Universal Cues: The Basics of Strength Training – Part 1

This is part one of multi-post series. The purpose of this series is to provide some basic information for anyone that is looking to begin strength training.

First off, I believe it is very important to talk about progression.  Strength training (and exercise in general) is all about progressively adding resistance. There’s actually a term used for a strength training plan that continually modifies the challenge placed on your body based on increasing strength levels. That term is progressive-resistance exercise.  As load is placed on your body it will break down muscle tissue but your body will work to repair itself, increasing the size of the muscle fibers that were damaged during exercise, resulting in increased strength.  There are other effects resulting from exercise that involve the nervous system, skeletal system and endocrine system to name a few, but at this point in the series what you need to know is that stressing a muscle will ultimately lead to a larger muscle fiber and increased strength.  We will soon get to how much weight to start with and how many sets and reps to complete but before that we need to highlight a few universal cues.

The cues I am about to go over are used in almost every exercise. There will no doubt be variations to these cues for different exercises but for the most part if you remember the following 3 cues you won’t hurt yourself.  I often tell clients that if they forget everything I tell them about a specific exercise just remember these 3 cues and they will probably be on the right track.  These were also the first 3 cues I asked any trainer I supervised to learn, albeit I have refined how I present it over the years.
Cue OneShoulder blades in back pockets.  This does not mean squeeze your shoulder blades down and back as hard as you can.  All that is needed here is to pull them back a bit, opening up your chest and then pulling them down towards your back pockets slightly.  As weight increases you will have to squeeze harder but it is not necessary for your shoulder blades to touch.  You simply want to lock your shoulder blades onto your rib cage. This gives you a good base to press and pull.
Cue Two: Rib Cage in front pockets. Often when someone pulls their shoulder blades together for the first time you will see their belly push forward.  This is where I suggest to pull your  rib cage down into your front pockets. This will pull your back into a neutral arch and help to brace your torso.
Cue Three: Make a double chin.  Just like the previous two cues this is a subtle movement. You are just trying to make the start of a double chin.  This creates a neutral neck position, which has a positive impact down the chain by helping to keep a natural arch in the mid and low back.  In the past I have also used the term “pack the neck”

The position that these three cues create is also referred to as athletic posture or base position. This back position when combined with loading the hips and knees appropriately form the foundation for athletic movement.  If you can master this position then you will be setting yourself up for better performance and a lowered risk of injury.

To make sure you don’t miss any instalments of this series or my Basics of Healthy Eating series, sign up for my email list.  You will get an email as each part is published with a link to the website as well as the entire post is included in the email, great for saving a bit of data if you’re reading on your phone.  Can’t wait for the next post? Have specific questions about something I have written? or maybe something I haven’t written about yet? Send me an email at firstalarmstrength@gmail.com and we can talk more, or better yet, get you started on a program to fit your needs.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more to come!

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