Training

Neglected Muscles to Improve Strength

by Pat Davidson

My name is Pat Davidson and I am currently a professor of exercise science at Springfield College. My main passion in life is my pursuit of strength and athleticism. I compete in Strongman, and in the two and a half years that I have been involved in the sport I have competed for two world championships at the Arnold Classic. I also have been able to coach, mentor, and truly get to know many of the athletes who make up Springfield College Team Ironsports. My lifestyle is unique. I talk about the science of performance all day. I educate myself on exercise science daily. I train for a strength sport and coach others in strength sports with every fiber and ounce of exercise science knowledge that I possess. My pursuit of knowledge has taken me in some unusual directions. I possess a good knowledge of the basics (lifting technique, speed, agility, plyometrics, energy system anatomy and physiology, musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology, periodization, etc.), and I feel as though this base has helped me to incorporate newer advanced physical therapy theoretical concepts into the training system that I utilize. That’s what I want to tell you about today.

On February 8th and 9th I was exposed to the most incredible information I’ve ever seen regarding the human organism. On those dates I attended a course called, Cervical-Cranio-Mandibular Restoration, An Integrated Approach to Treatment of Patterned Temporomandibular and Cervical Dysfunction. This course was part of the offerings from the Postural Restoration Institute, and the course speaker was Ron Hruska, the founder of PRI. It was a two day course consisting of approximately 15 hours of lecture and the information was way over my head (even though it was about my head). I believe that I truly understood approximately 10% of the information that Ron was teaching, even though I did my absolute best to pay attention with my greatest possible focus. This 10% of understanding has helped me realize what the biggest thing missing in strength training is: awareness, control, mobility and stability of the muscles, fascia, assorted soft tissues, and bony structures north of the clavicles and scapula. This is unchartered territory in the world of training for the most part. The anatomy and physiology is intimidating up there (eyes, ears, nose, throat, brain, etc.). The science is demanding; however, there are a few simple things you can do that will help you utilize muscles that you probably never knew you could train.

Like I said earlier, I’m a professor. I teach a bunch of classes, and for the most part the audience is between 18 and 22 years old. I need to make a connection with these people and try to reinforce points that are critical for them to understand. I try to ask three questions over and over again. Pay attention to the next three paragraphs, because if you ever meet me in person, I might just ask you these questions, and I’ll expect that you have these answers memorized.

In addition to his duties as an exercise science professor, Pat is one of the top 175 pound strongman competitors in the country.
In addition to his duties as an exercise science professor, Pat is one of the top 175 pound strongman competitors in the country.

1. What is the purpose of training?

Think about that one for a minute…good question, right. The answer, according the Exercise Physiology text book by McArdle, Katch, and Katch (2011), is to induce specific structural and functional adaptations. A structural adaptation to strength training is increased cross-sectional area of muscle due to increased protein synthesis. A functional adaptation is increased force production. The structural change feeds into new functional capabilities…bigger triceps, bigger bench.

2.What is Starling’s Law of Recruitment?

The Answer, as force production increases, recruitment of fibers increases. In addition to this, only the fibers that are recruited and fatigued during an exercise bout are available for adaptation. Furthermore, as fibers make adaptations to training, they move closer to their genetic potential for hypertrophy and force production. These fibers then experience diminishing returns from training. You work hard, but you’re in a plateau. The higher your training age and experience, the closer all your working fibers are to their genetic potential. Newbies make huge gains, veterans struggle to make small gains.

3. What can you tell me about specificity?

The answer is too long and complicated for one article, but an acceptable synopsis would involve the following. Specific training occurs when you are playing or practicing the sport you compete in. To improve performance you need to make adaptations. These adaptations need to be specific to the movements you want to make better in your sport. To induce these kinds of adaptations you need to do moves in training that mimic the force, velocity, angles, type of contraction, and energy system utilization that is as close to identical with the sport move as possible. If you’re a middle school basketball coach you’re not going to have your team play soccer in practice the week before the first game of the season because soccer isn’t specific enough to basketball. The two sports have many similarities if you think about it, but there are enough differences to make it obvious that soccer for basketball would be a poor coaching decision. I wonder how much soccer for basketball is taking place in the world of strength sports when athletes are training…or as I like to think of it, going to practice.

I think the most important thing I can do for any athlete is to figure out what sport movements they can’t perform well. My level of specificity in figuring out lacking movements and their causes is a powerful tool in my coaching toolbox. If you lack right shoulder internal rotation, then I’ll know exactly why you’re struggling with certain sport movements. If I can show you why you’re lacking that movement and how to gain it and keep it, all of a sudden things you were struggling with yesterday you’ll be able to do pretty easily. If I can give you the motions that you were lacking, and then train you in movements that will translate to your sport, I’ll increase the exact right muscles in the exact right way to make you a monster.

This is an introductory article. I can’t give you the whole bag of candy all at once. It would overwhelm your system and you’d go into an insulin coma. Let me give you one thing that you can apply to your training that will help you today. What I’m going to give you is something you can do to strengthen important muscles that connect your face to your skull. These are muscles you’ve never trained. These are muscles that participate in every action you do as a human. These are muscles that can be integrated into your strength training. These are the muscles that are the farthest away from their genetic potential anywhere in your body. If I can get you to understand how the Purpose of Training, Starling’s Law of Recruitment, and Specificity applies to this concept, then we can begin our journey into the unchartered territory north of the clavicles and scapula: the land of the puppet master.

Here is what I want you to apply to any strength movement you can think of performing (deadlift, bench press, stones, yoke, reverse preacher curls with the E-Z curl bar). Appreciate that this one tip incorporates the answers to the three questions posed in this article for every human organism I have encountered in my life.

  1. Put as much of the top of your tongue on as much of the roof of your mouth as you can.
  2. Touch the insides of your top teeth with as much of your tongue as you can.
  3. Suck the roof of the mouth down (hard palate and soft palate) and try to suck the insides of your top teeth in with the tongue. You are not allowed to suck at sucking. Suck hard…do you feel your abs turning on?
  4. Seal your lips. Use your lips to help try to suck the top teeth down the back of your throat. Use the insides of your cheeks that touch your top teeth to help too. Do you feel your lateral abdominal walls firing?
  5. Use the soft tissue under your chin (the waddle). Pull it up tight and spread it wide to help the tongue, lips, and cheeks suck. You are not allowed to suck at sucking!

You needed to find your abs. You just didn’t know you needed to look for them in your mouth. Your mouth needs to be a drain. Keep the lips shut, seal the deal, and suck. If all of your abs are stabilizing you during strength movements, you’ll crush weights and you won’t be as beat up after training. This one tip will help you with every repetition of every exercise you do. Don’t suck at sucking and you won’t suck as much.

Further Reading:

Deadlifts, Breathing, and Bracing by Ryan Brown

Stabilizing the Scapulae for Overhead Pressing by Pat Davidson

Pat Davidson is the Director of Training Methodology at Peak Performance in New York City. Pat has a PhD in Exercise Physiology and is a competitive strongman in the 175 pound class who has finished in the top 10 at the North American Strongman (NAS) National Championships and has competed for the Amateur World Championships at the Arnold Classic both of the last two years. Pat has coached many strongman athletes, including multiple NAS National Champions in the 2014 calendar year. Pat bases his training methodology on his interpretation of block program design, and he relies on information from the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) to guide him in his understanding of biomechanics and the strategies he utilizes to keep athletes feeling healthy and happy. You can contact Pat at [email protected], or give him a call/shoot him a text at (508) 685-8455. Pat loves to talk shop, so don’t be afraid to contact him.

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