If you look to the construction of early civilizations, it’s no doubt that builders and stone masons had incredible knowledge of the strongest shapes that would withstand the test of centuries. The arch has been prominent to architectural use for more than 2,000 years and is often regarded as the strongest construction, still commonly seen in bridge design today while the arches of ancient Rome bridges, aqueducts and centuries old European churches still stand.
The elegance to the arch is in the semicircular construction that evenly distributes compression forces through it’s entire curve. In constructing an arch, however, it’s the very convergence of these pillars that proves most difficult - stand alone, these columns have no structural integrity until they meet in the middle.
The concept of an architectural arch can help us illustrate many balances of life and training. Where height and tension increases on one side, it must be matched by the other. Anything else and the arch will lose its structural integrity and eventually collapse.
In the kinetic chain, this precarious balance is demonstrated between the internal and external torque chains. Imbalances between these two chains can be seen in the physicality or movement of an individual and can lead to injuries. In women especially, a “collapsed arch” may be made evident by the incontinence issues commonly seen in CrossFit.
The same concept can be used to illustrate nearly infinite competing and complimentary principles of the fitness industry and physical training, such as anaerobic threshold built by balancing the arch between anaerobic and aerobic exercise. The nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic systems) creates it’s own arch as does the increase of performance (critical mass) brought on by balancing hormesis (favorable response to stress) and homeostasis (physiological balance). Even muscle groups can be put within the arch framework - the upper trap relative to the mid trap, the latissimus dorsi relative to the teres major, or the gluteus vasterus lateralis to the VMO. In fitness programming design, we manage a balance between volume and intensity, as well as task-oriented (“for time”) versus process-oriented (EMOM’s). Even types of muscle contraction can be built into the framework in managing eccentric versus concentric load.
The practical application of the arch concept provides a simple construction to understanding more complex principles of training in order not only to maintain balance, but to see how the arch can increase. Sports-specific training or our own preferences often bias certain modalities, movements, muscle groups or capacities that outweigh one side of the conceptual arch and too often, we’re unable to see the imbalance until the collapse has already occurred. Understanding the arch means not only avoiding injuries and burn out but being able to increase the height of human performance to unknown degree.
We no longer have to settle for building small arches in caution or preparation for catastrophe, but have the ability to raise great structures - there’s no need to decrease tension, we only need to increase tension on the other side.