Note: This was originally intended to be a short piece. A few conversations that occurred throughout the period I worked on this coupled with the writing process that usually raises more questions than the original motivator morphed this article into one of the longest pieces of writing I’ve done. It details a large part of my training philosophy.
If you needed to do something physically strenuous, right now, with no warmup, could you do it? Would you tweak something? Or are you ready to get after it?
I think it’s one of the most underrated qualities we can address in our training. There’s a lot of writing, research, and social media content about the “perfect warmup”. What happens if your training lays a lasting foundation that minimizes the need for an extensive warmup? Before you get all up in arms, please realize that I’m saying “minimize,” not eliminate.
3 separate, yet related aspects of physical conditioning need to be addressed to build a body that’s resilient to injury and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Our resiliency can be considered a bank account of sorts. Everyday life, training, and performance situations all can be considered “withdrawals” from this bank account. What happens when we overdraw?
We get injured.
If we follow this logic, we need to make our bank account bigger by addressing Accessible Range of Motion, The Level of our Strength Skill, and our Conditioning.
Accessible Range of Motion
“If it’s important, do it every day”-Dan Gable
Adequate mobility is an absolute necessity for resiliency and readiness. Notice I didn’t say suberb mobility, but enough to get done what you need to get done. Vigilant mobility practice means daily mobility practice.
One of my favorite mobility drills is the Brettzel. It addresses multiple qualities including proper breathing, hip mobility and thoracic spine mobility. Thoracic spine mobility has a direct effect on our shoulder mobility. Structurally, the hips and shoulders allow greater mobility than any joint in our body, so it’s important to spend some time priming that mobility and developing the ability to control the movement of those two joints. This is a way to get that done.
I’ve been teaching this movement for a while now, but I recently learned a progression into the full Brettzel that I really like. It’s patient, and allows the individual to stop at the point that’s most beneficial to them. If we have to grit our teeth and force ourselves into a position, positive change is impossible due to the stress of holding that position.
The Brettzel Progression:
- Lay on your stomach, with your head on your hands. Inhale into your belly fully, and continue to inflate your chest. Relax and exhale fully. This is called crocodile breathing. Your goal should be expanding in a 360 degree area around your midsection. No chest breathing without expanding throughout the midsection as well.
- Bring a leg up with the knee bent 90 degrees-ish to the side. The knee needs to be above the hip, for reasons I will address later. There will be space between that same side hip and the ground. Continue crocodile breathing and make that space smaller on every exhale. If you start holding your breath or straining, you are pushing into it too hard. Back off and relax into your stretch
- After a few breaths, bend the straight leg back from the knee. Reach back with the opposite arm and grab that foot. Continue crocodile breathing. On the exhale, gently pull that leg up and flex that glute. You should feel a stretch in the front of that hip. If you feel it in your back, stop. Concentrate on extending through your hip. Let the leg drop back down on the inhale. Repeat for 3-5 breaths (or more).
- Straighten your opposite arm, roll onto the side of your straight leg and use that arm to grab your knee. This is where the “knee above the hip” concept is important. If it drops below the hip, you will encourage movement through the lumbar spine. That’s bad. Don’t do that. We want to move through the thoracic spine only, so keep that knee above the hip.
- As you breath (still in the belly) relax into greater rotation on the exhale. Rotate through your upper back, and through the leg where you are grabbing the foot. Never force it. After 5-8 (or more) breaths, slowly release the tension to get out of the stretch. Don’t just let go.
At ANY point you feel a cramp, have to hold your breath, or feel you’re trying too hard, that’s your stopping point for the day. That’s where you need to spend some time (hint: probably more than one session) developing some mobility there. Be patient and work the process.
Here’s a video of the progression
An individual’s range of motion varies from person to person. Every movement, especially movements under an outside load have a cost. If said movement stays within our baseline range of motion, the cost of that movement is negligible. If we go outside of that accessible range, the cost starts to make an impact on our bank account. The bigger our baseline range of motion, the chance of that happening shrinks.
Strength Skill Level
High skill strength practice requires a few elements to be present. 1.) Multijoint movements 2.) A substantial external load to these movements 3.) The necessity for focus.
I don’t consider a bicep curl to be strength practice. Sure, you might increase the biceps ability to generate tension via nervous system adaptations or increasing the number of fibers in the muscle, but movement through just one joint has very little relation to the activities we do every day. We seldom interact with our outside environment via the movement of a single joint.
A lightly loaded or unloaded multijoint movement doesn’t qualify as strength practice in my mind either. For strength practice to increase our resiliency, the external load needs to encourage a high level of tension generated via the muscular and nervous system. As we increase our ability to generate high levels of tension, what used to be hard becomes easy. We need to use high amounts of tension less frequently as we go throughout our day.
Motor Control is often overlooked in the quest to build strength. This involves the demonstration of strength coupled with timing and coordination. Again, frequent practice helps develop this quality. In a controlled training setting, we have the opportunity to mindfully practice coordination, timing, and fluid movement.
What’s a movement that involves multiple joints, external load, and the necessity for mindful movement? The Turkish Get Up is an unparalleled example of a movement requiring all of these components.
Addressing the components of multijoint movement, training under external load, and focused practice develop our skill of demonstrating strength. As we improve this skill, the demands of everyday life stop encroaching upon this threshold. The further away from that threshold an outside demand resides, the smaller our withdrawal from our resiliency bank account will be.
Our body has 3 basic energy systems. Aerobic, Lactic/Glycolytic, and Alactic. Although all three work together, the needs of each individual situation dictate which system is utilized the most.
Our alactic energy system is responsible for short duration, explosive activities. A short boulder problem, exploding into a double leg takedown or throw (pick your favorite japanese throw name, judo folks) in a jiu-jitsu competition, or a short set of kettlebell swings or snatches are all examples of utilizing this system.
Our lactic or glycolytic system is where we “feel the burn”. A 400 meter sprint, enduro-route at the Red ( or any route over 50 feet for me, at this point in time), or the third overtime in the EBI finals in jiu-jitsu would all be heavily drawing from this system.
The last, and often overlooked system in terms of training is our aerobic system. Resting, recovery, “refilling the tank” and longer duration, low intensity work draw from this system. Hanging off of a jug and recovering on a route, holding someone in guard and recovering in a jiu-jitsu match, or resting between attempts on a boulder problem should all be windows where the aerobic system can do its job.
Ideally, from a longevity standpoint, it’s a good idea to expand the Alactic and Aerobic energy systems and not spend a whole lot of time in the Glyocolytic arena. It’s an incredibly stressful system for the body. A simple way to develop the “bookends” of our energy system is sets of swings on the minute.
For example: Do a set of 10 explosive, crisp kettlebell swings, and rest the remainder of the minute. 10-20 minutes of this will make up a great training session, and shouldn’t leave you too destroyed, if you selected the proper weight.
Throughout life, performance, and training, we rely on our energy systems to give us the fuel to go about our activities. If the respective system is not robust enough for the demands of a given situation, the cost to our resiliency bank account increases.
Which Category Do I Need To Address First?
It’s important to realize the concept of a limiting factor. Let’s invoke the all-knowing wikipedia:
“Limiting Factor- an input or variable in such that a small change in it from present value would cause a non-negligible change in an output or other measure of system”
Time is a non-replenishing resource. We don’t get it back. Therefore, it’s ideal to find how to make the most effective change with the least amount of time and effort involved. If one method makes a given amount of improvement in 2 days, while a separate method makes the same amount of improvement in 2 weeks, it’s a clear choice that the first method is the ideal method.
Here’s where we need to set our ego to the side. Sometimes, you may not be the best person to find your limiting factor. If you aren’t sure where you need to spend your time, you need to see someone who can tell you. This could be via a Functional Movement Screen, a Physical Therapist, a knowledgeable coach, a Muscle Activation Techniques specialist, a Chiropractor, etc. There are an insane amount of ways you could go about this. So many disciplines boil down to the same basic principles, so find one that works for you.
Our perception is subjective, and ideally, an objective system to find the limiting factor will provide more accurate results. Everyone is different, and to be honest, everything works. What matters is that you find a way to step outside of your own judgement, and objectively discover where you could make the most improvement in the smallest amount of time.
So take a step back and ponder this question: Could you get up and get after it right now with little prep? It might be time to put in the work so you can.
Looking for guidance concerning your limiting factor? I’ve got a few spots open for distance coaching, and offer in-person coaching if you’re in the area. Learn more here.