There are few better feelings than finally reaching a goal you set out for. Getting your first pull-up or muscle up, hitting a PR clean or deadlift, or crushing your best mile run all just feel so good! Achieving any goals makes us feel good about ourselves. It keeps us motivated and ready for a new challenge. On this flip side, NOT reaching those goals is equally demoralizing as reaching them is encouraging. So how do you approach getting better a skill or chasing your PR the right way? Start with the Athletes Hierarchy of Needs.
Athletes Hierarchy of Needs
The first step in learning a new skill and improving your performance is making sure you have enough passive range of motion for the required task. We call this flexibility. If you want to PR your squat, you have to have enough passive hip flexion, calf flexibility for your ankle to move forward, and quad flexibility for your knee to bend properly. It is simply a prerequisite to squatting. This goes for any skill, not just squatting!
Once you have the passive range of motion available, you must be able to control it and be strong through it. This is mobility. An example of this would be performing a toe touch. Oftentimes, clients can not touch their toes with their knees extended, however if they lie on their back and have someone move their leg into hip flexion for them, they have full range of motion.
This is just one example of having flexibility (passive ROM) but not mobility (active ROM). You’ll need enough mobility to achieve good positions that allow you to get stronger and stay injury free. After all, one of the most common reasons people don’t achieve their goals is injury or setbacks along the way.
Next, we need to have balance strength left to right and across a joint. The reason is that you are only as strong as your weakest link. If you have one leg that is weaker than another, you’re not going to get much stronger doing two legged exercises. You’re better off correcting your single leg imbalance. In turn, your double leg lifts will go up. The same thing goes for the shoulder. If you can’t do a pull up, it might just be because you have one side that’s weaker at pulling than the other.
Work : Rest
Okay so now we have balanced strength. But how do you get stronger to hit those PRs, and run your fastest mile? (hint: it’s not more training!)
You guessed it. You have to recover from the exercise you’re doing. Working out doesn’t make you stronger, faster or fitter. Recovering from working out does. The first step to recovering well is managing the volume and intensity of your work. You must be recovering MORE than you’re breaking down in order to get stronger.
After you have enough flexibility, mobility, strength balance, and recovery is in place, it’s time to start working on that skill. It takes practice. If you’re trying to PR your clean, it takes working on your positions. If you’re trying to improve your 5k run, it takes working on your running technique. If you’re trying to get your first pull up, you’ll have to practice with things that look like a pull up (banded pull up, controlled negatives).
The point here is that to PR your lift or 5K, it’s NOT just about trying to get heavier, faster, or longer each week until you PR. Working on your technique is incredibly important to performance and injury prevention.
And a skill could be anything. learning how to brace your core and keep your spine neutral in a deadlift is a skill just as much as a muscle up is. It takes practice.
So in a nutshell, that is how you approach skill development.
Step 1: Make sure you can passively get into the positions needed for the desired skill
Step 2: Make sure you can actively get into those same positions with control.
Step 3: Make sure you have adequate and balanced strength for the task at hand
Step 4: Practice the skill of the desired movement with perfect technique.
There are plenty of other factors that go into getting PRs and learning new skills. Often, breaking the whole movement into pieces is crucial. Often, the interval, intensity, load, and volume of the workout itself are crucial. But these things are secondary and should only be the focus AFTER working through the hierarchy of needs.
For more information how to improve your endurance numbers, check out this blog about how to improve your aerobic capacity.
Still don’t know how to approach reaching your goals?
Schedule a consultation with a coach and we can guide you in the right direction!Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consult!