on the bar if you didn’t catch that.
Doing partial reps like this only trains you to be strong in the range of motion you’re already strong in. But as we know, we’re only as strong as we are in our weakest angle of a movement and so we need to focus on the weakest point in our squat, deadlift, bench-press.
A popular method in focusing on this was popularized by Barry Ross, a world-class sprint coach who would have his athletes deadlift from the floor just to their knees and then bring it back down. For most people, this is the weakest range of motion in the full movement and it was all he was concerned about training. The result was freaky strong athletes who could deadlift over triple bodyweight, and dominated in their actual sport.Other examples of focusing on developing force in the weakest range of motion are bottom end drives in the bench press where you lower the bar to the chest, press it just halfway up or right to your sticking point and lower it back down to repeat for a few more reps. The same idea can be used for squats.
Focusing efforts on just building strength at your weakest point will go along way to putting up a bigger number in the full lift.
Method #3: Create Tension Through the Whole Movement
Accommodating resistance is probably the most talked about of the methods I’ve included here. We’re talking bands and chains, although there were traditionally machines that were made to address this when the concept was first discovered and tested.
The purpose of the bands and chains are to teach you to create and develop maximal tension throughout the entire range of motion. Like I mentioned earlier, tension is highest at your weakest range of motion because it has to overcome gravity at this mechanical disadvantage. But your body metaphorically slams on the breaks after it has overcome this point and actually slows the bar as it reaches end range of motion in order to protect soft tissue injuries. Bands and chains compliment this strength curve and provide more tension where you’re strongest, usually close to lockout. This allows you to create more strength throughout the entire range of motion.
So instead of focusing on the weak point, your focus is on the point where you have the most mechanical advantage. This still needs to be trained specifically because force should be applied just as much here in order to lift the most weight possible. Compensatory acceleration training (CAT) is another (and some would argue more effective) way to train this but we’ll save the discussion of that for another day.
When All You Have is a Hammer…
Strength needs to be analyzed in terms of weak points in terms of range of motion. Just loading up as much weight as possible and trying to lift it, however ugly and slow, is not the key to long term success. Try out some of these ideas if you haven’t yet and let me know how it goes.
Post it to the comments or ask any question about this you may have.
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