Getting the most out of the time and effort you expend in workouts is something that all of us want. Last week I discussed how to take an overview of your training with a solid plan, eliminate junk work, and focusing on recovery.
This week Ill focus on how to use a skill that is almost never mentioned when it comes to building strength and athleticism: body awareness
Just about every serious lifter recognizes what Pavel has said over and over: Strength is a Skill.
Some skills are more obvious than others. Some fly almost completely under the radar, and that is what I want to discuss today: developing body awareness.
Lest you think I have gone fuzzy woo woo on you, let me assure you that I believe this skill is truly under appreciated and can have a big positive impact particularly for veteran lifters.
In the last article I discussed my concept of how people improve their performance from beginner through the first 80% of their potential. In this article Ill discuss one of the skills that can take you beyond 80%.
To realize the first 40-70% of your potential the old Nike phrase just do it applies. Just getting out and working out will give someone basic skills in lifting.
If you think about most people going to commercial gyms, they go through exercise routines that they may or may not think much about. They focus on calories burned or sets and reps and not much beyond that. They focus on doing their exercises according to instructions, but almost never on how it feels to do perfect reps.
These folks are clearly benefitting from training, and they may be perfectly happy with their results. Im not suggesting that their approach is wrong for fitness goals or that they should quit. What I am suggesting is that for the serious strength athlete this strategy will take you only so far.
If you aspire to lifting close to your biological potential (as much as you could possibly lift) then you need to develop more skills than the typical fitness trainee.
Body awareness is the skill of being able to feel and control all your muscles when you are doing a heavy lift. The feeling part enables you to sense what you are doing at any given instant in order to control what your body does in the next instant.
This is not something that most of us have ever been taught. Probably all of us have had a coach who helps us with our lifting technique. However, few of us have ever consciously used this coaching to develop an array of conscious links between the sensations we are feeling at any given moment, and what we can do to mobilize more force.
This skill is not easy to develop. It takes a lot of practice. But, most of you reading this are doing a lot of practice already.
The good news is that you can begin to apply these techniques without taking much extra time in your training.
These techniques can be used any time you lift a weight. The biggest change may be what goes on in your head while you lift.
Let me use an example that will be familiar to every powerlifter. Working on building strength in the lowest part of the squat.
Use a trusted friend or coach who can give you visual feedback on what they see while you are assuming different positions and postures.
Begin with an empty bar on your back and descend into the bottom position for the squat. Your coach should tell you if you are deep enough, whether your alignment is correct, etc.
When you have a close to perfect position deep in the squat, flex every muscle in your body. Consciously check to see if everything is as tight as you can possibly make it. You will probably discover that there are some parts of your bod that are relaxed. You may have to work to get them tight.
You should focus on how it feels to flex each of the muscle groups so that you can summon them on command. You should also cultivate an awareness of how being perfectly tight in the bottom feels. You want to be able to reproduce this on demand.
When you first try this, it may be very difficult. If you want the benefits of this skill, you need to practice this 3-4 times a week for several weeks. Over time you will become proficient at generating more force than you ever thought possible.
You can apply this approach to building your power in different positions on each of the competition lifts. Ill discuss this more in future articles.
Ill conclude this article by noting that practicing doing something in a sub optimal way only perfects mistakes. If you have any doubt, just go to a golf driving range and watch people practice poor swings and cement their bad habits in place. The same applies in a gym setting.
Lift Big, Richard