Demystifying Strength Training pt. 2 - Do the Right Lifts (Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself)

Missed last weeks post? Check it out here. When training, if nothing consists of getting stronger, you're wasting your time. That's the first thing to realize. The second thing is that you need to make sure you're not hurting yourself. Both of these, are the integral part of strength training.

I know guys who deadlift 5x a week and have never had back issues, I know other guys that deadlift 1x a week and have tons of back issues. The problem is not the deadlift, nor is it the frequency in which it's being performed. I am willing to bet that the people who get hurt doing an exercise aren't doing it right.

Strength training starts with 5 letters; FOCUS. Lack of focus is the foundation of getting hurt in the weight room. Strength training needs to be taken seriously, and leaves no room for distractions. 

Now that's what I call focus

Now that's what I call focus

 

That being said, you also need to choose the right lifts. 

I know I have harped on movement patterns so I won't waste time going into great lengths. If you want more check out this post; Off-Season Training Part 2 - What to Train in the Weight Room.

To sum it up you need;

  1. Hip hinge
  2. Squat
  3. Lunge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Core

 

I have made this list as simple as possible, any simpler and it would be a disservice. These movements don't need to be in one session, but they need to be in your workout on a weekly basis. If you write your own programs, use the above as a check list, if you use someone else's program use the above as a check list. If any program you are doing doesn't contain all 8 of these basic movements, stop. 

The issue doesn't become using this list, the issue becomes choosing the right exercises for each movement. I will break down each component of the list providing a movement option, and a strength option. If you can't do the former, don't try the latter.

With each of these, make sure you are focused, and that you feel tension throughout your body. Without significant tension you are only setting yourself up to get crushed. 

  1. Hip Hinge 
    1. Movement - Cable Pull Through. This is a great exercise to teach the hip hinge. You will have a band and cable between your legs, it will try to pull you back, and in order to do it without hurting yourself you have to learn to hinge, keeping your arms straight and close to the body.
    2. Strength - Deadlift. Is there any question? This is the king of strength lifts. If you do it right you will scrape your shins, especially the first attempts. If you've done cable pull throughs right, a good deadlift should be quick to achieve. 
  2. Squat
    1. Movement - Goblet Squat. Basically hold a dumbbell or kettlebell like your holding the holy grail. Cupped in your hands. Then squat down like you are about to sit to a toilet. There's a reason why some people refer to it as the "squatter".  This is a great and very safe movement to help teach you the proper positioning of your body while squatting.
    2. Barbell Squat - While I do love the front squat more it is slightly harder to teach. For simplicity's sake we will stick with back squat. Hold a barbell centered on your back between the shoulder blades and the nape of your neck. Wherever you have the greatest comfort. Just like a goblet squat, squat down. 
  3. Lunge
    1. Movement - Split Squat. I know, I know, it's not a "lunge". Honestly, if you can't split squat properly you have no business lunging. With a split squat at least both your feet are in contact with the ground. Start on the ground making sure your every angle in your lower body is at 90 degrees. Stand straight up, don't come forward or lean backward, your upper body should go straight up. Again I repeat STRAIGHT UP. Then come straight back down. 
    2. Strength - Lunge. I prefer reverse lunges, but walking lunges are good too. You really can't go wrong with these. Just make sure that, like the split squat, your knee doesn't come too far forward. If you look down and can't see your toes you're doing it wrong. These need to be controlled, and you need to stay on your toes.
  4. Push
    1. Movement - Push-up position plank. Focus on bracing your abs like you're about to get punched. Squeeze your butt, so that it feels like your waist band is pointing towards your chin. Keep your chin tucked like your making a double chin, and push your shoulder blades away as far as you can. You should feel like you are reaching for that cookie on the top shelf. 
    2. Strength - Push-up. Push-ups are far and away the best pushing exercise you can do. Take that position you just achieved with the Push-up Position Plank and now lower yourself to the ground without losing that position. Then push yourself away without losing that position and get all the way back to that top position. If done right it should not be easy. And as it gets easier there's no need to bench press just use band resistance. People that can actually do legitimate push-ups for high reps are truly strong. 
  5. Pull
    1. Movement - Band Pull Apart. Most people don't know how to do a pull-up or row using their shoulder blades, or keeping their core engaged. They say they're training their back, but they are really just setting themselves up for shoulder injury. Enter band pull-apart. In order to do it right you need to maintain your core like I described during the push-up position plank. Then in order to pull the band apart you need to initiate it with your shoulder blades. 
    2. Strength - Pull-ups. So now you know how to get the shoulder blades working while keeping the core engaged. Enter one of the most butchered exercises. The Pull-ups. I love pull-ups, when done right. Much like a push-up, when done right they are a million times harder then what people believe. The key is to initiate the pull with your shoulder blades, not your elbows. Finish the pull with a proud chest, and never let your core slack off. If you can't do a pull-up like that just yet, you can perform a tall kneeling lat pull down until you feel confident in getting the movement down. Much like a push-up, people that can do a truly good pull-up and do a lot of them are going to be really strong.
  6. Core
    1. Movement - Push-up Position Plank. Once again, this is a great resource to teach how to create tension in your body. The most important part of training the core. Something many people don't get right.
    2. Strength - Farmer Walks. There's a reason this is a strong man event. Few exercises build core strength both in a dynamic and static sense quite like the farmer walk. To perform, deadlift the weighted implements up. Stand tall, keep your core in the same position as a plank, but now keep your chest proud without extending your back. Then holding the weights AWAY from your side, walk quickly without losing your balance.

There you have it. Are you still with me. Start doing all of these, and you will get stronger. 

- Dave

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