As a coach if I notice that my athletes aren’t performing at a certain level or if there is a consistent flaw that I or my coaches see, I do my best to include programming that is designed to fix that flaw. This might be as little as a durability or strength exercise included in the warm up, or it could be an entire cycle devoted to Pause Squats. Either way, if we notice that it’s a problem that more than a few athletes have, we’re going to fix it as a gym.
A great strength coach named Dan John has always said, “If it’s important it needs to be practiced weekly, if it’s really important it needs to be practiced every day.” This statement is never more true than when trying to work on a weakness.
As proactive as we are in our coaching and programming we unfortunately can’t address every need of every athlete. We, as coaches and athletes, have a very limited time to train together. In order to make that most out of that time sometimes minor things get overlooked for the greater good of the program. Does this mean that these weaknesses shouldn’t be identified and corrected? Of course not. It just requires a little bit of personal responsibility on the athletes’ part to make the most out of their training time.
Taking personal responsibility for yourself as an athlete is a habit, and just like any other habit it needs to be trained and practiced in order to get the most out of it. Most athletes recognize this to some degree. They make time to train, eat well and get some sleep. However there is even a little more to it than that. It is important that you realize there are going to be certain things in the gym that you simply aren’t as good at as others. It’s important to understand that, and realize that as athletes we all have individual weaknesses. As an athlete you also need to learn that by identifying these weaknesses you can stop viewing these as weakness, but instead opportunities to improve.
The biggest thing to realize when identifying and correcting weaknesses is that there are no wasted reps. Take every chance you get to fix something or work on something you need to improve. This isn’t just your coaches responsibility. It’s yours.
Notice the two parts of this - It’s not enough to just identify a weakness. You also need to work on fixing it. And the single biggest thing that corrects it is repetition. The more repetitions you get doing something right, the more likely you will always do it right.
I understand that most athletes are limited to their actual training time in the gym and they don’t have time to drive to and from the gym for additional classes. While your actual training time in the gym might be limited to an hour, almost every athlete arrives a little early and stays a little bit late. Most of this time is spent foam rolling, stretching and gossiping. Imagine that instead of foam rolling and talking about your weekend that you instead took a little bit of personal responsibility for your fitness and used this time to get a few extra reps in for whatever your weakest exercise is.
Athletes seem really reluctant to do extra work or correctives in the gym. As a coach I try to lay out the benefits of pre and post correctives and athletes seem to think its emabarassing or silly and would rather lie down on a foam roller or just stretch. Foam rolling and stretching are great, but every single person I know has a foam roller at their house. I don’t know anyone that has a full gym set up and access to a coach’s watchful eye. When you’re at the gym you have access to these things. You might as well use them.
I could give you a long list of why to do pre and post correctives. I could beg and plead. Instead I’m going to ask you a simple question. Do you like to waste time and money? If you do then please continue to foam roll before class. Few things are a bigger waste of valuable gym time than foam rolling when you could be working on correctives. However if you don’t like to waste your valuable time and money, instead use this time to improve as an athlete. How is foam rolling or stretching a waste? Almost every coaching cue we use as coaches is built on mastering or making a movement a habit. There are rarely “ah ha” moments in the gym where you suddenly just get something without having put in a lot of work already. Most good movements only come from many consistent repetitions. So that “ah ha” moment is the athlete suddenly realizing something that’s been percolating in their muscles and brain for a long time. All of the sudden, the athlete does it without thinking about it. By getting so many correct reps in the athlete is now doing something correctly out of reflex, instead of thinking about it. Its only after they have turned something they struggled with into a reflex, that they can start to focus on more advance coaching cues.
We as coaches can’t move onto the next coaching cue or movement and thus improve you as an athlete until you have corrected the previous one. So if you come into the gym for 3 months and still can’t drop into a Jerk or pull yourself under the bar on the Snatch then you are stunting your own growth. You aren’t improving the basics so you aren’t getting the next set of coaching cues. You are pretty much just spending your valuable time and money to hear the same cues over and over again and never really see improvement. As athletes we can only focus on a limited number of corrections or cues at a time. Because of this your coach can’t give you new cues and allow you to grow until you have improved upon the previous ones. So the sooner you commit these cues to muscle memory the more you grow as as athlete. The more you grow as an athlete the more bang you get for your buck. By adding a little bit more quality to what you are doing in the gym you are getting a much greater investment out of your gym time and money. Just like you want your personal wealth to grow, you want your fitness to grow.
How To Make The Most Out Of Your Gym Time
- Start simple. Identify one weakness. Start with something that either limits you as an athlete or really frustrates you. While you might have more than one, it’s important to start with just one so you aren’t wasting even more of your time trying to do too much.
- Identify the corrective. You might be able to do this yourself, you might need to ask your coach. Either way you need to have a clear plan of attack.
- Be consistent. Do it for 3 weeks every time you come into the gym. When you start to see improvement on it you can drop it to twice or once a week, but keep at it until it becomes a habit. Doing something for 5 minutes once a week might help but isn’t going to have a great impact. However if you are able to get in 10 additional minutes 3 times a week that is around 90 minutes of making a weakness into a strength in 3 weeks.
- Progress drives habit. Always look to progress an exercise. Either by load or repetitions the more you slowly progress an exercise the more of a habit it will become.
- Don’t be satisfied with just fixing one thing. We all have a myriad of weaknesses. Its important to always seek constant improvement. Just because you have fixed one weakness doesn’t mean that you can go back to previous bad habits. Use what time you do have in the gym wisely. . This makes the most out of your gym time and keeps you constantly progressing as an athlete.
I’m going to include some examples of where athletes tend to struggle and some correctives that can be used to help them.
Rope Climb- Train lock offs. Don’t try to climb the rope every day. Just come in and do 3 leg lock offs with a short break. Do this 3 times before a session and 3 times after a session. When you feel confident with your lock offs, climb the rope.
Pull Ups- Pull Ups or Negatives. Come in and do 3 sets of 3x Pull Ups or Negative Pull Ups before and after class. Try to add one additional Pull Up or Negative Pull Up each week. If you do this for 3 weeks this over 150 additional training reps. Banded Pull Ups don’t cut it. You need to train the eccentric portion of the Pull Up to build strength. Always try to a real Pull Up on your first rep every time.
Overhead Squat- Pause Overhead Squats. Get comfortable in the bottom of the Overhead Squat and work on your position. Always start by elevating your heels on this. It’s important that you use a barbell for this and try and add loading. PVC pipe won’t cut it, you need loading to force your body to accommodate for the loading.
Snatch- Snatch Pull Unders. A lot of new athletes struggle to get under the bar on the Snatch. It can take some athletes 100’s of reps to train this ability and few things train it better than a Snatch Pull Under. This is another exercise that must be performed with at least an empty barbell. You need some kind of loading so the athlete can have something to pull against to get under the bar. Start with 3 Rounds of 3 reps, adding 5lbs each round. If you do this 3 times a week before a training session you are getting over 75 additional reps of Snatch work every 3 weeks. This is also a great exercise to accompany Pause Overhead Squats.
Front Rack- Tricep Soft Tissue into Front Rack Holds. Everyone is uncomfortable in the Front Rack position when they start out. The only way you can get over this is by doing lots of Front Rack work. Tricep Soft Tissue relaxes a tight tricep and allows you to get into a more comfortable rack position. Do your Front Rack holds for time with relatively heavy weight to force you into the correct position. Always strive for a perfect position. The more uncomfortable you are with these the more comfortable you will become with the Front Squat and the Clean. Start with 3 rounds of 10 sec Front Rack Holds and add 5 Secs each week.
The above list is just a few examples of ways to address gym weaknesses. As I said earlier, pick the one you struggle with the most and focus on that one first. When it starts to become more and more manageable you can move onto something else.
There is a huge amount of power into taking something that you aren’t good at or hate and making it into a strength. Something that you have conquered. This is how you build your physical and mental confidence. This is how you become an athlete.