Training is like a pendulum. While the answers often lie somewhere right in the middle, it seems like it’s a lot more common for people to swing to the extremes of each end. One of these extremes relates to the simplicity of training. On one end, there are people who over-think and over-complicate every single detail of training while never actually getting stronger. On the other end, however, there are those with the mindset that training is just a matter of not being a pussy, and the answer is always “just get stronger.” While I am sure that you often see both extremes, the oversimplification of training seems to be growing more common. There have already been plenty of articles (rightly) addressing the issue of over-complication, so I want to focus on the problem of oversimplification. I agree that there are plenty of people who need to simply work harder and be more dedicated, but ignoring the small components of training does a disservice to what it takes to be a great powerlifter or coach.

In the past, I've agreed with such thought processes as, “if you want to get better at the squat, bench, and deadlift, then you just need to squat, bench, and deadlift.” And while I think there is some truth to that statement, I've come to see that being a complete lifter goes a little deeper than that. As I spend more time training, my philosophy evolves. It grows as I learn from both my own experiences and from the people around me. Working with my training partners and talking with other experienced lifters and coaches has helped me to see the role that these details play in training. These details are what separate the quick-burnout lifters from the ones that last. These details are what prevent needless injuries (although some will inevitably happen), teach important lessons, and keep you on the path to steady long-term success. These details tend to be the things that are tough, take perseverance, and are the easiest aspects of training to neglect. These details are the things that you’ll screw up, but they are those things that you will learn from. Ultimately, they are what make you a better lifter and coach.

Now, along with the point I made earlier about extremes, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between focusing on the details and over-complicating them. When I discuss focusing on the details, I’m not talking about things like spending more time foam rolling than actually training, or stressing so much about exact percentages/bands/chains/gear/diet that you forget to actually work hard. Part of growing as a lifter and as a coach is learning how to organize all of these things, and doing so without letting them take you away from the basics of getting stronger.

One example of an important detail of training is assistance work. Over the past several months I've begun training in multi-ply gear, and it has made me realize just how important this detail can be. Planning and being disciplined in the little things has helped my lifting crew at Duke’s Iron Zoo make steady progress and nail down weaknesses one at a time. One of the best things my training partners and I have started to do is sit down with Duke and talk through both our max effort work and assistance movements. This helps us make sure that we had a purpose behind everything we had planned for training that day. In all honesty, before we began doing this, some of us occasionally had the tendency to just throw our he gear on, work up to a quick max single, and then skip the assistance work in order to head home. While that is something you need to do sometimes, if you do it too often, those types of training habits are what can get you injured or stuck in a plateau very quickly. Ever since we have dedicated ourselves to not only getting enough volume in on max effort movements, but also to disciplining ourselves to train hard on assistance work, everyone’s training has continued to move forward.

Whether it has been getting in sets with the Yoke Bar after max effort work, or taking the time to do GHRs and heavy ab training before heading home, the details have been making all the difference. We don’t put more importance on assistance work than we do our big lifts, but we do program them intelligently and discipline ourselves to do them. As long as you go about it the right way, making assistance work and special exercises more than just an afterthought can make a big difference in your training.

I have seen these same principles at work from a coaching perspective during my time at The Spot Athletics. While the big lifts are a primary part of training an athlete, it goes much deeper than just throwing weight on his back and making him squat. Teaching lift progressions and correct motor patterns, as well as programming assistance exercises correctly, keeps athletes healthy and prepares them to compete at their given sport. Over-simplifying the role of a strength coach only does a disservice to everything that goes into preparing an athlete. Understanding all that goes into training will keep you humble and always growing in your knowledge as a coach.

Assistance work is just one example of a detail that affects training. Other examples include technique, recovery, attitude, and even things like using your gear correctly. These details of training do make a big difference, despite what some people may say. Don’t paralyze yourself with over-analysis, but do take the time to think through your training and why you do what you do. Remember that big lifts and strong athletes are built brick by brick, and the details are the mortar that will hold them together.