What are You Really Training?


When we train we adapt specifically to that training demand; sound familiar? Yes, that’s right! The S.A.I.D. principle; Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. Now, most of the time I think of parameters like load (intensity) and repetitions (volume), or the combination of both (volume load), which is ultimately what the body “feels.” Volume load is also the parameter from which the body adapts. Yes, intensity becomes the most important parameter once the athlete reaches the highest of competition, but it cannot be denied that volume does play a part. However, I believe we often miss out on another parameter that is just as important in affecting the body; technique.

Technique & Neuromuscular Adaptations (movement velocity)

Good technique is not just for staying healthy and training safely. Of course this is a major reason we train with proper technique, but there is much more to it. Technique is truly important in allowing the body to adapt the way it was meant to adapt for each specific exercise and the load and movement velocity associated with that exercise.

“Train slow, play slow” is a quote often used in sport. There is probably not a better line we could use in this instance. We want to train with dynamic movements like cleans to develop power qualities. Unfortunately, when the movement itself doesn’t even resemble what a clean should look like, we do not develop those qualities. This is why movement training/technique work should come before training with heavier loads. Once the movement quality is diminished, we see different qualities being trained, if any are developed at all.

With increased movement efficiency come increased adaptation to that particular movement. Why? Because, now that the athlete moves the way you want, you can have them train with the load and move at the velocity that will develop the exact physical qualities desired. This is why accurate accelerometers are so useful. If an athlete has the movement technique, you can look to their actual movement velocity to see if the desired effects are taking place. If they’re moving too slow, decrease the load. If too fast, increase the load.

One more thing; the next time you see an athlete performing power cleans (because that’s what they have to do, right?) and they’re extremely slow or their technique is way off, please stop them. The clean and its derivatives are meant to develop power, among other qualities. If we have athletes moving horribly in “power” cleans, is there really any power being developed? I mean, yes, they may still be moving quickly, but the movement has no context, so to speak, if it is so completely “off.” Take the time to learn the movement!

Technique & Muscular Adaptations (movement angles)

If we look at technique in another light, we see that there may be implications for muscular adaptations specific to the movement performed. This is most obvious in hypertrophic (gain in muscle mass) responses, but let’s look a little deeper. Loren Landow always says that “joint angle determines muscle function” and this is absolutely true. This is why we, as coaches, coach our athletes; to put them in the proper positions to be successful in movement, which, hopefully, leads to success in sport!

If we see an athlete that is standing from a back squat (hip and knee extension) and they finish the last third of the movement extending their lumbar spine, they will NOT adapt the way you want them to adapt. Why? Because, generally, we’re looking to develop two qualities from a back squat; leg power and/or strength. As mentioned above, this depends on the load and movement velocity. However, it wouldn’t matter what the desired quality is in this case because the athlete only use their legs for a portion of the movement. Remember, strength and power development are also specific to joint angles. So, if they continue to cut each repetition short, their body adapts to that specific range of motion in which they moved. Their back gets stronger while their legs don’t get the entire benefit of the movement.

This, of course, can also lead to hypertrophy of the WRONG muscles! You know that person who does a semi-squat, but then finishes the movement with a good morning-type back lift? Yeah, they’ll have thick spinal erectors, but where are their glutes again? I digress 😉

The Skinny

Conclude my thoughts, you say? Okay, here it is…

1) Train movement first, so develop good technique in each movement.

2) Be sure that you are actually training the quality you desire.

2a) Move at the velocity that develops that quality and adjust the load as needed.

3) Keep the desired technique (by way of joint angles) to allow the muscles to adapt the way you desire

4) Don’t let your athletes get away with bad technique! This is where all the problems begin.

I hope you all were able to discern something from my rambling 🙂

Your thoughts are much appreciated!

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