As a follow up to Bob Youngs article “Things I Would do Differently”, I decided to give this idea a shot and see what I could come up with.  Now I should point out that I don’t have any regrets and maybe the things that I did do, whether I think they were wrong or not, did help my success.  Honestly, I really wouldn’t change a thing as I’m completely happy with what I’ve done on the platform.  Still, the learning process that we all go through is done by our own experience as well as learning from others.  So here are some things that I think can help you shorten the road to success or at least make it a little bit easier for you.

No good mornings as a max effort

I think the good morning is probably the #1 exercise for building total back, glute and hamstring strength.  I think this is the best thing that I ever did to develop my lower back when I first started training.  In fact, the good morning increased my deadlift by almost 100lbs in the first year.  But I really think that doing these for a 1RM (or even a 3RM) didn’t do a whole bunch for me.  The point of max effort training is to strain and to handle heavy weights.  The good morning is not an exercise that is conducive to straining because your form starts breaking down when the weight gets heavier.  Plus, you end up ¼ squatting the weight.  This defeats the purpose of the exercise.

I also can’t tell you how many times I did max effort good mornings and felt like something was extremely wrong with my back.  I don’t think this was very healthy.

In retrospect, I would rather use them as a 2nd or supplemental exercise for slightly higher reps (5-12).  I also would never do these with a safety squat bar as I felt that this bar did not allow me to keep my upper back arched and thus rounded me over way too much.  A straight bar or a cambered squat bar is the best option for these.

Longer rest periods on dynamic squat and bench day

The point of dynamic effort day is to be fast as possible; moving the bar concentrically with as much force as possible.  If you read anything about plyometrics in any of the Russian manuals they state that there must be full recovery between sets to ensure that the athlete is getting the most out of each set.  I think that the same principle applies to dynamic training for the squat and bench press.  The guideline is to rest 45-60 seconds between sets.  I think that this is getting out of the optimal rest range if you are truly giving each rep your full effort.

If you are tired and breathing heavy, do you really think that you can apply your full effort and concentration into each rep?  Now many people will say, “Get in better condition!” and I used to say that, but if you take a step back and think about the purpose of that day it can really open your eyes.  The purpose is not to get in condition, but to move the weight quickly and with force.

So how long of rest periods would I have taken?  I really can’t put a number on it, but I would only approach the bar when I felt that I could give full effort.  I’m assuming that this would be around 2-3 minutes.

Don’t negate my lifting experience

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I am smartest man in regards to training.  But before I started powerlifting, I had over 11 years of hard, heavy training.  For years, my training centered around squatting, pressing and pulling.  There was nothing fancy about what I did, no gadgets or fly-by-night programs.  I simply lifted, assessed what I was doing, made changes and kept experimenting.  I also think that the lack of information that I had access to (no internet, very few books, etc.) helped me because I used myself and others as guinea pigs.  There was nothing but real world information and no self-proclaimed gurus to guide me along.

I distinctly remember my first experience reading a self-styled strength guru and what he said went completely against everything I learned in the weight room.  But because he was a demi-god I tried some of his stuff and quickly realized what a fraud he was.  Now I’m not telling to you dismiss all writings, but read with an open mind and a critical eye.

I entered my first powerlifting contest with respectable numbers in the gym; a 455 raw bench press, a 635 deadlift and a 725 raw squat.  With my build (I was born into a family of ectomorphs) and bodyweight (about 255lb when these lifts were performed) I think these lifts are respectable.  You don’t stumble onto these numbers by chance.  There is a multitude of training experience that you can learn from and you should never forget.  Just because someone says differently doesn’t mean that you are wrong.

When I first began the Westside template as outlined in Dave Tate’s Peroidization Bible Part I and II, I didn’t rely on my own experience to build on it.  I simply did the template.  As soon as I took the principles of the template and added in my own experience, I really began making progress.  This was an epiphany for me and something that I think we at EFS are constantly preaching.

Don’t negate my athletic experience

While we are constantly harping on coaches to learn from all areas of strength sports (powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, strongman) to help their programs and athletes, we can certainly take something from their book.  Unfortunately, I think that many of us are too hard headed and proud to take advice from someone that doesn’t squat 900lbs.  But there is always a nugget of wisdom to be found no matter how big the pile of shit.  You just have to know where to look. To be more specific, I think the one thing that all strength athletes can take from athletics is a properly performed dynamic warm-up.

The warm-up need not be as involved or intense as what a well-conditioned football player would do.  But the principles of it can be used.  A general movement based warm-up followed by mobility drills for your entire upper body is a great way to get your body and mind ready for the training to follow.  I also believe that this is a great way to remain somewhat athletic, mobile and decrease your chances for injury.  Yes, you may look stupid doing hip mobility over a bench or jumping jacks.  But it’s better than constantly complaining about how you can’t move or how bad your hips hurt.

I also think that keeping more box jumping and other jumps into my program would have really increased my explosiveness.  When I started doing these again, I really think that this helped my lifts.  Again, this is something that is widely used by athletes.

When looking back, I think that I lost a lot of my athleticism when I first began training for powerlifting.  Some of this is to be expected; when you go from one sport to another, you are going to have to make some changes and sacrifices.  But I think having some sort of athleticism can help you.  If anything, it will make it easier (and more graceful) to dump a squat.

Don’t neglect conditioning

In my quest for getting big, I let my conditioning drop like a prom dress at the after hours party.  I don’t think one needs to be a distance runner, but simply walking on a treadmill or riding a bike a few times a week would have done wonders for my health and my training.  I did drag the sled but I don’t think that doing 6 trips of 200 feet really qualifies as conditioning.

I also don’t think that doing some very simple cardio is really going to affect one’s strength.  Alwyn Cosgrove has written a bunch of articles about the over and under reaction to training.  Cardio has reached both extremes and I think we can all agree that done in moderation and in accordance with your training goals, it can be a good thing.

Don’t get caught up in weak points

I know this is going to derail those on the weak point train and send them tumbling but this is a mistake that I quickly corrected.  Hear me out before you burn me at the stake for such heresy.

Weak points and how to address them has been a constant battle for everyone, me included.  But it wasn’t until I just accepted the fact that in order for me to improve, I needed for everything to get stronger.

My mantra was; Everything is weak, make everything strong.

The problem isn’t the addressing of the weak points, but the neglecting of the strong points!  Let’s say that you can bench press 250lbs and you have very strong shoulders.  But you know that your lockout sucks.  Many people will concentrate on their lockout and completely neglect what got them their bench press in the first place; their shoulders.  So why would you do this?  Isn’t this what got you there in the first place?

My point is that if you over react to your weak point you will under react to your strongest point. So why can’t you bring up and address both?  It can be done as long as you understand that the weak point will take some time.   I will always embrace whatever strong gifts I have and exploit them to make me stronger.  However, this doesn’t give one license to neglect where they are weak.

A good example of this is a friend of mine, Jim Laird.  Jim’s quads (actually they are so strong and big that they should be referred to as pentas) were always his strong point.  Unfortunately, he never capitalized on this and continued to squat very wide and never took advantage of the strength that he had.  His inseam is about 4” so his stance and his strengths were never served by squatting very wide.  He continued along this avenue for several years and had success but nothing that he was happy with.

Then Jim made a change.  He came to terms that he wasn’t going to squat like Chuck Vogelpohl and decided to squat like Jim Laird.  He took advantage of his short inseam, began training his quads again and continued working on his hamstrings and low back.  Not only did his squat go up, but his confidence and his training went to a new level.

The Last Word

I really hope that some of the ideas that I presented to you will help you out.  Some are easy to incorporate (longer rest periods on dynamic day, for example) while others are going to take some time.  Even if you don’t take anything from this article, I think that if you do the same thing, making a list of things you would do differently, you may realize that you are repeating some things that you have deemed mistakes.  This is a good way to exorcise some of the bad habits that you have picked up over the years.