This past weekend I had the opportunity to make a trip to California and observe athletes competing in the CF Games as a spectator while team OPEX Red competed as well. For the first time at the Games, I watched more of the team competition than the individual competition. I saw on a big stage not only the very best of the best competing this time, though those few elite were there as well.
Of course, I’ve had the chance to watch athletes at the Open level completing workouts at OPEX here in Scottsdale and at the Regional level in the South Region for years, too. Over time, I’ve noticed some trends emerge in fitness athletes as my eye for movement has been refined through trial and error in lots of program designs and competitions. Additionally, athletes’ training ages in general are getting higher within the sport and therefore there is more individual susceptibility to biases in coaching that they have received, training they have done, or movements tested for which to be prepared in their chosen sport. Here are some of my noticings about the state of preparedness and execution of fitness athletes that can be improved upon.
1.Eccentric Control in Bending
In the sport, there is a lot of emphasis on completing reps, which is obvious and incontrovertible, but the paradigm created by the testing protocols that have been implemented over time is that the concentric phase of movement is king. However, for an athlete to reach their potential in concentric movements, they should obtain high proficiency in the eccentric phase of those movements as well, and this can be overlooked by athletes and coaches. Sure, there is emphasis on the eccentric phase of movement sometimes in competition such as when an athlete’s depth in squatting is judged or full lockout between reps in hanging based movements is required, but often there is no requirement for eccentric control in upper body barbell pressing movements and lower body barbell bending based movements. This categorization includes Olympic lifts as well as other deadlift variations. For the athlete who needs to be strong holistically, ignoring eccentric control in the large global movement pattern of barbell based bending leaves many athletes imbalanced and this shows up as inefficient movement subtly and often.
2. Straight-arm Strength
Similar to the lack of eccentric control in some movements, in large part created by the paradigm of the testing environment, here we are basically talking about another case of movement that’s not concentric based. There are all types of straight-arm strength to which I’m referring that are all specific to the position and loading parameters involved. For functional fitness athletes, straight-arm strength is mostly not tested in isolation, but it shows up often with other functional movement patterns. The most important factor in realizing the importance of straight-arm strength for athletes is that training it follows the principle of training from core to extremity for many movements that are not often considered straight-arm movements, such as rope climbs and handstand pushups. Training for balance in strength at the scapula from straight-arm movements will help many athletes’ performance over time in movements traditionally considered to be bent-arm movements, as bent-arm strength starts with shoulder strength. Two straight-arm movements that I find especially potent for fitness athletes and in which proficiency played a big part in success for individuals on the main stage on Sunday at the Games were heavy Farmer’s Walks at high intensity and short distances, and single arm OHS (squat snatch) at high loading. These movements are great to test for individuals and will likely have a trickle-down effect of showing up at other competitions over time.
Certain types of equipment are fine to be used for training and competition to get a better training stimulus and improved competitive advantage. However, some of the equipment that can be used in competition, such as belts, knee sleeves, weightlifting shoes, and wrist wraps, seem overused in training environments. This equipment has various beneficial aspects to its use for performance, but one thing that all of these pieces of equipment have in common is that they help eliminate unwanted range of motion and can take up the slack in movement patterns. It’s no doubt important to use in practice what you’ll use in competition, but with too much reliance on equipment away from major competitions, an athlete can lose some range of motion and stability in movement by never training it since the equipment replaces the need for an athlete to have that range of motion or stability. Overuse of weightlifting shoes can lead to silent arches and anterior tibias, and overuse of belts can lead to suboptimal breathing in movements and core bracing that’s weaker without the belt. I believe that these pieces of equipment can play an important role in competitive advantage, but for the intelligent athlete, their use may be best periodized to some extent relative to competitions.
Coach James Taylor