Part 1 of this series covered the Why question. Or at least, gave some insight into how to determine your own why…
BTW, if you didn’t pick up on it, that was the point of that post…the “why” of training (or exercise) is always up to you. You decide what you want.
And from that perspective we’ll move into the “how.” Since there is no “Ultimate How” of exercise, movement, or fitness – no “one-size-fits-all” – let’s outline the general principles that will get you to your goal.
The Neuromuscular Cardiopulmonaryvascular Digestive-hormonal-integumentary System
In reality, you’re a body. We won’t discuss too much about what that means, but it might be worth knowing that you’re at least 80% other little tiny bodies with minds of their own.
When you train you affect all of it.
The big things we look for in physical training, sport, and fitness, are usually muscular and cardio-vascular or -pulmonary measures. We’ll talk about other stuff too.
So what are you doing when you train? You’re using your muscles to move your body in a certain way, which requires particular muscles to work, which demands energy creation and use. The IAAF diagram displays these energy systems well:
Here are the strict “energy” systems that correspond with those movement blocks:
As Joel Jamieson points out in his excellent book “Ultimate MMA Conditioning,” the aerobic system is slightly misrepresented in a graph like this, since this graph really shows the relative contribution of the energy system for a given duration of effort.
The aerobic process is constantly working. You’re using it now. And it is also the process that refuels the others.
Here’s an old chart I made up a while back that divides up effort (mostly in terms of weight training) in terms of energy system, etc.
Like I said, this chart is great for weight training, but needs some further definition and exploration to apply in terms of movement (like sprinting, jogging, throwing, etc.).
The next important factor to consider in your training is your ability to control your motor system. Are you a poor, good, or great mover?
Many people have attempted to qualify motor control and the execution of progressively-difficult motor-control problems. Gentile’s taxonomy is one such method:
There are a couple of key components to motor skill acquisition and motor learning that aren’t represented by this picture – awareness and intention…but we’ll save those for later.
“Stability precedes mobility” the old movement saying goes. You’ll be able to move and coordinate the movement of your body to the degree that you can stabilize it.
As I wrote in a series of articles about Dynamic Neuromuscular stabilization (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), stability (and mobility( in humans arises from foundational movement patterns that are an intrinsic part of our nervous system. Of particular importance – the diaphragm.
Get on it!
The ability to control movement is also dependent on the ability or capacity for movement. Mobility is “natural” in a healthy infant. But as we go forth into the world, and become (in some cultures) confined to stiff chairs placed in regimented rows, our bodies gradually replace some healthy patterns with less healthy ones.
Muscles lose their natural length-tension relationships, joints become crusty and compressed, tissues stiffen.
Mobilization is needed. How, you might ask? Well, Kelley Starrett of Crossfit SF has done an amazing job of providing an extensive library of mobilizations.
Most mobilization consists of some combination of compression, distraction (the opposite of compression), and actively-resisted movement through the range of motion.
Go to Kelley’s site, search for the joint you’re having trouble with, and do the mobilizations…it’ll make a big difference.
There is a component that Kelley doesn’t really deal with on his site, that is necessary to address, often times before you attempt to stabilize or mobilize joints, tissues, or movements.
Karel Lewit talks about this extensively in his papers and in his book. If adhesions or scar tissue (or muscular spasms) exist in a muscle, they will prevent proper stabilization and mobilization (and stability and mobility – the active use of stabilization/mobilization).
So first, release that scar tissue/spasm.
Well, how the hell do you do that?! This list is getting long, Josh!
Never fear, dear-hearts. The answer is simple and wonderful:
GO GET A MASSAGE
Not just a “Swedish relaxation massage.” But go to a highly regarded manual therapist, sports massage therapist, or other therapist skilled in dealing with tissue health. The focus here is not on “relaxing” (we’ll get to that). It’s on restoring tissue quality and health.
Can’t afford a massage? Google and YouTube are wonderful things. Search “soft tissue release [insert your problem area here]” and try the techniques that pop up.
Oh yeah, and stay hydrated.
Central Nervous System Balance and Tone
Ok, now we can talk a little bit about “relaxation.” If you’re hustling like everyone else I know, you’re not getting enough sleep, you have chronic mental stress in certain areas of your life, with acute bouts of mental stress scattered throughout the day/week/year, and you’re drinking too much caffeine.
This solution is another easy one – TAKE A VACATION.
But I can’t afford to take a vacation, you say!
Once again, never fear. You must resolve to create mini-vacations for yourself in life.
The best way I’ve come across is to use Autogenic Training. There’s a helpful self-training schedule here. But it’s extremely helpful if you can use a recording – of your own voice or another person’s – to do this stuff. Being able to lie back and follow along is much more relaxing than reading.
I prefer Autogenic Training because it leads not only to a more relaxed (parasympathetic-dominant) state, but because it is also training in body-awareness…but let’s hold off on awareness just a little longer…
Strength, Power, and Endurance
Look again at that IAAF diagram above. There are three main energy systems, or ways to fuel muscular work – Max Strength, Max Speed, Aerobic Endurance. Each with unique parameters that emphasize those systems.
Training, ideally, occurs in all three. If you’re training for a specific goal, you need to devote more time to that ability. The breakdown might be 60-70% of your total energy in the specific movements and energy systems of that goal, 20-30% in the secondary or supporting energy system, and 10-20% in the auxiliary system.
For a Powerlifter, for instance, that breakdown might look like this:
Max Strength = 60-70% of the total training volume = Classic Lifts and Max-Effort “accessory” lifts (e.g., bands, boards, GHR, etc., a la Louie Simmons). All the classic loading schemes – 3×3, 1×5, 1×1, etc. Rest is always 3+ minutes. Frequency is once every 7 days or so.
Max Speed = 20-30% = Ballistics and Jumps. Same thing here. Classic loading parameters – 3-6 sets x 6 reps @ 60% 1RM, etc. Rest is 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Frequency is once every 5-7 days.
Endurance = 10% = hypertrophy range or beyond. Rest is shorter, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Frequency is a lot greater because of the lower relative intensity…once every other day or even every day depending on condition of the mover.
Then there are the “blended” systems, each with their own specific parameters.
Strength-Speed/Power = Sled pushes/pulls, wall-ball, speed-squats or pushups, etc. Similar loading parameters to Max Speed. Frequency is about the same as well.
Speed-Endurance = Wind sprints, intervals, etc. Similar parameters to Max Speed.
Strength-Endurance = 20-rep squats, 20-rep bench, loaded carries, etc. Parameters are somewhere between endurance and strength…
It’s important to realize that working in blended systems only acts to assist main strength parameters. There won’t be a ton of carryover from blended work to pure-system performance.
I.e., strength-endurance can help max strength work or endurance work, but doing strength-endurance stuff alone will not improve performance in Max Strength or Endurance as much as focused work in those systems will.
That is, adaptation is specific to imposed demand (The S.A.I.D. Principle).
Where’s your strength, where are you weak? Determine percentages of volume or total energy expenditure based on your individual needs.
Awareness and Attention
The “psychological” aspect of training is critical. Anyone who has ever trained beyond 6 weeks or so gets to the stage where psychological factors (motivation, intensity, etc.) outweigh physical capacity.
Awareness extends as deeply as you’ll follow it. Are you aware of pain? Most people are, generally. But what about the specifics of pain? Where is the pain coming from? What’s causing the pain? Both in terms of – what is the irritating factor, but also – do you understand how pain-signals are generated by/in your body?
The Soviet athletes (and most Eastern Bloc, state-funded athletes) studied anatomy and physiology every day. The coaches realized that a better-educated athlete can recognize what’s happening inside their own body and be a better performer as a result.
One of the primary ways to train your psychology is to begin to play with your awareness and attention. What are you focused on during your training session?
And so we end at the beginning. What is your goal? What is your intention? As Nietzsche said – “With a strong enough Why, any How is possible.” Find your Why and cultivate it. Best done in connection with a strong teacher and a good community.