Programming Strength, part IV: What the heck are the Foundations of Strength?
Where do we start? First, as you’ll hear me repeat at any workshop I present, let’s learn movement before we practice exercise. These days this concept becomes its own packaged category. Call it the primal natural animal trend. We sure do have a hankering for romanticizing simplicity. Or maybe we’re just trying to make a buck.
Anyway, to understand our own movement philosophy, we’re faced with a surprisingly tough challenge:
How simple can we make it?
I’m going to posit that our quest for ability (ya know… strength) means always improving our skills in how to…
* Change Elevation
* Pick Stuff Up
* Put Stuff Over Our Head
* Carry stuff
Answering the question: if there is an obstacle in our way, can we get over it, around it, under it, through it or move it? Let’s start thinking “yes” to all of them. Doesn’t get more ‘primal/natural/animal’ than that.
In reading that list, you might observe a few things. First, if we’ve had any gym experience, we’ve probably put movement ideas to some of these. Pick up stuff? Heck, that’s a deadlift. Putting stuff over our heads? That’s a press. Hold on… we’ll get there.
As you expand your mastering of the foundations, you can graduate to building a repertoire in the Major Skill Chunks we’ve mentioned before. The problem is, in our quest for cool, in our dreams of fame, or simply because we want some throbbing biceps, we often skip the foundations and work on specializing. We all know a handful of skilled athletes or veteran gym rats that are less than capable in some of the basics.
You and your creative head and passionate soul can begin defining what these mean by assigning movements to them. Shucks, you might even come up with your own foundation list. But whether it’s this one, or one of your own, if you don’t have a baseline standard, you’ll struggle for completeness. Which, frankly, might not be a goal, but remember… our purpose here is usefulness.
So the basic BodyTribe template is to teach and perpetuate these foundations, which always feed the Major Skill Chunks.
Setting the lowest bar, and then raising it
In programming, we often set benchmarks… be able to squat double bodyweight or toss a baby 100 feet or punch through a walrus hide with your pinkie. A good observer might see correlations between certain benchmarks and a general increase in potential. Dan John says if a woman can deadlift 275 pounds, the performance world opens up to her, for instance.
But building a foundation means defining what the base will be before we ever begin to dream of what the advanced benchmarks are. So to simplify all this, decide what you believe foundation skills are, or borrow mine above. Yup. For free. No certification required.
If you’re a trainer, this means asking yourself what everyone in your tribe should be able to do and continuing to improve upon. Then decide what the lowest foundation is that you’ll accept. In other words, what should everyone in your tribe, no matter what, be able to do? This isn’t an entrance exam, though. It simply means if they’re not there, you, as their movement sherpa, have some work to do.
Then you can build levels. If they can do the foundation skills at level A, how about B? You might discover that some folks can level F a certain skill all day, will being barely proficient at a level B of another skill. Guess where their weak points are? Which is why, surprisingly, you might find it isn’t always the beginners you have to worry about. Specialized athletes often skip this basic foundation concept for something more shiny, like a bigger clean and jerk or higher Girevoy Sport numbers, while bypassing some basic skills in the process. This leads to unbalanced potential.
So we’ve mentioned the Foundation Skills. Here I’ll explain them and then offer what we believe level 1 should be:
Roll: This means ya have a basic knowledge of engaging the ground. This is surprisingly hard for even advanced athletes who haven’t played this way in a while. Level 1: just a simple backwards and forwards cradle roll, holding onto the knees.
Crawl: Being able to move on all fours. Level 1: an actual crawl on the hands an knees.
Change elevation: Go up and down. The level 1 standard here is to be able to get up and down off the floor, get in and out of a chair, get up and down from a 36″ plinth or box (not jumping, just getting on and off it), and a good 30 second hang from a bar.
Pick something up: This is the skill of picking something up (what did you expect?). Level one: be able to pick something up. In this case, weight doesn’t enter the equation with any importance. Simply knowing the proper mechanics is the goal. If you ever watch powerlifting competitions, you may notice many have skipped level one, letting the weight on the bar trump useable skill. Oops.
Put something over head: Now the first thought you may have is ‘overhead press.’ Sure, but for a big chunk of our society (both fit and unfit) they lack the correct shoulder and back prowess (be it weakness or tightness) to pull this off safely. So other options like club work might be more appropriate for level 1.
Carry something: This sounds pretty basic… and it is. For you geeks who bore your clients to tears, this is loaded terra-based upright biomobile kinetics(tm). Heck, just be well versed in all the potential ways to actually carry stuff. The foundation of this is to have at least one option under the belt.
Always continuing to grow in proficiency in these will add to our Major Skill Chunks, and skipping any of these will be a noticeable gap in overall ability.
Now you’ve probably already begun assigning movements to this list. Pick something up? That’s a deadlift, you say! You wouldn’t be wrong. Now your next goal is to choose the movements you feel best represents each foundation. So many choices! Get moving. Are you a collection of exercises, or are your movements actually improving your skills. Ya know, the ones that make the 23 hours a day outside the gym considerably better.