Embracing correction: Weak links in the kinetic chain

A long time ago I realized only those with humility can learn anything. If there is one thing that matters for your constant development is the honesty to realize when you don’t know, you can’t yet, or just your normal human limitations, and then take action to correct those things to the best of your ability.

In the physical, this talk is about weak links. First of all, what is the kinetic chain? Simply, it is the correlation that is created between the whole body during any movement. For example, when doing a squat, the success of it depends on a number of factors, like ankle, knee, hip and thoracic mobility, good quad to glute strength ratio, some balance, proper technique, and a lot of other factors that make a seemingly simple movement a great collection of parts.

That is why every exercise is an assessment. The body is one unit, and as such what’ll limit an specific movement might be only one piece, not the whole structure. As such, an excellent complement to the advice “Practice as often as possible, as fresh as possible” is to focus in what they call Weak links in the kinetic chain, and it’s only here where isolating muscle or patterns has sense for someone who is looking to getting stronger.

As the saying goes, a chain is as strong as it’s weakest link. Repeating an activity endlessly is not going to be as effective as going to the weak link in the chain and fix it.

So, weak link training looks to complement (never replace) the practice of full movements with pinpointed work on problem areas, which can range from strength to flexibility, joint health and fear. This is how you do it:

  1.  You should be conscious of what is that limits you in a certain movement. Even though there is a major trend to believe this is always due simple problems like “core weakness”, the majority of time weaknesses are more complex. There are specific assessments for knowing all this, and you may well do them, but I bet most people know what’s holding them back, which is usually what they have always ignored.
  2. There are things that need to be worked on periodically, and some others just sporadically. An example would be shoulder flexion mobility, which for most people it is going to be something that should always be worked on. On the other hand, a focalized program for solving your overhead pressing weakness can be only needed once in a year, or even a lifetime. It all depends on whether we are talking about a general goal and thus weakness, like “being more mobile”, or a specific one, like “I want to do a 30 second handstand”.
  3. For the things that need to be worked on forever, just like brushing your teeth, make sure to incorporate them into something you are already doing, like your warm-ups or cool downs, in between sets or just before going to bed. Try to be picky and reduce this into the things that matter the most and will give you the most benefit. Remember the Pareto principle: 80% effects usually come from just 20% of the causes.
  4. For the things that need some focalized work, in addition to your normal training, add certain moments in your training for working on one and no more than two weak links at the same time. Why? Because your changing power of 100% is going to be divided into all of your goals, and if you’re trying to improve 5 things at the same time, each thing will only get 20%. I don’t want you to be doing glute activation drills for the next year, so it’s better to just focus on one thing at the time and really improve it.
  5. The period for working on those weaknesses for specific goals can vary from 2 weeks to 3 months. It can be more, but remember to vary your focus from time to time, and then you can go back to previous goals. In that period, a frequency of two times per week of at least 10 minutes is advised, but remember the words of Dan Gable: “If it’s important, do it everyday. If it isn’t, don’t do it at all”. I prefer to just create a chunk in my training of some time (ie. 10 minutes) that says “Hip extension flexibility” than going into reps and sets with this, but you may do what works best for you. Chose the simplest things that assure you won’t get lost into details!
  6. How important are weak links? Dan John recommends that you devote half of your training time for your normal training, and the other half of your time to address weaknesses. This means for every set of bench press, one set of strengthening that rotator cuff. The thing is this: there is something that needs to be worked on, and you have to create a system and mindset that doesn’t let you neglect this work. It is so easy to get lost down the road. Either we get confused with details, we are too lazy, we think weaknesses will just go away, and we keep trying to force our success. Why not take the direct road? As Charles Poliquin says, the most important thing in your training is the one you are not doing.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Dan John and Charles Poliquin


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The Dynamic Structure (Bulletproof your joints!)

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