4 Steps You Might Have Skipped in Your Strength Training Career
Written on August 1, 2013 at 6:00 am, by Eric Cressey
After he read my blog post from earlier this week, Mike Robertson reached out to me with this great guest post, which highlights in more detail how to be "smart from the start" with your training career. Mike's new resource, Bulletproof Athlete, has set the new gold standard for safe and effective training for beginner lifters.
As EC discussed earlier this week, a lot of things can go right for beginners, but a lot of things can go wrong for them, too – even if these mistakes aren't perceived. These problems aren't as simple as dropping a weight on one's foot or misloading a barbell and having it come crashing down. Rather, they're usually acts of omission – meaning you skipped something (either intentionally or unintentionally) that needed to get done to ensure optimal long-term progression. Here are four steps a lot of people skip along the way:
Step #1: Developing Quality Mobility and Stability
This is probably the most notorious offender on the list, and yet I think this is the point to which people are the most unwilling to listen.
Case and point: think about how your lifting career started. I can tell you how mine did. Here goes…
The summer before my junior year, we got a bunch of strength training machines at our school. We also got a bunch of hand-me-down barbells and dumbbells from Ball State University. With this mish-mash of equipment, my lifting career started.
Our upper body days were grueling – 5-10 sets of various bench presses, no upper back training, and biceps and triceps work until the cows came home.
And legs? Pffft – well, our leg training left a thing or two to be desired. We didn’t squat – ever – because we didn’t have a rack. And, because they were obviously bad for our knees. My leg training consisted of leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
For most of us, our basic movement foundation is so screwed up, it’s no wonder we’ve either plateaued or ended up injured.
Go back to home base. Rebuild your movement foundation via smart mobility and stability training. Teach yourself to squat, push-up, lunge, etc., with good technique and quality movement.
Don’t worry about things like load for now; just get yourself moving better. When you go back to lifting heavy things, not only will you be far more efficient, but you’ll be stronger as well.
Step #2 – Integrating the Core
Let’s quickly return to my first years in lifting.
We had tons of machines, which were great at isolating specific body parts. But we also know they’re virtually useless if you want to coordinate movement like you would in sports, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or any ol’ activities of daily living.
In my “main” lower body lift (a leg press, at the time) you have a built-in core. No wonder you can throw so much weight around when you’re totally supported and just allow your legs to do the work!
And my main upper body lift (like any young, American male) was the bench press. Again, great for developing the upper body, but not so good at integrating or “tying together” the upper and lower body.
What we’ve ended up doing is training either the upper OR the lower body, but not focusing on exercises that integrate the two.
You’re probably already smarter than me early on, so keep doing those compound lower body exercises instead of isolated garbage.
On the upper body training sessions, put an emphasis on upper body exercises that unite the upper and lower body. Push-up variations are awesome here, as are inverted rowing exercises.
Step #3 – Jumping Right Into Deadlifts
I don’t know two guys who love deadlifts more than Eric Cressey and me. Well, maybe Konstantin and Andy Bolton, but we’ve got to be pretty darn close!
Here’s the thing: if you watch enough people move, you realize that most aren’t ready to do a conventional deadlift on Day 1.
First off, most people these days have zero body awareness. ZERO. You ask them to hinge at the hips and all they really do is extend their back into oblivion.
Then, to make matters worse, they talk about how deadlifts (and hip hinging) “hurts their back.”
I like to ease my clients into the hip hinge pattern. If they’re really dysfunctional, we may start with something like a hip thrust to teach them how to extend their hips first.
From there, I want to get them on their feet so they can start to put the pieces together. Whether you choose a Romanian deadlift (RDL), pull-through, or rack pull is irrelevant.
The goal is to get them hinging with a neutral spine, often with a reduced load and through a shorter range of motion than they would a traditional deadlift. Let them groove this pattern and get confident for a few weeks (or months, depending on the client) and then slowly progress them back into full range of motion pulling.
I love deadlifting as much as the next guy, but they may not be appropriate right off the bat.
And along those same lines, here’s one more thing to think about…
Step #4 – Back Squats
I’m pretty sure if I haven’t already gotten my powerlifting man-card revoked, it’s definitely gone after I say this.
Not everyone is prepared to back squat on Day 1.
I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, either. Gray Cook has gone on record as saying, “train the deadlift, maintain the squat.”
I know EC is a big fan of the front squat as well – not just for himself, but for his baseball guys as well.
The bottom line is, the back squat isn’t an easy exercise to master. Does that mean we just forget about it? Absolutely not – I love squatting, and it’s actually become my favorite lift over the years.
But again, that doesn’t mean we should jump right into back squatting Day 1.
First and foremost, get that movement foundation first.
Once you’ve got that foundation, then start to re-build your squat technique. I love goblet squats (ala Dan John) and front squats early on in a program. Not only do they lock your spine into an upright position, but they maximize and reinforce good mobility through the hips, knees and ankles.
Plus, if you’re building a rocking posterior chain with your hip hinging exercises, it’s okay to blast those quads a little bit with a really quad dominant squatting variation!
We’ve all skipped steps along the way. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy to find an amazing performance coach when you’re young and start working with them!
However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the facts.
If you skipped any of the steps above, now is the time to rebuild your foundation, once and for all.
And if you want someone to outline all this for you, pick up a copy of my Bulletproof Athlete program. It’s on sale this week ONLY, and I guarantee you’ll be leaner, stronger and more athletic after you finish the program.
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