I'm going to make a very strange statement and that is the following: "Strength is not just being strong.”
Doesn’t make a lot of sense at first but being a stronger lifter requires a certain level of practiced skill. Strength skill can be viewed as an umbrella term with several aspects under it all of which can be learned and developed. The main aspects under strength skill include basic biomechanical form, unique technique, mental preparedness, and neural recruitment. There is some overlap to all of these but each of them are for the most part their own category under strength skill. We will briefly highlight each but understand that this is just scratching the surface for each.
Basic Biomechanical Form
This is the very first thing people learn about how to be strong and that is how to move efficiently and safely. This is the bread and butter of being a strong lifter and should be the very first thing to learn. Lifting form primarily includes joint positioning and joint action. For example, on a basic squat you would want your knees to be inline with your toes at the bottom of the squat without your knees caving inward when you stand up. Form for any exercise should be practiced for an extended period of time without pushing the limits too far where it affects recovery in a negative sense. Once basic form is established and improved then one may start to work on their own technique.
This is where someone’s form, timing, set up, and arguably mental approach starts to become customized to the person. Everyone is built differently in some shape or form so naturally everyone’s squat (if we continue with that example) is going to be a little bit different. An example of this is, person “A” may set their grip outside of the power rings on a power bar for squat while person “B” may set their grip inside of the power rings for squat. The reasoning could be that person “A” has different shoulder leverages where a wider grip is more comfortable and stable than a narrow grip and vice versa for person “B”. Technique can be very particular and unique to each person. Could be as obvious as someone’s grip width on a barbell or as specific as how one inhales and braces their torso right before initiating a lift. There is even a non-physical approach to technique and that is how someone mentally approaches the bar instead of just physically.
Let's be real…there are times when we are just simply not mentally ready to lift heavy. There are a million reasons why we may not be mentally ready. Yet there is a learned skill in overcoming that and doing what is commonly referred to as “flipping the switch”. That means you are able to turn off a certain part of your conscious mind and shift it to a performance state where all you are focusing on is lifting and nothing else. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of strength skill to develop and takes people many years (decades even) to develop. A real example from my personal experience is when I have a lot of thoughts rushing through my mind right before a lift I will take a deep aggressive breath and pace back and forth while staring at the bar and that helps me clear my mind and focus on the task at hand and that is the lift. For me that little process turns off the thinking side of my brain and turns on the performance side of my brain where the only thing I think about is executing the lift. Literally nothing else is going through my mind and people think there has to be more to it than that but in reality it is theoretically simple and that is just focus on the lift. We could go much deeper in this topic but I just wanted to briefly highlight this as an important aspect of strength skill.
This is the moment right after getting mentally prepared and that is actually sending the signals to your muscles to activate. This is an accumulation of practicing lifting heavy and becomes an adaptation. The rate of electrical signals traveling through your nerves increases in frequency when you perform the heavy lift. A form of neural density if you will. Now in order to get a very high neural drive you have to learn how to do the lift and find your technique with it. Then you have to practice clearing your mind and getting mentally prepared to do the lift without distraction or diversion. Once you have mastered all of that then you can get to the point of really lifting heavy and not panicking under heavy weight because you know how to do the lift, you know your technique, and you know how to clear your mind. Just because a weight feels heavy does not mean you cannot lift it! High neural drive typically is paired with a more aggressive mindset and this can be derived from a clear mind instead of a clouded one. Once again this topic could go much deeper but the purpose of this post is to highlight an important and notable aspect of strength skill.
If you want to learn more about developing these aspects with an experienced strength coach and other like-minded individuals who wish to partake on the same journey then sign up for Merritt Powerbuilding now!
“Strength is not just being strong!”
Keith Oelschlaeger, CSCS, MS is a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Canton.