Article written by Jace Derwin
Weightlifting is simple. Getting better at weightlifting is complicated, really complicated. We can put a rover on Mars, but we still can not decide if we want to squat with the knees out or not. There is an inordinate amount of information available on training programs, squat cycles, percentages, assistance gear, or anything remotely connected to the goal of making you stronger and faster. It is all terrific info and has value, but when it comes down to implementing a plan towards a direct goal, athletes can get a little too distracted. I’ve known numerous athletes/coaches to get fired up about a new training program, just to get bored by week three and change it up to something new and different. Equally as frustrating is when athletes implement a new piece of equipment (sleds/Speed-chutes/bands) when they have not previously developed a solid strength base or refined necessary movement patterns. Simplify what you are already doing before you make new changes. Simple is not always as simple as it sounds, but by following these few tenants first, you can set yourself up for more success down the road.
Your primary training tool should be a barbell and a squat rack.
This is the canvas in which you paint your masterpiece. The full gamut of training can be done with a bar, a rack, and plenty of weight. A barbell is the number one tool you need to get strong and a squat rack gives it a bed to sleep in. You can deadlift, squat, press, clean, snatch, and perform any variety of auxiliary lifting using just the barbell. You should not have to waste your time doing leg presses or hitting the jammer when heavy squats and push presses bring an even better carry over to strength and performance. The strength you build on the platform is the foundation for running, jumping, throwing and just about any athletic endeavors you plan on performing. Simply put, get strong on the bar, ask questions later.
Selectively organize your training movements.
I know this may vary for the elite Powerlifters and Strongman athletes, but for basic strength athletes and anyone associated in organized sports, there is a remarkably simple order of exercise you can follow to get the most out of your training. Selectively organize your training from most complex, to least complex. For example:
· Train explosive and dynamic movements first following a light warm-up (Snatches, CJ’s, Box Jumps, Ball Throws/Slams, etc.)
· Train heavier strength focus work (Squat, Press, Dead).
· Train the necessary auxiliary/pre-hab movements (Isolation movements, Unilateral Leg/Arm Work, Basic Bodybuilding).
It is simple, saves you time, and is more efficient for your body. By starting with the explosive movements, you can prioritize focus towards more speed and quickness without being pre-fatigued. As an added bonus, you will have recruited more fast-twitch muscle fiber early on, which should help strength work feel faster and more dynamic. The strength work comes second because if you have ever tried snatching after heavy squats you know that is a recipe for sheer disaster. Strength focused work should make up the bulk of your time and be the highlight of your training. Always try to end sessions with some auxiliary or pre-hab movements to assist any muscular imbalances or specific injury-prevention work that is needed. This work is critical and worth the time investment every chance that is available. Any added mobility/stability in troubling positions pays off down the road. If the backbone of your training follows this general formula, you will get stronger, more technical, and reduce your chance of obtaining injury.
Periodize your training throughout the year.
Yet again, simplicity is a beautiful thing. To get stronger, you have to lift HEAVIER weights. Your training should always have forward momentum and be working towards a realistic and attainable goal. Setting up long term goals into smaller segments allows you plan out how quickly you need to progress, and how often you will need to adapt the training stimulus. This planning is called periodization. The road to a 500lb back squat is not a linear path, and training the appropriate amounts of hypertrophy, strength, and speed will help direct your training in a more efficient path. Connect a specific training focus over the course of 4-6 weeks and alternate these phases throughout the year. This allows you to build out your yearly calendar that clearly lists training goals throughout the year. This is crucial for anyone engaged in team sports, or has a specific competitive season. Specific blocks of your calendar year need a direct focus towards building strength in the movement patterns indicative to your sport, and the later parts of the calendar will be direct to developing speed and work capacity within those movement patterns. A properly planned out training calendar will better prepare you come time of the season/competition.
The Essential Non-Essentials
Everything you do outside the weight room should be thoroughly considered when looking at your goals. Sleep, diet and stress should all be weighed in full. These factors can add up quickly and can decrease recovery times, leave you feeling tired and drawn out in training, and overwork your ability to focus on training. Getting a full nights rest, eating plentiful amounts of nutrient dense food, and having a quality social life are factors that not only add to your success and ability to improve, but hold more value to your overall health. Again, it all comes down to the simple changes that make more difference than complex programming. If you can get your sleep, eat enough food, and keep good company, you are doing something right.