“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This informs my training. It has to.
I used to have a chronic (what I more specifically call an omnipresent) pain issue. I no longer do. I have an intermittent pain issue. I have a co-occurring movement issue. Pain and movement are highly associated.
How I’ve been able to acquire more performance, more movement function, is not by “playing to my strengths.” Playing to one’s strengths is a sound business, athletic, even life strategy…but it carries major risks. Perhaps the biggest risk is applying that strategy in physical training.
In this article, we’re going to explore your weakest link. We’re going to talk about how to progress the training of your weakest link. And, of course, we’re going to look at why you developed a weak link and why this type of training is the best solution.
How can you tell where you’re weak? When you truly understand movement, every movement is an assessment. And in every movement, you’re assessing, you’re looking for a particular condition.
What’s been en vogue in movement assessment has been looking at hypermobility, or what’s moving too much. And that does have to do with your weak link. But not directly.
Think of a weak link. This is a muscle, muscle group, or more specifically, a movement muscles generate. If it’s weak, does it move too much…or too little?
Weak links are too weak to move much. That’s when other muscle groups kick in to try and produce the desired movement. But how should we deal with what’s moving too little…and what’s moving too much?
Within the fitness industry, the majority view on the breakdown between hyper and hypo mobility is to focus on hypermobility, or what’s moving too much. The believe that in order to address it, stability needs to be trained. But does it?
In BIOMECHANICS 1, stability is defined as “resistance to movement.” And strength is defined as “movement against resistance.” Which one does it sound like needs to be trained? Stability or strength?
What’s compensating, or what’s moving too much, is moving too much because the weak links aren’t moving enough. Should we train our strong parts, the ones that can move, NOT TO MOVE??? Or should we train our weak parts, the ones that cannot move, TO MOVE?
What is the solution to Weak Links? Strength? Or Stability?
Whenever we train stability, we are intentionally practicing not moving….or at least not moving very much. The carryover effect in training usually 10-15 degrees to the motion trained. But beyond that, there is little to no direct positive transfer. That often means we’re getting weaker through the motions we’re not training. And that’s the problem with stability training.
Stability training creates more Ranges of Motion where we don’t move. And where we don’t move, we get weak. Stability training is the fast track to more weak links.
But strength training (along, often combined with speed training) gets us more strength, more speed, more motion…and of course, less weak links. But how do we know what our weak links are? And how do we train them?
Training our weak links is pretty straightforward. We take our weak parts and make them strong. But what are our weak parts?
If any movement can be an assessment, pick a movement. If you go the gym, pick an exercise. In fact, pick an exercise where you’re weak.
Now in this exercise, there is a ROM where you feel particularly weak. It may be at the bottom of a Bench Press, or the top of a pull up, or the middle of a Deadlift. These weaknesses are what you’ll train…but there’s a caveat.
Weak Link training, or strength training, needs to be pain free. Correction. Strength training should feel good. So if a weakness doesn’t feel good to make strong, find another weakness.
In a weak ROM, your body is going to want to come out of position in order to produce more motion. Lower the resistance so that doesn’t happen. And if you lower the resistance all the way to bodyweight and it’s still happening, add some assistance to the motion as you would in an assisted pull-up or dip.
After you’ve sufficiently regressed the challenge so you can actually train your weak ranges of motion, you have options for progression. Don’t feel that increasing the load is the only factor. An increase in reps, sets, rep speed, rep ROM, and load are all wins. Take the wins when you can where they are.
And don’t feel you have to give up your strength to train your weakness. Train your strong movements through their strong ROM…with the same caveat. They must not only be pain free but feel good.
Don’t think that you’re necessarily widening the gap between your strengths and your weaknesses. It’s likely you’ve never trained your weaknesses before. And there’s a good reason why you haven’t.
What gives us weak links? It’s the same thing that makes us weak. Not training. More specifically, not moving. But why we don’t move? There are two major culprits: opposition and position.
By opposition, I mean that the directions we’re most often moving in is making the opposite of those motions weak. Over time, flexion makes extension weak. Left rotation makes right rotation weak.
By position, I mean the positions we are finding ourselves in…mainly sitting (the american average is 9 hours per day). Sitting is mainly flexion. This makes extension weak but also makes further flexion weak, as well. What we are training is making what we’re not training weak.
This points to a very simple and very obvious solution. Train it all…movement at least. Because you’re only strong as your weakest link.