Arguably one of the main goals of strength training is to improve the way the body moves and reinforce good movement patterns with weights. It will make your body stronger in those positions and those movement patterns that are considered optimal in the way we move. It will also ensure that when challenged by outside forces and velocities, our body will be able to maintain good alignment and react properly. The squat and the deadlift, for example, are primitive movement patterns that your body needs to own. We own them as babies, but because of modern life that makes us extremely sedentary and because we sit all the time, we lose these movement skills as we age.
So in a way, we need to re-learn these movement patterns, and ultimately become stronger in them. But because how restricted our bodies are, there is a process to go through to be able to own these movements and get stronger. It might mean working on soft-tissue restrictions, doing general and specific mobility work, doing static stretching, improving motor control, etc. Once the restrictions are out of the way, you’ll want to become proficient in the basic movement patterns before getting stronger. Most strength gains you’ll make in in the beginning are going to be mostly neural adaptations and improved motor control, anyway.
In order to get strong and efficient in the basic lifts, you need PRACTICE! I just finished reading Never Let Go, by Dan John, and one thing he stresses is the repetitions. If you want to get good at something, if you want to get strong, you need to put the reps in.
When designing programs, we probably don’t need as much variety as we think we do. Sure we need to keep things interesting so we don’t get bored in the long run. But the basics stay the same; squat, deadlift, 1-leg squat, bench press, chin ups and rows. That’s it. You don’t need to have a new main lift every month; if that’s what you do, how do you know if you’re getting stronger, or better? You don’t have any basis of comparison. If you want to become proficient in these movements to improve the way your body moves and get stronger, that’s what you need. And you need to do them a lot. If you do chin ups for 4 weeks, and then take them out of your training and don’t do them for another 3-4 months, how do you expect improvement? Repetition really is the key to mastering a movement and getting stronger. The more repetitions you do, the more efficient your nervous system will be at this specific movement, and the easier it’ll be to get stronger.
Not only do you want reps, but you want perfect reps. Doing near-max effort reps every single time you deadlift is not going to be the answer because your body won’t be able to perfect the movement pattern; every single time you perform the movement, you’re just trying to lift the heaviest weight possible (aka, your body switches to compensation mode). Don’t get me wrong, you do need to load the bar to get stronger, but you need to be smart about it. You need to make sure that form is your first priority and you never sacrifice it for weight.
“If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.” – Dan Gable
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