5 Traits to Differentiate Between a Novice and a Trained Athlete

 

I’ve come to observe that most people, especially adults, hate being labeled a “novice” or even an “intermediate” when it comes to training.  Because an athlete has been coming to the gym 2-3x a week for a few months, their inflated egos tell them that they’re better than they actually are; that they can shed the skin of a “novice.”

The reality is that most people will stay a novice because they don’t realize the time and effort that’s required to obtain even just a base level of strength.  Sorry folks, but there’s no such thing as a quick fix in the world of strength and power development.  The development of strength and power is a never-ending journey that requires skill, practice, grit, determination, and patience.

So how do you know if you’re still a novice vs. an experienced lifter? Below is an outline of 5 distinguishing factors.

1) TRAINABILITY

In short, this is your ability to not only learn new skills, but also adapt and recover from a specific training stimulus.  Your trainability is largely determined by genetic factors, athletic history prior to any serious training, and recovery protocols.

If you have never played sports or very little of it, your nutrition and sleep are shit, and training is new to you, your trainability is low. This means it will take you longer to learn new skills like the snatch and clean & jerk and adapt to a training stimulus to get stronger.  The longer you train, the better your recovery protocols are, i.e. nutrition and sleep, the better your trainability will improve.

2) NEUROMUSCULAR EFFICIENCY

This refers to the ability of the nervous system to properly recruit the correct muscles to produce and reduce force as well as dynamically stabilize the body’s structure in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse).In other words, how coordinated are you?

Most beginners have very little neuromuscular efficiency.  If a beginner hasn’t performed a snatch before, their brain has yet to create a “movement map” for the body to follow.  The snatch and clean & jerk are about timing and rhythm. It can take years to develop that mind/body connection – that specific movement map.  The first step to the timing and rhythm is your ability to coordinate the firing of individual muscle fibers, i.e. intra-muscular coordination.

3) BIOMECHANICAL EFFICIENCY

Simply put, this refers to your athleticism.  Athleticism can sometimes be used as a catchall phrase, but when we reflect on what it really means, it comes down to the movement and coordination of different muscle groups in order to achieve max effectiveness.   Another term for this is your inter-muscular coordination – the coordination of different muscles in your body.

This is one of the last things to develop as a beginner.  Again, when learning a new skill, the brain has to create a “movement map” for the body to follow.  When learning to snatch, a beginner may be gaining the neuromuscular efficiency to fire the legs in the explosion phase, but will initially lack the biomechanical efficiency to coordinate the arms in the pull or the again for the legs to land.

As mentioned previously, timing and rhythm are very important.  Once the timing that the individual muscles need to fire (intra-muscular coordination) is figured out, the rhythm of the body working together to achieve max power and quality movement (inter-muscular coordination) begins.

4) PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS

Athletic performance depends greatly on a combination of psychological factors like motivation, grit, concentration, and the ability to control emotions in both positive and negative situations.

A coach can immediately tell a beginner vs. an experienced lifter based on their response to failure or adversity.  The experienced athlete knows how to better control their emotions in order to navigate themselves through the murky swamp to reach the other side. On the flip side, the beginner tends to get easily frustrated, is an emotional rollercoaster, or just quits when their “beginner gains” start to fade.

Largely in part because of Crossfit, we have seen an explosion in popularity with barbell training, especially with adults!  Beginners, especially late adopters, don’t give psychological factors enough time to develop and improve.  In my opinion, this is the largest reason for high turnover in strength training gyms among adults.

5) TENSILE STRENGTH

This is a term in physics and engineering that describes the resistance of a material to breaking under tension. The higher the tensile strength, the more resistant to bending and breaking the material is.  I first heard John Welbourn of Power Athlete HQ apply this term to athletes in the context of training, and it makes perfect sense!

The more eu-stress, i.e. training volume and load, the body is progressively and systematically dosed with, the higher the threshold becomes for what the body can handle. The longer you train, the more time under tension you accumulate. The more time under tension you develop, the stronger and more durable you become both physically and mentally.

Beginners have very little tensile strength, which is why both the volume and intensity of training is very low and basic relative to an experienced lifter.

 

If you want to move from a novice lifter to an experienced lifter, you need to spend the time and effort to work on these factors that are limiting your progress.  Nothing in life worth pursuing comes easy – that’s the beauty of it!  Stop chasing the end result and instead embrace the steps you take to get there.  The development of strength and power is a never-ending journey, so pack your bags appropriately.

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