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Consistency is rarely associated with lifting, powerlifting or strength sports and is more often associated with sports like baseball, golf and tennis. Strength sports are usually associated with grunting and brawn. Even at the highest levels of strength, this is far from the truth. Yes, there is usually grunting and brawn, but many more things go into it. Consistency is one of those things and it’s very important in all strength sports or lifting endeavors.

Even after all my years of lifting, I’m still surprised when I work with new people who have absolutely no consistency in their lifting. This includes those who have been training for years. They don’t have any consistency in how they approach the bar, set up or perform the actual lift. They approach the bar differently each time, and their setup is more often than not incorrect. They’re most consistent when performing the actual lift, but it's usually with horrible technique and there are variations in everything from their warm ups to their heavy sets. Perhaps all my years competing in other sports helped me realize the importance of consistency even in lifting. All sports involve movement, which requires muscle memory, and that requires consistency to build.

The very first powerlifting training video I ever watched showed me just how important consistency is in lifting. It was Ed Coan's training video, and I realized that no matter what weight Ed had on the bar, he performed the movement exactly the same every time. When he benched, squatted or deadlifted, it was exactly the same every time. At the time, I didn’t realize how amazing his technique was, but I was amazed with his consistency. It was obvious that he had years of experience and that his consistency wasn’t an accident. Unfortunately, I had horrible technique and I taught myself to consistently have horrible technique. Once I did learn good technique, I immediately began working on my consistency. This didn’t happen overnight. It actually took a long time. Now, I have to concentrate in order to demonstrate a poor lift or mimic what an inexperienced lifter’s lift looks like. Proper technique has become natural for me and it takes a lot of focus to do it differently.

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Lifting with great technique and maintaining it even during the heaviest lifts is all about building neural pathways. You’ll build those with repetition and consistency with those reps. Golfers, bowlers, baseball players, shooters and other athletes know the importance of consistency. They understand that they need to do it correctly and the same every time. Eventually, it becomes natural, and the movements are executed properly without much thought at all.

My favorite example of this is a baseball player at the plate. He will do the exact same things every time he goes up to bat. If he likes to tap his left cleat and then right cleat before stepping to the batter’s box, he will always do exactly that. If he takes four swings with the bat down low and then brings it up into position, he will always do that. It’s always the exact same movement and the exact same order. He’ll always set up with the exact same stance and swing exactly the same, except, of course, when he’s swinging the bat at where the ball is. Golfers are the same way. They always approach the ball in the same manner and their swings are almost always the same no matter what club they’re using. I’m not a golfer, but I do know that their swings can change sometimes to make the ball do different things. However, for the most part, it’s the exact same swing.

Consistency is just as important in lifting and these same principles need to be applied. Getting out of the groove basically makes the weights heavier, but through consistency, we learn to stay in the groove. This becomes increasingly important as the weights get heavier. In addition, you only get three shots for each lift in powerlifting. Consistency allows us the best opportunity to utilize all three.

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Every lifter should work on consistency from the time he walks up to the bar to the time he racks it after performing the lift. It takes thousands of reps performed correctly in order to build strong neural pathways. For this reason, everything down to the smallest detail should be the same every single time. When the movement becomes natural, it frees your mind up to focus on other things. This becomes increasingly important as you lift heavier and heavier weights.

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I once wrote down everything involved in proper technique for the squat. I had a list of almost 40 commands that I had to execute in order for it to be perfect. With a max load on my back, it gets a little hard to focus on that many things. But once the movement becomes second nature, you may only need to focus on a couple technique cues because the majority of it comes naturally. This allows you to concentrate more on a positive attitude or other mental aspects of the lift so that you can lift as much as possible. You can't be thinking about everything when you’re lifting maximal loads and you can't afford to get out of the groove on a maximal lift. You must have consistency.

So how do you train consistency? It's actually very simple but very effective. Make every single rep the same no matter how much weight is on the bar. One of the things that irritates the hell out of me is when lifters say, “It's only a warm up. It will get better when I go heavier.” Every time you’re under the bar or have one in your hands, you have a chance to work on technique and consistency. You also have the chance to reinforce bad habits and incorrect neural pathways. It’s up to you which one you choose.

You need to find the best way to approach and set up with the bar. Remember this and write it down if that's what it takes. Start doing it exactly the same every time down to the smallest detail. When you approach the bar to squat, which hand do you grab with first? Which foot do you put under the bar first? Every detail is important because it all works together to build that natural habit. Once you lift the bar or get your hand-off, the setup needs to be exactly the same. There are many different styles, so find yours and then make it a habit. The same goes for technique. It has to be the same all the time. At first, this may be frustrating, but after time and tons of reps, it will become habit. There is a reason why so many top lifters always look the same no matter how much weight they lift.

I think it was Ernie Frantz who said, “Treat the light weights like they’re heavy and the heavy weights like they’re light.” I like that saying, but when it comes to technique, treat them all the same. Lifting and strength aren’t just about grunting and brawn. They’re about using our heads and taking every advantage we can to lift the heaviest weight that we can. Start working on your consistency and watch how your best lifts get better!