Ultimate strength gain begins with 3 important components:
- Functional movement patterns
- Balance your program
- Build strength
INCORPORATING FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT PATTERNS
Building strength starts with three patterns and mimics what, we humans, do during day-to-day activities:
1 – SQUAT
2 – HIP HINGE
3 – UNILATERAL MOVEMENT
If you can’t get them right without load, then adding load is setting yourself up for failure.
STEP 1 – Identify deficiencies through functional movement patterns.
Start by performing a basic body weight squat and take note of what is happening throughout the movement. The flexion and extension that simultaneously occurs at the ankle, knee and hip joints make it a movement subject to some potential problems.
Consider what could be happening at each joint during a squat if the chest is tipping forward in the bottom position:
- The heels – are they staying down?
Slide a small raiser under your heels and see if that helps keep your chest up in bottom position. In the circumstance that your squat is instantly improved, you may be lacking ankle dorsiflexion and need to work on improving the mobility in your ankles.
- The knees – are they coming too far in front causing your heels to lift and chest to drop forward?
Structural differences in the body can have an effect on the pattern of the squat. For example someone with long femurs (top portion of the leg) and a short torso will have a difficult time squatting in a normal position. In cases where you possess anatomical differences like this, taking your feet wider to a sumo position could help you keep your chest up in the bottom and make your squat feel more comfortable.
- The hips – are you struggling to send your hips back as you descend?
This is a case of muted hips and is related to the hip hinge pattern or hip tightness which will be discussed in more detail below.
The action of sending the hips back into flexion and standing up into extension causes the hips to become the axis of rotation between the lower and upper body.
It’s a movement that people do on a daily basis when picking things up off the ground, sitting, etc. A common problem that can occur during the movement is using your back to perform a pull and not your hips. If your back rounds when you bend to pick something one of two things could be happening:
1 – Tight hips.
When you have tightness in the hip joint, it reduces the range at which the hips can go into a hinge (flexed) position. The repercussion to this tightness is that the spine will flex to accommodate for the lack of hip hinge, causing the spine to bend in order to lift the load.
2 – Lack of control through the lumbopelvic region.
If the body doesn’t understand how to connect the hinge while maintaining a neutral spine it can be difficult to maintain the position. This will require an implementation of progressions in a program to help the body understand how to move this way. Once the hinge pattern is improved, load can slowly be added.
Lunges, split squats, rear foot elevated variations, single leg Romanian deadlifts are a few examples of unilateral movements.
By training one limb at a time you can address any bilateral deficits that aren’t evident when doing movements like squats and deadlifts, and give both limbs an equal opportunity to push or pull a prescribed load.
The benefits of training limbs unilaterally is that you correct imbalances, make joints more resistant to overuse injuries and improve joint integrity by increasing muscle and connective tissue density.
STEP 2 – Follow a balanced program.
Strength is attainable when you incorporate push and pull exercises from both the anterior and posterior chain.
For example, if you back squat every day and neglect to incorporate a pull movement that incorporates hamstrings and glutes, you’re increasing susceptibility to knee injuries. By overloading the quadriceps and not providing equal attention to the opposing muscle groups you increase the chance sustaining an injury.
Injuries take time to heal and set you back.
STEP 3 – Building strength.
Once you have identified and solved structural problems and have functional movement patterns perfected, you can now start adding more load to your movements and gain more strength.
Examples of ways to progress your movements and increase the degree of difficulty:
- Kneeling hip hinge
- Standing hip hinge
- Banded pull through
- Weighted goodmornings
- Romanian deadlifts
The order at which you implement a program is important. Adding the squat, hip hinge and unilateral movements into your training program will be an important tool for strength development and progress.
First – Identify and fix any imbalances or insufficiencies.
Second – Train both pushes and pulls so that your body progresses evenly.
Third – Get strong: Once you’ve nailed your movement patterns it’s time to challenge yourself and load up. This is where you start to get strong and you will only get to this point when you move the right way for your body.