Around 50 of the strongest athletes in the country converged on Athletic Lab to compete in the West Cary Barbell Fall Festival of Power. Five events were contested, including a car deadlift. Spectator attendance was outstanding to support these strong men and women. With Strongman, CrossFit, and Olympic Weightlifting sessions at Athletic Lab, we are the leader in strength sports in the Triangle. Check out the video of Adam Scherr winning the event.
[This is a guest blog by our Athletic Intern, Salby Salang, an undergraduate sport science student from NCCU.]
Today, everyone is looking for a “magic pill” or supplement to boost their workouts and improve athletic development. While the fundamentals are overlooked, people are quick to spend money and waste time trying the latest supplement advertised on the internet or television. Without a solid foundation, all of the extra stuff is irrelevant.
The mind is one of the most overlooked aspects of exercise and athletic performance. The mind is filled with tremendous potential, unused energy in most individuals. The mental preparation is critical to maximize athletic performance. Whether its play visualizations, conscious muscle innervation, motor pattern training, or self-imaging, where one imagines how they want to look or feel during sport performance. Mental training can raise confidence levels which will in turn increase athletic performance. When you experience success, you have a dopamine response that will encourage new synaptic growth or enhancement. Before you know it, you will need to concentrate less and less on the correct form as your muscle memory becomes ingrained. However, you are now engaging either more or correct muscles with correct form, and so you have just enhanced your overall body awareness, efficiency, and the resultant power of the movement. Mental training is hugely positive. So replace the “magic pill” with mental conditioning supplemented with your physical practice. Most athletes don’t take mental training serious enough to gain the benefits. Don’t be that person, start putting your mind to your muscles and make them work for you.
Here are three tips for mental training:
Picture yourself in Action. Many studies have been done by psychologists proving that this can increase your skill performance. Consider taking at least 30 minutes of your time to train your mind when your body can no longer go and you will reap the results.
Picture yourself facing adversity and struggles. Everyone can picture themselves on the podium receiving the first place trophy but only imagining this is unrealistic. Most people won’t accept failure but you must fail in order to succeed. Once you accept this your success is limitless. Start by constantly reminding yourself what it takes and how it’s going to feel winning the daily battles through practices and workouts. Remind yourself why you are doing this and what’s at stake. During your workouts when you want to quit, train your mind to push past your body’s limit. Your body reacts to your mind’s thought process. So tune up your thoughts and build confidence and your body will follow.
Don’t over think. If you can physically conquer your goals, you should be equally prepared mentally as well. But a lot of times if you over analyze a situation it can backfire. Sharpening your focus allows you to get “in the zone”. Once you get “in the zone” movements become natural and you’re reacting more than thinking. So conquer your mind and conquer your skill! Make time to find a nice quiet spot and focus on nothing but yourself. Your breathing is a good place to start. Every time you find yourself getting distracted by a thought, take a moment to note what you were thinking about, and then go back to concentrating on yourself again. Do this not only before a competition but before practice as well. After practice think back on what you did wrong and picture yourself doing it right. The samurai in Japan learned the importance of this kind of exercise, making them some of the most fearsome warriors in history. Of course this doesn’t substitute for physical training but it is a much needed supplement to your training program. Doing this will give you the advantage and competitive edge you’ve been looking for. Use mind training not only for your performance but for your passion of your sport and you’ll look forward to success everyday you wake up.
At Athletic Lab, sport scientist Dr. Young and his staff provide individualized feedback, both positive and negative, which is imperative your athletic performance.
When we’re working on speed, power or maximal strength (rather than aerobic or anaerobic conditioning or muscular endurance) you need to take sufficient rest to ensure that the body can continue to operate at the level necessary to best train those qualities. To train those qualities you need to be relatively fresh. You can not be overly fatigued and expect to train speed, power or maximal strength well. To train these qualities, one needs to be able to recruit muscle fibers maximally and efficiently. When someone is overly fatigued this is not possible. So while there’s certainly a time and place for fast-paced, minimal-rest workouts or portions of workouts, that would be inappropriate if the goal of that workout or portion of the workout was to train maximal strength, power or speed.
Many gyms, especially those that practice CrossFit, perform kettlebell swings so that the swing ends with the arms completely overhead. We do not. We prefer to teach what is known as a Russian kettlebell swing. The high swing is characterized by an end point where the kettlebell is completely overhead at the top of the swing and the knee and hip opened completely. This is referred to as an American kettlebell swing within the fitness community. It’s motions is longer and smoother. In contrast, we teach what is known as a Russian kettlebell swing. This is characterized by a high point right with the kettlebell directly in front of the eyes. The movement is shorter, faster and more compact.We feel very strongly that this kettlebell swing variation is superior to its American counterpart. It’s not only the original and most widely practiced version of the swing around the world, it’s also safer and a better training method than the American version. While the American version of the kettlebell swing moves the kettlebell through a greater range of motion, it places the highly unstable shoulder joint in a compromised position at the top of the swing. The shoulder joint is the most unstable joint in the human body and bearing a load overhead in a close grip position is not orthopadeically sound. Furthermore, despite claims that the greater range of motion associated with an American swing increases work (Work = Force x Distance) and therefore power (Power = (Force x Distance) / Time)), we are certain this is simply not the case in actual application. Although the range of motion in an American swing is greater than its Russian counterpart, this also requires the athlete to make a compromise in either Force or Time that easily negates any increase in range of motion. If the swing is brought totally overhead, the athlete must use a lighter kettlebell (which will likely lead to decreased Force output) to ensure they can move the kettlebell all the way to the overhead position. This somewhat obvious point is actually even greater than one might think because once the arms and kettlebell are moved beyond parallel with the ground the athlete is at a distinct mechanical disadvantage (read up on lever systems for details if you’re not a biomechanist or engineer). In fact, the kettlebell slows substantially once it passes the chest on the upswing due to this mechanical disadvantage. Basically, if you have enough hip power to get the kettlebell all the way to the American standard position overhead then you should be using more weight (or actively forcing the kettlebell down to increase the effective load of the kettlebell). The other consequence is that the time to complete the swing is significantly longer which reduces the power output. So while the American swing is the de facto technique for CrossFit competitions, we do not feel it is the best variation to be used in training outside of training specifically for CrossFit competitions.
We squat deep regularly. In fact, one of our beliefs is to emphasize range of motion before load. This means that if you’re unable to perform a movement through its entire range of motion that we don’t want to see you go up in weight until you can. Strength training is one of the best ways to enhance joint mobility and flexibility….but only if you are moving through the largest range of motion possible. For this reason, we squat deep to ensure you attain or maintain the range of motion that we’re supposed to have in the ankles, knees, and hips…the same range of motion that we’re all born with that allows babies to easily sit down in to a deep squat. Additionally, squatting through the entire range of motion is the only way to maximally develop the glutes (your butt). The glutes are most active only during the deepest range of motion. And because glute strength is so important in posture, running, lifting things up, etc., it’s important that we perform the movement to develop the glutes to the greatest extent possible.
At Athletic Lab it wouldn’t be unusual to see a workout that involves some form of squatting (overhead, back, front, loaded, bodyweight, etc) every day of the week. Squatting is a foundational movement that provides a high ‘bang-for-your-buck’ in terms of training stimuli. Because you’re incorporating the majority of muscles in your body to perform a squat it is a great exercise for training economy…no need to do leg extensions for the quads, leg curls for the hamstrings, and hit the “Thigh Master” for the adductors when the squat hits all those muscles at one time in a much more functional manner. Because the squat hits so many muscles at the same time it kicks your metabolism in to overdrive really quickly.
The squat also has a lot of carry over to other exercises. In fact, Russian sport scientists found that when technique in the Olympic lifts is proficient, the limiting factor is often one’s back squat max (an efficient power clean:squat ratio should be 1:1.3). The same thing has been found for the deadlift by the elite powerlifters of the famous, West Side Barbell powerlifting club. Finally, the squat is functional. It’s something we all need to be able to do well or we risk losing our ability to accomplish many simple tasks. Standing up, sitting down, picking things up, carrying heavy objects, and a host of other activities are all related to our hip and leg strength and mobility. Once we lose either the strength, range of motion, or both to perform a full deep squat we are on the road to a lower quality of life where we’re unable to do many seemingly simple actions.
The squat is a great movement because, if performed with appropriate technique over a complete range of motion, it can boost strength, metabolism, mobility, and increase a person’s performance in other exercises as well as in life.