I tend to use a lot of analogies when explaining training concepts to my clients. In fitness we call it “client speak” and basically it is putting things in a way that people who are not intimately familiar with strength training can understand. One analogy I have been using a lot in the last few days is the difference between a winch and the line & hook.
I tend to use this one after a client does something like a chin up and then comments about how much they felt in their arms or when they do a row and I see them simply pulling their hand into their chest instead of really driving their elbow back behind them. It basically goes something like this…
Imagine that you have winch on the front of your truck and need to pull a tree stump out of the ground. You grab the line and hook and wrap it around the stump and then go back to your truck and turn on the winch. The tree stump pops out and all is well. Now, here is the question – what provided the power to pull that stump out? Was it the winch or was it the line and hook?
I don’t know why but most people look at me like it is a trick question. It’s pretty obvious that the winch provided the power and the line and hook just held onto the tree stump and transferred that power. And therein lies the lesson.
Your core (meaning everything that would be left if you chopped off your head, legs and arms) is your “winch” and the arms and legs are your lines & hooks. People concentrate way too much on the lines & hooks and pay very little attention to their main power source for the movement which results in less strength and very poor movement.
Now, obviously your arms and legs do provide some strength so the analogy isn’t perfect but you should be getting the idea. When you do a chin up your lats, which are these huge muscles in your back, should be providing most of the drive and your arms should simply be assisting. If you are not actively driving your shoulders down away from your ears as you pull up then you are simply using your weak little arms.
Same thing with a row – your upper back muscles are much bigger and stronger than your arms and if you are not really driving your elbow back behind you and pinching your shoulder blades together instead of simply pulling your hand in towards your chest then you are missing out big time. The list goes on and on – you should be starting with a strong core and using the big muscles closest to the core to really drive the movement and your limbs are simply assisting with that movement.
This also speaks to the mental aspect of true training where you have to train your mind to focus on what you want it too, not let it wander off to where it wants to go. You can not be thinking about anything else except dominating each and every rep. Knowing what to concentrate on but letting your mind go in a different direction as soon as you grab the weight is not going to help you achieve true strength.
So, next time you are in the gym remember to concentrate on your body’s true strength and power source – the wench, if you will – and not on the peripheral stuff that is just helping with the movement. I’m sure that you will find your strength levels will go up immediately, your joints will feel more stable and your results will improve as well.