The Logical Conclusion
Everything is a Skill
Pavel and the RKC phenomenon have had innumerable, powerful influences on the modern elite training community. By providing simple, effective answers to many of the complex issues of training Pavel has brought a widespread focus to the neurology of strength and flexibility. In technical language this is called “a really good thing!”
I believe that one of the most important concepts that Pavel has revitalized in the RKC educational process is reminding the training community that “everything is a skill”. This single concept (known as the SAID Principle in physiology) is a critical foundational piece of the Z-Health approach to training.
The Early Years
Early on in my academic studies, I became fascinated with the concept of “everything is a skill.” From my first introduction to Grey’s Anatomy when I was still in elementary school (the actual text, not the TV show) the whole idea of the body’s adaptive abilities fascinated me. I remember being both awed and intrigued by the concept and convinced that there had to be a way to maximize our potential by understanding the underlying principles of how we as humans “work”.
Over the course of time, through education and real-world experience, I became ever more fascinated with this concept as well as convinced that it is the key to maximizing our strength, skill and health simultaneously. Interestingly enough, this same education and experience taught me that “everything is a skill” is RARELY taken to its logical conclusion.
Let’s take a look at one way that “everything is a skill” can be translated into physiology. The foundational, underlying concept in human physiology is the SAID Principle. This is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. In other words, the SAID Principle states that the body/mind system will become better at doing whatever it does regularly. However, as the modern science of training has evolved, it has become clear that this definition does not go quite far enough. In fact, it leaves out two critical words:
- Always, and
In Z-Health® we have altered the classic SAID Principle definition to this:
“The body ALWAYS adapts to EXACTLY what it does.” That should sound a lot like, “everything is a skill!” But what does that really mean and how should it and could it impact on your training? The truth is that an intimate understanding of this concept can radically impact every aspect of your training and your life. In fact, this is such a critical concept that this article is solely designed to get you to ask yourself the one simple question that I ask over and over in our certification courses:
“If the SAID Principle is true (If I believe that everything is a skill)… have I taken that fact to its logical conclusion?”
The Logical Conclusion
If “everything is a skill” is a neurologic truth, then EVERYTHING MATTERS in your training. Anything that you leave to “chance” is a probable source of eventual compensation, pain, injury or impaired performance. What the heck does that mean? Here’s a simple experiment to show you what I’m talking about.
For this to work well, you will need a digital camera. While standing normally, have someone take a full body picture of you from the front and directly from the side. Now, hit the deck! Do 10-15 pushups just as you would normally do them. Now, stand up and take another set of pictures.
Now it’s time to compare. Look at your before and after shots. What do you notice? Is your posture different? Is it better? Is it worse? About 90% of the time, this little experiment makes posture worse! Why? Because at a base level, we forget the SAID Principle definition, “The body ALWAYS adapts to EXACTLY what it does.” If you do your pushups with poor form or poor posture (or just simply pretty good form and pretty good posture) your body will IMMEDIATELY begin an adaptation process to make you better at maintaining that poor posture.
The logical conclusion is that if you perform ANY exercise in less than perfect posture, you are training yourself to have less than perfect posture. If you perform ANY exercise in less than perfect form, you are training to have less than perfect form (and eventually injury). If you perform ANY exercise with excessive tension you are training yourself to be tight, slow and in pain. In Z-Health® we call this the Perfect Rep Principle and it guides everything that we do in training.
The Perfect Rep in Practice
Here’s the hard part – what to do with this information! There are numerous factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that can make implementing the Perfect Rep Principle difficult. If you have poor mobility, a lack of precise body control, old injuries, scar tissue, etc., every one of these can make training under this paradigm more difficult. However, here’s an idea to get you started.
Begin with this experiment. This week, for one of your training sessions, either cut all of your loads between 50 and 80% or work completely unloaded. While this may drive you crazy at first, it is important, so stick it out! During the session train each lift as slowly as possible. As you do this, concentrate intensely on feeling your actual form, technique and posture during each part of the lift. Do your best to make each rep of each exercise as perfect as you possibly can. You will want to videotape the session for review. Often, when you do this, you will learn that your intrinsic “feel” of what is happening in an exercise is NOT what is happening in the real world. In fact, many athletes are shocked when they see their training form and posture on video.
In the aftermath of this training session, it is very likely that you will be far more aware of numerous subtle but important weak links in your lifts. Whether it’s an awkward arc on an overhead press, an elbow that just will not lock out, poor neck posture, asymmetric foot positions, or a rounded low back – you now have a target for your training!
What Do I Do Now?
Let’s say that you just finished the above Perfect Rep exercise and now have a laundry list of weak links that are slowing your progress. The next KEY question you should ask is “What do I do about it?”
Typically, in Z-health, we would direct you to immediately perform an R-PHASE isolated mobility drill for the weak link area and then REPEAT the original exercise. If you did a good job identifying the actual weak link, and mobilizing the joints and tissues of the weak link correctly, you should see an IMMEDIATE improvement in the lift – your speed, strength, form, posture, or other parameters should improve instantly. What you must understand here, however, is that identifying the weak link is the key!
While an actual movement assessment process is the fastest way to identify and fix your weak links, let me share with you one single concept that will help tremendously. To do this, let’s look at a hypothetical RKC who has a right elbow that will simply not fully lock out into full extension.
After testing the elbow under a light load, the immediate, direct approach would be to have him perform a basic series of R-Phase elbow circles emphasizing: a full range of motion, fully locking and unlocking the elbow on each rep, and a slow, controlled speed. Then we would retest the lift. If this did not “fix” the problem, it’s now time for mobilizations of the joints above and below – in this case the shoulder and wrist. Each joint would be actively mobilized in all potential ranges of motion slowly, with control. After each joint was trained, we would retest. In about 70% of the cases, properly performed mobility work as described above will release the elbow. If not, do you give up? No!
Now it’s time for a more in-depth biomechanical approach. To introduce this concept very simply I want you to think of the body as a big X. In other words, when it comes to force transfer, the left lower extremity works in conjunction with the right upper extremity. In this case, we have an RKC who cannot properly lock out his RIGHT elbow. So, if we have tried the direct approach, the next thing we want to focus on is the LEFT leg. Why? In Z-Health we teach a concept that we call opposing joints.
Without going into detail, the simple way to think about this biomechanically is that the hand must be coordinated with the opposite side foot, the elbow with the knee, etc. To take advantage of this biomechanical activity for our RKC, we will move to a very specific series of closed-chain KNEE mobility drills again emphasizing: a full range of motion, fully locking and unlocking the knees on each rep, and a slow, controlled speed. Then, we would retest. Believe it or not, for releasing a non-locking elbow your success rate will have just jumped from 70 to close to 90%!
The moral of this story is that the body is an integrated system and weak links ANYWHERE along the chain can impact on your overall functioning in ways that will astound you.
Putting It All Together
We’ve taken a look at some hyper-critical concepts in this article but we always try to follow Einstein’s advice: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” So, let’s summarize.
- If you believe, as Pavel states, that “everything is a skill” you have embraced the SAID Principle.
- The SAID Principle definition states that the body ALWAYS adapts to EXACTLY what it does. This means that if you want to maximize your potential and minimize your compensations and injury potential that EVERYTHING matters in training.
- The LOGICAL CONCLUSION of this is that if you train in less than perfect form, perfect posture, and balanced tension you will eventually pay a price.
- To properly implement these concepts you want to embrace the PERFECT REP PRINCIPLE, and understand the principles of mobility training, force transfer and integrated body function as you uncover your weak links. We will try to cover each of these concepts in a bit more depth in future articles.
Remember that the logical conclusion of “everything is a skill” is that everything matters. And it matters every time, with every rep. Train smart.