Saturday, March 28, 2015

STRONGER?...OR BETTER? PART II

Part I of the series was a slightly more structured breakdown on the differences between skill and strength.  Part II contains more an odd assortment of other factors to consider in regards to the interplay of strength and skill.  One is not superior to the other, but the differences are worth being aware of.

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Other factors: fatigue prevents skill, strength creates fatigue.  By this, I mean that, when one is exhausted, it becomes difficult to employ complex skills.  When we witness boxers in the 12th round, their technique is sloppy and even the basics appear to be gone, as they have fatigued so much that they are just relying on strength and guts.  However, we must also understand that a reliance on strength in spite of technique results in greater fatigue faster.  When Mariusz Pudzianowski first entered MMA, he relied on strength to carry him through his first few fights, and as such fatigued incredibly early into every fight.  At this point, what little technique he had was non-existent, and given that his ability to exert his strength had been depleted, he became powerless against an over the hill Tim Sylvia.  One who has mastery over technique is able to fatigue less under exertion, which means an ability to use one’s strength over a longer sustained amount of time.

Image result for mariusz pudzianowski vs Tim Sylvia
Many theological scholars have used this exact image to disprove the existence of God

The discrepancy between getting better versus getting stronger also explains where the popular notion about how “successful athletes don’t necessarily make successful coaches” originates, and where it fails.  Many are inclined to point out that an athlete that encountered great success most likely did so due to some sort of genetic gifts, and since things came naturally to said trainee, their ability to coach one who is not as blessed will be lacking.  Additionally, many times we witness successful strength athletes telling trainees to quit thinking so hard and just lift weights (Steve Puclinella being famous for this), and many times people deride these words as the boisterous noise of someone who is “gifted”.  What we are in fact witnessing is the example of an athlete who is strong giving advice on how to get stronger, not better.

To expand on the above, we must once again understand that development of skill is highly specialized and precise.  It requires perfected technique, repetition, and correct motor pattern reinforcement/programming to ensure sustained improvement.  Strength, however, is a product of grinding, effort and time.  Strength is developed in a brutal and ugly fashion, with little thinking necessary, simply effort.  A “gifted” athlete most likely was blessed in the sense that they became so much stronger than their competition that they never needed to learn how to become “better”, but you can rest assured that these people absolutely know how to become stronger.  It is absolutely true that you cannot apply their advice to the topic of “how do I become a better lifter”, but when wondering “how do I become a STRONGER lifter”, their advice is true.  This is where it once again becomes important to approach each topic of conversation with a CLEAR understanding of what it is that one is actually discussing, and in turn what advice one is receiving.  Sheiko can absolutely turn anyone into a better lifter, and Pulcinella can turn anyone into a stronger lifter.

Image result for steve pulcinella
Fairly certain that this image alone is highly anabolic

Strength can also impair the development of skill, and vice versa.  When one is strong enough, they can simply muscle things into working, and in most cases a strong person defaults to this as it is “easier” than trying to employ/learn a skill.  My own experience in martial arts confirmed this for me, as I spent years trying to learn how to be a BETTER fighter, yet in most cases I would resort to muscling my opponent simply because I was better at being stronger.  I would “win” fights, but I was not becoming a good fighter.  In contrast, many people can use skill to compensate for strength, to the point that, when it comes time to develop strength they simply refine and improve skill.  Strength building is inefficient, it is about putting yourself in a disadvantageous position and hammering the body into adapting.  If I want to build a stronger chest by benching, I do myself no favors by driving as hard as I can with my legs, squeezing my scaps together, arching my back as high as possible, etc etc.  As blasphemous as it may sound, putting my legs up in the air may be the path toward a stronger chest.

The takeaway is this: we must be honest with ourselves when monitoring our progress.  The sheer fact that more weight is being lifted is not enough for us to judge if we have met our goals, as we must first determine what path we intended to employ in order to lift more weight.  If we pursue training with the goal of getting stronger and added 30lbs to a lift overnight, we failed: strength does not come quickly.  If we pursued training with the goal of getting better and approach training unintellectually, we failed: skill is precise.  Our approach and mentality dictates our outcome, and our awareness of this dictates our success.

2 comments:

  1. This post really provides a clear distinction between both pathways.

    It is interesting to me that advice to address stalls and plateaus is sometimes to reset to the bar or drop weight and work on form.

    I never found that useful because without proper coaching and cues my form did not improve after the reset. I did not get any better at the movement and this post explains why the same stalls occurred at the same weight.

    As I close in on 45 with a past history of poor application of abbreviated training principles I am realising that I often attributed my poor progress to the wrong variables and tried to fix things with the wrong intervention.

    My weighted dips have hit body + 31kgs and my form has started to degrade with joint pain a tell tale sign. In the past I would have reset. This time I am going to follow the idea you outlined for squats. Do more at that weight and do more dips to force adaptation rather than "fix my form".

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    1. That is one of my biggest frustrations with the internet community, and why I advise people not to seek training advice from forums. It's such the go to solution, along with "fix your form for gains" and other such nonsense. We forget that, yes, increasing numbers is awesome, but most people chase those numbers in order to get stronger or bigger, not necessarily better.

      I hope your new approach works well for you. I think it has some potential for success.

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