Every now and again, I’ll think of something related to lifting that—though I'm not by any means advanced myself—I wish someone had imparted to me when I was younger and just beginning to lift. I'm now twenty-eight years old, and I started lifting at twenty, so I have eight years of experience. Almost immediately, I discovered Louie, Dave Tate, and Jim Wendler via their articles on the internet, so I was lucky in that regard.

What I want to talk about is the difference between thinking and reading about training and actually training. It has dawned on me that these days, lifters fall into two categories:

  1. The smart lifting intellectuals who have an impressive understanding of anatomy and Russian methods and whatnot, and who are careful not to overtrain... but who never seem to actually ever get strong.
  2. The strong but stupid who, although they may not know the ins-and-outs of the science involved, know a thing or two about hard work and usually start off strong and easily get stronger... when they aren't tearing their joints to pieces and undergoing knee surgeries.

This article is for people who fall into the first group—individuals with clever YouTube comments about form, who own Supertraining, and who can tell you all about band tension... yet can’t bench three plates, squat four, or pull five. It’s essentially just a series of tips—bullet points—that, if you give one or two a try, you may see some records fall over the next few weeks or months. Again, I'm just an amateur. I don't have any program to sell or eBook to offer. This is just some advice that I would’ve found helpful had it been offered to me. So, with the disclaimer out of the way, here we go...

Get rid of your 2.5- and 5-pound plates

That is, if you lift at home. If you lift at a commercial gym, you have my sympathies. My advice to you would be to ignore these Scooby snacks. Why? You will do better to either nut up and put some actual weight on the bar or get some reps in and grow some muscle. You can’t flex bone. Spending too much time stressing over whether or not you should add a measly five pounds to the bar just burns unnecessary nervous energy.

Learn to pay attention to the bar and how it feels rather than the plates and the numbers attached

It’s easy to get intimidated by certain barriers if you’re an overthinker: 315, 365, 405, 455, etc. But understand this—your body doesn’t understand numbers. It understands effort. The things to really pay attention to are bar path and bar speed. Constantly grease the groove no matter the movement and no matter the effort. When the groove is breaking down due to too much effort/weight, take things down a plate and get some volume in. This brings me to...

Learn how to manage volume not through Prilepin’s chart but through how your body is responding

It’s a brute fact that every day you’re capable of a best effort. That best effort is going to occur over the course of one set. My advice is after a thorough warm up, take your heaviest weight at your first work set. Why? Because that’s when you’re freshest. However, I must reiterate—warm up thoroughly. This isn't a perfunctory statement. Your last warm up might be a relatively heavy double nearing your work weight. After this set...

Get in adequate volume

After having just put in a best effort (cognizant that we’ve gotten rid of those really lame and useless 2.5- and 5-pound plates), peel off either the tens, twenty-fives, or forty-fives and get in some volume and higher reps. For the set thereafter, do the same. You’re probably done at this point. This approach allows you to, in a simple manner, warm up thoroughly and get some good strength work in—and some rep work as well. Remember, we can’t flex bone.

Limit your exercise selection

Be great at a half-dozen things rather than mediocre at two dozen. We aren't doing CrossFit here. Make a short list of what you know works for you. Mine is simple:

  • Back squat
  • Front squat
  • Conventional deadlift
  • Snatch deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Military press
  • Barbell row
  • Dumbbell row
  • External rotations (for the rotator cuff)

As you can see, this isn’t a fancy list, but it gets the job done. Maybe you box squat, maybe you board press—it doesn’t matter. Just shorten your list to what you know works; leave out the rest. You’re better off keeping your sessions short and getting to the buffet sooner.

Train frequently with short sessions, if you're able.

Because I lift at home, it’s easy for me to sneak in a quick workout here and there. If you have to drive to the gym, this may not be an option. Shorter sessions provide many benefits. I try to keep mine under an hour. If I can get them in under forty-five minutes, even better. It keeps my mood up.

Speaking of mood, stimulants work

My preferred method is cold coffee. I find it much better than energy drinks, and it's much cheaper. Just brew a pot and stick it in the fridge. Guzzle half of it in a couple cups like a frat boy thirty minutes prior to lifting. It does the trick.

Set and break records.

This is actually the most important thing. After coming up with your “money list” of your most trustworthy exercises, establish rep records at various weights and record the date. Since we’re only using 45s, 25s, and 10s, our progressions will make for very discrete jumps. Have a bunch of records for each movement. When deciding your top set for the day, go back and look at your older records. Try to break one every session. Having a discrete goal to shoot for every session ensures that you strain adequately enough to force your body to adapt. Plus, constantly beating your previous best will convince you that you’re becoming a better, stronger person... which you are.

I hope you found at least one of these ideas useful. Rather than spending any time thinking of an eloquent conclusion, I’m not going to overthink things as per keeping with the spirit of the article.