As a young kid I grew up watching my idol Michael Jordan train his heart out and play like a basketball god. His work ethic, strength on the court and determination were second to none. His skill and game play was beyond the expectations that anyone had ever believed possible.

How did he do it?

He mastered his craft, from the bottom to the infinite top.

Over my years of living and breathing sport, time and time again it is agreed and proven by the world’s top class sporting players that mastering the basics in the weight room is CRITICAL to any athlete.

We are lucky enough to live in a time where social media and the internet allows us to see athletes do some unbelievable things. On the field/court, what separates the great athletes from the good athletes is that they have become an expert at performing the fundamental tasks that make up a skill.

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise” – Michael Jordan –

And it is no different in the gym.

In the context of performance training, when we say the basics we are generally talking about a combination of the following movements;

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Jump
  • Sprint
  • Brace

These movements are the bread and butter of strength and conditioning training. So before you go out and try exercises that look cool on Instagram, do yourself a favour and master these movements and watch your athleticism take-off.

Just like your favourite crossover move, jump-shot or no look pass, strength training is a skill that needs to be learned. Like any skill, before you begin to practice the most advanced moves, you must first start from the beginning and master the fundamental movement patterns involved in performing that skill. For example, before you learn how to perform a fadeaway jump-shot, you must first master a free-throw. Before practicing a thumping torpedo, you first need to master a basic drop punt. Before attempting the power snatch, you must first master the squat, deadlift and overhead press. If you are a novice (beginner) lifter, you can drastically improve your athleticism by simply learning the fundamental strength movements. Becoming proficient in movements such as the squat will translate directly to improving your vertical jump and sprinting performance. And for novice lifters, these improvements can be made quite quickly, and here is why;

Strength training creates and develops neural pathways from the brain to the working muscles. These neural pathways allow the nervous system to become more proficient at recruiting motor units, which send signals to muscle tissue to contract and produce a desired movement.

Improvement in strength exercises results in the transfer of a signal from the central nervous system, to the motor neuron in the neuromuscular junction and to the muscle fibers to happen much more efficiently, leading to greater contraction from the muscle and ultimately leading to improved movement. Put simply; learning the squat, practicing the squat and mastering the squat, will result in a greater vertical jump before ever having to add heavy loads.

Another reason to master the basic strength movements is the number of motor neurons recruited and the amount of muscle tissue activated during these movements. The basic strength movements listed at the top of this article are all compound, multi-joint exercises involving the entire kinetic chain. To perform a deadlift (hinge), movement must occur over multiple joints (ankle, knee, hip) and movement must be resisted over multiple joints (lumber, thoracic, cervical and shoulder). To do this, the central nervous system is required to recruit many motor neurons, and contract the greatest area of muscle tissue to perform or resist movement.

This is of immense importance when it comes to producing total force, but also in improving muscular size (hypertrophy). To add mass to an athlete, we must grow motor neurons and muscle fibers, and to do this we must recruit substantial amounts of motor neurons and muscle fibers. Once athletes can perform these movements with great proficiency, we can start to add load. After all, the aim of improving in the gym is to translate that into improved strength and power on game day.

So first of all, what is strength?

Strength is the expression of force. And to create more force, we need to learn to overcome greater loads.

And what about power?

Power is force multiplied by velocity. Or simply, the ability to produce force (strength) quickly. But I’ll leave that conversation for another time.

The strength basics are the exercises in which we can produce the most amount of force due to the considerable amount of muscle tissue involved. Meaning we can add more weight to the bar. This is great for multiple reasons, but most importantly because we can challenge our nervous system to overcome the greatest external resistances, meaning we train our neuromuscular system to produce more force. And if we can produce more force, we become more powerful, explosive and robust athletes.

Lastly, we must master the basics and be able to create considerable amounts of force before we begin to train more advanced movements. Learning to do a power clean before mastering a squat is like having a Ferrari and paying your neighbours kid to change the tires for you. You may look good, until a wheel falls off and something terrible happens.

Pay attention to the details, master the basics, get a great coach and explode into athletic prominence. Don’t base your programming around the exercises that will give you the most likes on facebook.

 

Stay tuned for more blogs and articles on all things high performance training and recovery!

If you have any questions regarding training, or would like to train with me and begin taking your training to new levels, feel free to drop me an email at jake@axisperformance.com.au or call us on 0411 50AXIS.