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How We Get Better

**How we get better**

For the sake of this article let’s just pretend the task is a Barbell Back Squat, because I love to squat of course.

In order to get better at squatting, there are basically three things we can look at, skill acquisition, muscular adaptions and neuromuscular efficiency. The reason I drew that kick ass Venn Diagram is because it’s important to realise that each of these three things aren’t mutually exclusive. In essence we want the best of all three worlds! A highly proficient squat technique, strong as hell squatting muscles and of course are highly effective neuromuscular system driving things home.

Let’s look at things a bit closer

Skill Acquisition – The ability to perform a highly proficient squat.

Perfect practice makes perfect. We have to continually refine our technique in order to develop the skill of squatting. For beginners this might be as simple as squatting with a wooden dowel to develop the motor control to perform a squat. As we become more proficient with our skill we can refine our technique at higher intensities, whilst still developing our muscular and nervous systems, hence the Venn diagram. Whilst skill acquisition/motor control is largely dependent on the nervous system and many of the “gains” seen for beginners are due to nervous system improvements let’s just make it clear that we aren’t yet talking about the nervous system from a performance standpoint. That will be covered below.

Muscular Adaptations – The force creating capacity of our Squatting musculature.

Mass moves mass. Bigger muscles have the potential to create more force. This is mostly evident within an individual rather than between individuals, i.e whilst people with small leg muscles might squat more than you, if you grow bigger legs you will squat more! At Smith’s Fitness we grow our legs through squatting first, because again, we get the benefits of fine tuning our technique and becoming more efficient, that Venn diagram again. There are of course times where we should increase the volume of the lower body work we do, typically with submaximal weights, in order to elicit “gains” in our lower body size and structure, which will give us the potential to perform our squats better. Check out one of my favourite lifters Dan Green, who is a prime example of how increased muscle mass will help us perform better. Dan is stacked and lean at 100kgs and squats 380kg.

Neuromuscular Efficiency – The efficiency of our central nervous system (CNS) to drive muscular contraction.

This is the big one. You can be as big as a house and be relatively weak, it’s also true that you can have relatively little muscle mass and be powerful as all hell! Check out Naim Suleymanoglu the “Pocket Hercules” who stands at 1.47m tall (short), 60kg and clean and jerked 190kg back in 1988. Yeah more than a lot of people’s deadlifts!

This comes down to having a highly efficient nervous system engaging high threshold fast twitch motor units, creating huge amounts of force. We can focus training our nervous system through high intensity lifting for low reps, or/and submaximal weights lifted with maximum velocity. This will recruit such motor units, improve firing rates and synchronisation resulting in a high power output.

To conclude

All of these things are inter-related. There are times in our training where we should focus on a specific area of my awesome Venn Diagram, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t also helping ourselves (albeit not optimally) in the other areas. Here is a brief overview, but remember, this isn’t set in stone.

Skill acquisition – Beginners, juniors, those refining technique - Sets of 12-20 reps

Muscular adaptations – Those looking to improve body composition, bodybuilders, athletes adding size - Multiple sets of 8-15 reps

Neuromuscular Efficiency – Athletes looking to improve performance. Multiple sets of <5

Til next time,

Get More Awesome


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