I’ve talked about this before, because humility is the key virtue for those who make the most gains. It comes from taking a step back and forgetting the go or the expectations you/others have set for you.
Today we’re going to talk about weak links – why they’re amazing – and how they should be guiding your training. This chat is going to apply to everyone from absolute beginners to elite athletes – so don’t go thinking you’re ever too good to improve!
Let’s get right into it…
What are weak links?
The idea of a weak link is a pretty simple one and it comes from the analogy of a chain: a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. If everything else is great but one area is lagging, you’re only as good as that one lagging area – and the rest is wasted.
This is apt in fitness because many of us have some area we are strongest in – and at least one other where were weakest. The hard part is that we all love doing the stuff we like and are good at, so it’s easy to ignore the hard parts and continue this disparity.
You’ll get stronger in the areas that you’re already good at while the bits you probably know you’re ignoring stagnate. This is what is most likely to cause weak links, but they could also come off the back of a poor training plan, after an injury, or due to poor movement patterns/technique.
This applies everywhere in life, outside of the gym, too – especially in your habits. It might not be the weak link muscle group or movement – it could be that your sleep is letting you down, or your water intake, for example.
There’s a good chance you’ve got some of each – lifestyle and movement weak links. Why am I so concerned with your weak links? Because they’re the best place to start the hard work of great change!
Why weak links are great
The sad reality of fitness is that you can only do so much before you start damaging yourself. When it comes to training, there’s a certain amount of exercise you can do before you start damaging the muscles and joints unnecessarily.
When it comes to lifestyle, equally, there are times when you’re doing more harm than good. You can’t change your whole lifestyle in one week and expect it to stick: Willpower is a limited resource and you can easily over-commit yourself without nailing down a single change for the long-term.
Since this is true – whether you like it or not – you have to be specific about where you put your effort. Training is very limited by your physical abilities and change is a difficult thing to do, so efficiency and maximising your inputs is key.
Think about it like this: if I said you could only make one improvement to your life once a month for the rest of the year, you’d probably put some real time into figuring out which one gave you the best results.
Weak links are the absolute epitome of efficient, bang for your buck change. They highlight where you are losing the most results and if you pay attention, they make themselves known.
Training for weak links – like a weak core or glutes – can change everything.
These are huge changes and they come from addressing one weakness – and it’s why weak links are so exciting. They offer a way of maximising your training benefits from a single, easy priority that a good coach or PT can identify in a short space of time.
I’m always excited when I work with a client and we find a weakness – or something I hadn’t expected. This is because it offers ample opportunities for them to get the very most from their training and I know we’re going to make a ton of gains in the month we start addressing it.
When we notice a weakness, the best strategy is to acknowledge that it’s there and immediately set to work on fixing it. In the example of glutes as your weak link, targeted training will improve core and spine control, strength in the big lower body exercises, posture, reduce injury risk for the hips and knees, and improve your physique.
These all contribute directly or indirectly to your goals – as they would for a high-performance athlete or a recreational gym-goer. Balancing your body and fixing dysfunction or weakness is always the best place to start and lays the foundation for specific goals you might have.
The Gaps in Your Lifestyle: Small Change, Big Results
Equally, lifestyle weak links are a great way to understand where you’re going wrong and change it in the short-term. Again, spending a single month working on a dietary bad habit that keeps ruining your hard work – like snacking.
If you know that you’d be on a great diet if it wasn’t for your evening snacking, then the value of addressing that weak link is enormous. It’s literally the difference between success and failure in the goal you’ve set for yourself!
These changes can be actioned without worrying about your physical health and integrity, so they make for a great place to put your out-of-training effort. There are a ton of things you could or should be working on, but you’re always going to be limited by the logistics and what you can recover from.
Fixing Weakness: The Best Workouts
The first thing I recommend doing when it comes to fixing a weakness is testing it in multiple ways. Does your glute weakness show up in isometric exercise, or just in the challenging concentric part of the exercise? Does it happen in every exercise for that muscle group?
This kind of question is important because if you can find the bit you’re worst at, you can strengthen that bit specifically. You can find dozens of ways to train glutes, but you should try to find the most relevant to you – and use a 2-3 of them.
Adding a little variety here is great. 2-3 exercises are usually better than just one, because variety helps you progress and offers a different kind of stimulus, as well as giving you a physical and mental break from working the exact same exercise/position all the time.
On top of this, it’s a great idea to train the movement actively and reactively. For example, you might be able to do a ton of sit ups but does that make you good at absorbing force dynamically in the midsection? No. That kind of training is a good place to get some work in, using different types of training and different exercises that might contribute to fixing your weak link.
Over time, there are a few simple steps I think you need to go through with each weak link:
- Identify and Acknowledge: find the muscle group that is weak, and then try to find the movements it is weakest in. Work from there.
- Stabilise: do your strength work for the region slowly with isometric exercises or light weights with slow movement. Stability and control need to be developed for long-term strength and health.
- Strengthen: work your muscles with common exercises, especially with purposeful pauses at the end ranges and weights that challenge you. This is the “normal” strength work.
- Integrate: Make sure that you’re using the control and strength of these training techniques in the bigger exercises – like deadlifts, squats, and lunges.
- Experiment and Vary: this is key a you continue your long-term development, keep working in new and varied ways. This will keep the lagging muscle group strong and avoid falling into patterns of under-use and even more weakness!
If you’re honest with your own strengths and weaknesses, you can take this simple progression for any muscle group. Always take your time to progress and put in good, controlled reps – they’ll provide the foundation for everything else you’re trying to achieve.
Here’s the big point I want you to take from today’s article: If you seek out the thing you’re bad at – even if it makes you feel bad about yourself – you can fix it and will see huge results.
We know these things exist and it can be hard to face up to them – but the rewards are huge. If you want to maximise your time in the gym or in any area of life, you need to start at these weak points.