Should I Go Hard to Make up for a Weakness?

“If you have an obvious limiting factor in a workout, is it best to work hard on the other movements to make up for it, or go easy on those movements to stay fresh for you weakness?”

This all comes down to protecting against the limiting factor. This is the first thing you should do when you’re looking at strategizing a training session or an event. Identify what that limiting factor is and work out how you can protect against that. Now, in this case when we’re talking about the relationships between different exercises, what we need to think about is the overlap or the interference from one exercise to the next.

So this interference, this overlap, can be as simple as something like muscle recruitment patterns. If your push-ups are strong but your handstand push-ups are weak, but they’re in the same workout, by really working hard on those push-ups even though they’re a strength, you’re going to fatigue your handstand push-ups. Because there is so much overlap in terms of the muscle recruitment patterns. So in this case, you would want to go easier on that second movement to try and preserve your ability, to make sure that the major weakness, that your limiting factor, is not becoming a limiting factor.

So, that’s obviously taking it to the extreme with two very overlapping movement types. However, if we look at the example that we used initially which is that deadlift and hand-down push-up, we need to ask whether there’s a big overlap in muscle recruitment patterns between a deadlift and a handstand push-up. Now, yes, there is a little bit because you have back hip which is quite a posterior-chain dominant movement, as is a deadlift. But, generally speaking, it’s probably upper body stamina which is going to become the limiting factor here, unless you’re extremely efficient at handstand push-ups.

So in this case, we would say that no, our deadlifts, at least from a muscular activation point of view, are not going to negatively impact the handstand push-ups. So we can tick the box there in terms of muscle recruitment patterns. However, there is a little bit more to it than this because it’s not just localised muscular stamina, strength, and fatigue which is going to play a part on movement as you move forward and back between two or three movements. You’ve also got the effect on energy systems.

So to understand this, you need to understand that there are byproducts of the different energy systems. Energy systems are the ways in which we produce energy to be able to fuel muscle contractions. So if you’re deadlifting at a very high pace, it’s a moderate weight and you’re going hard, you start to get to this point where you hit your anaerobic threshold. This is the point where you’re working super hard and you have these negative byproducts, which are the hydrogen ions which begin to accumulate in the body.

And these sit in the muscles. So think of this as your muscles turning acidic. Note, guys, that this isn’t lactic acid. Lactic acid has long been seen as the enemy. It’s actually a way to produce energy as opposed to a byproduct. It just happens to correlate with these hydrogen ions which are the real enemy here. So, you’re starting to exercise. So start to produce these hydrogen ions and you start to get this acid sitting and pooling in your muscles.

Now, as soon as you have this acid in your body, it circulates through your body. And just because you’re doing deadlifts, it doesn’t mean that’s not going to negatively impact other areas of the body. So there may be a negative effect there on the handstand push-ups, as well. The effect of this acid in the body is that it starts to shut down your ability to produce energy, to shut down your ability to produce muscle contractions. Because of this, you’re able to survive. Because if you produce too much acid you’ll eventually die. So it’s your body’s way of protecting itself.

However, it’s not great when you’re trying to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. So in this case, we need to look beyond the muscle recruitment patterns, in terms of the pattern of movement of handstand push-ups versus deadlifts, and look at the more systemic effects of having this increase in hydrogen ions, this increase in acidity, which circulates through the entire body. And we can actually get an impairment in your ability to do handstand push-ups from a fatigue in your deadlifts even though the overlap of muscle recruitment patterns is quite small.

So the lesson here, again, is protect against your limiting factor. Find what it is which is going to limit you in this workout, whether it be a certain energy system or a certain movement, and aggressively protect that energy system or that movement. This means either A, being aware of the muscle recruitment patterns and ensuring that they’re not impacting each other negatively, or B, being aware of the effect of these negative byproducts of energy production and making sure that they are not impacting each other negatively. Again, it’s a case-by-case basis, based on the workout and based on the athlete.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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