Let’s bump up the strength and get the best return on effort (ROE). This means working on strength without ignoring the developmental exercises that reinforce good movement ability.
As we move through phases of training that emphasize particular aspects of performance (such as conditioning, strength, hypertrophy, or power), it’s important to continue reinforcing good movement patterns. When adding higher external loads to develop strength, a common mistake is allowing compensation to creep in, which promotes poor movement patterns. This deviation from good form is often accepted because the exerciser is “pushing more weight.” Some trainers may argue that it’s okay to allow some deviations during a personal best attempt or “challenge” set (this one won’t necessarily agree) but that is based on the purpose of the set—to push limits and determine physical capacity. However, if the set’s purpose is to develop strength through applying the appropriate volume and intensity, form and technique are crucial to achieving ROE.
In reality, exercisers produce more force, recruit more muscle, develop higher levels of strength and are then able to transfer that strength to performance when attention is given to proper form and technique under load. Even the best trainers at the gym need to be reminded of this at times.
In this training, I’ve used a target set strategy that provides a simple way to integrate stability-enhancing movements that also serve as a movement-specific warm-up. For simplicity’s sake, the example uses one strength exercise, but for the more advanced exerciser, a super set of two strength movements that focus on the same movement group could be used.
The third piece in this strength strategy consists of “active recovery” that reinforces functional movement in a different group. For this set, I chose to incorporate a rotary stability movement that, though not used by most adults (who then, as a result, lose the benefits it offers), is a common developmental movement pattern: the bear crawl. This exercise uses upper and lower extremity movement sequences that encourage good force transference through the torso and proper core stability during many “real life” activities (walking, running, throwing, climbing). Even though it may seem like child’s play, when done properly, the bear crawl is harder than you think.
Target Set Strategy:
Stability Specific Movement Prep
Active Recovery Movement
Here we have chosen to focus on a lower body movement, but the same strategy can be applied to upper body pushing or pulling movements.
Purpose: Focuses on lower body hip extension while maintaining a proper pelvic position and core stability. This encourages mobility in the hip used in the squat, and the leg lock ensures that lumbar flexion (a common compensation when performed with limited hip mobility) does not occur.
Start by lying on your back, feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart, with knees bent. A great way to find your best natural foot position is to extend the hips and march your feet up and down a few times.
Use both hands to grab behind one of your upper legs and pull that knee and hip into flexion. (Pulling on the back of the thigh versus the front of the lower leg avoids unneeded pressure and stress on the knee joint.)
Fully extend the opposite hip until the same-side knee, hip, and shoulders are aligned.
Lower the hips in a smooth and controlled manner until your butt lightly taps the floor. Then, immediately perform the next repetition.
Tweak down: Perform a two-leg bridge and pay attention to good form during the movement; do not flex the low back or allow the knees to bow out or cave in.
Tweak up: Hold a tennis ball or rolled towel in the crease of the flexed hip without the assistance of using your hands to keep the leg in flexion.
Purpose: Applies a strengthening load to the deep squat position for a lower body triple extension movement. This encourages strength development through a full range of motion, provided the exerciser has first established the ability to achieve this full range of motion with body weight. The front carry position assists with counterbalancing of the body as you use the hips to sit into a deep squat.
Position a barbell on a rack low enough so that you slightly flex the legs to move under it; you should be able to easily “rack” the bar across the meaty part of your anterior (front) shoulder.
To prevent the bar and weight from shifting forward, use a cross-arm grip so that hands secure the bar while elbows remain raised throughout the entire movement.
Extend your legs to lift the bar off the rack. Take one pace back away from the rack so that you can clear the rack during the squat.
Start by setting your feet shoulder-width apart with toes turned slightly out.
Flex the ankle, knees, and hips in order to vertically descend while maintaining an upright torso with a neutral spine posture. There should be no rounding of the lower back.
A deep squat is achieved when the crease of the hip is lower than the top of the knee.
To return to the start position, push your feet through the floor, emphasizing the mid-foot to heel in order to produce the force needed to extend the lower body.
Tweak down: Use body weight or lightweight dumbbells at the shoulder carry position until proper form and technique can be achieved with each repetition.
Tweak up: Increase the weight in very small increments. Always end the last repetition with proper form and feeling as though you could have successfully completed 1–2 more reps. Technical failure (meaning loss of form) due to pushing your strength limits is high risk and not recommended in this exercise.
Purpose: This rotary stability movement is a natural part of the human neurodevelopmental sequence. As babies learn to creep and then crawl, these movements feed coordination and develop stability needed for the different functional movements combining upper and lower extremities—movements that require force energy transfer through the torso.
Start in a quadruped stance on your hands and feet; knees should not touch. Lower hips until the torso is mostly parallel and the neck in line with the spine or slightly extended.
While maintaining the torso position, walk the right hand and left foot forward.
Follow with the opposite hand and foot for the desired amount of steps forward, turning the body to return with a forward bear crawl.
Tweak down: To accommodate any lack of mobility in the hip or stability strength in the holding torso position, slightly raise the hip position.
Tweak up: Instead of turning around to return to the start position, add a backward bear crawl. Increase the speed and distance of movement for more of a challenge.
This target strategy is part of the SMARTsets system and focuses on strength and force development. Most people want to be more powerful, faster, or efficient and have a leaner build. Just remember: FORCE + TIME (SPEED) = POWER. So taking the time to gain strength is a great ROE that deserves a place in your long-term programming.
For those training for the AFM FITTEST, this movement strategy sets you up for training at the higher levels of intensity necessary for developing power.