The 10 Most Important Lessons From the Weight Room
The weight room is my home. It is the place I am most comfortable and it is filled with people I love. It is also my laboratory. I am always experimenting, mostly on myself, but sometimes on my clients. (What? It works. Most of the time.) And most importantly, the weight room is my classroom. Whether training or coaching, it is a place where I never stop learning. Here are the ten most important lessons I’ve learned along the way so far:
1. Find Your Base Movement
I believe everyone has one base movement. This is a movement that gives you, personally, incredible bang for your buck. A movement that makes you stronger across the board. For me, this movement is front squats. When I front squat heavy and regularly, everything from my deadlifts to my pull ups goes up, even if front squatting is pretty much all I am doing.
Figure out your base movement and make sure it’s included in your training on a consistent basis. If you find yourself short of time, you know what to do. If you get stuck in a rut and just need to do something, anything, you know what to turn to. It’s the movement you always come back to when times are tough - because it works.
2. If It Works for You, Do It
For every piece of research or advice you read saying you should do something, you’ll almost always be able to find advice to the contrary. Ice or don’t ice? Knees in or knees out? Hell, there’s probably someone out there saying, “If it works for you, don’t do it!” Just playing. But I can tell you my serious view right now: if it works for you, then do it (as long as it’s not causing you serious harm). If it doesn’t, then leave it alone.
3. Get Coached
This one is fundamental to improvement and progress. I don’t care who you are, how good you are, or how much you know, put yourself in coached situations frequently. Here’s the awesome part - it doesn’t even have to be coaching on the thing you are trying to improve. You’ll be surprised how much coaching from something completely unrelated can switch on light bulbs in your regular training room.
4. Train With Different People From Time to Time
Mix it up from time to time, no matter how awesome the people you regularly train with are. Go to a different gym. Go to a different class. Work with a different coach. Or just join in with a different group of people sometimes. Double points if the people you choose to train with are stronger than you. My most powerful insights have been times when I’ve trained with someone different, and he or she passed me some supposedly casual feedback that rocked the boat and rocked my world.
5. Make Time for Play
I believe play is so important, both physically and mentally. It’s the movement equivalent of training with different people. It helps prevent burnout. It allows you to try out new things. It gives you space to be creative. It’s a chance to practice skills. I could go on. For me, having a “play day” once a week is vital. Set yourself a loose structure, but don’t tie yourself down to sets and reps. Go by feel. Have fun!
6. Put the Weak Stuff at the Beginning
You and I both know that the reason you are not making much progress on the stuff you are weak at is because it’s pasted on to the end of your session. That means this crucial work either doesn’t get done because you are tired or it gets done with as much energy as you have left, whatever that happens to be. I know because I’ve been there. So take a stand. Put this work at the beginning. Break the rules. Do assistance work before your main movement, or perhaps second in line after your major movement. Do this until your weakness is no longer weak.
7. Improvement Within the Movement
Before seeking out alternative methods to help with strength or mobility for a particular movement, seek the answer within the movement itself. I’ve found that more often than not, a simple and effective solution can be found by actually spending quality time in the position you are trying to improve. Try breaking down the movement and using a partial range of motion before going back into the full thing, or use a simple variation of the movement to attack a specific weakness. I see so many people overlook the movement in question in the hunt for a more complex solution. Make the movement itself the first place you look.
8. Work With What You Have
The quickest way to “get stronger” is to make better use of what you have. My biggest leaps in the amount of weight I can shift have come when I have made breakthroughs with the simple stuff - breathing, position, tension, and speed. Stop glossing over these fundamentals of lifting. If you need to improve mobility, stability, or activation in a particular area, then seek advice and get it done. Learn how to use each of these elements to your best advantage and they will have a massive impact throughout your lifting, much more so than the best of training programs.
9. Position > Speed
Position is greater than speed. Position is always more important. That’s not to say speed isn’t important. As far as the powerlifts are concerned, you should always be trying to impart speed on the bar, even if it is not specifically a speed-work session. However, no amount of speed will make up for a lack of position. When doing speed work for the powerlifts, moving the bar quickly with little regard for position will not carry over well into your heavy lifts. It will simply get you better at moving a lighter bar quickly.
It’s a similar case with the Olympic lifts. I often see people hit the key positions well with lighter weights, controlling the speed off the floor. However, as the weight on the bar increases, these same people feel compelled to try and rip the bar off the floor, at the expense of hitting positions. This is a mistake. Always prioritize position over speed. Building up the speed is required over time, but always ensure positions are a priority.
10. Consistency > Everything
If there’s one concept that ties everything together, it’s that of consistency. Consistency of training is the foundation of it all. This doesn’t mean not taking rest days and rest weeks. In fact, it’s the opposite. Find a sustainable way to progress. (Hint: it doesn’t look like this - go hard, go harder, go even harder, get broken, recover, go hard, go harder, go even harder…you can guess the rest.) This means going hard and then going home, fit and well to fight another day.
Then, there is consistency of application. (Hint: it looks like this - mechanics -> consistency -> intensity.) This means mastering the fundamentals of mechanics and positions and hitting them repeatedly and well. Then, and only then, should you begin adding the intensity.
To summarize: be consistent with your goals, combine consistency of training with consistency of application, and it all comes back full circle. You will be brought back right to your goals, and you will consistently conquer them. Consistency is king. Consistency wins everything.
Photos courtesy of Michael Brian Photo.