Over the past 8 years I have noticed a dramatic trend…everyone is world about the little stuff. When I first started lifting weights in 1996, I remember my dad telling me to focus on the big movements, the bench press, squat, clean, snatch, pull ups and then at the end I could do hammer curls if I wanted. That was when I was in sixth grade. As my training progressed and my ability to surf the internet for cool programs improved, my lifts may have changed slightly but my philosophy was the same. Bench press became high incline, squat became front squats, cleans became power cleans, snatches remained snatches, pull ups became chin ups and hammer curls…well, hammer curls remained hammer curls.
When I first arrived at Penn State to compete for their track team, they were still employing the machine based HIIT for their football team. It seemed as though the football team was training on machines, inspired by the lean machine, Jane Fonda. While they were hammering leg presses, us throwers were still hammering different squats and cleans and presses. It seemed as though we were the outcast.
By the time I was a senior in college (2007), I had a good idea that I wanted to become a strength coach. I stumbled upon Ross Enamait. Finally, someone that wasn’t a thrower that trained lifts that were compound, full body movements! Ross trains boxers and focused on full body movements that could teach a fighter to engage the entire muscular system when fighting, instead of just working on small machine based training. By the end of 2008, I moved home from training with Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk and read about CrossFit. CrossFit was using the same principles as Ross. Using full body, compound movements to improve cardio, anaerobic strength and athletic ability.
Times have changed. It is 2016 and it seems that everyone understands the importance of compound movements and the importance of single joint exercises as well…but there is a problem. Everyone is concerned about every small muscle that could have a negative impact on his or her compound movement. Lets take a clean for example. It seems that (I believe this is inspired by the CrossFit/mobility movement) everyone is constantly concerned about activating all the small stuff. Let’s focus on activating my Trap 3 to feel better during my cleans, better yet, let’s voodoo floss my gastroc to flush out some scar tissue so I can improve my neural drive in the calf area while finishing my cleans, all while rock taping my back and elbow!!! I think the focus on each little muscle has taken away the focus on the movement SYSTEM.
I spend many nights hounding my good friend John Giacalone, aka the Mobility Doc. I pick his brain, make fun of how weak he is and of course, listen to his advice. He has helped me a ton when concluding how I can handle this movement dilemma. Is it bad to voodoo floss? Is it bad to focus on each little muscle that might be causing some pain? Not necessarily. If something isn’t firing, it does help to use some exercises to stimulate the movement. The downfall becomes, a vast majority of people have no clue when that muscle is awake or not! What then happens is they spend all this time stimulating one particular muscle while ignoring the rest of the system. The awakened muscle ends up taking over for those that are not being stimulated and now we end up trading off one dead muscle for another.
What do I recommend? I recommend picking one troubled area…lets use the glutes for example. Sometimes athletes lack the ability to feel or use their glutes, thus leading to some back issues. Doing a simple side band walk for 10 steps each direction is a great way to wake up that area. Immediately following the band walks, be sure to use a compound movement such as a very light barbell overhead squat, front squat or back squat to imprint the awakened glutes to COORDINATE with the rest of the system. There is a massive benefit found when using a simple stimulation exercise in conjunction with a full compound movement. This leads us to a much more efficient movement system.
Always warm up with full compound movements with one or maybe two stimulating exercises that will lead to a greater intramuscular coordination.