The Art of Movement Edition 38: Training Principles 9 - Force is King
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Edition 38 - Training Principles 9: Force is King
For this penultimate ‘principles’ newsletter, we are going to be discussing the most important thing of all to understand with regards to lifting, running, jumping etc. - FORCE. Getting stronger, improving your performance of an activity, and staying injury free is about how much force you can produce, and how much force your joints can tolerate.
When you first begin training, gaining strength and lifting heavier weights can seem like a distant goal. But naturally the more you train, the faster your strength will increase. In order to achieve that, you need to understand how force production and joint stress impact your training. Training specificity is crucial in any sport or activity. For example: If you play football, it is not enough to just stick to the weight machines. The way you train must be as specific as possible to the movements required when playing football. Improving strength and staying injury-free are about how much force you can produce when lifting a weight, and about how much force your joints can tolerate. Whether it’s squats, deadlifts, bench presses or any other exercise – what matters most is understanding how much force those movements require from your body and how much influence you can have over mastering a given load.
In order to understand how much force your body produces during a lift, we need to get a few things straight. Firstly, the three types of muscle fibres: Type I (slow twitch), Type IIa (fast twitch oxidative), and Type IIb (fast twitch non-oxidative). Secondly, the difference between concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. And, thirdly, the force-velocity relationship.
First, the three types of muscle fibres. Slow twitch fibres are responsible for long-duration, low-intensity contractions. These can be seen as your aerobic fibres that help you with endurance activities. Fast twitch oxidative fibres activate when you lift relatively heavy weights or perform short-term contractions. Fast twitch non-oxidative fibres are responsible for extremely short-term, high-intensity contractions when you lift maximally heavy weights. These are your anaerobic fibres that help you with heavy weight lifting. Each fibre type has a different strength, activation bias and force production. Slow twitch fibres can sustain a contraction for 30-40 seconds, whereas fast twitch non-oxidative fibres may only sustain a contraction for 10-15 seconds.
The difference between concentric and eccentric muscle contractions is that concentric contractions are when your muscle shortens as you move a weight, whereas eccentric contractions are when your muscle lengthens as you return the weight. To get stronger, you can’t just focus on lifting heavier weights (with perfect technique), this needs to be done sometimes concentrically and sometimes eccentrically, with focus on utilising and improving the efficiency of each muscle fibre type.
The force-velocity relationship is the idea that the force your muscles produce is related to their speed of contraction. A slow contraction produces more force than a fast contraction. The heavier the weight you lift, the slower your muscles contract to produce the same amount of force. This is why it’s important to have perfect technique when lifting heavy weights: You need to make sure that you can still produce enough force to lift the weight.
What can increase your force production?
In the most simple terms - diversify your training! Too many people stick to their own tiny sphere of stress in the gym (3 sets of 15 concentric reps for everything, all the time), which gives the body no incentive to become more versatile and consequently stronger. You can increase your strength by training all the muscle fibres you have.
How? By sometimes increasing the time under tension during your sets and by using heavier weights. By increasing your time under tension, you force your muscles to produce more force by recruiting more fibres. This can be done by slowing down your lifts and adding more reps to your sets. By adding more weight to your sets, you’re increasing the amount of force your muscles must produce, even if you do less reps. This will result in more strength gains. This can obviously increase your risk of injury, so you must make sure that you’re lifting the right amount of weight for your given strength level.
What can increase your joint stress tolerance?
The amount of force your joints can tolerate is highly individualised, and will be based upon your entire upbringing, from childhood activity levels, to training and injury history. Some people have joints that are very stable and mobile and can tolerate a lot of force, and some have joints that are less stable and mobile and can tolerate less force. The one thing that all people can do to increase their joint stress tolerance is to strength train regularly - simple, compound movements. This can be done by incorporating a few exercises into your lifting routine that are specific towards the joints you want to strengthen. An example of this would be including single leg squats in your workout routine. This exercise primarily works the glute maximus, which is a strong muscle, but also requires large forces going through the knee joint, which strengthens its tolerance.
The more strength you can produce, the more force your joints can tolerate. The more force your joints can tolerate, the less likely you are to get injured. It’s as simple as that. Getting stronger and staying injury-free is all about understanding how much force your body produces, and how much force your joints can handle. This is not just about lifting heavier weights, but also about training in a way that develops all of your muscle fibres holistically. By doing this, you can improve your force production, and increase your joint stress tolerance!
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” ― Isaac Newton
(I use this quote as people often do this thing when lifting, running and jumping where to try harder, they try to generate upward momentum eg. excessive knee drive - not fully understanding force and the laws of motion. Those who understand force attack *the floor*, maximising their *downward* momentum, and stab the ground as hard as possible, which results in greater force application, and therefore greater ‘air time’ or a heavier lift.)
Movement of the Week: Goblet Squat
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