I bet you perverts thought the title of this post was going to refer to something else. Typical.
You’re squatting your last set of five on your linear progression. You find yourself getting bent over a bit at the bottom of each rep; it happens regularly with hard or heavy sets. You hit rep number three and something tinkers in your back. Instantly the muscles seize around your lumbar spine and you dump the weight (on the pins, not your friend). What. The. Fuck. Happened?
I’ll tell you what happened; The Final Stroke.
If you’re like me, you wear flannel (Editor’s Note: If you’re like me, you pick your girlfriend up wearing flannel.). Flannel is perfect for cold weather, and it’s even more perfect for chopping wood. Chopping wood requires a tree that isn’t attached to the ground. The man-method of removing a tree from the ground is by chopping it. If you’ve read “Where the Red Fern Grows”, you can imagine what happens next: you chop the base of the tree with an axe until it falls. If you’re smart, you’ll get a good rhythm going; most of your strokes will be pretty equal to one another. The base of the tree will be chopped away, and eventually one of your even tempered strokes will fell the tree. It may take a thousand strokes, but it’s the final stroke — a stroke that isn’t any more significant than the other 999 — that brings the tree down.
This is the same thing that happens to your grandmother’s hip. She gets osteoporosis because she doesn’t regularly apply force to her bones, thus they don’t adapt to being stronger (ask Jack LaLanne if he ever fucking got osteoporosis). Grandma gets achy and has brittle bones. Eventually, she’ll step off the curb walking in the super market parking lot and will break her fucking hip. It’s not like stepping off the curb was a significantly higher stress than anything else she experiences on a regular basis. It’s that her bone was getting chopped at because it was so brittle, and the 1000th stroke finally landed. The Final Stroke is hardly ever more significant than the 999 before it, yet it’s the one that causes the biggest trauma.
To understand The Final Stroke, you need to look at the hundreds that occurred before. The Final Stroke is a regular event made irregular by inadequate preparation or by doing the wrong thing. The dude in the first paragraph didn’t screw up his third rep on his last set; he’s had some weird little form fault — in this case the “leaning over” thing — that has chopped away at some structures until finally, the structures gave away. This happens all the time. All the fucking time. Most training related injuries or mishaps occur because something wrong has been occurring for weeks, even months. The debilitating effects of a little form fault may not be felt until The Final Stroke.
Take notice of your knees coming in on the squat or shoving your head through when you lockout a press. Take notice of how you jerk the deadlift off the floor or how your pelvis shifts to the left in the squat descent. You don’t have to go out and McCarthy every exercise (half of you are now thinking, “Jesus Christ, is my pelvis even when I squat?”). I’m just saying, address those little form faults before increasing the weight. If you keep hacking away at them, you might have to eventually deal with The Final Stroke.