Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas
Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas
Consider what it would look like to scale up a mountain, reach the peak, then descend. Now consider what it would look like if you were to treat every workout in this same way. If you can embrace this concept and be willing to go against traditional training dogma, you’ll learn to better conquer your strength and body composition goals.
Imagine you’re at the beginning of your next workout and you start by priming your body with a handful of exercises and addressing potential weaknesses while preparing your body to perform at its prime. Your focus is on developing stability, mobility, and potentiating the nervous system.
You can see this part of the workout as ascending up a mountain, as the level progressively rises. At the peak, you’d be hitting your biggest lift. Goal ticked, you would then begin a descent down, into your secondary and assistance exercises, finishing with lower level exercises.
To give you an idea it might look something like this for an upper body pressing workout:
- Low-level band exercises, band pull-aparts, internal and external rotations
- Cable face pulls – 2-4 sets of 12-15 reps working short of failure
- 1-arm kettlebell press – 2-4 sets of 12-15 reps working short of failure
- Flat bench press variation
- Incline bench press variation
- Shoulder press variation
- Push up variation
- Isolation exercise working on a specific area of weakness
Do you see how in the example above the main lift is somewhere in the middle of your workout? Take note of that and compare it to how things are traditionally done instead. You go into the gym, and after a lousy few minutes of low-intensity cardio, possibly a few arms swings or bodyweight squats, you then proceed to stack the weight up with your main lift.
It might look something like this:
- 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio
- Arm circles and arm swings
- Bench press variation
- Rest of the workout, involving various press variations and flyes
But more often it looks like this:
- Arrive at the gym having not moved for a good few hours.
- A few sets of bench press with just the bar.
- Follow with more sets of the bench press, gradually stacking the weight up.
- The rest of the workout, presses, flyes, and so-on.
In strength and conditioning we call the priority exercise an “indicator lift,” and for most, it’s usually a bench press, deadlift, or squat. It’s a good idea to have one indicator lift in each workout since you can track its progress and manipulate such things as volume and load.
Whether these exercises are right for you is another conversation in its self, but let’s assume they’re a valuable part of your program. That’s why you want to do them right at the start when you’re fresh. It’s normal that you want to lift the most, and you want to lift more than you did last week.
The Proper Way to Scale the Mountain
We all know that progressive overload is key, but it’s how you manage that progressive overload and how you choose to overload your body that really matters. The timing is key, and doing your key indicator lift prior to anything else is bad timing.
Now what you’re probably thinking right now is you want to lift the most, but by doing other exercises first you won’t be able to do this. But ask yourself why—is doing it first down to ego, is it just what you believe works, or is it simply down to traditional strength and conditioning or bodybuilding dogma?
Challenge your beliefs and consider that what most “know” to be the correct way to train, might not actually be. If you’re not always questioning your methods, then it is a sure sign that you’re stuck in your beliefs.
“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”
Approaching each workout like the above-mentioned is one such example that goes against tradition but deserves considerable thought.
Here is what you would see by scaling the mountain properly, instead of landing right on the peak without the necessary preparation. The first time you try this you may not be able to lift as much in your key indicator lifts.
You’d have accumulated a little more fatigue prior, and this could have an effect. But who really cares, leave your ego at the door for a few weeks because promise it will be worth it. Your body will be functioning better, stronger foundations will be set, and your lifts will be efficient.
This super-compensation in strength is particularly true for those that have neglected their foundations in the past. You can’t build a great building without a solid foundation.
- You’ll reduce the likelihood of picking up injuries, modifying workouts because of pain, and the need to take time off from training.
- You will see better long-term results, as your body will learn to function and move properly.
- You will improve your overall health and longevity, especially as you reach past your 50’s, 60’s and beyond.
Ask yourself how you would define fitness success. If you crushed your workouts for a few months and got in great shape because of it, yet it was at the expense of your overall health and longevity would you define that as a success? If you had to stop at a certain point in your life due to pain or injury would you consider that to be a health and fitness success?
It’s usually when pain or dysfunction happens you begin to spend half your workouts foam rolling, and the other half balancing on a ball because you think it’s good for your core. You then fall into this style of training, or you jack the gym in altogether.
Whether you want to achieve optimal strength, body composition, or athletic performance you must be willing to put the ego and traditional beliefs aside and do what others around you might not be. If you stop having an emotional relationship with your style of training, then you’ll achieve more success.
Take the Emotion Out of the Scenario
If you stop having an emotional relationship with your own style of training, you’ll get even closer to achieving your bodies’ potential. No one style of training is best, and many components can be taken from each discipline and manipulated towards your goals. It’s you versus you, whether you’re competing against your last workout, or competing against your own beliefs.
One simple thing you can change right now, no matter what style of training you believe in, is treating each workout as though it were like a mountain. You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.
Now go out and conquer.