Lifters need to view strength training as a whole and not just lift heavy in the gym to gain strength. Too often I run across people who put all their focus on just that. There is very little thought about what it takes to get strong. These lifters live by the theory that they should lift as hard as they can as often as they can and, if they don't do this, they're sissies. These people tend to get stuck in this mentality and their gains get stuck because of that. They don't evolve as lifters or view strength training as a whole.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about his nephew who is now lifting weights to get stronger for his high school football team. This young man very much wants to beat his older brother's high school lifts, so he trains like so many of us did in high school. He lifts at the school and then goes to another gym to lift again. He does this as often as he can for as long as he can.
I completely understand this determination, but at the same time, it also makes me shake my head. This is the exact mentality that plagues so many lifters, especially the younger ones. I respect the heart and will it takes to train like this, but I know through my own experience that there is one key factor missing: intelligence. It is the hunger for knowledge and the drive to evolve into the best lifter possible. Yes, strength and lifting are meathead pursuits, but that doesn't mean you need to approach it like a Neanderthal. Me want to be strong! Me lift heavy stuff! Ugh! We must evolve past this type of thinking to really tap into the true potential that we all have.
I'm not saying that the meathead attitude won't work. I know for a fact that it will work, but it will only get you so far. When people first start training, almost anything will make them stronger and they will see gains. This is especially true for the younger lifters. After some time though, those gains always stop. This is the point when many people quit or, if they're stubborn enough, they will just continue to do the same thing, essentially banging their head against a wall. Others will begin an evolution and start to see training in a new way.
When it happens, this evolution usually starts out slowly and has many pitfalls along the way. It usually starts by talking and asking questions from people stronger than you are. This can be helpful, but who are these people? Do they really know what they're talking about? What have they accomplished? Are they just another big fish in a small pond?
Next in this evolution comes reading and looking for new information. This is usually about training because, for some reason, most of us meatheads get stuck on that one piece of the puzzle. This is where it really starts to get fun.
At this point, the information is coming in steady, especially with today's technology at our fingertips. The lifter learns about new training programs and exercises, and improvements in strength come on steady. Unfortunately, this is also where another pitfall arises. I see many people get stuck here as well. Some lifters get so wrapped up in the training philosophies that they end up switching up programs like they change channels on the television.
They think the gains should come immediately or the program isn't working. They're always looking for the holy grail of programs. I also see people getting so shinny eyed over a program that they won't hear what it's really about or understand what the person who wrote it really means. They completely misunderstand how the program is supposed to be executed. They may even read about a program and add in their own old Neanderthal theories of training, ruining the program. Many people lean toward the most complex programs because they think it must be better if it’s that involved. People will also try to train like their favorite lifter without thinking that they aren't at the level of that lifter. Hopefully, they eventually realize their mistakes so they can keep evolving.
By this point in the training evolution, probably 75 percent of lifters have dropped out because they haven't learned from the common mistakes. They've either quit all together or they're still stuck looking for that miracle program while never really understanding the programs that they've used. Those who are still evolving are starting to look at, or have already looked at, nutrition. They're also starting to understand the importance of talking and learning from the best through seminars or personal training. They will start looking at technique and how to use lifting gear. They will begin to realize that it isn't just about busting butt and lifting heavy in the gym. There is much more to it, and the more they learn this, the more improvements they will see. They are starting to see the other pieces of the puzzle but haven't yet figured out how they all fit together.
The next big step in the evolution of training is the one that separates the good lifters from the world class lifters. This is when lifters start to see how all the pieces fit together. They can see the puzzle as a whole. These lifters actually stop reading and researching so much and usually spend more time just talking to other lifters. They realize the balance between all the pieces.
Nutrition, rest, recovery, technique, sleep, stretching, training and daily life all play a role and are all intertwined. They realize that the energy and intensity output in the gym has to equal the rest and recovery outside the gym. They realize that there isn't any holy grail program. All programs work to some extent for some people. The best program is the one that you can bend to fit your own personal needs and goals. So many top lifters' training programs are hodgepodge mixes of many other programs. These lifters understand how important heart and will are. They no longer fret over the small stuff and they see the big picture. They can see the parts of the puzzle that are more integral to the picture and the ones that are just on the outskirts like a piece of blue sky. They are still important for the whole picture but not as important as the main focus.
I see this evolution kind of like Neo in the Matrix. He begins to see the matrix in terms of binary code and is able to start bending it to his needs. The lifter begins to see the whole and how simple it all is. He begins to understand the things he needs to change and adapt in order to keep improving. This is why there are so many top lifters who seem to speak of strength like it's simple and will ramble off so much knowledge that it can be hard for a novice to even keep up or understand what they're talking about. To the top lifter, it is simple and it makes sense even though there is some science to it all. Like Steven Hawkins talking about physics, it all just makes sense to him.
This is the evolution that I went through and the evolution that I have seen so many top lifters go through. The pursuit of strength is a journey and it involves so much more than just lifting heavy in the gym. The real question is where are you in this evolution and how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?