Three Basic Laws of Strength Training and Bodybuilding
The training principles just discussed provide a loose guideline for general training. There are also three laws of strength training that must be adhered to if an athlete is to proceed injury free to a more comprehensive, rigorous training program. Entry-level bodybuilders and strength athletes often begin training programs without being aware of the strain they will encounter and without understanding the progression or training methodology behind the program. These are usually the people who tend to seek advice from seasoned athletes (who may not be qualified to give it) and who, consequently, find themselves out of their league and on a collision course with injury. Adherence to the following training laws will ensure the proper anatomical adaptation of a young or untrained body before subjecting it to the rigors of strength training.
Law 1: Before Developing Muscle Strength, Develop Joint Flexibility
Most strength training exercises, especially those employing free weights, use the whole range of motion around major joints. In some exercises, the weight of the barbell compresses the joints to such a degree that, if the person does not have good flexibility, strain and pain can result.
Consider deep squats: During a deep squat, compression of the knee joints may cause an inflexible athlete a lot of pain or even injury. Also, in the deep-squat position, a lack of good ankle flexibility forces the person to stay on the balls of the feet and toes, rather than on the flat of the foot where a good base of support and balance is ensured. Development of ankle flexibility (i.e., dorsiflexion, or bringing the toes toward the shin) is essential for all strength trainers but especially for entry-level athletes (Bompa, Di Pasquale, and Cornacchia 2003).
Good flexibility can greatly reduce or eliminate the incidence of injuries (Fredrick and Fredrick 2006). Flexibility aids in the elasticity of the muscles and provides a wider range of motion in the joints. Unfortunately, research on this subject has produced mixed reviews, causing athletes at all levels to neglect stretching programs. Regular stretching creates several essential training benefits, such as improved flexibility, reduced muscle soreness, good muscular and joint mobility, and greater efficiency in muscular movements and fluidity of motion (Nelson and Kokkonen 2007).
Law 2: Before Developing Muscle Strength, Develop the Tendons
The rate of gain in muscle strength always has the potential to exceed the rate at which tendons and ligaments can adapt to higher tensions. It is crucial that the tendons and ligaments have time to adapt, but because many people lack a long-term vision, they prematurely use heavy loads to develop specific muscle groups without strengthening the support systems of those muscles. It’s like building a house on the sand—it may look good for a little while, but at high tide the whole thing is destroyed. Build your body on a rock-solid foundation, and this will not happen to you.
Tendons and ligaments are trainable and can actually increase in diameter as a result of proper anatomical adaptation training (see chapter 12), which increases their ability to withstand tension and wear. This training is accomplished via a low-load program for the first 1 to 2 years of training. Shortcuts are not the answer to achieving a well-developed, injury-free body. Patience will ultimately pay off.
Law 3: Before Developing the Limbs, Develop the Body’s Core
It is true that big arms, shoulders, and legs are impressive, and a lot of training must be dedicated to these areas. Yet the trunk is the link between these areas, and the limbs can only be as strong as the trunk. The trunk has an abundance of abdominal and back muscles: Bundles that run in different directions surround the core of the body with a tight and powerful support system. A poorly developed trunk represents a weak support system for the hard-working arms and legs. So in spite of temptations in this direction, an entry-level training program must not revolve around the legs, arms, and shoulders. The focus must first be on strengthening the core area of the body—the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, and spinal column.
Back muscles consist of long and short muscles that run along the vertebral column. They work together as a unit, with the rotators and diagonal muscles, to perform many movements. Abdominal muscles run lengthwise (rectus abdominis), crosswise (transversus abdominis), and diagonally (abdominal obliques), enabling the trunk to bend forward and sideways, to rotate, and to twist. Since the abdominal muscles play important roles in many exercises, weakness in this area can severely limit the effectiveness of many strength actions.