My hand balancing coach Mikael happened to mention an analogy on passing that completely overhauled my approach to physical training.
He introduced the idea of skill acquisition being akin to filling a cup. The greater the volume of liquid within the cup, the greater the available capacity for the task at hand.
That being said, in order to fill the cup in the first place, a cup needs to be (metaphorically) present. Without a cup, there is nowhere for the liquid to gather.
If you want to increase your physical capacity for training, we need a foundation of sorts. Start by creating your cup.
The cup in this analogy is the body’s physical capacity to build new skills; in my case, I’m referring to my own hand balancing practice but for you, this could mean building a stronger squat or running a more enjoyable and pain-free half marathon.
The activities you do within that bubble of designated training time are important. Oftentimes it’s easy to spend too much time focusing on the end performance goal and forgetting about the seemingly less important aspects of training: most notably cardiovascular fitness, joint resiliency, muscle response to load and the mental reactions to discomfort and challenge along the way.
Your commitment to creating a general base level of fitness and mobility prior to obtaining a specific movement pattern will be both a meaningful and worthwhile endeavour.
You’ll be surprised at how much this generalised workload transfers over into everyday life as well as into the specific training goals you’re working towards week after week.
If I take my hand balancing practice as an example, I spent months last year feeling fatigued and struggling to maintain longer holds. The hand balancing portion of my training plan was well structured with adequate recovery time and sensible training principles. However, when I stepped back and really analysed my physical abilities, my cardiovascular fitness was practically non-existent. In addition, when I reviewed my overall strength capabilities, my shoulder muscles stood strong against a weak back and chest that possessed a fraction of the strength I needed for the demands of my training. I needed to address my general skill level before tackling more specific skill-based goals.
And so the cup was forged! *cue inspirational Rocky theme tune and sweaty grey running gear*
To account for stronger foundations, I temporarily dropped the intensity of my skill-based training (hand balancing) and replaced it with more generalised workouts to develop and condition my whole body. I needed more general strength and I got out of breath far too easily during sessions. Over the long-term, both of these factors hindered my performance in a big way and avoidance was no longer an option.
Foundational fitness is a work in progress that I’ll continue to maintain as I work back towards the technical hand balancing training. Those sessions are less frequent for the time being, but my goals, for now, are to have the strength and capacity to rise to the demands of the tasks I give myself when working on two hands. If I move my centre of mass too far forward or backward, I have the strength within my upper body to be able to pull myself back into alignment without overly stressing my joints, or becoming overly fatigued.
Developing a base level of general fitness may also help to reduce the risk of falling victim to annoying niggling aches.
While it makes sense to be strong and resilient in the common movements of your training, it’s also worth thinking outside the box. Think of your current movement patterns and experiment with movement variation. Your body has lots of untapped movement capabilities that you may not currently be using.
Using these new and improved ranges may further your training potential, whilst also reducing the potential for injury when you enter weaker movements unexpectedly in training (ACL tear anyone?)
Have a think about the following points:
Are there noticeable movement patterns that you struggle with and constantly shy away from?
Are you still plagued by old or re-occurring injuries? Do you fear these injuries will affect your training at a later date?
How’s the strength in your squat beyond 90 degrees?
Do you even rotate your hips? (Would you know HOW to rotate your femurs within the hip sockets?) Are you scrunching your face up reading this and wondering how to move your hips without moving your pelvis?
Can you move your big toe without moving the other toes?
Do your arms extend overhead without arching your back?
Does a walk up 3 flights of stairs get you out of breath?
Before we fill the cup, we must build the cup. I encourage you to take a look at your own training routine and see if there are gaps that could be filled with base level strength, mobility or cardiovascular work.
It’s amazing how some of these seemingly minor generalised movements can create big waves of progress in your skill-specific training over the long-term.
Don’t fall victim to the biased opinions on social media or the negativity around certain movement practices – be honest and think of your own interests. Think of activities that would benefit your personal needs, goals, and interests.
Never used a Stairmaster before? Put some music on and give it a whirl. Experiment with new ab conditioning routines if you want to make your aerial moves more elegant. If your training routine is rigid, perhaps try a more relaxed and intuitive approach to sections of your training. Enjoy pull-ups? Why not try bouldering and see how your pulling strength reacts to a new environment.
These are just some of the many cup-building ideas to get your mind working and making sense of this notion.
I’d love to know how this idea applies to your specific situation and training routine, whether in Glasgow or from further afield you’re welcome to drop me a message on my website or via Instagram to share your thoughts.