Did You Really Get Stronger?

“There’s a difference between lifting more and actually getting stronger.”

This quote was attributed to Arthur B. Jones, a world class powerlifter. I stumbled across it in my reading this week and it got me thinking. Let’s twist this quote around a bit.

“There’s a difference between climbing the next V-grade and actually getting stronger.”

“There’s a difference between scoring higher on a test and actually getting smarter.”

There is a difference between improving an arbitrary performance measure and actually improving at the skill.

I’ve written a few posts before this one that have shared objective and actionable information. This one begins with a brief rant (with some actionable information at the end). These ideas have been said before (Steve Bechtel at Climb Strong has some good thoughts on this) but here’s my take. Bear with me, and let’s get into it.

campuspunks
Campus Punks-v6/v20 (Mountain Poject Photo)

We’ve all seen it. The gym crusher who flashes v12 crimp ladders yet can’t send v6 slab. (Because slab climbing is impossible.) Studying for (or teaching to) a test instead of actually learning the material. Adding a little 2.5 pound plate on each end of the barbell and picking it off the ground yet again without any attention to form. All of these focus on improving an arbitrary performance value, yet pay little attention to actually improving a skill. Let’s look into the skill of strength, because being strong is cool.

Strength isn’t some amorphous quality that just happens. It is a skill. How do we improve our skills? We practice.

What’s the difference between training and practice? When you train your squat and deadlift, you work to gradually add more weight to the barbell. When you train a Turkish Get Up, Kettlebell Swing, or Kettlebell press, it’s easy to shoot for the next kettlebell size. When you head into the climbing gym to train, you go to climb the next super sick boulder problem (by the way TBA just reset the 60 degree wall, and it’s awesome), epic route, or to get “wrecked.” I hate training to get “wrecked,” but that’s another article. Turn your training into practice. Pick a small, subtle aspect of movement and dedicate a segment or all of your training session into gaining a better understanding of that aspect. 

Any form of training is a thousand percent better than working out with no direction, progression, or plan; However, turning general training into practice makes it much more focused and more likely to transfer positively into performance. Here are some ways to transform your training into practice.

Climbing

Have you ever tried to cut feet and do a pull up on a slab? I have. Do you get temporarily stymied on a sequence of a boulder problem or route below your climbing level? If you’re like me, it happens fairly frequently. If this doesn’t happen to you, you are either lying, need to try harder routes, or are a significantly better climber than me and can just proceed to the next section.

Perfect Repeats

This has been one of my favorite ways to turn a gym session into gym “practice”. I have seen MASSIVE improvements in my climbing technique, and therefore performance, by implementing this concept into my climbing practice. Kris Hampton and Nate Drolet of Power Company Climbing introduced this idea to me. They know way more about climbing movement practice than I do . Check ’em out.

Here’s how it works

-Climb a boulder problem or route below your redpoint level. You should be able to complete it in a couple tries.

-Try and repeat the boulder problem, but try and climb it better. Think about how you could improve your sequence, be a bit more efficient, focus on tension better at a certain move, or any other factor that will make you climb all pretty-like. Just try and climb it a bit better. There is always something you could do better, so don’t lie to yourself. Better yet, ask a better climber what you could do to improve your performance on that problem.

-After my warmup, I like to start my session by doing 2-5 problems 2 or 3 times each, trying to get a bit better each attempt. Make sure you are resting enough so getting pumped isn’t a factor.

Strength Movements

There are so many strength exercises, and so many aspects to work on. I’ll share a few here.  If you have some questions, feel free to email me.

Deadlift

There are many different deadlift styles. Trap bars, kettlebells, conventional barbells, sumo deadlifts, tractor tires on a custom built bar (once again, if that last one is you, your time could probably be better spent not reading my blog) are all different styles of “picking heavy shit up off the ground.” One crucial aspect of the deadlift is building lat tension. Think about trying to keep your armpits tight from the second you hinge back to get the bar. A banded deadlift drill might be a good way to practice this tension.

Squat

One thing some people tend to lose at the bottom of the squat is their core bracing. Making sure you are staying tight and keeping the core braced is imperative for a stronger squat. We go over this concept in a short fitness tip. Check it out.

Press

In a kettlebell press, generating total body tension is the key to pressing a heavy bell. The off hand is the trigger hand. By crushing that fist (as well as the rest of our body), we create the neuromuscular drive to help get the kettlebell moving upwards. Before working with a bare fist, it’s a good practice drill to use an empty water bottle or tennis ball to practice generating maximum amounts of tension.

The Takeaway-It’s all about Mindfulness

The difference between Training and Practice is mindfulness. It’s possible to head into the gym, work hard, push the weights, progress climbing difficulty, maintain reasonable and safe technique, and make progress towards your goals. It’s possible to do all that and remain on a kind of autopilot. What happens when we view a session as practice? What happens when we consciously pick an aspect of the skill of weightlifting, or climbing, or time management, or learning, or (insert desired skill to improve here) to practice for the day?  Mastery of the subtle details add up. Don’t just lift heavier weights or climb harder routes. Do those things, but do them better.

Paul

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