Foundations of Strength: Building the Wall – Cameron Weber ASpS1 AES

“Brick by brick the wall of strength is built. Try to build the wall in a week or inconsistently it will crumble.” – ET

This quote says so much about the fitness industry in Australia but many will not understand why it’s such a powerful quote. From my experience dealing with over 300 athletes, many believe the expectation of results is now! But this isn’t how the body works; it takes time for adaptations to occur. 

We spend numerous sessions teaching basic movement patterns that an athlete will use throughout their sporting event, but what many won’t understand is that we are trying to reteach the body a movement that the body may be doing differently. The human body is an incredible system and the brain and CNS control all of this. At the top of this, all is the body wants to find is the easiest way to do something. This may mean that a weakness, in an area, makes another area compensate to make that movement easier. Think of a hamstring strain. This injury typically occurs when the glutes aren’t doing their job and getting the hips to full extension. What occurs is the hamstring will join in on a movement its not designed to do and try and help the hip get to extension. The hamstring gets overstretched in its role, the force becomes to much and a hamstring strain usually becomes the result.

Back to the body now, over years of growth; walking, running, pulling and pushing things the body starts to learn and develop pathways, that get strengthened after every repetition of that movement. Now think about how long you have been running for? How long have you been running since puberty? Has anyone ever taught you how to run? If you have valgus (inward rotation of the femur) every time you go into a single leg stance something isn’t working and something is over compensating. Lets take a swimmer for example, lets make them a 15 year old girl. She has been swimming since she was 8 and competitively since 13. She has been at a high level and training 8x times a week (for the non swimmers, this is an average amount of sessions, I know crazy right!). Now if she trains for an hour and half each session a week and trains for 46 weeks in the year, that equals 552 hours in the pool a year. If this female has a winging scapula(irregular movement of the scapula), as she does her stroke, her upper trapezius is compensating to help the arm get the required position. On average, for freestyle, there is 15 strokes per lap. The swimmer could be doing between 3-4km in a session which is 120-160 laps meaning the athletes could be doing 1800-2400(half for one side). Meaning in one week a swimmer could do 19200 strokes! Can you see how the body could easily adapt to this? The repetition of this movement would start to be learnt by the CNS in just one session. 

The athlete that wants the quick fix may not know this. I’m not sure the typical 3×10 single arm row in the one half an hour session is really going overcompensate for the 1800 strokes the swimmer does. Like the quote says brick by brick the strength will build. As long as every time that athlete comes in they are doing the exercise with a high level of quality (not quantity) this pathway will continue to be built. If you add  at home exercise as well as educate the athlete about what and why for the exercise this can help strengthen this pathway. Maybe they take what you say about drawing your scapula into the ‘pocket’ and relaxing their trap while the hand is above their head, they might remember to do this while at least doing their warmup in the pool and all of a sudden this movement pattern is getting learnt away from your strength session. Strength isn’t just the muscle, we need to consider everything that makes up this strength and how it occurs. From here we can start to make adaptations and make these basic movement patterns second nature. These patterns help in transference to your sport as well as helping to reduce the possibility of an injury occurring from overuse/overcompensation. 

It’s not going to take one session and it’s not going to take a month. But every session should be a brick in the wall of strength and over time this wall will become rock solid. It doesn’t mean that it will be bullet proof but it will be stronger after each repetition. The inconsistency can lead to holes appearing in the wall, or a brick not being as solid as it should be. You can see from the example above that if inconsistency occurs you can easily fall back into old ways. The old pathway will be stronger and the CNS will convert back to old ways because it is engrained. As a coach you may find it tough to break through these old pathways, but this is why an athlete comes to see you, to get better! Communicate, teach, learn, educate and the athlete will start to develop. It might not be performance based to start with but could be something as simple as learning how to use the diaphragm to breath to help recovery. 

Stay consistent, stay persistent and the wall will build! #mouldingthecompleteathlete

If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to contact us. 

Cameron Weber

Sport and Exercise Scientist