Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ten things every seasoned lifter knows

1.       Progress comes irregularly. Some months you add a few pounds to most of your lifts, some years you end up where you started at best, or even regress in some. Within any given month, some days you feel great and have no problem moving weights that were very challenging just a few weeks ago, and some days you feel like the empty bar is already difficult to lift. That’s OK, learn to accept it and keep going.
2.       Consistency beats any other variable. Perform Lift A frequently (2-3 times a week, every week, w no excuses) and regularly (always with good form, 15-25 total reps per session, in the 70%-80% of your 1RM, trying to improve the total number of reps or the average pounds lifted from one session to the next) and it will improve. Perform Lift B every now and then (less than once per week) and haphazardly (changing substantially the number of reps, the intensity and the variable you aim to improve between consecutive sessions) and it will most likely stall, unless you are a total noob (when almost any training methodology, or lack thereof, will work).
3.       Beyond the intermediate level there is no such thing as “general strength”. As it grows farther from its baseline level, strength becomes more and more movement specific. If you want to get bigger numbers in the deadlift, past certain point it won’t help much to do good mornings with 40% of your 1RM DL, or “grip work” with your 0.5 CoC… if you want to improve your bench press (and who doesn’t?), past certain point it won’t help much to do standing presses with pink dumbbells or hundreds upon hundreds of bodyweight push ups. You will need to deadlift heavy and bench press heavy to improve in those lifts, and that means using the competition stance (the one that allows you to move more weight). There is just no way around it
4.       However, squatting is the closest thing to a magic juice that provides you with that hypothetical “general strength”. In doubt, squat heavy and frequently, and most of the rest of your lifts will go up even if you change nothing else. There are lifts that allow you to move a greater tonnage (the DL), but they take more than what they give. There are lifts that require the use of a greater number of muscles (the power clean and the power snatch), but they require such a level of speed and skill that they do not allow for the high number of reps at high intensity that the squat does, and I believe it is that sweet spot of being demanding enough, challenging enough and systemic enough that makes it an unrivalled option for growing stronger. Want proof? Any sensible weightlifting program relies almost exclusively on the squat to make the lifters actually stronger, and then has them performing countless reps of the competition lifts just to perfect the technique. Why? Because said comp lifts are too technical to be “trainable” in a sense that allows for strength improvement beyond a quite modest level, while the squat allows for an almost infinite progression with very modest technical demands
5.       There are a number of things almost as valuable as strength: speed, flexibility and mobility, being mostly pain free, and having a modicum of endurance (I define that modicum as being able to run 10K under or around 50’ any day of the week without any special preparation). A sensible, balanced training plan would account for the maintenance and development of all of them. However, notice the “almost” I placed before “as valuable as”… There are times when you throw common sense through the window and devote some time to maniacally pursue greater strength to the exclusion of everything else, and rather than stretch and foam roll and do some cardio you just add a couple sets of heavy deadlifts or twenty crazy widowmaker squats (you know the old routine: load the bar with the maximum weight you could do ten reps with, and do twenty reps, whatever it takes… a real test of character!). Yup, everything aches almost daily, you can barely walk, you need five minutes to reach your shoelaces so you can tie them and you couldn’t sprint to cross the road even if an eighteen wheeler was barreling towards you. But when you break your previous squat PR, even if it is by a modest 5 pounds you feel so elated that you really don’t care about all the misery you have put yourself through
6.       Lifting with gloves is like running a marathon in high heels. It probably could be done, but what’s the point?
7.       To lift big you need to eat big. Trying to “cut”, or reduce your percentage of body fat, or do a “recomposition” is all well and good, but it won’t in any way help you put up bigger weights. Unless, again, you are quite a newbie and can still get some mileage of improving your neuromuscular efficiency (from inhibiting the golgi organs in your tendons to learning to recruit more neuromuscular units and using your leverages more efficiently through better technique) the only way to move more weight is to have more muscular units to begin with. That means making your muscles bigger, something that happens spontaneously if you train consistently and non-idiotically, as long as you feed them enough. Which in turn requires almost axiomatically eating above maintenance level (sometimes significantly above) and gaining weight, and not all of that weight is going to be lean mass. If you had “striations” and visible veins (even more visible abs, which require a body fat below 10%) better say goodbye to them if you really want to beat some PR’s. Hey, I’d rather be fat, strong and awesome than skinny, “well toned” and weak (and ladies on my age bracket are not that big on striations, veins, abz and all that unhealthy looking paraphernalia, anyway), but   to each one his own
8.       Rest is what happens between productive sets. It serves to recover barely enough to complete what you had planned. Your attention and focus are an important part of that recovery, to ensure you get to the bar anew ready to crush it and overcome what (specially in the final sets) should be, if the session was properly planned, a grievously challenging task. Talking to other people does not help that process, but distracts from it. Ditto for browsing the web in your mobile phone, looking lecherously at the girls in the gym or looking intently to your own image in the mirror (mirrors are banished from serious training places), doubly so if you raise your shirt to have a loving look at your abs or “flex” or “pose” in any manner whatsoever. Hearing distractedly the background music (as long as it is not some testosterone-reducing current commercial monstrosity, as is frequently the case in big box gyms) is OK, though
9.       Lifting is not funny, exciting, entertaining, amusing, merry, mirthful or gay (although a lot of gay people do a lot of it, strength not being normally their main concern, but I digress). It is hard work. It is a struggle which demands sacrifice, renunciation and joyless dedication to give even middling results. Why do we do it, then, and stick with it through thick and thin, in the hot and humid days of summer and the dark and freezing days of winter? Beats me…
10.   The most complex periodization schemes can be summarized as “take one step back so you can take two steps forward”. Then repeat. And repeat, and repeat and repeat 

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