Chances are you’re making exercise selection for strength training much more complicated than it needs to be. Check this out:
Imagine two houses being built side by side. The first house is built by only one man. He’s pretty good at everything, but not an expert at anything. Hastily pouring a foundation, then pulling out all the coolest looking tools he can find, he finally unravels a blueprint that’s so complex it could have been written for NASA.
The second house is built by a team. There is one man for every part of the house, and each is extremely good at what he does. Even pouring the foundation seems like an art, with every measurement taken multiple times. Their methods do not look complicated, nor are they using the prettiest tools, but they are doing what they know works and what they’ve mastered.
Which house will stand the test of time? The first, with only one builder, was much more difficult to build. The foundation was rushed. Everything from the walls to the counter tops was uneven. The second house was built much more expertly. Although it perhaps took more time, it will likely stand for much longer.
Think of your strength training and exercise selection the same way. Doing a bunch of high-rep Olympic lifts or squatting on a physioball may look “cool,” tire you out, and get attention on social media. But will it do anything? Will it help you in your sport?
Simply put, no. In fact, you’re doing it wrong.
If you want to get strong and explosive and look good, you need to lift heavy weights. I’m not talking about doing the full stack on the chest press machine, or putting a bunch of plates on a leg press. I’m talking about loading up a barbell and doing Squats, Hip Hinges, Rows, Presses and carries (along with unilateral variations; check out Mike Boyle’s videos).
Stick to the basics. You’ll be surprised how strong and injury-free you’ll become when you don’t try to get too fancy.
My next point: Although these exercises are good, they’re worthless, and even harmful, if you do them incorrectly. Imagine trying to drive in a nail with the back of a hammer. It’s the right tool; it’s just being used the wrong way.
As barbell training grows in popularity, exercises like the Deadlift, Clean & Jerk, and Snatch are becoming staples in the Average Joe’s training toolbox. Here’s how to use them as effectively as possible:
1. Earn your exercise.
Make sure that you’ve got both Deadlifts and Kettlebell Swings down before you even think about Olympic lifts. Once you’ve mastered picking up the barbell, then you can think about throwing it over your head.
2. Heavy weights 100 percent of the time do not make you stronger.
Have you ever tried to hit a nail with a hammer and hit your thumb instead? You probably applied too much force and injured yourself. Training heavy all the time works the same way. Your body needs workouts that drill in the proper movement pattern, recruit as many motor units as possible and develop speed and power—but that don’t place as much strain on your joints as a heavy training day.
A technique I learned from fellow STACK Expert Rich Sadiv does just that. Rich is by far the strongest man I have ever met. Weighing only 198 pounds, he sports a 694.5-pound Deadlift. Check out his article about Sadiv sets here.
3. Know the purpose of each exercise.
I’ve seen trainers in gyms all over the country make this mistake: they deliver tough workouts—grueling in fact—yet the workouts have zero purpose.
What I mean is, for example, the risk-to-benefit ratio of the Box Jump is such that it should be done only at the beginning of a workout. It’s an extremely effective tool to implement in a dynamic warm-up on a squat day to help you become even more explosive.
We live in an age of instant gratification. We want everything now. Yet, if we take our time and lay the foundation perfectly, better results will come.
Here’s a list of what your strength program should include. If it doesn’t, you need to fix it.
Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
Upon mastery: Weighted Chin-Ups and Pull-Ups
Upon mastery: Standing Barbell Overhead Press, Push-Press
TRX Row or Bodyweight Row
Upon mastery: Dumbbell Row, Barbell Row
Upon mastery: Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
Skater Squat, Trap Bar Deadlift
Upon mastery: Deadlift variations, Olympic lifts
Bodyweight Squat, Goblet Squat
Upon mastery: Front Squat, Back Squat, Single-Leg Split Squat (barbell)
Grab some weights and walk around. Seriously.
Upon mastery: Grab heavier weights and walk around.