Refining Your Auto-Regulation: From Big To Small

Written By: Peter Baker

In the last piece, I talked about how to train for specific events should you find yourself competing in contests that require multiple events. If you recall, when something wasn’t right for you to do, you’d use your body’s biofeedback to assess your training protocol.

However, what happens if all your sport specific events are a no-go? Do you leave the gym having done nothing and hate yourself the rest of the day? Do you force yourself to do your specific work and not progress, or worse, hurt yourself? Or do you make progress elsewhere and then slay your sport specific workout another day?

Of course, the latter. The spectrum of human movement is so vast that neglecting other motions in favor of our pet practices all the time is anathema to what we are capable of. This is especially case as it relates to overall health and the big picture of our lives.

Having said that, my coach, Frankie, coined what he calls the “Movement Model”. Unlike other schemes, this pyramid is worth following.

The Movement Model

The Movement Model is a simple way to guide your training, both as it relates to our specific sport and what to do when you can’t train for that specific sport. As the name implies, it breaks your sport and your training down in terms of motions, as opposed to exercises. So with that in mind, let’s take a look.

Specific Movements

If you follow the testing protocol outlined in the last article, this is the first point to test. To make it easy, I’ll frame it in terms of powerlifting.
When testing your specific movements, you want them to be identical (or as identical as possible given your gym and other limitations). So you would test the following for powerlifting:

  1. The bench press, including all the pausing, and the cues from the judges.
  2. The squat from the monolift or a walkout, depending on your federation and preferences. In addition to that, like above, practice the cues.
  3. The deadlift done in accordance with the competition rules.

For a broader context, let’s take a brief look at a different sport. If you are a mixed martial artist, the specific component would be practicing MMA. This includes timed rounds, grappling, striking, and everything it entails. To do so, you would simply test it.

Component Specific

This is just like it sounds: if the broad strokes of your specific practice do not test well that day, then you have the option to train the parts of the whole. Is this accessory training? Is it weak point training? Yes, and yes, depending on what you wind up doing.

With that in mind, let’s take a look back at our hypothetical powerlifter. She goes in to train the bench press. The bench press doesn’t test well. What next? We first need to break down the components of the bench press from a movement perspective.

During the bench press, she starts in horizontal abduction, scapular depression and retraction, elbow flexion, internal rotation, and spinal extension. When it’s time to move the weight, she applies force via horizontal adduction, and elbow extension, and internal rotation. Not only that, the scapulae stay in their position for stability and to shorten the range of motion.

So if the bench isn’t working for her that day, testing the components could fall into the category of any one of the aforementioned motions. Some options might include:

  1. Pec flies
  2. Skull crushers (or other direct tricep work)
  3. Dips, for your scapular depression work as well as the adduction component
  4. Internal rotation exercises

For further context, if you trained MMA, and for whatever reason the entirety of the sport didn’t test well, you have options there as well, you can break it down as follows:

  1. Wrestling
  2. Jiu-jitsu
  3. Striking

From there, you can break down the components even further. For example, punching, kicking, elbows, knees, and so forth. Or for the wrestling, you could test your takedowns. For jiu-jitsu, you could look to train guard passing, sweeping, or submitting, to name a few.

Where does that leave you if you can’t train a part of the whole?

Contra-Specific Movements

Before delving into this, it’s important to note that the longer you spend competing in specific events, the more time you will spend in this area of practice.

The short explanation for contra-specific movements is that they are oppositional movements. Whether you practice strength sports, or something like MMA, this is where your gym training has a high payoff, not only in terms of the sport, but in terms of your musculature, and overall health.

Looking at it from gross to fine patterns misses a lot of the nuance to working in this area, but it’s a good start. So with that in mind, let’s use the example of the bench press.

At first glance, one of the best oppositional movements to the bench is the barbell row, or any other horizontal pull involving your bodyweight. The motions of the bench are listed above, so if we start to fine tune it, we find that the row is not wholly oppositional. The main opposing movements are elbow flexion and shoulder extension.

For fine movements, our hypothetical lifter needs to look beyond the big ones and focus on the small ones. For instance, for her scapular protraction, we can find an opposition within the bench press itself. For example, grab two lighter dumbbells and exaggerate the end range of motion to move the scapula into protraction. To focus on that even more, you could hold the dumbbells at the end of the press and focus on the scapulae alone.

Another example related to the bench press (and the deadlift) would be scapular elevation, since it opposes the scapular depression found in the bench press and deadlift. One easy example in the context of the bench is an older exercise called the Gironda press. Vince Gironda had his athletes perform this one often on their chest days.

To perform, start like you would for a regular bench press.

This time, you’re going to lower the weight so that the end point is between our clavicle and your throat. It goes without saying that you need to be careful, and don’t use maximal loads. If you do it right, you have to elevate your scapulae while performing this bench press modification.

Another option is the classic barbell or dumbbell shrug. Just like it says, you start by holding the weights and you elevate our shoulder blades by shrugging your shoulders. Simple and contra-specific to the bench and deadlift.

For the squat, the simplest example is the hanging knee raise. To make it effective, hang from a pull-up bar, and reverse the squat motion. For better effect, loop your foot through a kettlebell, or clip a dumbbell between your feet to perform the movement.  By doing this, out are working in direct opposition to the triple extension of the squat by way of loading your hip, ankle, and knee flexion.

And as you have seen, if you can break the squat down into smaller components, an oppositional movement therein will fall into the realm of contra-specificity. And the same goes for any sport you play.

On that note, I’ll refer back to MMA again. The easiest example of working the oppositional movements would be to reverse your normal way of performing them. If you strike with an orthodox stance, practicing a southpaw stance works. If you shoot in for a take down with our left leg, try the right leg. Those are just a few examples to get you thinking.

Non-Specific Movements

This is the fun stuff. If, for whatever reason, you can’t train the previous three areas, do something else. Do you like swimming? Rock climbing? Crawling around and playing with your kids? If so, there you have your non-specific training. You could also relegate this section to the gym, but life is more than just about the gym. These are your “fun days,” for lack of a better term. So have fun with them. Live for your sports another day. If you auto regulate it, your progress will be better than if you try to work against your body in lieu of with your body.


So there’s a rough outline of how you can structure your training. In accordance to how we learn, start from gross patterns to fine patterns, and make notes of where you need to improve. In the long haul, you’ll see and you will predict the course of your training.


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