Here are some principles of physical training that I believe are important. They are not Commandments to be etched on stone tablets and rigidly followed, there will always be exceptions and there will always be nuance and gray area. That being said, I believe they will help most people who have the goal of moving better throughout their healthspan.
Breathing with the diaphragm tones the parasympathetic nervous system and can calm us down to get through anxiety or perform better
Learning to breath in different positions can also help to undo postural restrictions that modern life has imposed upon us
If you've mastered an exercise or position you should be able to breathe well in it, even if it is a specialized form of breathing like in a heavy lift
Retrain Your Nervous System
This starts with good breathing
We are incredible learners and adapters but this means we can also literally become better at experiencing pain, given enough "practice"
Every movement that is done with feelings of openness, curiosity and mindfulness downregulates the sympathetic "fight or flight" nervous system and our alarm system (pain)
If you start to experience apprehension, fear, tightness or pain in a movement regress the movement until you can return to openness and curiosity
Retrain Your Compensatory Movement Patterns
This goes hand in hand with the above guideline and is the physical side of the coin
Understand what your compensatory patterns for posture and movement are
Be patient with yourself in learning something new. How long does it take for a concert pianist to have their movements trained into muscle memory?
Be like a toddler learning to walk! Enthusiastic, resilient, relentless and never wasting a moment beating themselves up for falling on their butt!
Practice the basics
This might be the only thing on this list other than breathing well that may be worthy of being set in stone
Across all domains I've heard top performers and experts say this over and over and over, you can never be too good at the basics
Prioritize the ideal rep
Don't ever sacrifice range of motion and quality of movement to do a heavier weight or more impressive body position
No weak links
FEET, shin muscles, hip flexors, scapular muscles, neck muscles deserve to be strong and flexible. Did I mention feet?
No weak links means you will move better through all patterns
Train your feet
Emphasize tendons and muscles equally
It is our joints that usually end up limiting us. Train with an equal emphasis on building and protecting your joints and it's like getting an insurance policy on your body
This takes time, as the remodeling time for connective tissue is much longer than for muscles
Heavy stimulus early in a session
This is relative. If someone has been bedridden for a while, rolling or crawling may be a heavy stimulus
Hormonally this sets the stage for building strength and training the nervous system. Sprinters will sometimes do some heavy bench press before sprint workouts. Do they want big bulky pecs? No, they want to maximize their running gains
Heavy stimulus movements are your big, functional, compound movements. Rolling, crawling, walking, running, sledwork, deadlift, squat, split squat, dips, pull-ups, muscle-ups
Short range before long range
I'm talking about muscle length here. E.g. for quads perform a short range exercise like a 6" step down before a long range exercise like a knee-over-toe split squat
Short range exercises emphasize muscle and neurological drive
Long range exercises emphasize connective tissue training and flexibility
When In Doubt, Superset
A super set is where opposite muscle groups are alternated set by set, e.g. a set of push ups then a set of plank rows and repeating until I've done the target number of sets for each
It's efficient and working one muscle group gives a little neurological boost to the other
Train through full range of motion
Train through the full range whether done in a single exercise or by splitting the range into short/long exercises
This increases not only flexibility, but active flexibility. We've all known people who can just drop into the splits, but they may not be strong in that position. Active flexibility is more like Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits elevated on two chairs. Of course this is an extreme example that few people would need to achieve but it illustrates the point
When training strength near the limits of flexibility, care and patience are key. This type of training should be pain free, with ample recovery time.
Absorb, Adapt, Implement
Understand these principles, then adapt them to best suit you. Then do them consistently
Follow this guideline with new techniques you encounter, there are a lot of awesome tools out there to help you improve!
Enjoy The Journey
Easier said than done, I know. It's good to have goals to know where you want to get to. At the same time the process can be far more rewarding than the goal. I guarantee you will learn new things about yourself and what you assumed was possible
This is how to play the long game. Enjoy the game itself. The way to win is to keep playing as long as you can. Be like Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins, who recently broke the world record for the 100m sprint at age 105. Her advice: "Never stop running."
Don’t worry if not all of these principles makes sense right away. They will become intuitive with practice and then you can make them yours. They will work for anyone with athletic aspirations regardless of ability and experience. If you can find a competent expert to help guide you it can save a lot of time and mistakes. At Neighborhood Physical Therapy I help individuals learn and apply these principles to reach their most important goals. Enjoy the journey, you may surprised at what your body can do when trained with consistency and care.