General Preparation for Long Term Gains
These day, people want things immediately and skip important steps that would set them up for future success. I see this when it comes to general preparation work in the gym. Most people want to squat, deadlift, bench, and clean big numbers so they jump straight into these lifts, normally at a maximal or near maximal level, trying to improve their numbers, without doing any general preparation work. Their form on most of these lifts suck as well but they never strip their training back to do some work that would correct technical issues, reduce injury risk, and later increase performance. It may be ego, or it may be lack of knowledge. Either way, without building a solid foundation you will struggle to progress as optimally as you could.
With all my athletes I start with a lot of general preparation work. Most don't even squat, deadlift, or bench for the first 6-8 weeks. In this time I prepare them to be able to perform these movements correctly by working on their weaknesses and restrictions. For example, if someone cannot full squat, I don't just let them do a quarter rep squat and hope to increase the range slowly over time by performing the squat itself. I look at what their limiting factors are and address them in their program design. It could be ankle restriction, tight hip flexors, a tight upper back, a weak VMO, a weak lower back, or weak hamstrings for example. Once I determine the issue I use exercises to correct the weakness/tightness which then prepares them to perform the bigger movement correctly down the road. No amount of coaching (talking) will correct someone's technique in the squat if they are physically unable to get into position in the first place. I like to use the Russians approach of using an exercise to correct a problem.
Once I feel the athlete has reached a level of strength that will allow them to perform a big lift safely I then start to put it in their program. During this time though I don't just through away the general preparation work. It is still a key component of their program. Using the above example of the squat, the athlete would begin their workout with a squat but then their assistance work would be based around those weaknesses we were addressing in the lead up to being able to squat. Most movements will still be very general preparation type movements, even isolation movements, addressing the weaknesses. Each time the athlete squats I then watch closely to where they struggle the most in the movement and will change their assistance work according to that.
Here is an example of effective general preparation work. This is Alfie squatting after 4-6 weeks of general prep. Still not ready to squat yet. I didn't get impatient we just kept working hard on limitations.
Then after about 8-10 weeks he was able to full squat quite well.
I always find it amusing that the trainers out there that call their training "sport specific" or "functional" are the ones who overlook this key component. They don't do anything unless it looks to replicate the movement in a sport. It just shows a lack of knowledge and can actually increase the risk of injury by first of all not addressing any individual weaknesses, and secondly by over-training a movement pattern creating an overuse injury.
As they say, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
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