The Fundamentals of Lifting – What you need to fix to stop wasting your time

0 comments / Posted on by James Plumb

10 minute read

Taking one step forward to take two back is the start of the end.

Most people quit lifting because of a lack of progress, or a bunch of injuries. Here is a real list of fixes to make sure those things don’t happen to you.

Cheat list

1. If you don’t have the correct mobility, stop doing the big three

2. If you are uneven, you need to fix that before you blow out your hips and shoulders

3. Check your ability to express strength

4. Check your base capacity

All of these are requirements for getting stronger and not getting injured. More detail on each is below.

Do you even Yoga?

You need to have a base level of mobility for all three movements, particularly the squat. The most overlooked aspect is you need an even level of mobility.

Here is what to look at

1. Ankles. You should be able to have your toes 7cm from a wall, keep your heel down and touch your knee on the wall. I’ll bet you a donut right now that both your ankles aren’t even. Fix that. Keep working the tighter ankle until they are even

2. Hip Flexors. If your hip flexors are super tight, they will pull you forward in a squat. You should be able to walking lunge without discomfort (this actually took months for me). Keep walking lunging, but importantly – try to get your hips even. Work on your tighter side.

3. Pec minor and major – to get more pec minor – stretch your pec with your hand about 10 inches above your head. Pec major is in line with your shoulder. Again, try to get these even

This sounds boring, because it is. It also is how I’ve seen the most injuries. When one heel or shoulder or hip is tighter, you squat wonky – which is dangerous with load. The uneven pec is really common with office workers, as we’ll have one hand forward on the mouse – that pec tends to be tighter. Get these easy fixes done, and you won’t shear your spine in half from a lop-sided squat.

Even more important, even muscles

Uneven muscular development isn’t going to kill you (its super normal) but its certainly not going to help. You can fix the majority of these issues in your warm down. Here is the list

1. Trunk stability and core – the side plank. The first time I did this, I was 15 seconds on one side, over a minute on the other. That’s bad. Test and side plank on your weak side until even

2. Calf – super common. Makes you look funny and may make you squat funny. Do one legged calf raises until even. Just keep doing the weak side first

3. Quads – the single leg squat. Throw these in your warm down – keep the weak side first.

In some cases, people will start to heavily favour one leg, and hip issues are just down the road. So is a shoulder issue if the squat bar gets uneven and falls down your back.

Expression of strength – fancy way of saying not being super slow

If you train slow all the time, you are going unable to express strength in an explosive manner. For example, when I was tested earlier this year, my bar speed on squats was marginally different between 100kg, 180kg and 200kg. That’s nuts right?

For whatever reason, I never squat warmed up with speed. That’s all been rectified by a focus on expressing strength during warm ups, and putting in some speed days.

Interestingly, I’ve always warmed up deads super-fast, and I could express strength really explosively in that movement. Its also my ‘strongest’ movement. Out of curiosity, I messaged a bunch of over 300kg dead guys, and they all try to move the bar super-fast on warm ups.

You can find bar speed baselines on the net, but if you want the low-tech solution, you 50%, 70% and 90% lifts should all look different – or you need to work on speed more.

Base capacity – being able to do enough stuff

If you are on a program, and you do ever finish the programmed exercises, you need to build capacity before returning to the program.

Every coach, ever, gets frustrated when they find out the athlete does not finish the accessories or half does them. Even worse if they cut sets on the main exercises.

If this is you, you should consider lowering intensity, adding in volume until your total tonnage is above the program you are missing. Just get more work in at less intensity – build up your capacity.

Bringing it all together

None of this is rocket science. You need to be able to do the movements properly (mobility) evenly (musculature) explosively (expression of strength) at the prescribed volume (capacity).

If you are missing any of these factors, you are likely to get injured or have reduced success in your lifts. They are all easy fixes, and will ensure you are a happy, healthy camper in the gym.

I recently had an 'assessment' from a top level UK coach, and it blew my mind how objective it was. This is how it worked

a) mobility assessment (mostly left to right differences) - fix that

b) muscle symmetry (test both sides) - fix differences

c) test muscular strength vs muscular endurance vs expression of power - fix what sucks

d) build aerobic base

So, my right ankle is way tighter than my left, my left quad is stronger, my bar speed is terrible. I have all these black and white standards to reach now, and it makes my so happy.

When I stepped back and thought about it, it was so logical. I was told to stop squatting till I fix my mobility and balance issues, which makes sooooo much sense.

So yer, I've reached out to heaps of top level guys in the last six months, and without doubt

1) they are way more simple than complex

2) there is a objective to every movement, and every session

3) its way more sub-max

Stuff you should consider, but probably don't. Lactic Acid / ATP. Why I think squats / bench / dead for reps aint smart

If you google around, you can find lots of stuff (with small sample sizes) saying

1. There is no significant difference in the squat volume between the 1- and 2-minute rest conditions.

2. A 5-minute rest interval between sets allow for the highest volume to be completed when training with 85% of a 1RM load.

The reason is just build up of lactic acid (fast-twitch muscle fibers rely heavily on anaerobic glycolysis for energy production, these fibers would accumulate higher levels of lactic acid during high intensity exercise. )

Whenever I see a coach give someone small rest breaks or high reps, I always think 'huh'. It makes sense if building lactic threshold is part of your overall goals, but for strength, I don't get it.

For sure, bodybuilding stuff, go light, squeeze, lots of reps. You are not going to kill yourself.

If you are doing 12's, 15s or even 8's on squats, your overall volume is being deprecated by lactic acid build up. You are going to take way longer to recover.

Honestly, this is a pretty simple concept right? If you coach gives you 10s or over, can you ask them why and tell me I'm dumb. No, I don't care how sore you are the next day - you could get way more sore by running 10kms.

If a set lasts 30 seconds or more, you are for sure in lactic land (less is generally ATP-CP phosphagen system) 

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