A question of strength (part 1)
A lot of people come to me and ask me: How can I get strong? My first response is stay healthy. By that, I mean not only with the food you eat but with the training you do. A few years back, I was working in a commercial gym and a skinny guy came around 9 pm and asked me questions about strength. I sat down with the skinny guy and listened to him talk. He said: “I’d like to lift heavy stuff like the strongman do. It looks cool! I’d like to be so strong that people would fear me!”
So, I asked the Skinny G: “Do you used to get beaten up by bigger guys at school?” He lowered his head and said yes. Ok then, note to myself, we have a situation here and I’m the worst guy to come for a special talk like this! My kind of answer would be more: “Go to school with a baseball bat and beat the crap out of them.” But here I am, I’m trying to find something to say to this poor guy. I said; “Getting stronger is about you. You must do it for you, not for someone else that you can’t beat. Beat your own record. This is the main goal, not scare somebody!”
I’ll spare you the rest of the discussion. So, came my question: DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SQUAT, BENCH AND DEADLIFT? Of course, the answer was a big YES! “Ok then, see you at 10 am tomorrow for your basic evaluation”. He responded; “Hey Steve, I know how to do these 3 lifts!” I said; “Yes, I believe you! (most of the beginners don’t know how to do this at all!)”
Then I asked him another question: “How strong is your terres minor, your subscapularis and your rear deltoid?” He replied: “Well you know, I have strong biceps!” WTF are you talking about, dude?! This is part of your rotator cuff and posterior deltoid! Obviously, Skinny G needed big help.
The next time he came in, I started a regular evaluation on the table. Out of 35 muscles, I’ve tested 0. Yes, you read right, 0 were strong and / or stable and / or could fire on demand! So, the minimum requirement was to proceed with a rehabilitation program. So, I sat down with him, tried in a gentle manner (for those who know me) to explain to him that he has a serious structural balance problem. That if he bench, squat or deadlift, he will get hurt. At my surprise, he said; “What do I do about it?” I responded him; “A rehabilitation program is mandatory for you to built you from the inside out without injuries.”
First, I must correct your posture. The poor guy could kiss his own you know what when sitting down. Second one is to bring back his back straight. Strengthening his shoulders was a priority. To have a good bench press, you should have strong shoulders. For the squat and deadlift, a strong back is mandatory. Looking and judging Skinny G, I said to myself; “He will never make it through the first 3 months of his rehabilitation program.” But, I had faith in the guy and he would never disappoint me. Then came some personal problems at school and he stopped training. I left this gym to open my personal gym. We went our separate ways. But, for the time being, he followed my recommendations and by end, he could squat / bench / deadlift the right way and his results were amazing.
What I’m trying to say is that when it comes to strength development, you need to evaluate the client. Yes, he will tell you a shitload of things like: I’ve been training for X years, I’ve read books, went to a good 1 day seminar on strength or whatever stupid internet guru that he found! In fact, what you need is a good trainer that knows strength. If you hire a marathon specialist, I don’t think this will make you stronger! Get the point? If you have a strong frame (i.e.: strong rotator cuffs, strong shoulders, strong lower and upper back) you will have better results and you will get stronger.
This story is true event. If this kid had not quit, he would have made some progress. He started on the right track and who knows, maybe he would be a good powerlifter or weightlifter. Today, he does something else, but he did the right thing to follow advise and got there for a while. When working for strength, you must follow a path. This path will sometimes be long but if you get there very fast, you might get injured. Is that better? You must be injury free (or the less injuries as possible) to get better results and to achieve maximum strength. You need a lot of things when it’s time to lift weights and get strong. This my personal list. If you don’t agree with it, I respect that.
Find a gym where you can do strength training. A commercial gym will not make the cut
Find a coach that knows how to evaluate you for muscular imbalance
Correct the muscle imbalance with targeted exercise
Learn the proper technique for bench press / squat / deadlift with a coach that knows how
Progress slowly into strength with assurance and motivation
Don’t forget about the deload phase in the process to avoid injuries and get stronger
Have good equipment. Make sure the gym you go has no shitty equipment like a squat rack from Walmart. Get a big rack. Something made for hard work
When the coach is not around, try to find a training partner
Eat / sleep / rest / train like there is no tomorrow
Make sure to alternate your exercises every week to trick the system so it will not adapt, thus you grow
Don’t listen to all the douche bags in the gym, especially the one drinking vitamin water. Why? Because they suck!
The last one, don’t talk on the phone while you’re training
Bonus: Bosu and Swiss balls were not made for strength. So why use it? It’s like trying to lose weight, but you’re eating Twinkies as a snack. Read this; it’s fu… useless!
Finally, this can apply to all kinds of training. These are the important things that you must do to get better. Skinny G in my story. He did it! Then he stopped. But at least, he made a few good changes along the way and he followed these rules. This list is much longer than that, but to me, these are the important ones. Don’t be like skinny G in the story above. Get to the gym and train hard. Show up to your workouts because no one will do it for you!
In the next installment, I will describe the different types of strength.