Defining the Basics

Nowadays there seems to be an emphasis on being good at the basics. You’ll hear quotes along the lines of this theme. For example, ‘an inch wide, a mile deep’ was one I heard from my friend Sal at UCLA.

What he meant by this was that in the weight-room they spend a lot of time getting really good at a few movements such as the squat and deadlift rather being just average on a number of exercises.

And it makes sense.

Too often we see athletes, led by poor coaches, trying to do too much. Maybe it’s too much load. Maybe it’s too many exercises. Many it’s too many different tools to learn to become proficient. Maybe it’s just too much volume.

It could be a combination of a number of these.

So why does this happen?

Well I guess part of it comes down to a coach not having confidence in their philosophy. It’s a coach not believing in their own program. ‘If we only do a few basic things really well surely we will be missing out on something?’ So they throw everything and the kitchen sink at the athlete. And with these comes lots of tools and gear. And we defend this type of training by calling it ‘functional’.

And with this topic Occam’s Razor comes to mind. This means that the simplest solution is usually the best.

For example, if I want to get my legs really strong, squats are going to be a really good choice. The version and stance doesn’t matter as much as the selection of the exercise in this case. They would be better than lunges or step ups. Squats give me the best chance to overload the legs with resistance and stimulate a strength gain.

So squats would be an example of getting good at the basics.

What else is included in the list? When someone says you should just ‘focus on the basics’ what exercises are they talking  about?

Below is the Okanagan Peak Performance Inc take on the basics.

  1. Lower body flexion – Can you bend at the ankle, knee and hip to lower yourself to the ground and then return to the starting position? Can you keep your heels on the ground? Does your torso stay upright? Can you maintain pelvic and lumbar spine position as you flex the hip? Do your knees track in alignment with the feet and hips? In other words, can you squat properly?
  2. Lower body pulling – The most common example here is the deadlift. However it also includes any of the movements where we hinge through the hips. We see examples of this movement pattern when the maestro takes a bow or when we pick up a bag off the belt at the airport.
  3. Upper body pressing – Usually in a gym setting we equate pressing with bench press. There aren’t too many young guys running around asking ‘how many push ups can you do?’. Pressing can be horizontal or vertical and involves moving a weight, or ourselves, away.
  4. Upper body pulling – One of the exercises most people struggle with is the pull up. We hear this constantly when someone comes in with a strength goal and mentions how they would like to do so many pull ups. And sometimes the goal is simply to do a single pull up. Think of either pulling a weight to the body or the body to something.
  5. Locomotion – You’ve got to be able to move your body. In all planes. Think of running, jumping, cutting and pivoting in all directions.
  6. Ground work – Not to be confused with the ground work of MMA, here we’re talking about all our planks. And things like segmental rolling, get ups and roll overs. Sometimes these exercises simply require ground space in order to perform them.

But what about all the stretching, mobility and flexibility training that is popular right now? These can be worked into your warm-ups and cool down. As well, by simply practicing and getting better at the basics listed above you will be improving these abilities as well.

Going forward, look to simplify your training. Focus on and get really good at the basics first. You’ll find there is more than enough here to keep you on the path to improvement.

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