Turning Weakness Into Strength

Most of us, including myself, really only like doing the things that are “fun” or that we’re good at. No surprise there really – there’s more than enough stuff that most of us “have to do” in the course of our day that when we’re finally “allowed” to do our own thing, by golly, it’s going to be something we like, especially when we train or work out.

For me, I like the heavy stuff. Barbell and Double KB work. Unilateral work in my mind equals less load, so less force production, so less strength acquisition, so waste of time. (Ok, just personally, not professionally. I apparently, do not recognize the laws of physiology as applying to myself…)

But, after nearly two weeks since visiting Brett Jones, I do “feel” different. Stronger. More “put together.” And this is good, considering I haven’t lifted anything “heavy” – yet I have performed exercises that have required a good deal of “exertion” even though they technically shouldn’t have.

Interestingly enough, one of my weaknesses – lack of mobility, turned into a strength, and then a liability. After 4 years of daily mobility work, I became hyper-mobile. And apparently, I had never gotten my “core” to work “reflexively” after my back injury in ’02. That was one of the reasons I ended up so immobile in the first place – too much stability from too much volitional tension. So, I literally started to fall apart. I had very little pain, only discomfort in my hips, especially my left one. And that’s why I went to see Brett.

So, he screened me and concluded that I was severely deficient in “core stability,” which is kind of dangerous if you plan on lifting anything remotely heavy. The exercises he gave me have “glued” me back together and I am feeling so much better.

Here are a couple of things that I’ve noticed:

  • My left ankle and foot no longer have “chronic tension” or feel the need to pop them or have the pop on their own.
  • I’m sleeping like a log – I have had difficulty sleeping for the past, well, year really.
  • I feel more “put together.”
  • My grip strength has returned almost fully.
  • My Get Up Sit Up is now “seamless.”
  • I can find my hips in my lunges now (haven’t been able to do this for about 7 years I guess…)
  • My body is staying relatively muscular despite the lack of heavy bilateral axial loading.
  • My legs are actually getting more defined and symmetrical as I work from the half-kneeling and tall kneeling positions and get some muscles working correctly again.
  • My mood is better.

It’s interesting to me that according to the feedback my body is giving me (the stuff I want) I am doing exactly the right thing right now. It has occurred to me that I may need to spend even more time than just this 2 week reprieve to do more work on my weaknesses. Obviously, mobility work was not enough. In fact, and unfortunately, it was too much.

So what would happen if  I took the one thing that I absolutely hate the most – the Get Up – and spent the month of December doing Get Ups and hitting the platform just once per week? I don’t know. But the fact that I hate it so much makes me think about doing just that.

Could it be that for all of us, the exercises that we hate the most are the very ones we should investigate further? Why do we hate them? What is it about their nature or our current state that facilitates such hatred? Is it the exercise itself (Hey, I’ll always hate dumbbell triceps kickbacks…) because it’s stupid and dangerous? Or does the performance of it require something more of ourselves than we currently have or are willing to admit to?

It is interesting to note that veteran powerlifter and Elite Fitness Owner, Dave Tate, said in a recent interview (here) that he spent 2-3 months a year working on muscle balance, mobility work and all the stuff he hates. He states that it’s absolutely necessary for him if he want to do heavy strength work.

Here’s something else that makes me raise an eyebrow (like Spock): I spent so much time foam rolling and stretching, that I actually hate both of them. Vehemently. They may be good for others such as my clients, but not for me. No way. Except, some of the stuff Brett has me doing is actually a form of loaded stretching. He tricked me. And now I feel better. In fact, the other day, I hit a quick quad stretch on my right quad and for the first time in, well, forever, I felt only the quad stretch and not the knee fire up. And you know what? I kinda liked it. I actually felt good.

So, where am I going with all this?

Several places really.

  1. It seems the more I think I know, the less I actually do.
  2. No one system or person has ALL the answers, as much as we wish it (with regards to athletic/strength performance). There are just too many experiences that we haven’t had and therefore are unable to synthesize into our current systems.
  3. It is always necessary to have a cadre of people/peers smarter than you to turn to for advice – and you should seriously consider it in light of your current goals.
  4. The basics are pretty simple: Find your weaknesses and decide if their relative to your goals. If they are, fix them and your performance should improve. If it doesn’t, those weakness may not have needed to be addressed and you may or not have others that do. And then get stronger/faster/better looking/whatever.

Finally, I think the reason most of us don’t do this is the fear of having wasted our time. And that’s understandable. But from my vantage point, it’s better to look for other avenues than to keep trying to do the same thing all the time. I just want the fastest, safest, best way to get where I want to be. Unfortunately, that means I have to keep my mind open because that path may not always be the one I expect it to be.

7 comments… add one
  • Luis M. Cadiz Nov 30, 2009 @ 3:00

    I agree, sometimes we concentrate on our strengths and put on the back burner our weaknesses… only to find out later on that our weaknesses have gotten “stronger”. In other words, more difficult to get rid of or correct.

    Good night and God Bless

  • Max Shank Nov 30, 2009 @ 3:25

    Excellent. Very well said.

  • Chuck Nov 30, 2009 @ 8:30

    Small point of confusion for this bear of little brain. The triceps kickback is dangerous and stupid? I tried to think of when I might have had a bad moment doing them, but could not.
    I looked for a demo of the motion done in a controlled manner:


    Seems possibly less productive than an overhead triceps extension, but never heard anything negative. I must be missing something.

    Anyway, your hip-knee rehab work sounds like it’s doing great things for you, and that’s a very good thing. I’ll think about “broccoli” I might need to incorporate for myself.

  • Keris Marsden Nov 30, 2009 @ 10:48

    This blog came so timely for me. Both Pavel and Brett Jones observed asymmetries and core issues during my training. Now I’m running a business I’m more time poor than ever, even training feels like a luxury so you can imagine where stability/mobility work, foam rollering and get ups come in the list of priorities! However, over the weekend I was working on my pistol squats and I can do several reps on my left leg and not a single one on my right.

    When you join RKC you’re inspired by such feats of strength it’s easy to get carried away with practicing yet ignore an essential component of training … listening to your body.

    Thank you for refocusing me Geoff, December for me will now be full of get ups, foam rollering, core stabilisation exercises and I’m going to ask Santa for at least one pistol squat on my right leg.

  • Mark Dec 1, 2009 @ 16:53

    Great article!! Quite timely of a reminder to challenge my knowledge. As far as strteching, I can tell you never checked out the meridian stretching info I sent you… which is resistance stretching with movement. The system is to flexiblity what ketllebells is to strength.

  • GEOFFN Dec 1, 2009 @ 17:18

    Luis – Yeah, most of us forget about our weaknesses getting stronger – good point.

    Max – I remember you playing with the GU only awhile back and recall you had stellar success with your results.

    Chuck – Try the kickback with a band – accommodates the resistance for MUCH better results. There are still much better exercises for the triceps, like parallel dips.

    Keris – Get on it, girl! No time like the present. I’m glad I could help you out – that’s what I’m here for! Keep me posted on your progress – I look forward to hearing about it.

    Mark – Actually, I recall opening the link, but admittedly I got distracted and never followed it up. Will have to check it out though. Thanks for the prompting.

  • Mark Dec 1, 2009 @ 17:26

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