Friday, June 14, 2013

What's the Problem?

By Andrew McGunagle

As a passionate and knowledgeable lifter, I’ve reached a point in my development where my training issues are rarely due to a lack of knowledge. Nowadays, the mistakes I make and the problems I run into are usually due to an absence of awareness or faulty perception. I’ve acquired all of the information I need to get bigger and stronger and achieve my fitness goals, but there are still times when I struggle to exploit my understanding and make progress in the gym.

I’m slowly learning that a vast knowledge must be intelligently organized in order to be applied effectively in the real world. I need to pare down my insights and create principles, I must design systems that guide the training process, and I have to disregard the fluff in favor of what is truly important.

At the same time, as an aspiring strength and conditioning coach, I don’t want to sell myself - and my clients - short by engaging in excessive minimalism. I believe some lifting authorities wrongly tout overly-simple approaches to trainees who do not possess the experience that allows these coaches to succeed with a handful of straightforward tenets.

Focusing on a few key points enables these experts to get results, but they fail to recognize how much psychological processing is occurring behind their eyes. Young lifters who lack this finely-tuned gym intuition often fail when they try to copy the plain approaches that are preached. While simplification is vital, the details can still make or break a training program, so it is necessary to seek the optimal balance between over-complication and the lower limits of information and instruction.

In an effort to find this balance point, I have been developing a number of documents that will enable me to manage the training process more effectively. I’m working towards summarizing the knowledge I have acquired and the lessons I have learned in a manner that will ensure I do not continue to make crucial errors when I train myself and my clients. Many of these outlines are in the rough early stages of formulation, but they are workable, and I’m beginning to see how they can positively affect my training.

As I work on these projects, I plan to share many of them here on my blog. Individually, they might not look like much initially. However, as they come together, I'm sure they will combine to create a very potent strength training resource.

The first piece, which I put together recently, is a series of questions designed to help lifters identify where they are going wrong in the training process. Admittedly, many of these questions pertain to my personal lifting faults. In each category the inquiries are based on mistakes I have noticed negatively affected the training process in the past, and the questionnaire is meant to quickly bring awareness to issues so they can be rectified. I'm sure I will add more questions to this document as I make more errors, and other lifters will benefit from personalizing this list with their own insights.

If you are not progressing towards your goals, then you must figure out where you are going wrong. Unless you are very close to your "genetic potential" - and very few trainees are - then your training should be bringing improvements. Sure, some people don't respond as quickly and impressively to training as others, but it is highly unlikely that you are a genetic anomaly that cannot get bigger and stronger. Fix your training and keep moving forward! Start here:

Big Picture:
Do you have specific goals?
Are you actually making progress towards your goals?
Are you problem solving, planning, and executing new strategies when you become aware of issues? 

Too infrequent?
Not enough time spent?
Avoiding major issues / discomfort?
Not enough acute effort?
Ignoring joint pain / excessive stiffness / missing normal ranges of motion?
Not spending enough time in desired positions (deep squat, arms overhead)?

Consistently under-eating?
Not enough protein?
Too few post-workout carbs?
Not eating enough beforehand to fuel tough sessions?
Failing to eat until full (when attempting to gain weight)?

Not enough effort / focus?
Bad attitude?
Over-thinking the lifts?
Not focusing on and sincerely performing basic lifting cues?
Writing off lifts too early in warm-up process?
Lacking motivation and failing to work towards reclaiming it?
Not being realistic / failing to scale back training when necessary?
Missing sessions too frequently?

No concrete training plan?
Not enough work?
Misguided effort / failing to accurately identify and address weaknesses (relative to goals)?
Not actively / systematically progressing?
Failing to track training (not actively examining present numbers to guide future training)?
Not periodically systematically testing strength levels?

Poor bedtime habits?
Poor morning habits?
Not taking steps to actively manage stress?
Not periodically binging on good food to aid recovery during intense training?
Not enough time spent outdoors?

Too much sitting / poor posture / bad positioning / inactivity?
Not enough time spent doing quality reading?
Not enough quality socializing (family, close friends, new acquaintances)?
Too much ruminating?
Too much wasted time (Internet, television)?
Personal / professional stagnation?

Thanks for reading! 


  1. This is a really good questionnaire. I feel like it covers some very common areas that us lifters tend to neglect without actually realizing it. Awesome insights!

    1. Thanks, Steven, I appreciate the feedback! Be sure to check out EliteFTS for a new article I have coming out tomorrow, it should be pretty awesome.

  2. Awesome post. These questions all make sense to me, yet reading them all together make me realize that undertanding each one of them alone wasn't enough…