Today I want to have a bit of an existential conversation about why we exercise or train. Whether you’re trying to get stronger, healthier, skinnier, faster, or just look good naked, I want you to understand what is going on when you’re training and what it is we’re really doing. Challenging position. That’s right: exercise is just a fancy word for challenging your movement ability.
When we’re training, we’re essentially looking for positions that are valuable for our movement in the world. Regardless of your training goals, training is about challenging position in order to create adaptation.
In the long run, we’ll see changes in physiology (strength, speed, aesthetics,) but these changes are only important in the context of maintaining positions of competency.
Our hypothesis is that those who can maintain the most robust positions at the highest levels of demand are the most capable.
As we see it, robust positioning is an expression of:
- Range of motion
The old model of training is to keep training and training and training until you break, but we want to leave that behind in order to maintain and improve range of motion and skill at higher and higher levels.
Here at The Ready State we focus a lot on this idea of challenging position. The 9 methods for challenging position that we’ve identified are:
- Cardio/Respiratory Demand
- Metabolic Demand
- Through Path
- Open chain/Closed Chain
- Open Torque/Closed Torque
We all know about load, and this is often the first and the only form of challenging position someone is aware of. Load is how much weight or resistance you are facing while moving through a position. Just keep adding weight as you improve without compromising good position. This is why machines kinda suck. They force you into a static position and allow you to increase load without a cohesive creation of good position. With free weights, as you increase the load, let’s say your elbows start to flare out, and now you know this is where your limit point is.
One thing we need to remember is that practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.
The next way we love to challenge positions is with cardiovascular demand. As your breathing demand increases, your positions come under challenge. For example, try running around the building and then see how well you can do your air squat. You can improve your position by challenging yourself with cardiovascular demands. This is why people fall apart when breathing hard, but ultimately breathing shouldn’t reduce force.
Next, we have metabolic demand. You’re doing some work, and now instead of doing 5 reps, you’re doing 10 reps or 12 reps. This is why we see reps above ten, to create a lactic acid demand. As reps increase position gets challenged.
Speed load is a core concept of the original CrossFit mindset: High-intensity movements performed at High Speeds. You may have a great squat but what happens when you do it fast?
We refer to “through path” as starting position vs. ending position, but this is essentially the path between these points. How is the position being maintained when you are going from hanging from a bar to the top of a pull-up.
We may have a great position at the bottom and top, but we also want a good position throughout the path between the two.
Open Chain/Closed Chain
Open chain vs. closed chain refers to whether your hands or feet are fixed and your body is moving or if your body is fixed and your hands are moving. Whether you are doing a pull up with your hands fixed on a bar or you’re overhead pressing a barbell where your body is fixed. Sometimes we see position fall apart depending on whether the hands are fixed or moving, but we should see universal patterning regardless.
Cleans and snatches can challenge this by switching us between open chain and close chain. As you dip under a bar, then fix your arms, you switch from the hands moving to the body moving as you stand back up.
Open Torque/Closed Torque
Open torque vs. closed torque has to do with whether you’re using dumbbells or rings vs. using barbells or have your hands on the floor. Often we see when we take people away from doing pushups in a closed torque environment, to using rings, issues like shoulder pain will resolve themselves.
Doing pullups on rings is a much different scenario than when using a bar.
We’re looking for abilities and skills that can remain constant, quickly without a lot of repetition beforehand. If I’m doing a skill like 5 front squats, each rep is informing the next.
We like to test athletes by having them get a bar and do just one rep under our analysis.
This is essentially just a test of skill that comes from practice.
One of the reasons going from one clean to one jerk, or a kettlebell jerk to a press overhead is that it challenges you to do a new movement without having just done that movement beforehand.
Competition is another big factor. How do you lift when there’s a competition around you when everyone in your gym is watching you. How are you when you train outside in the rain as opposed to a 70-degree sunny day?
Are you on a clock? What is the psychological stress? This also has an immediate impact on your ability to maintain your position.
Now, if all you want is to lose a little weight and improve cardiovascular health, you can strap yourself into an exercise bike and forget all of this. However, if you want better function in life and strength.
Is your training challenging your capacities across all these different domains?
What we’re really doing in modern strength and conditioning is trying to take a position and then challenge it in systematic programming so that I can understand what my athlete’s movement learning looks like.
These are all very much the same skill, performed in as many ways as we can think of. If you don’t know what your positional goals are, it’s easy to cheat and come up with suboptimal solutions in the moment. With programming that focuses on these elements, we can promote robust positions throughout as many domains as possible. This is how we challenge position at The Ready State.