Small Stuff for Big Gains

By Josh Bryant

JJ Horne training neck with Josh.

Thirty years ago, striped spandex and shiny chrome machines were the “expert” preferred path to physique sculpting and performance enhancement.

But, in reality, that advice ain’t even close enough for government work and is as welcome as a porcupine at a nudist colony.

Thankfully, over the past 15 years, with the popularity of programs like Jailhouse Strong and the rise of CrossFit, isolation machines have lost their strong hold on the fitness world and barbell training has been on the rise.

This is a good thing and I believe effective strength training programs have multi-joint barbell core lifts at the “core” of their programs.  One of the few adverse consequences catalyzed from the barbell craze is an attitude of a few multi-joint barbell movements is all one must do to progressively make strength gains and maintain structural balance.

This is a mistake!

If you have your doubts let take look at a study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, the study was entitled “Improved Performance through Digit Strength Gains.”

The study examined the effect of strengthening the toes and fingers at the metatarsophalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints on performance in the vertical jump and shot put.

Three categories of college students participated in the study: ballet dancers, track and field athletes, and students enrolled in weight lifting classes. Within each category, participants were randomly divided into treatment and control groups.

A specially designed toe and finger exercise device adapted to a Cybex machine was used for progressive resistance exercise sessions and to test for strength increases. The treatment period was 12 weeks and involved three training sessions per week. Mean gains for the treatment subjects were 2.3 cm in the vertical jump, 20.3 cm in the modified shot put, 67.2 cm in the standing shot put, and 57.6 cm in the regular shot put.

 All these gains were significantly greater (p<.05) than those experienced by the control groups. It was concluded that performance in the vertical jump and shot put can be improved by strengthening the toe and finger muscle flexors at the metatarsophalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints.

Final Thoughts

For strength training if these athletes had to choose one modality, power cleans or squats would be superior to a Cybex machine but remember ATHLETES, don’t have to make that choice.  Imagine the synergy of combining both?

Keep the big stuff at the center piece of your program but do not neglect the small stuff to optimize structural balance, prevent injuries and to attain peak performance!

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