Coaches CornerEnduranceGymnasticsPowerliftingWeightlifting


What’s the biggest limiting factor holding you back?


When an athlete comes to me asking for ways to improve a specific movement it usually comes down to being an issue of skill / technique or physiological adaptation.  These can be easily confused and can sometimes require additional information.




A skill is usually a more advanced movement that requires correct movement patterns performed at different speeds. This can be described as movement efficiency. The better your technique is, the less energy you will waste from improper mechanics. It can also be the amount of experience you have. Getting more reps and workouts is practice that can be improving a certain skill.


Physiological Adaptation


Physiological adaptations are the improvements we want inside the body. This could be increased oxygen delivery to fatigued muscles, increased muscle fiber size for a higher contractile potential, or the ability to accumulate volume.


When Skill / Technique is an Issue


Olympic Lifting


When an athlete has issues with the olympic lifts it usually comes down to their technique. Olympic lifting is a skill. You need to be able to perform the lifts correctly and safely before adding load and fatigue (olympic lifts inside a conditioning workout). I get the question “How do I get better at snatches inside a workout?” You can replace the snatches in that question with any Olympic lift and the answer is almost always the same for new athletes. Practice. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced without heavy loads and without fatigue.


Now I know everyone doesn’t have time to get in early or stay late just to practice. If you mostly see that lift inside a workout then you have to decide whether you want to get quality reps in or go heavier because that’s what everyone else is doing. The more quality reps you perform with good form the better. Weight is irrelevant. If your form goes to shit inside the workout you’re teaching your body a poor movement pattern. Lower the weight. Respect the lift.


Advanced Gymnastics


This is assuming you can perform the movement you wish to improve. Getting from no pull ups to hitting reps of bar muscle ups will take some physiological adaptations. But I usually get the question from someone who can do 1 or 2 reps of a bar/ring muscle up and want to string together more reps. Same can be said for handstand push ups, toes to bar, and pull ups. The skill of creating momentum in the kip is essential. Practicing the proper positions of hollow body and arch while making the correct shapes as you move will give you the best results.


I will say that if you’re a beginner there should be some prerequisite strength needed to efficiently move yourself on the rig or rings. That involves a physiological adaptation of increasing strength and building the lat muscles and the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.


When Physiological Adaptations Are Needed to Improve


Aerobic Endurance


The ability to deliver oxygen to the body while moving for an extended period of time can really help you out. I know cardio can be a bad word in functional fitness gyms but the truth is most people will benefit from extended conditioning of cycling, running, rowing, swimming or another cyclical modality. Some people have a very tough time controlling their heart rate and breathing mechanics inside an intense workout. How can they improve their ability to do continuous exercise for an extended period of time? You called it. Cardio! Improving your aerobic endurance can increase your capillary density (the amount of capillaries in your muscles), improve recovery, and help you exercise for longer periods.


There are no tricks to doing burpees, kettlebell swings, and box jumps. People just get better at breathing and moving through a tough workout because they have trained their aerobic endurance.


Muscular Endurance


This adaptation is needed when your having a tough time exerting one muscle group for multiple reps. The question that often comes up is squatting with weight inside a conditioning workout. Whether its an overhead squat, front squat, or back squat, the quads and hips need better muscular endurance. The goal here would be to accumulate volume on the legs over weeks and months. Assuming the movement pattern is sufficient, you’ll want to start light and perform higher sets. Over time you can start to add fatigue into the equation. It looks like this: 4 sets; 15 Overhead Squats at 40% of 1RM then 90 second easy pace on Assault Bike.The movement pattern is being trained at a light load to accumulate volume with the assault bike adding in some fatigue similar to a conditioning workout. However, the intensity is being taken away by going at an easy pace on the bike to keep the emphasis on the squat.


This can be the case with high volume olympic lifting inside a conditioning workout. If the technique of the lifts stay sufficient but the breathing mechanics and muscles start to fatigue too quickly then muscular endurance could be a limiting factor.


Absolute Strength


Being able to lift heavier weights takes time. It takes years to grow strong enough to compete at an elite level. Both skill and muscle growth (physiological adaptation) will need to take place. Building muscle size increases the cross sectional area of the muscle fiber bringing a higher contractile potential. At the same time you need to train your body’s central nervous system (CNS) to be able to fire all the necessary muscle fibers at a faster rate. Then there’s the skill of learning how to handle the heavy weights. Being able to grind out heavy weight gets better with experience.




Learning how to pace also takes time. I believe both experience and some endurance is necessary to be able to accurately pace a conditioning workout. If you’re given a 20 minute and you need to maintain the same pace throughout without going too slow or too fast. Too slow and you don’t get much benefit from the workout and too hard will have you burnt out in less than 5 minutes. How do you know what pace to go at? It’s a skill that’s acquired from all the previous workouts you’ve done that have taught you how to slow down a little at the start and try to maintain a steady pace. You will also need a fair amount of endurance that needs to be trained in order to maintain breathing mechanics and composure in the middle of a tough workout. Pacing is a skill that is more effective with adequate endurance (physiological adaptation).


So what’s your limiting factor? What can you do to make it better? Sometimes the answer is simple when you have an obvious weakness. But it can be very complex and cause frustration when you don’t know how to improve.


If you liked this post or have questions about your limiting factors let me know in the comments!





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