Hey, all you hunters and huntresses, fighters one and all, this is Barbarian Dave rockin’ the preternatural waves of ethereal communication, and I have a message for the discerning savage: get in touch with yourself.
I was going to start off with a semi-clever shtick about two ideas warring for attention like proverbial wolves, but I realized they’re just flip-sides of the same coin. Which you should hurry up and loot from the effete city-dwellers hoarding them in not-at-all-safe-from-hordes chests. Aren’t they precious?
Dave, I hear you protesting, what are you talking about? Are you making another dirty joke? By no means! Besides, my mother (either of them) may be reading this, and while the sailor within is strong, I’m not risking the Wrath of Mom. Simply put, you need to strengthen your mind-muscle connection. That’s the first bit. The second, just as important, is you must…must figure out where your weak spots are and work to correct them.
Mind-muscle connection? I’m not hawking quack pseudo-science, here. Honest! I’m talking about a basic concept: muscle fiber recruitment. Anytime you move, you’re recruiting muscle fibers using your brain. The greater the resistance, typically, the more fibers you recruit.
But only up to a certain point. The human body seems disinclined to allow us to recruit all of our muscles’ capacity for work to accomplish a single movement. Which makes sense, really, as that would burn out a good chunk of our energy stores in one go, and could damage tendons, ligaments, and even bones in a way similar to what happens when the body sustains an electric shock that causes the muscles to fire all at once. Bad news, that. On the other hand, it’s also what allows for amazing feats of hysterical strength, when adrenaline liberates an enormous amount of energy all at once.
But the point is this: we can actually train our bodies to work harder by thinking about it. Which seems a little woo-woo, but also seems to be accurate, up to a point. This is why visualization techniques work. Specifically, you can focus on active muscles during a training movement in order to recruit more of your muscle fibers resulting in greater strength gains. (You can also see yourself completing things, and it’s very nearly as good as doing them, but that’s a whole other post or four.)
For what I’m talking about, you focus your attention on the muscles you’re actively working as you work them. So, if you’re doing deadlifts, you get yourself set for the lift. Then, as you push the floor away from the bar, you work to feel the contraction in your glutes. Same for the squat. The easiest way to do this is isolation exercises. Get a dumbbell, and do a couple of curls. You can feel the biceps contract. Well, at the top of the curl, think hard on that muscle and squeeze the heck out of it.
Of course, there’s a whole lot more to it, as the Bioneer elaborates, but that’s all you actually need. I mean, if it was good enough for Arnie Conan, it should be good enough for us.
Which segues neatly into the second thing I wanted to talk to you about today. As you get better at working your mind-muscle connection, you can use that to start targeting your weak spots.
Whoa, whoa, Dave, I hear you saying, “Weak” … I mean, them’s fightin’ words, barb. There are places where telling a man he has weak spots will earn you a quick trip to decorating a spike atop the rampart. I know. I get that. Still, the truth remains that in this age of ubiquitous communication and downright silly amounts of leisure time, as well as the sedentary habits of the deskbound warrior, it’s frighteningly easy to develop places that could be … mightier than they are, shall we say.
And learning where they are, and then targeting them with specific exercises, is only going to improve your weekend rampages, and enable better recovery when you drag home the loot. Now, I, as with many of us who spend more time wielding a keyboard than a longsword, I have a tendency to hunch forward. This can easily lead to tightening of the pecs, and shoulders that hurt for no good reason. Except there is one, as I’ve been to see the Physical Torturers before for it. Their suspicion at the time was some of the muscles attached to the shoulder were pulling the ball of the humerus deeper into the socket formed by the scapula and clavicle than should have done, and so the tendon running through that joint capsule was rubbing, causing inflammation and pain.
The trick to fixing that is a rippling back, but even more so, strengthening the neglected muscles running along the scapula. Which is annoying. It’s boring. And it’s absolutely necessary to not hurt. And here’s the thing: a lot of less-than-mighty spots are going to be kinda hard to find, as we have a LOT of muscles. Some common ones are the feet. Yeah: your feet. Them things at the ends of your legs. A third of the muscles in your body are in your feet. That’s a lot. And they’re little. And you probably don’t work them out enough. Same with the gluteus medius, which does its damnedest to adduct your hip on the rare occasions you ask it to. And then there are things like the probable strength differential between your legs. Yeah, you know your dominant arm is often stronger, but did you know your legs work that way too? Fix that, even out the strength with some single leg training, and you’re squat numbers are going to go up.
I know it sounds like a lot, and it’s coming pretty fast, but I’m mostly talking to myself, here. Once upon a time, Dave could do sets of weighted pull-ups. Not so much, anymore, but I’d like to get back to that place. It was pretty cool. Join me.