Everyone enters the gym the same way, through the door. Essentially, we all have the same body, are capable of the same movements, and if we put in the effort, we will all progress toward our training goals. So, in the beginning, all trainees are created equal. But like everything in life, there are a lot of variables that affect both the journey and the outcome. Injury, illness, genetics, programming, and mindset are just a few things that play a role in how our training goes. We all have had some great streaks of gains and growth, as well as some rough stretches where things just did not move along as fast as we liked.
At its minimum, strength training can be boiled down to two primal movements: pushing and pulling.
From these two movements, the sky is the limit. If we understand safe and biomechanically correct movement, there is a nearly endless library of exercises that can be performed stemming from those base movements.
Be Boring. The basics aren’t too exciting, but they are essential to building a training foundation. The foundation is twofold; we build base strength, and we build solid technique from which other movements are rooted. Every beginner program worth its’ salt is basic, usually including “the big 3” squat, bench, and deadlift or other similar yet basic movements. Even for a seasoned lifter, it’s beneficial to come back to basic strength programs. Implementing squats, deads, rows, bench, and overhead presses for 3-4 sets of 10 will never do you wrong.
Be A Master. Don’t lose patience and progress too fast. All of us are ambitious and would like results now, but strength training is a slow and steady game. We must stick to the basics for a good 3-6 weeks to start seeing some results, during that time we become masters of the movements that will serve our training well down the road. You can’t progress to the more challenging exercises if you don’t have the foundational movements mastered. Here is a sample of some basic lifts with their progressions:
Samples of Exercise Progressions
Squat – Split Squat – Bulgarian Squat
Bench – Alternating Dumbbell Bench – Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench
Lunge – Lateral Lunge – Overhead Weighted Lunge
Deadlift – Romanian Deadlift – Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Be Honest. Are we squatting deep enough? Is our technique impeccable on bent over rows? Are we keeping five points of contact on the bench when pressing? Make sure the basics are mastered before moving on.
This can be hard because, well, we want results now! Or because we want to keep up with the other gym-goers. We must stay true to ourselves, our abilities, limitations, and our overall goal. And by all means, never push through an injury, but know that being injured doesn’t mean that training comes to a halt. Scaling or modifying exercises can keep you progressing even during frustrating injuries.
Scaling is simply lowering or modifying the weigh you use for an exercise. If you are dealing with a tight back or a sore hip, you can reduce the weight in the squat considerably to still train the movement and keep “greasing the groove” while you are on the mend. An exercise modification is changing an exercise slightly to still get the benefit, but making it easier or avoiding the injured area. If you are having shoulder issues and it hurts to hang from the pull-up bar, suspension rows or inverted rows are a great alternative; your weight is supported by the floor versus solely by the pull-up bar.
If you have a banged-up knee and squatting is bugging it, you can still do Romanian deadlifts because they require far less knee flexion yet still work the lower body, or if you really must squat, go lighter and try half squats. All modifications are valuable and are certainly better than taking time off.
Time to Move. How do we know when it’s time to move to more advanced exercises? The biggest indicator is that we just “feel” it. We will feel strong, and steady and in control. When we get to that point we can move on. Regarding the amount of weight lifted, we can use the 2 – for – 2 rule to know when to add resistance; if we can lift 2 or more reps over the prescribed amount in the last set for two consecutive workouts, it’s time to add some weight (Baechle). How much?
2.5-5% is a typical prescription.
Goal Specific. Don’t do things that aren’t going to help us reach your goal. Will stacking bumper plates on top of the tallest box in the gym and attempting to jump on top of it really help? It might help us get hurt, and possibly make YouTube, what it likely won’t help with is our long-term goal. We need to know our goals, know what exercises are best suited to reach those goals, and to stay focused on the execution. The “flavor of the month” workouts are at our finger-tips, and some are useful and might look fun, but we put too much time and energy into our training to waste time on things that don’t move us in the right direction.
Smart training is technical training, smart training is progressive training. Train smart.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.