Your Personal Training Management System: Part 2 – Building Skills

It is impossible to progress in any activity that requires skill without consciously practicing in ways that help you develop needed skills.  For example, it is easy to understand how piano players must push themselves to master more complex techniques to play more difficult music.  It is easy to comprehend how ice skaters must master extremely difficult moves as they progress from beginner to Olympic level.

In weightlifting the same demands apply.  To move beyond a modest level of accomplishment it is essential to master different types of body control.  

Developing an athletic or a musical skill means constantly training and enhancing a pattern of connection between the brain and muscles that are needed for elite performance.  In many sports elite performance is often takes place as a stunning visual event.  Think of world class figure skating, PGA golf, NFL football, etc.  Anyone watching can see how amazing the performance is. 

However, unlike music or most other athletic activities, amazing performance in weightlifting is essentially invisible. The brain-muscle control in weightlifting takes place out of sight.   Since strength occurs under the skin the skill of elite strength power is essentially invisible to most observers.

Because there is nothing visually that obviously separates a mediocre bench press from a great one (except the weight) most people seem to assume that there is nothing unusual happening that they can not see. A bench press appears simple and is done by almost everyone who goes to the gym.

Because the skills of strength are developed out of sight, most people seem to assume that progress can be made simply by working out.  Go through the motions doing the same exercise again and again without any conscious reflection. Few lifters appear to think about training the mind-muscle connection as a pathway to improved performance.

Go to most gyms and the large majority of the people you see will have made little or no progress in the previous months or years.  They just workout over and over with no attention to building skills that would help them make progress.

This is where your personal Training Management System (TMS) comes in.  As the system that supports your quest to improve your lifting, one of the most important components will be the section of your training where you consciously and deliberately work on building the brain-muscle connection skills you need to improve and excel.

Skill Building and Your Program

In part one of discussion of the TMS I discussed keeping a written workout record of your workouts. This included the exercise, sets, reps, and weights used.  That is your personal database on what you did in workouts.

Now we move to using that data, and some additional observations, to build a list of practices to build the brain-muscle connection that will further enhance your strength.

What skills do you need to work on?

My observation (borrowed from the great golf coach Fred Shoemaker) is that when they perform their sport lots of athletes are lost and blind. This means that they while they have a general idea of what to do to perform at a minimal level, they lack the detailed knowledge and insight they need to make progress. As a result, they tend to perfect their mistakes rather than correct them.

Being lost and blind many lifters go through the motions of practice but are unaware what they must to do to improve.   They tend to languish at a relatively mediocre performance level for years and sometimes for decades.

Athletes who are lost go through the motions, but usually only achieve minimal skill. They have no idea what they must do to improve. They seem to assume that the only way they can improve is to do the same things they are currently doing, only a lot more.

Blindness in athletes means they have no understanding of how they could improve their performance. 

Now the good news!   No one is forever sentenced to run on the hamster treadmill of zero progress.  Recognize that improvement is possible, but it will come from focusing on details that may have seemed unimportant or invisible. 

The skill practice part of a workout involves: 1) diagnosing what must be done to improve; and 2) prepare and execute a specific training plan to correct the problems.

Advanced and elite lifters regularly do this as a regular part of their training.  However, once any lifter is aware that they need to persistently assess and correct their performance flaws in a systematic manner, they have opened the door to reach their full potential.

A highly skilled coach can usually spot deficiencies and give clear advice on how to fix the problems.  If you do not have access to a skilled coach, you must do self-diagnosis of the things limiting your performance. Then define what you plan to do about it.

When you have what needs to be done and how, schedule time in your workout following your strength training for skill practice.     Do this every workout!

The important thing is that Skill Practice becomes part of every workout.  Write down everything you did and how it worked. This will give the feedback necessary to tell whether your correction strategy is working or not.

Examples of Skills Training

Each of us has different skill sets we need to address.  We have limited time and energy, so it is essential to prioritize the work you chose to do.  

A lot of your skill training will be with very light weights, or no weight at all. The point is, mastering a new movement and the brain-muscle connection that goes with it.

Here are a few examples of skill training.  The key for you is to identify what is a problem for YOU and then structure and execute a plan to correct the flaw.   

  1. Lifting technique in the squat:
    • Butt comes up first coming out of the bottom
    • Slow down just below parallel
    • Lack of flexibility in deep position
    • Fail to engage glutes deep in the squat
    • Roll forward slightly just past parallel
  2. Lifting technique in the bench press
    • Relax lats when bar hits the chest
    • Roll one shoulder toward ear on descent
    • Twist torso slightly as the bar descends
  3. Kettlebell snatch technique
    • Control the arc on the upward swing
    • Shoulders drift out over toes at bottom

Here are some skills you might address when learning a new lift

  1. Turkish get up
    • Practice bottom moves only: use a book for the overhead weight
    • Leg sweep to stand up: book for the overhead weight
  2. Practice parts of an L-sit
    • Legs tucked
    • Partial extension

Muscle control and muscle activation

  • Isometric poses for pulling
  • Isometric poses for pressing
  • Isometric poses for squatting

These are just a few examples. As you can see, there are many skills that you may want to practice for enhancing your strength and power.  Prioritize the issues most critical to you, and then practice mindfully. Then, move to your next challenge.

Lift Big!


Written by Richard

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