In a previous post entitled “You Don’t Have To Do This” I talked about the necessary step of evaluating WHY you are pursuing aggressive strength training. With a particular bias towards those who are training to improve their maximal strength on the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift, the point was that modeling your training approach after those who are pushing the limits in strength sports is something worthwhile only if you actually want to produce that outcome for yourself. As the title states, you don’t have to do that to be healthy, look a certain way, etc. Instead, you will be better served finding something you enjoy doing for exercise. Something that agrees with your body, and as we will discuss here, something that fits your lifestyle.
Let’s be honest, powerlifting, Crossfit, weightlifting, and strongman are extreme versions of resistance training. While resistance training can, and for most, should be a part of your approach to better health and fitness it is not reserved for those who want to take it to the highest level of execution. As an example, There is a clear difference between going skiing and competing in the X-Games. To be fair, and clear, yes…you can fall somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum.
In short, you can want to do this. You can do this very well. You can do this at a higher level than you imagined. You can impress yourself, empower yourself, and even redefine yourself. However, there are a few things you want to understand upfront.
First, you have to walk before you run. I’ll keep this part short. If you are just beginning in the gym, it’s great that you were inspired by others performing at a high level. That said, you don’t need to be in a hurry to do exactly what they are doing. Many coaches preach getting right under the bar, and learning to perform the basic lifts right away. In some cases I agree, but in more cases I would argue for a more diverse approach. There are quicker ways to groove basic movement patterns such as the squat, hip hinge, and horizontal press.
Furthermore, you’re physically weak. That’s not an issue, or a shot at you, it just is. You can build valuable stability, and strength, more quickly and more safely using a regression of a back squat, barbell deadlift, and barbell bench press. Think long-term, you will succeed when you introduce these lifts (with appreciable loading) after you have built base level strength with a wide variety of basic gym exercises. I could continue to list why a back squat, deadlift, and bench press would not be where I would start measuring progress…but we will save that for a later date.
Moving forward, let’s consider that box checked. You have been doing some form of training for a little while, and you are ready to add some focus and more defined purpose to your training. If you’re going to be successful, you are well served to make the following as much of a priority as your desire to get stronger.
1. Hold yourself ruthlessly accountable to technical proficiency.
If you don’t already, learn to love the nuances of lifting weights. Once you decide that you are going to push the limits of your training, start acting like it’s as much a skill as a demonstration in mental / physical fortitude. Why? Because it is.
What’s not a skill is being absolutely technically perfect with light weights (heavy or light is relative to each of us, mind you). Unless you are practicing to be the best lifter of light weight, you are not developing your skill of lifting by demonstrating proficiency under a load that no longer presents some kind of challenge.
You must present a challenge, do your best to perform under it, then step back and evaluate. The more you let slide, the worse your habits become. Over time, you will learn what is an acceptable margin of error. You won’t ever be wrong biasing the more correct side. If you continue to present an overload, albeit slowly, you will get better. If you go down the road of letting squats be high, pauses be too short, positions be too far from acceptable…you will have a hell of time coming back from it.
2. Acknowledge that performance and health are NOT exclusive.
Absolutely paramount to understand this, and adhere to it. As I mentioned before, a key to success in more aggressive training is making sure it fits your lifestyle. You will not perform at an increasingly higher level, long-term, without an equally aggressive amount of attention to your health. Every part of your health is important, your physical health and mental health.
In my experience every demographic is guilty of not acknowledging this in their own ways.
Younger people push the envelope, and supplement it with:
– poor nutrition
– lack of sleep
– a disregard for the ill effects of popular garbage supplements
– use of drugs, alcohol, etc.
– poor hydration
– a disregard for useful supplementation such as fish oil, or vitamin D
Adult crowd pushes hard, and follows it up with:
– poor nutrition or poor diet choices that do not coincide with the training approach
– lack of sleep
– no regard for the effects of life, relationship, and work stress or how it may compete with the stress of training
– poor hydration
– use of alcohol, drugs, etc.
– no value on additional recovery measures such as massage or meditation
– no value on maintenance of other fitness qualities such as aerobic capacity, mobility, and flexibility
There is this strangely misplaced belief that being more “hardcore” in the gym means taking a metaphorical dump on the more holistic health crowd. You couldn’t be more far from right.
Another population assumes that you can go from punching the workout clock, to progressive training, and the simple difference in the stressors applied from training will produce their desired outcome. The training is tearing you down, and your body is looking to adapt and become resilient enough to deal with it. The habits you have now, are what it took to maintain what you have. If you want to increasingly apply more stress to your body in a defined period of time, you are going to have to arm it with more resources to adapt quicker.
The will to get stronger is a must. Unfortunately, the taste for more, or the extreme, alone are not enough. There is always an element of WORK that must be put in to get something worth having. If you have a flare for strength training, the physical work in the gym is not something you have to WORK at. You may find the sacrifice it takes outside the gym to be WORK. I asked you before how bad you wanted it, and I’ll ask you again. Is the WORK worth the reward?
If yes, be ready to put it in. If you can’t or haven’t done the work outside the gym, then where you are now is no fault but your own. If you’re stuck, I hope this opens your eyes a bit.
I’ll finish with this, I’ve certainly made all the mistakes. From letting crap technique slide, to trying to push training through harder than ever with almost no regard to the health end of the equation. As you get older, and you amass more responsibilities outside of showing up to train, learn to pick your battles. Train the hardest when you know you can WORK HARD outside the gym as well. If you can’t, scale it back. Align the training to your life. Define your priorities, and if you’d like to train harder, first figure out how to make life changes that can allow for it.