The best lifters I have come across are very cerebral in their approach to something as physically driven as moving heavy loads on a barbell. This is even true of the ones you may categorize as anything but “cerebral.”
In order to master anything, you must study, practice, experiment, and evaluate.
If you want to be a high-level lifter, you will only get so far with brute physical effort, even if it is a must-have in the recipe for success. You need to treat strength as a skill, and lifting is something you can dissect and study.
Make it a point to dissect your own technique; garner a rudimentary understanding for physics, physiology, and anatomy; and study the approaches of those who have been successful in what you aim to do. With that said, when studying lifters, try to focus on those who have similar builds and lifestyles as you do. Imitating the approaches of people who are dramatically different physically (leverages) and socially (recovery capacity, training frequency) will not be nearly as productive.
2. Planning/Programming: Instruction is the main objective of supplemental exercise selection.
Ben Franklin said, “That which hurts, instructs.” It’s one of my favorite sayings and can obviously be applied, if not more appropriately, to more than simply choosing supplemental exercises in strength training planning. However, it is quite fitting as a rule of thumb for a key piece in developing high levels of strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Getting outside of the “comfort zone” is a necessary step in achieving something outside of what one is already capable. In choosing supplementary exercises in your training, think about ways to slightly alter the classic three lifts that will do three things.
1. Teach you about the proper execution of the main lift.
2. Target weak muscles, which may otherwise “take a play off” via your ability to compensate in the main lift.
3. Get you to challenge yourself physically by executing them in such a way that is not advantageous for your usual approach.
You want to choose an exercise that essentially works as coach for your shortcomings in the main lift. For example, here are two pictures of one of my distance-based clients. The most important shortcoming in his squat was the inability to understand upper back extension, elbow placement, and head position in his set up. This resulted in forward weight shifting throughout the movement. While he did respond to some video analysis and cueing, he responded instantly to using the high bar squat as his supplementary squat exercise.
The high bar position forced him to work on all the points above and we turned his low bar numbers into high bar numbers. This quickly helped his low bar numbers have new heights, and no ceiling restricted by poor positioning.
Furthermore, we used the high bar squat to help him build strength in the upper back, and quads, which were no doubt less of a player in his original approach as the torso position placed greater demands on the hamstrings and low/mid back.
To top it off, we made his intensity-based work high-bar focused, and his volume-based work low-bar focused. This gave him a better chance of learning better low-bar position by not challenging him with the weight on the bar, and by giving him more time under load in the proper low set up.
While not all your supplementary work needs to hit each of the three aforementioned points, it must always hit the first one. In many cases, if you take the time to think out your approach, you will find ways where you can hit all three, and this will lead to great progress.
Nutrition is something that has always fascinated me. It’s not so much the science of the food itself, though, but rather the mental game of proper nutrition. I firmly believe the majority of somewhat health conscious people understand enough about food quality, and portion size, to achieve a physique they can be happy about, not to mention one that is healthy and capable of performing on a high level.
The fitness industry, popular media, and major food companies have unfortunately sent us so many mixed messages, exaggerated headlines, embellished research findings, and utterly misdirected crap that many people are left more than a bit confused. Moreover, food itself serves as a readily available and affordable option for people to turn to in emotional situations ranging from despair to celebration.
One of the keys to making nutrition productive is to be able to enjoy items that are actually conducive to your efforts.
With that in mind, I challenge you to pay attention to textures when it comes to meal preparation. Acknowledging the textures you prefer and dislike is a great way to help everyone from the person looking to bring down total consumption to the person who needs to consume more.
In general, we prefer a variety of texture to our food, and yet many of us see very little of it when we consistently turn to the same foods.
Here are two quick ideas, and I am sure you can think of more.
1. Add some crunch to your chicken by tossing the chicken in some egg whites and rolling it through so panko bread crumbs.
2. Make your smoothie a little ahead of time, pour it in a bowl, toss it in the freezer a few hours. Enjoy it as a frozen treat with a spoon, instead of a lukewarm viscous liquid from a plastic shaker bottle.
Going the extra step to toast your bread, make sweet potato fries instead of the usual bake, or even tossing something with a little chewiness or crunch to a salad can make a world of difference in your compliance.
4. Technique/Exercise Instruction: Perfect the glute-ham raise.
The glute-ham raise is a phenomenal exercise for developing the posterior chain. While some find the barrier to entry too high for beginner lifters, I find the problem rests mostly with a misunderstanding of how to properly set up and execute the movement. This video should shed some light on the subject.
5. Bonus Interview!
As a bonus, I recently sat down with CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo to talk about my "Optimizing the Big 3" seminars, and lifting in general. Here's the entire conversation:
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