Coach Caleb’s Corner
Frequent, Fresh, Flawless
Recently, Kati and I had the privilege to work as assistant instructors at the StrongFirst Girya kettlebell instructor certification in New York City. This was the fourth kettlebell certification we’ve assisted at, but it was our first trip to the Big Apple. The city was thrilling to visit, and the opportunity to reconnect with our instructor community was invaluable, as usual! We always come home reinvigorated with the latest and greatest training techniques, tips and cues from the best in the business, and are anxious to share these tricks of the trade to help our Breakthrough gym members get the results they’re looking for. The fundamental “hard style” principles are as relevant now as they were when we began teaching almost 10 years ago, but a new phrase caught my attention during the course in NY, and it sums up our approach to training quite well. Frequent, Fresh, Flawless!
So what could those three “F’s” have to do with lifting weights? They are actually a very concise instruction manual for strength training! Train your strength often (Frequent), when you are rested enough (Fresh), striving to perform with perfect technique (Flawlesss); that’s what it’s all about. Like the Hokey Pokey. (I’m not actually sure what that’s all about, but the song is quite emphatic that that is indeed what it’s all about.) In any case, failed reps and burpees to the point of exhaustion need not apply for time on your training calendar. With the amount of FOMO (fear of missing out) that is perpetrated by the fitness industry, you’d think you need to run obstacle course races, compete in weightlifting and train like a Navy SEAL six days a week in order to get fit and strong. You don’t. By practicing a few skills that carry over to a large number of athletic endeavors, we can achieve amazing things and avoid wasting hours in the gym on junk reps.
When you practice something often, with a high attention to proper technical performance, you will become more skilled at that thing. Learning how to create more tension in a muscle (squeezing it harder) is one of the keys to getting more strength without necessarily adding any unwanted size. A muscle capable of more intense contractions performs better, and looks good naked too! (I say this for those of you in the “firm and tone” camp who are wondering if this applies to you. It does!) By squeezing energy out of a multitude of accessory muscles and channeling it to the prime movers for an exercise, we enable greater and safer expressions of strength in our training. We call this irradiation. It’s a skill we use “frequently” because we’ve stayed “fresh” enough to have the energy to do it. The most powerful neural generators of this tension are the abdominals, gluteus and grip muscles, by the way. We like the look of firm abs and tight butts, but they also help us generate strength for almost any exercise and contribute to the “Flawless” technique component in our practice!
Now let’s talk about staying fresh while you practice. (As it applies to your training, at least. Personal hygiene is important too but outside the scope of this discussion.) That’s right, I used the word “practice,” not “work out.” By this, I mean performing mentally focused athletic drills or lifts, while rested enough to execute a few near perfect repetitions. These reps are almost never close to the point of failure, with a perceived rate of exertion of only about seven out of ten. How can that be challenging enough work to get us big results? Well, the benefits of lower repetition, moderate intensity practice are well documented in our StrongFirst training manuals. Soviet researchers discovered that as their weightlifters became stronger using these protocols, the same degree of tension generated by their muscles was accompanied by lower electrical activity. In other words, it took less mental effort to lift the same weight. They stayed very fresh.
Furthermore, moderately intense (not high intensity) stimulation of nerve cells commanding the muscles (motorneurons) increases the strength of synaptic connections, and such motor activity promotes the wrapping of nerves with myelin, a neural insulator. This reduces any “leakage” of the nerve force, turning the wiring responsible for an exercise into a “superconductor.” So, by staying fresh, frequent and flawless in your practice, the same level of effort can produce harder muscle contractions. Congratulations! You just got stronger using the science of training, and you didn’t even have to become a sweaty mess to do it. Although some of us might love the feel of that constant burn in our training, in actual fact we’re probably just performing a lot of junk repetitions that don’t do much more than wear us out.
So if you’re strength practice is starting to feel too hard and you’re getting worn out too much of the time, consider changing things up in favor of the three “F’s.” Frequent, Fresh and Flawless practice for a fabulous Holiday Season!