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If a particular movement pattern requires a certain amount of force to be generated by any particular set of muscle fibers, then it is simply impossible for that movement pattern to occur without the contribution of those muscle fibers.
No reasonable and sane person who understood these principles could object to this. And, with a bit of common sense and physical demonstration, they may be convinced that the best way to shape a movement pattern into a desired form is to practice the movement pattern itself with the help of verbal, tactile, and visual cues, rather than to do some muscle activation corrective exercises.
But, they might say, what if you could achieve the same set of net torques with multiple possible patterns of muscular involvement? For example, if you had two separate muscles whose respective attachment points were offset by a small amount (e.g. muscle A's attachment points are a couple inches proximal of muscle B's attachment points) such that the direction of force is equivalent for each muscle. Then, there are an infinite combination of firing patterns that could produce the same net torque at the joint.
My question to you is whether there is a better answer to this objection than the appeal to evolutionary common sense.
I see patients with neuropathies or myopathies that may cause infinite unique patterns of focal or non-focal muscle weakness or atrophy and many are able to reproduce the same normal movement patterns as before, albeit with less force or efficiency. There is redundancy in the neuromuscular system. For example, a patient with a mild myopathy (which causes non-uniform muscle weakness) might be able to squat with perfect range of motion with different relative contributions from muscle groups or motor units within those muscles. Such a person will have less neuromuscular reserve and thus less strength, however.
The nervous system evolved as a sensory processing organ, yes, but in humans especially, the majority of it is devoted to action selection and movement. It has become evident to AI/robotics researchers that joint movements are very complex and the computations that human cerebellum and other areas perform were grossly underestimated. As you learn a movement through repetition, the central pattern generators in the central nervous system are honed and converge upon the most efficient use of your neuromuscular assets for that movement. During the learning process, the same net force will be produced with a variety of neuromuscular outputs.
I think this is maybe what you're getting at--that as movement efficiency approaches 100%, the set of possible neuromuscular outputs to produce that movement approaches 1. That's where getting coaching and learning the lifts properly comes in.
By the way, I agree with the point Rip has made all along that training on just the basic lifts provides a set of inherently valuable movement patterns upon which a large number of useful movement patterns can be built.
The point you are making is that the premise: If a particular movement pattern requires a certain amount of force to be generated by any particular set of muscle fibers...is not true. If it were true, then this would reflect a case where there is no redundancy.
Suppose we accept the fact of redundancy (as in the example I give of the glutes and hamstrings in hip extension). A muscle activation proponent may come along and say: "See? Because of this redundancy, there is no guarantee that just because a movement looks correct from the "outside", that the proper muscles are being activated. This poor patient, who suffers severe gluteal amnesia, may look like he's squatting correctly, but in fact, the hamstrings are doing a larger share of work than they should be, and the glutes are just going along for the ride without generating the amount of tension they should be. We must spend a few weeks teaching this patient how to activate their glutes, doing glute activation work"
A response to this is that the glutes must be doing work, because they are being stretched during the eccentric phase of the squat, and they will therefore actively contract during the concentric phase. This is the same argument Rip makes in his book when discussing the role of the adductors in the squat (top right paragraph, page 48 in SSBBT 3rd edition).
So now that you've responded this way to the muscle activation specialist, suppose he then replies: Well just because a muscle lengthens doesn't mean it generates its own tension when it shortens (and they give the example of passive extension of the elbow joint without any tension generated in the triceps).
My question is: "How does one best respond to this final objection?
There's no point in arguing with these quacks, but here are two points:
Unless you interfere with it somehow, the glute is just going to contract when you need it to.
Even laying aside the absurdity of the supposed "severe gluteal amnesia," it's their proposed solution that is the most ridiculous. The note E occurs with high frequency in Beethoven's 'Fur Elise,' so it must be critical to the piece, right? Now let's spend several weeks striking the E key with the right ring finger on the piano so we can master the song. The muscle activation specialist's program is no less silly than that...
I currently have following lifts: Bench Pres 250, Deadlift 385, Squat 290.
I am 44yo, I weigh 190. I have finished linear progression for everything but squat. Am not maxed out on these, but had form issues which are improving. These are not impressive for sure. Should I try to lift for competition or wait until they are better? If so, what numbers are legit for my age and weight?
"Legit" is a rather fuzzy concept. Do you want to go to a meet? Or not?
Yes I would like to go. Just would really rather not look like an idiot and don't know what to expect. Have no friends my age that power lift or do anything but 5ks.
News Flash: You're going to look like an idiot at your first meet no matter how strong you are when you get up off your ass and decide to be an Athlete instead of just another guy in the gym. We all did.
I think you'll find powerlifting competitions to be one of the most supportive environments around. Even though everyone is technically competing against each other, there's a lot of encouragement and respect between the competitors.
If you want to do a meet, just show up and do your best. Train hard and do better the next time. Etc. etc.
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