Your Muscles are Weak! (they’re not really)

Ah the single leg bridge challenging for the biggest, strongest muscle in your body with a percentage of your own body weight!  When will those silly strength coaches learn that using exercises designed to target physically incapacitated populations are the best way to train athletic populations!

People love to talk about what part of your body is weak when you find it difficult to achieve a position in a certain skill (squatting is a common one) It escape’s me why.  Maybe dragging up activation and strengthening drills helps to make them feel more informed or maybe it let’s them sleep better at night.  This trend is however absent is skill learning in other parts of the sports world, I wonder when the last time a cricket coach pulled across a fast bowler and told him he wasn’t activating his rhomboids properly so he took him to the side to do some band pull-aparts.

Lifting Weights is a SKILL

For those of us who did sports when we where younger or who continue to do sports (to any level) think back to how you developed as an athlete in the context of that sport.  Chances are you developed your skills in training using drills, taking part in mock games and actually playing competitive games.  Remember the phrase “match fitness” that exists for a reason because no matter how inventive your coach is or smart there is only one way to mimic the fitness needed in a full competitive game, get your ass out and play!
Weight lifting of all types is exactly the same it’s all well and good to groove the movements using drills and lighter weights but your not going to find out where your going wrong or help yourself to get better without testing your limits!
When you go hard things break down it’s the nature of physical exertion, when seasoned marathon runners hit the deep end of a race I’m sure their well developed gait goes to shit but it’s only through experience of the deep end that people learn how to hold it together properly.
When your form breaks down in a lift it is down to three factors 95% of the time – 
Position – If you lack the movement specific flexibility/mobility to make it into the required position chances are your going to have a rough time.  
Good coaches will have a battery of stretches and drill that will help you get into the position they want these should of course be movement sensitive and helpful (i.e. you should notice the difference!).
Practice – if you haven’t had the time to learn the skill set properly you can’t really be expected to achieve good form.
Practice with weight! – lifting weight’s is a special case because with every increase in poundage the movement changes.  This amount of variance is proportionate with the increase in weight (i.e. how you squat a 20kg bar is a different ball game from squatting a 300kg bar).  
Weight lifting movements (snatch, clean and variants) are even more pronounced in the change since the movements are more dynamic and open to much more variance.
A great talk on skill learning that I have posted on this blog before is below.


Functional Movement – Made up tests for testings sake.

Movement assessment abound in the world of strength and conditioning/physiotherapy, I want to preface this by saying that these tests do have a use and the point I am is stressing is to keep our links between inference and causality as non tenuous as possible.
If you are recovering from massive leg surgery then bilateral strength discrepancies are going to be an issue that need to be addressed.  Addressing issues like this when you are incapacitated will help assure you can make it back to training and once again become a robust athlete. 
However if your perfectly fit your ability to achieve some standard in an arbitrary skill demand such as keeping a small ball in the crook of your hip as you do a hip extension would provide a pretty abstract measure of your sports performance.

As always I would ask that people keep the links of cause and effect in mind when introducing anything into a programme.  Do I think jump drills are going to improve your ability to produce ballistic movements around the hip and knee joints, yes.  Do I think maximal strength training in exercises that involve hip and knee extension are going to augment ballistic movements in the same joints, yes.  Do I think a closed system balance drill on an unstable surface is going to help someone who is completely healthy perform better in an open skill set on a stable surface, probably not.

The same things apply when tackling problems with people’s form in barbell movements helping someone achieve the correct positions in a squat by using a squat specific drill is likely to help and help fast.

Conversely targeting a completely unrelated movement pattern with a completely different skill demand isn’t likely to achieve the same goal quite as quickly.

When you kick forward in a back squat it is probably because their is something wrong with your form in general and not because you have weak glutes.

Where weak muscles do make a difference is in the case of injury or when using supportive power lifting equipment that in effect take over from the muscles that would be involved at the bottom portion of the movement.

When you use a bench shirt the bottom part of the movement is taken care of by the shirt when you come out of the bottom and away from that “bubble” of support all of a sudden your shoulders and triceps are asked to handle loads they would otherwise have no chance of handling.  So in this case you will need to strengthen your triceps and shoulders to deal with these situations (this is where bands, chains and boards really make sense).
Outside of that kind of scenario the worth of using those kinds of methods need closer observation, it might be the case that bands do help your raw bench but it is by no means as clean cut as when using a shirt.
Likewise if you have suffered a hamstring tear you will need to perform remedial work to bring it back up to snuff so it can once again engage in more robust training.
However this doesn’t mean that we jump to the conclusion that everyone is made of glass and that they all need to use prehab exercises to bring up their sorry state. 
I think it bears mentioning that those who have been involved in pushing themselves to the physical limit in an activity will have a much better understanding for what is entailed than those who use inferences extrapolated from weakly controlled research.