Saturday, April 16, 2011

Things That Actually Matter

The amount of strength and conditioning information that is available is astounding.

The majority of it, however, is irrelevant.

One of the greatest trials of an intelligent lifter's career is to take the time to sift through this information, and then reject the majority of it. Figuring out what to discard and what to preserve can be challenging. Let me tell you about some of the principles that I have held on to after surviving the information overload.

1) Technique: Most of us are familiar with the concept that strength is a skill. You can make gains by remodeling your technique and then make further gains by improving your efficiency. Furthermore, if you have selected a technical style that maximizes the loads lifted and the safety of those lifts, proper technique will make catastrophic injury-free consistency a more likely reality of your lifting career. I understand that there is a case to be made for brute strength; in the end, your muscles have to be strong to lift big weights. However, in my opinion, maintaining a fairly strict adherence to technique ties into the slow-cooked strength gains mindset that I have found to be valuable (more on that in a moment).

2) Long-Term Programming: The most trying and unproductive period of my early training career was when I got caught up in the "magic pill" mindset. I believed that there was a perfect program that would undoubtedly get me from point A to point B without any bumps in the road. While I did variations of squats, bench, and deadlifts throughout this period, my training lacked purpose, direction, and consistency. I would usually find a program that I would proclaim to be my savior, train with excitement for a couple of weeks (if that), and then dump it for the next Jesus-program when things started to fall apart/get tough. After a solid year of not making meaningful progress, I finally understood what it means to have a plan rather than a program. A plan is not a one month affair; a plan is a long-term commitment. It is about making a decision and then making it work. A plan is about principles and then manipulating the details within your predetermined broad outline. This requires lots of information and thought, and then a self-imposed veil and a certain rigidity in thinking. Read, think, make a decision, and then put the blinders on and train for a long, long time.

3) Mindset: The proper mindset is what ties all of these points together. In the pursuit of strength, you must think long-term. This is not a new concept, but it is almost always overlooked. Everyone is too busy dreaming about being big and strong instead of focusing on the work that has to be put in right now. Intermediate lifters must realize that the game changed after they tapped out their beginner gains. If you continue to grind away near your maxes, you will only end up frustrated and you will begin to second-guess your program. Once you lose confidence in what you are doing there is no way in hell it is going to work. To avoid this, train yourself to think long-term. Ease into things. Focus on the process. Embrace the work. Learn to enjoy the daily grind. Don't freak out after one bad training session. Invest your time in a plan that you know will work instead of a fancy, "cutting-edge" program that lasts 16 weeks.

Set your sights high and your goals far in the future. Have a plan and only make small adjustments as needed. Master your plan and your technique. Learn to focus on enjoying the journey in pursuit of those goals and sooner or later you will achieve them.