After 10 years of lifting, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about training, coaching and life in general. My last post covered five of those lessons, and this post has five more. Check ’em out:
6. VOLUME IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAINING VARIABLE
Progressive overload is to training what Newton’s First Law is to physics:
“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.”
Extrapolating this to training, if you don’t keep pushing to do more and more work over time, you won’t keep getting better. And while it would be nice to gradually keep lifting heavier and heavier over time, we know it doesn’t work that way. Eventually, you stall out and must get creative to keep making progress.
Because you can’t simply add weight to the bar every workout indefinitely, you must continually increase volume over time. This can be tricky, because you can’t just do more reps every workout either. Eventually you’d be doing thousands of reps per workout, which isn’t feasible from a recovery or time-management standpoint.
A few tricks for building up more volume over time:
- Look at total tonnage: How much total weight was lifted? 405 x 3 sets x 5 reps = 6,075 lbs vs. 315 x 10 sets x 3 reps = 9,450 lbs. Which is easier? You may say 315, but you’ve actually done more work/volume.
- Increased training frequency: You could squat once a week for 30 total reps, or you could squat twice a week for 15 reps per session. It looks like the same amount of work, however, squatting twice a week means twice as many warm-up sets, the volume of which adds up over time.
- More speed/techinque work: Doing “speed work” or technique-focused lifting may not be that hard or heavy, but it’s volume that, again, adds up over time. Adding 15-20 light-and-fast reps (i.e. 10 sets x 2 reps with 60 seconds rest) after your heavy training won’t hinder recovery much either.
7. YOU WILL NEVER BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING
Nothing kills progress and motivation faster than an inability to decide what you want to achieve. I’ve seen so many lifters fail to reach ANY of their goals because they can’t prioritize their goals and focus on what one means the most to them.
It’s not uncommon to hear someone recite their goals and say they want to…
- Gain muscle
- Lose fat
- Get super strong
- Improve flexibility
- Compete in an obstacle course race
- Audition for “Dancing with the Stars”
… all at the same time! They’d be lucky if they accomplished ONE of those things if they trained for all of them.
There’s a reason Major League Baseball pitchers don’t bat .300 (or hit at all in the American League). There’s a reason NFL linebackers don’t return kickoffs. There’s a reason Olympic weightlifters don’t get gold medals in the 800-meter run and vice versa.
Being exceptionally good at something takes exceptional focus. Inevitability, your effort toward other goals divides you focus, which will ultimately limit your success in each of those goals.
You must be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve. Pick the one thing that will make you happiest, and pursue it relentlessly.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT, DEADLIFT
As a powerlifter, I love squatting and benching pressing more than deadlifting. But as a coach and trainer, I’ve realized that most people are better-suited for deadlifting than squatting or benching. And in fact, most people like deadlifting more too.
I’ve found it’s much easier to get people into a good position for any number of deadlift variations than it is to teach people to squat or bench properly. Hip hinging requires fewer complex movements at the knee and ankle than squatting, and does less to irritate the back and shoulders compared to benching.
Plus, you can lift some (relatively) heavy-ass weights pretty quickly after learning to deadlift, which get’s the people goin’.
At Cressey Sports Performance, we don’t back squat or bench press any of our baseball players. The risk outweighs the reward. Deadlifts, however, are almost always fair game and are our go-to exercise for lower body strength. I’ve come to see how deadlifts work well for people of all shapes and sizes, whereas squatting and benching can be trickier for many people to learn.
I’ve coached dozens of people who for whatever reason are anatomically unable to squat or bench, but can do the simplest of deadlift variations with no issues.
9. IT’S EASIER TO STAY HEALTHY THAN IT IS TO GET HEALTHY
I’m pretty sure I stole this from Eric Cressey, who I’m sure adapted it from the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This holds especially true when it comes to avoiding lifting injuries.
I see many lifters who don’t warm up at all. They just get under the bar and go to work. I also see lifters who spend more time warming up than they do actually lifting, which is no good either. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and of course, I’ve found the best place to be is in the middle.
You need to warm up enough to stay healthy, but not so much that it takes away from your training. A good warm-up does the following:
- Raises core temperature
- Brings blood flow to working muscles
- Activates certain muscles while reducing “tone” in other muscles
- Primes the movement patterns you’re about to train
- Exposes you to other movement patterns you might not get during your workouts
You don’t need a 30-minute warm-up to accomplish these tasks. In fact, you can get it all done in 10 minutes or less.
During the workout itself, there are certain things that we must do to stay healthy. They aren’t necessarily fun, but they keep us in shape to do the things that ARE fun. These may include:
- Single-leg exercises (i.e. lunges, split squats, step-ups)
- Direct ab exercises (i.e. planks, rollouts, chops and lifts)
- Shoulder health exercises (i.e. external rotations, trap raises, face pulls)
- Aerobic work (i.e. walking, jogging, biking)
- Frontal plane exercises (i.e. lateral lunges, band walks)
- Transverse plane exercises (i.e. med ball throws, rotational chops)
None of these are fun in my opinion, but I’ve learned to appreciate the value in them when it comes to keeping us from getting too banged up from lifting heavy.
10. WE GET BETTER TOGETHER
Training is usually more fun and productive when you’re part of a team. I can’t overstate the value of good training partners and a good training environment. I’m convinced that few of us will ever push ourselves as hard as we’ll push ourselves for others.
I’ve gotten exceptionally stronger since lifting in the midst of my freakishly strong co-workers. I’ve watched the ladies of the CSP Women’s Powerlifting team push each other to levels of strength they never imagined they’d achieve. And I’ve seen the work ethic of many young athletes completely change once they start training alongside professional athletes at CSP.
My wedding weekend was undoubtedly the best weekend of my life. Besides marrying my best friend and having a huge party with my closest friends and family, one of the coolest moments was getting a handful of my favorite people together for a workout at Xtra Innings Performance the day before the wedding. The vibe was unreal, so much so that I hit a 540×3 deadlift (a weight I’d missed just a week earlier on a deadlift bar) on a stiff bar. No doubt the environment enabled me to surpass what I thought were my physical limits.
Coaches, training partners, teams, whatever person or group of people you need to lift you up, seek them out. And make sure you’re doing your part to lift them up too.
10 YEARS, 10 LESSONS
There you have it, 10 years’ worth of lessons that have had the greatest impact on me as a coach, lifter and person. I hope there are at least a few pearls of wisdom you can take away from my experiences. 10 years from now, I expect I’ll have many more lessons to share.