elitefts™ Sunday Edition

There is no doubt that strength training has made huge gains over the past decade. This may not be true in terms of academia or scholarly papers, but it is very true on the battlefield and in the gyms. Yet, like with most things, I believe that there is a cost to this progress. And that cost happens to be the decline of the basics, or the fundamentals, of strength training. From my observations, this is having an enormous and very negative impact on beginner and intermediate lifters, while the advanced lifters are thriving on these new training advances.

I believe the problem lies in the fact that many lifters are forgetting that a vast majority of these advancements are being made by advanced lifters and coaches who started with the basics. The basics got them to a high level and the advancements are being made to get them to even higher levels. It is a progression of training—a gradual building up of the human body and its strength. When you try to jump or skip major steps, you end up with huge holes in your lifts and your strength. The body is nothing more than a bio-mechanical machine that we are building. If you start building with weak parts, then it will limit the maximal strength that can be reached, and you will probably end up breaking the machine. It's the old adage: you are only as strong as your weakest link. So, it is important and certainly worth the extra time to make sure that you have a strong foundation in the beginning. Once you build a strong base, you can keep building and getting stronger from there. It does not make sense to spend a ton of time and money building from a weak base, for that will only fail you in the end.

My back to the basics belief comes from seeing many new lifters or intermediate lifters in the gym and on video. The more I watch, the more frustrated I become by the stuff I see them doing. So many lifters are using specialty bars, chains, bands, and all kinds of advanced movements when they have no proper base to begin with. They are just building on a faulty, crumbling foundation that will not support the heavy weights they want, and it will most likely eventually fall. I suppose many lifters try to advance too fast because it is human nature to want to emulate the people we look up to, and modern day media makes this even easier. Nowadays, there are training logs, videos, and articles about strength all over the internet. The problems is, so much of this information is faulty, or even when it is good, it is not explained properly. I think this is one of the only problems I see with training logs, too. People want to know what so and so is doing because he is his favorite lifter and he wants to train like him. This is actually a very respectable thing, and as a top lifter I say imitation is the finest form of flattery. I am honored when someone says that he wants to be as strong as me or that he wants to know how I train so that he can train just like me. However, I first say, "don't be like me, be stronger than me." I never wanted to be as strong as the guys I looked up to, I wanted to be stronger than them. Next, I try to explain that what most athletes did to get where they are is not necessarily what they are doing right now in there logs. Most lifters' programs change over the years. They have to in order for them to keep gaining strength. As you get stronger, your body changes—the stress on your body changes and your weak points change. Consequently, your training has to change, too.

The other factor I often talk about is that everyone is different and responds differently to different training. It is great that someone respects a lifter so much that he wants to train just like him/her. But do you have the genetics your role model has? Do you have the same lifestyle? Are you as advanced of a lifter as he is? Do you have to deal with the same problems and weaknesses? The list of different factors is huge. When it comes to me, for example, I feel that most people would be undertraining if they followed exactly what I do. I have tremendous sleep problems that limit my recovery. In turn, I also work two jobs six or seven days a week, so that also limits my recovery. This does not mean you can't learn a lot from reading a training log by me, it just means that you have to use your brain and think about things. I also spend a lot of time writing about how to adjust a program to fit the individual. One of my favorite powerlifters is Chuck Vogelpohl, and he is on the other extreme. He has amazing genetics and is a very advanced lifter. Very few people could ever train with the intensity and frequency of Chuck. This in no way means that you can't learn from him. I highly recommend buying his DVD because you will learn something. I am just saying that we are all different, and it is important to remember that. I learned from great lifters and modified what I learned to fit me. Chuck did the very same. He trains the way he needs to train in order to get the most out of his body. Sure, you could train like me or Chuck, and you would probably make gains. However, are they the best gains you as an individual can make? It is important not to just jump into following what an advanced lifter is doing, but it is more important to learn how he or she got there and then find what works best for you. It would be nice to see more articles on how lifters got to their current strength levels.

The main thing I see beginning lifters do (that is far too advanced at this stage) is use bands, chains, and specialty bars. Too often I see lifters using chains and bands almost every training session. My opinion is that a beginner or intermediate lifter should only be using chains and bands for dynamic effort work, sometimes on max effort work. More often than not, they don't even know how to set them up correctly. Lifters will come up to me and tell me that they just hit a PR on box squats with 405 pounds and 300 pounds of bands. My first response (if I am in a mood to respond) is, "when is the last time you felt straight weight? And are your PR max effort lifts equating to PRs in your main lifts?" They usually say they think so and that they have not done main lifts in a while. The problem with this is that they never learn to handle heavy straight weight, and it is very different than bands or chains. Usually their technique in the main lifts is not even close to where it should be, and this is because they never (or rarely) train it heavy.

There is also the fact that most people get obsessed with how much band tension they are using, yet they do not seem to understand that it varies. If I set up bands the same way for a 5-foot-6 lifter and a 6-foot-2 lifter, the tension will be greater for the 6-foot-2 lifter. The amount of tension the bands create are just rough estimates and, to be honest, are not really that important. From my experience, those pound calculations do not transfer over anyway. If I do a 600-pound squat with a so-called 600 pounds of tension at the top, it doesn't mean that I can squat 1,200 pounds with full gear. Again, I am not saying beginner and intermediate lifters can't get something from bands or chains, because they can. They are still great for dynamic work and sometimes on max effort days. I am just saying that these types of lifters still need more time with straight weight and more time on the full range movements. The same goes for using specialty bars. They are great and have their place, but definitely not all of the time for the beginner and intermediate lifter. These lifters are going to get more out of the straight bar, straight weight, and full range basic movements. It is very important to get your technique down and to be able to keep fairly good technique under heavier weights. Once you are able to do these things, then you can expand your training to include more advanced elements.

Strength sports, especially powerlifting, take years and even decades to fully master. No matter how fast we want to get strong, it takes lots of time, hard work, effort, brains, patience, stubbornness, and intelligence. The human body grows slowly compared to most animals, and it's the same with human strength. It's hard to get started and to learn the proper techniques. It's also hard to learn how to deal with and how to overcome injuries (which will surely happen at some point if you're pushing the way you should). Even as you get stronger and finally think you have it all down, everything changes because you break into new strength levels. This is a tough sport and it takes intestinal fortitude. The faster you realize that it is a building process that needs a strong foundation, the faster you will be on your way to becoming the lifter of which you dream. Start with the basic fundamentals of training and grow from there. Don't try to get too fancy in the beginning, solidify the basics first.