If you’re not training properly you are leaving valuable opportunities to improve your game on the table. Not to mention that if you are not training safely then you’re better off not training at all. So how do we make sure we are getting the most out of our training? By ensuring that we follow our key training principles.
Key Training Principles
Mobility Before Strength
Mobility, or the ability to control your body through a range of motion, must be achieved before you can effectively strengthen or load a movement. Mobility is the combination of flexibility and motor control. Flexibility is the ability to passively move your joint through a motion. Motor control is the ability to control a movement. Having too much flexibility and not enough motor control can lead to dynamic instability, and having limited flexibility often leads to partial movements and compensations. Both scenarios increase the potential risk injury by increasing the stress on tissues that are not prepared to handle that load. By ensuring full mobility in a given motion before loading it you can optimize your functional output and decrease the likelihood of injury. Remember, you can’t strengthen a motion you can’t get into, and you shouldn’t be loading a position you can’t control.
Focus on Form
Form always comes first when training, no matter what. If you have bad form while completing your training not only are you not optimizing your time, but you could be increasing the likelihood that you get injured during your training. If you can’t finish your lift without compensating, even slightly, then guess what? You can’t do that lift. Bring the weight back down, break down the movement, figure out where it is falling apart, and fix it. You may find that you’re pushing too much weight and need to back off. Or maybe you don’t have the range of motion to complete the movement without compensating and you need to work on your mobility. Maybe you have pain and need to see your doctor or physical therapist. Whatever the reason is, one thing is always true, if you can’t complete that portion of your training with good form then you shouldn’t be completing that portion of your training at all.
The only exception to this is when you are first learning a new movement. If this is your first time squatting then it would be unreasonable to expect you to have perfect form right from the beginning. It would also be unreasonable to expect to start adding weight to your squat before you have perfected your form. You have to learn the movement and master the motor control before we add unnecessary stress to the system. You have to move well first, anything else is asking for compensations, suboptimal performance, and potentially injury. Just remember, when it comes to training form, good enough isn’t good enough.
If you have to hold your breath while you’re training then you’re probably pushing too hard. Breath holding is more common during lifting activities than plyometrics or mobility work, but it can show up at any time. Whenever you find yourself straining and struggling, chances are you have started to hold your breath. There is actually a name for this breath holding strategy, the Valsalva Maneuver, and it is your body’s way of trying to increase stability. It also spikes your blood pressure, and can be a sign that your core strength isn’t keeping up with your other muscles. There is a time and a place for the Valsalva Maneuver, but during your training program is not that time, or that place.
If you find yourself holding your breath while you are training, first try to incorporate proper breathing into your lift. Exhale during the concentric phase and inhale during the eccentric phase of your lift. If you still find that you are holding your breath then you may want to lower the weight and see if you can incorporate proper breathing. When it comes to your training, holding your breath is bad form, and we already went over how we feel about that.
Don’t Push Through Pain
This point requires some explanation as the term “pain” is vague and can carry any number of connotations depending on who is using the term and in what context. In this case I am not referring to training soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that can potentially occur each time you add a new stressor to you workout (ie upping the weight, increasing reps, adding a new exercise, etc). That training soreness is an expected byproduct of most training plans. Training soreness may indicate that you need to rest for a day or two, but is typically not a sign that you need to stop training. No, the pain I am referring to is any sharp pain, pinching pain, burning pain, nervy pain, or any other unexpected pain that occurs during your training that is not getting better, or is getting worse. If you experience these types of pain during your training then take a few days off, skip the parts of your training that increase your pain, and try again when you are pain free.
Remember Your Goals
It is easy to get caught up in the moment during a good training session. You feel really good so you do a couple extra reps or throw on some more weight. You see someone doing a new exercise and you decide to try it. That latest Instagram post said you should only be doing bodyweight exercises. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these scenarios, but before you mix up your training, make sure what you are doing is in alignment with your goals. If you’re trying to build power and explosiveness then you probably don’t need to be doing 3 sets of 10 to fatigue instead of your planned 5 sets of 3 just because the guy next to you is putting up 50 more pounds than you. That new exercise may be great, but does it get you closer to where you want to be? If not, don’t make it part of your training. Stick to the plan and you will get the results.
That being said, some days we’re just off. Maybe you didn’t sleep well, or you’re tired from practice. Whatever the reason, some days are just not as good as others. Don’t skip a training session just because you’re feeling off (unless of course you are injured, sick or something truly pressing comes up), but don’t be afraid to modify your plan for that day. Remember, form comes first, and if you’re not feeling yourself there is a good chance your form will suffer if you try to power through. So take the day and back off some of the weight, reduce your sets or reps, or focus on form and mobility.
Putting It All Together
Training programs and training sessions can take many different forms. No one program is right for everyone. Your training may change through the course of your season or career. That is part of the process. The principles behind your training will never change. Think of them as your core values. Whatever your training sessions looks like, apply the key training principles and you will optimize your time, optimize your movement, and optimize your performance.