What is ‘Structure?’ Why Bodybuilders and Yogis Are the Most Prepared
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Attempting to strength train without a sound foundation is like playing a game of Jenga with one block on the bottom. It is worthless to attempt to develop strength if the body cannot handle its application. That’s basic engineering (I think). When looking at athlete readiness, and setting athletes up for success in a program that involves progressive overload, there are 5 Basic Laws of Strength Training that help serve as a checklist, as defined in Dr. Tudor Bompa’s famed “Periodization Training for Sports”.
- Develop Joint Flexibility
Develop Tendon Strength
Develop Core Strength
Train Complex Movements
What most stands out as you read that list? For us, it’s that ‘Train Complex Movements’ comes in all the way down at number five, meaning it is not of major focus for athletes new to weight training and progressive overload. Practically speaking, these laws serve as a prime example of why we should not and do not put athletes under heavy barbell lifts right away. As coaches, we need to make sure one through four are adequately trained and developed before we begin the focus of training the complexity of the movement.
A lot of you likely saw bodybuilders in the title and did a double take. A functional fitness gym talking about the merits of bodybuilding? Well, yes. In fact, bodybuilding protocol has been a part of our training for six years now, back when it got you laughed at in the FF world. In order to understand its merits, it’s important that you change the lens in which you view bodybuilding. Too long have we viewed these practices as only being for show, when in reality, they are just as much for go when applied correctly. In the range of 8-12 reps at below 60%, while we are developing gross motor patterning in the squat with a front loaded kettlebell (goblet squat), we are simultaneously building the structural muscle of the athlete, the flexibility in the joints, strength in the tendons, the core, and stability demands the athlete will need to take on more challenging tasks. We are quite literally building the body.
That is precisely what we mean we abstractly state to “build the foundation” when we talk about our Phase 1 programming. For example, a deadlift creates a high degree of torque on the lumbar vertebrae. A new athlete with no kinetic awareness, core stability, tendon strengthening, or hinge loading experience is going to jump the important development of the musculoskeletal system (Law #1 – #4) and go straight into nervous system training (#5: Train Complex Movements), a mistake that invariably overloads it prematurely and asks for injury in either the short or long term.
They have jumped into function without training structure.
This phase of higher volume training of lower intensity is known as the extensive method training, whereby we build the foundation for the greater demands to come during the heavier, intensive method training. Because connective tissue takes longer than muscle tissue to adapt, we must be careful that we don’t confuse a few sessions of structural building as fully complete. It can take several weeks (sometimes months) for the connective tissue to catch up with the muscle tissue, so slower structural development is always better, especially if someone is a total beginner to loading.
- First, we train the Musculoskeletal System (Structure).
- Then, we train the Nervous System (Function).
- After, we address the need for both ongoing.
As we will talk all about in the very next section, the idea is to build up joint flexibility, tendon strength, core strength and stabilizers all at reduced load so that they body can handle the torque placed it upon it at heavy loads. An athlete can have a flawless deadlift from a technique perspective, but if steps one through four are absent, they are not going to develop and/or get hurt.
Are you able to start connecting the dots between function and structure? The former cannot occur without the latter, which is the exact reason that structural bodybuilding load and rep schemes comprises the majority of our “strength training” protocol for new athletes.
This is why when someone asks, “How does my deadlift look?”, the most appropriate response is to first ask them, “How does it feel?” That will tell them much more than your feedback on their technique.
Despite the frequency at which both get poked fun at, the two types of backgrounds we see succeed at the greatest level are bodybuilders and yogis. They both have very similar training backgrounds of building strength from the inside out, and simply put, their structure is already dialed in so it’s easy to quickly begin building function. (The only issue becomes developing the movement pattern, which a lot of gym bros suck at and refuse to acknowledge, but that’s another blog. Don’t confuse MS readiness with movement readiness.)
If you don’t have any experience, schematically train like a bodybuilder with functional movements for a while. Build your Jenga base.