As our knowledge of the human body and it various systems continues to improve the field of strength and conditioning is quickly integrating with a variety of fields such as physical therapy.
This is where Pat Davidson enters the picture. Pat is a good friend of Matt and I’s and is one of the smartest and most innovative coaches in the industry. Over the coming months we will be sharing some of his innovative techniques through our website. I’ll let him take it from here:
My name is Pat Davidson and I am currently a professor of exercise science at Springfield College. My main passion in life is my pursuit of strength and athleticism. I compete in Strongman, and in the two and a half years that I have been involved in the sport I have competed for two world championships at the Arnold Classic. I also have been able to coach, mentor, and truly get to know many of the athletes who make up Springfield College Team Ironsports.
A Unique Perspective
My lifestyle is unique. I talk about, research, and implement the science of performance all day. I have an extensive knowledge of the basics: lifting technique, speed, agility, plyometrics, energy system anatomy and physiology, musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology, periodization, etc. This foundation of knowledge has helped me to incorporate advanced physical therapy theoretical concepts into the training system that I utilize. Which is what I want to tell you about today.
Before we get to the good stuff, we need to cover what I think is the biggest thing missing in strength training: awareness, control, mobility and stability of the muscles, fascia, assorted soft tissues, and bony structures north of the clavicles and scapula (the neck and head). This is unchartered territory in the world of training. The anatomy and physiology is intimidating up there (eyes, ears, nose, throat, brain) and the science is demanding. However, there are a few simple things you can do that will help you utilize muscles that you probably never knew you could train. But, before we get to that let’s cover why you even need to train them. Below you will find three basic principles of training:
1. What is the purpose of training?
Think about that one for a minute…good question, right. The answer: According the Exercise Physiology text book by McArdle, Katch, and Katch (2011) the goal of training is to induce specific structural and functional adaptations. A structural adaptation to strength training is increased cross-sectional area of muscle due to increased protein synthesis (bigger muscles). A functional adaptation is increased force production (strength, power, speed). The structural change feeds into new functional capabilities…bigger triceps, bigger bench.
2. What is Starling’s Law of Recruitment?
The answer: As force production increases, recruitment of fibers increases. In addition to this, only the fibers that are recruited and fatigued during an exercise bout are available for adaptation. Furthermore, as fibers make adaptations to training, they move closer to their genetic potential for hypertrophy and force production. These fibers then experience diminishing returns from training. You work hard, but you plateau. The higher your training age and experience, the closer all your working fibers are to their genetic potential. This is why newbies make huge gains while veterans struggle to make small gains.
3. What can you tell me about specificity?
The answer is too long and complicated for one article, but an acceptable synopsis would involve the following: Specific training occurs when you are playing or practicing the sport you compete in. To improve performance you need to make adaptations. These adaptations need to be specific to the movements you want to make better in your sport. To induce these kinds of adaptations you need to do moves in training that mimic the force, velocity, angles, type of contraction, and energy system utilization that is as close to identical with the sport move as possible.
If you’re a middle school basketball coach you’re not going to have your team play soccer in practice the week before the first game of the season because soccer isn’t specific enough to basketball. The two sports have many similarities, but there are enough differences to make it obvious that soccer for basketball would be a poor coaching decision. If you don’t practice and train the right qualities you won’t improve.
Putting it together
As a coach the most important thing I can do for any athlete is to figure out what sport movements they can’t perform well. Having the capability to figure out lacking movements and their causes is a powerful tool in my coaching toolbox. If you lack right shoulder internal rotation, then I’ll know exactly why you’re struggling with certain sport movements. If I can show you why you’re lacking that movement and how to gain it and keep it, all of a sudden things you were struggling with yesterday you’ll be able to do pretty easily. If I can give you the motions that you were lacking, and then train you in movements that will translate to your sport, I’ll increase the exact right muscles in the exact right way to make you a monster.
The muscles in your head and neck are muscles you’ve never trained but they participate in every action you do as a human and can be integrated into your strength training. They are important to train because they are the muscles that are the farthest away from their genetic potential anywhere in your body. Just like I explained above, these muscles have a lot of room for improvement and they will likely eliminate some limiting factors for you.
Using your mouth like you’ve never used it before
Apply the following to any strength movement you can think of performing:
1 – Put as much of the top of your tongue on as much of the roof of your mouth as you can
2 – Touch the insides of your top teeth with as much of your tongue as you can.
3 – Suck the roof of the mouth down (hard palate and soft palate) and try to suck the insides of your top teeth in with the tongue. You are not allowed to suck at sucking. Suck hard…do you feel your abs turning on?
4 – Seal your lips. Use your lips to help try to suck the top teeth down the back of your throat. Use the insides of your cheeks that touch your top teeth to help too. Do you feel your lateral abdominal walls firing?
5 – Use the soft tissue under your chin (the waddle). Pull it up tight and spread it wide to help the tongue, lips, and cheeks suck. You are not allowed to suck at sucking!
This one tip incorporates the answers to the three questions posed in this article because you’ve never trained these muscles.
Now that Pat has explained how to use your sucking muscles let me give you a little more context on why this is so important. Before you dismiss this method as silly or inconsequential take a moment and ask yourself if you have back, knee, shoulder, or any pain at all why training? If the answer is yes, there’s about a 99.99% chance you have a core problem (you can’t find your abs), which leads to poor positioning, bad mechanics, and pain. If that’s you, give this exercise a shot and see if you feel the difference in your core engagement. Chances are you’ll feel your left rib cage pull down (which was previously poking out), your hips will pull under you and your back will feel much closer to neutral instead of arched. All good things.
As all of you who work with us know, we spend a lot of time helping your “find” your abs (deep core) because without that pretty much everything falls apart. Or as Pat puts it:
If all of your abs are stabilizing you during strength movements, you’ll crush weights and you won’t be as beat up after training. This one tip will help you with every repetition of every exercise you do. Don’t suck at sucking and you won’t suck as much.
* Cervical-Cranio-Mandibular Restoration, An Integrated Approach to Treatment of Patterned Temporomandibular and Cervical Dysfunction, Postural Restoration Institute