Why Quality, Not Quantity, Builds Strength
More weights, more muscle. That would seem logically true.
However, as with most things in life the situation is much less black and white than it would appear to be.
Here’s the thing…
Quality of movement is far better than quantity.
10 squats with impeccable form, focusing on every muscular movement with full concentration and every ounce of consciousness will get those muscles pumping.
Let’s explore this idea a little further with some examples of how to maximize your muscle gains with the quality approach.
Gains that will translate into improved performance in your CrossFit Box.
Let’s get stuck in…
We’ll start off with a core component of every movement within the body, the core.
Definitions vary, but let’s broadly agree that the core is the trunk of the body, including the abs, lower back, lower lats, glutes and hips.
Pretty much every movement you make requires those muscles to be engaged. Or at least they should be, and if they’re not that can lead to some common injuries.
If you’re not used to using your core area very well, which means to be able to consciously control it on demand, you’re not going to be able to use it properly with a heavy barbell on your back.
We need to get back to basics to get those muscles firing without weight before we add it into our lifts. The best way to do this is to try out simple moves.
For example, try a single leg glute bridge. In this position you should be able to feel the difference between your glute muscle and hamstring. You should be able to relax (to some extent) the hamstring while engaging the glute.
That move is a perfect warm up exercise before and kind of deadlift, squat or lifting move by the way. You’re welcome.
The next one you can try is the plank. Are you able to tighten different areas of your body independently? The abs. The glutes. The legs. Can you keep them squeezed tightly for 30+ seconds at a time?
All of the above muscles should be fully engaged when performing a plank. There is little point being able to hold a plank for 5 minutes if you’re not using the muscles to do so.
Unless you’re going for the Guiness world record for a plank. Let’s assume you’re not…It’s 8 hours by the way.
Those two moves, the glute bridge and plank, are important because they are the individual parts of the squat.
In a squat, your abs should remain tensed like a plank to protect your back and as you stand up you should be doing, in effect, a standing glute bridge.
Top Tip: Practice both of those moves before any squat to get the muscles firing first. Then add weight slowly to the bar while ensuring you engage those muscles as much as possible when squatting.
Let’s move on to tempo training
The speed at which you complete a movement is known as the tempo. For example, let’s say you are squatting. There are 4 different parts to the movement as far as tempo is concerned:
- Lowering/squatting down move
- Pause at the bottom
- Standing up movement
- Pause at the top
The tempo of the move is represented in seconds for each part, so 2,0,1,0 is:
- 2 seconds lowering
- 0 seconds pause at bottom
- 1 second standing up
- 0 second pause at top
The reason this is so relevant is because of something called time under tension. In short, the longer you take to complete a movement the more tension the muscles are under.
More time under tension per set means more stress for the muscles which leads to improved muscular development and strength.
As an added bonus…
By changing your tempo to something much slower and more controlled, you will work the muscles through their full range of motion rather than just the explosive phase from the bottom of the move.
This means a more fully developed muscle and one which you can control throughout any movement.
There are lots of workouts out there that specify what tempo to use and help you mix it up to get the best results from your time.
Foam rolling & stretching
Most of us do a lot of strength training, but probably much less maintenance work like foam rolling and stretching.
Foam rolling has so many benefits, but the biggest one is a releasing of tight muscles. This is important for strength training because if your muscle is tight it won’t move properly.
A poorly moving muscle, is one that could lead to injury or definitely an impaired range of motion. A big disadvantage for anyone taking part in crossfit classes.
How to do it…
There are literally thousands of YouTube videos out there to help you go through some of the moves.
The advice would be to check the validity of the person giving the advice first. Osteo or therapists are usually better placed than PTs to give out this kind of advice, but that’s not to say that PTs and coaches don’t know what to do.
And let’s not forget range of motion
When stretching and foam rolling, it’s important to decide where to focus your attention, especially if you have limited time to train.
Running through a movement screen, such as this one, helps identify areas of your body which would benefit the most from working on.
It could be external rotation on one of your shoulders or a tightness in one of your hips. Knowing what to work on which will bring about the best chance of change is critical.
How to bullet-proof your body
We all want a strong body, which means that we need to work on our weaknesses and address any areas which may cause problems later on.
The best way to start is by doing a movement screen on yourself. See where you’re tight, lacking balance or have a limited range of motion.
Then use stretching and foam rolling to release tension and improve your range of motion.
After that, look at training with different tempos when weight training to develop better muscular function and strength.
The bottom line….
You’re only as strong as your weakest body part, so work through each area of your body and get them all firing properly and working together to become super strong.
This will translate into a higher level of performance in your crossfit sessions.
-Robert Jackson is an Ironman UK finisher and certified personal trainer based in Canary Wharf, London. He specialises in training time-poor office workers who want to get back in shape, and first time triathletes. Find out more at www.minimalfit.co.uk
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