Monday, August 3, 2015

A Few Good Books

By Andrew McGunagle

I've read some awesome books this summer, and two have really stood out. Those books are The Power of Now and Flow. PoN is a bit more spiritual, while Flow is more scientific. I was amazed at how well the two books complemented one another, so I polished the following combined summary while I enjoyed them. I figured other people might find this synopsis useful for lifting and life, so I've decided to share it...

We've been socialized and manipulated to desire rewards others have agreed we should long for. Thousands of potentially fulfilling experiences pass by unnoticed because they are not the things we've been taught to desire. As long as we obey the socially conditioned stimulus-response patterns that exploit our biological and socially constructed inclinations, our inner world is controlled from the outside. In order to circumvent these forces, our primary intention must be the mastery of consciousness
This mastery, which enables you to break free from negative thought, can be achieved by constantly observing the Now. Your past is not your identity, and the passing moment can only be made painful through your reflective judgements. Your future and your fears are projections. Notice how many of your thoughts are trying to pull you away from this moment, barring you from being adaptable and experiencing continuous flow. Witness how often your mind and your ego try to fabricate threats and resist what is. Bring order to your inner world - accept and surrender to the timeless and neutral present and focus your attention externally to right here right now.
The world is a playground. Designate times to do some planning, consistently define new and appropriately challenging goals that will lead to a higher level of personal complexity, then engage in a conscious interaction with the world. Invest in appreciating, exploring, or creating in each moment as it dissolves. Recognize when you are unconsciously investing in worrying, wishing, or waiting. Realize you can only and always find authenticity, joy, peace, and fulfillment right now by concentrating your attention on the Now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Perfect Deadlift Descents and Intervals for High Reps and a Big Back

By Andrew McGunagle

If you want a back that’s big and strong, then heavy deadlifting for multiple reps is undoubtedly the way to go. Sadly, the technique most people employ when they pull big for more than a few reps quickly causes the risks to outweigh the brawny rewards. However, this issue can be rectified with a few simple fixes.

A strict, controlled, and properly sequenced eccentric and an efficient interval between reps can make all the difference when you plan on deadlifting for more than one rep. The perfect eccentric begins with excellent bracing in the top position. The body should momentarily remain stacked in one perfect straight line, and the glutes should be pinched, the torso should be solid, the hands should be clenched, the shoulders locked back, and the chin “packed” into a double-chin position. 

From this tense position, you need to perform a strict hip hinge without losing the tension you created at the top of the lift. Initiate this movement by releasing the pinch of the glutes and pushing your hips way back towards the wall behind you to create a deep thigh angle. At the same time, be sure to get your shoulders out over the top of the bar and slide the bar down the legs in close contact with the thighs, which will properly engage the muscles of the back. 

During this “first phase” of the descent, you must keep your shins absolutely vertical. Dropping the knees forward from the top of the lift will slack the hamstrings, which decreases the amount of stretch and tension in your posterior chain. Think of your hamstrings like bowstrings - the more stretch and tension you get, the more “pop” and power you’ll get going into the next rep.

Once the bar passes the knees, you may drop the knees slightly forward. I designate this the “second phase” of the descent. The trick here is to drop the knees just enough to get the bar to the floor, and not so much that you drop the knees, hips, and the entire torso into a squat-like position that is too low and too upright. As you perform this slight drop and slide the bar back down to the start position on the floor, be sure to keep the bar in close contact with your shins - again, this keeps the lats “connected” and engaged. It’s useful to imagine that you’re trying to “shave your legs” with the barbell.

Both phases of the descent should be controlled. You don’t want to move so slowly that you burn up energy and cause undue fatigue, but you do want to move at a speed that allows you to maintain your positioning and your tension. I typically tell my lifters to lower with a “one-two-three” count descent, which seems to be the proper tempo for this objective. 

It’s common to see lifters release their tension, relax their spinal positioning, and drop the bar quickly during the eccentric portion of their deadlifts. It’s also common to see the same lifters’ technique break down completely when they pull for multiple reps.This is because it becomes increasingly difficult to create tension as you fatigue - it’s better to “hold on” to the tension you initially created and also use the tension the barbell facilitates as you stretch the muscles out and load them up.

When the bar is back on the floor, the intervals between reps need to be tense and quick. Don’t allow the bar or your body to “slack” and relax - not even for a moment. Cycle through a speedy new “power breath” by quickly exhaling then quickly inhaling like you’re blowing out then sucking in through a straw. This enables you to re-pressurize the abdomen without deflating your torso completely. As soon as you’ve topped off your air, simultaneously drive your feet through the floor and pull on the bar like you’re “ripping the head off a lion” to powerfully initiate the next rep.   

This is certainly a lot of info for just about one half of one rep. If you’re having trouble visualizing the quintessential deadlift descent, refer to the following video of my beastly little brother:

Hope this helps - thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Extrapolation-Based Programming

By Andrew McGunagle

When working towards improved strength, it’s very easy to get caught up striving towards one big, lofty, one-repetition maximum number. If you’re not careful, the major milestones you shoot for - 185, 225, 315, 405, 500, and so on - can cause you to make poor programming decisions.

If the gap between your current abilities and your goal is too large, you might have a tough time making a plan that is efficient. Often, people in this situation write out non-specific and indirect programs, they hope for some sort of progress, and they end up floating around in mid-milestone purgatory for years.

Similarly, impatience can cause individuals to create plans that are unrealistic. After achieving a goal that took many months - years, perhaps - to achieve, they get over-ambitious and put together a 12-week plan to, say, take their deadlift from 405 to 500. After a few weeks of extreme workloads, they often lose the precious momentum they built when they busted past their last plateau. Frustration starts to mount, and stagnation usually occurs.

If your only measure of progress is the next big number, then it can be difficult to know if you’re headed in the right direction if you aren’t regularly testing your max. Unfortunately, constantly testing your max isn’t always the best way to build that lift. Therefore, it is important to create a multitude of high-carryover mini-goals that will provide you with the conviction you’re on course and moving forward while you do the higher-volume work that will actually spur progress. The kicker is that these mini-goals must accurately indicate that you are, in fact, on course and moving forward. If they don’t correlate with your main goal, then you’re wasting your time working toward them.

The value of mini-goals is best measured by their specificity to the main lift and the weakest points in that lift. If your main milestone goal is a heavier 1RM in a certain lift, then improving your 2RM, 3RM, 4RM, and 5RM for that lift will be the best indicators of progress for that max. If you’re going to able deadlift 500 pounds, then you should be able to deadlift 455 pounds for a certain number of reps and a certain difficulty (RPE). Think beyond rep maxes into various rep-RPE combinations, and you’ve got lots of mini-goals to shoot for.  

This contention shouldn’t be revelatory for many of you, but I would like to offer that having a broad swath of concrete numbers to work towards and ensuring that these numbers remain in balance is a unique and valuable way to approach your training plan. In order to easily generate concrete numbers to work towards, I offer the table you’ll find in the excel document linked below.

Use the table to brainstorm options to creatively program in ways that ensure each rep-RPE value in the 1 to 5 rep range improves and no combination lags behind. Insert a few future 1RMs into the 1RM cell and look at the multitude of PRs you can work towards. Quit obsessing about just one ultimate number – extrapolate and suddenly you’ll have plenty of momentum-building mini-goals that actually relate to the one big, glorious lift you envision.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Leave Your Comfort Zone

By Andrew McGunagle

At the beginning of this month I quit my job as a personal trainer at a commercial gym. After a few weeks of prep back at home, I packed up my car and set off on a solo road trip around the United States. Today was my first day on the road and, honestly, it’s been a long day. It’s been a great day, but long nonetheless.

While my departure on a solo road trip might lead you to believe I’m adventurous, honestly, I’m really not. I’m not consumed by wanderlust, and my life doesn’t look like a commercial for cheap beer. In reality, I’ve long been a bit of a homebody. Most weekends of my life I’ve stayed in rather than going out to explore and meet new people.

Despite my timid tendencies, I made a commitment to embarking on a journey that would force me to expand. I’m off to see new places, meet new people, do new things and, above all, escape the cycle of the same old comfort and familiarity. If this exhausting first day of travel is any indication, it’s not going to be an easy transition. Nevertheless, I’m confident the novelty of my travels will move me closer to becoming the best version of myself I envision.

Astro van showdown in San Simeon...I lost.
Now, this isn’t an article about quitting your job to roam the earth. Regardless of whether or not you identify with my self-improvement trek, I want you to consider your fitness comfort zone. I know my propensity to resist the unfamiliar extended into the gym, and helping a number of people towards their fitness goals has taught me I’m not an outlier.

All too often many of us get caught in a routine of exercises we’re comfortable with and a training plan we’ve gradually molded to match our preferences. It’s certainly important to enjoy your training and feel adept during your lifting sessions, but I reckon many of us take this too far. If your progress has slowed, then take a step back from your plan and think about it – when is the last time you did something different?

I’m not really an advocate of employing endless permutations of basic exercises, but there are plenty of other variables to manipulate. Rep ranges, RPEs, tempos, rest periods, periodization schemes – the list goes on and the options are countless. Those things you tried and had trouble with as a beginner and swore off forever? Maybe it’s time to revisit them now that you’ve got more experience. Or, simply start to do a few things you’ve never done.

While we can certainly become creatures of habit in the gym, this phenomenon is far more frequent when it comes to eating. We tend to eat the same foods, make the same recipes, adhere to the same meal frequencies, serve the same portion sizes, and generally do about the same things for years and years regardless of the effects our habits have on our physiques.

Awareness can break this cycle, but sometimes becoming mindful isn’t enough to prompt change. This is why working with an experienced coach can be so valuable. Beyond providing expertise and increased accountability, a coach often supplies the extra push to confidently pursue untested options.

Coaching can cause avenues you never considered to suddenly open, and you can quickly be set back on the path towards progress. Your new path may not entail a cross-country road trip, but it will be new, exciting, and rewarding. Send me a postcard from the land of strength and health.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Generally Powerful Person - Ideas for GPP Training

By Andrew McGunagle

Things seem go wrong when we get too far away from being good humans. Issues often arise when we narrow our focus and overspecialize too early, neglect broad swaths of movement and physical development for too long, and get too serious too soon about doing just a few things well at the expense of everything else.

I’m all for efficiency in the gym and I tend towards a minimalistic approach when it comes to training. However, I’ll admit I’ve valued those ideals too highly in the past, and I’m certainly not the only one. On the sliding scale of Too Little to Too Much, I’m headed back towards the middle, and I’d recommend many of you consider following suit.

I’ve done entire training cycles where I only train a few lifts. While these programs did yield excellent increases in strength in specific lifts, my body felt terrible. I felt stiff and fragile, and my pre-training warm-ups seemed to last an eternity.
I spent more time doing drills to improve my mobility than anyone I’d ever encountered, but I still moved terribly because I rarely and barely explored my movement capacity. My limited mobility reinforced my decision to train only a handful of movements I felt I could do well, which only served to magnify my problems.
If you’re far from your physical potential, then be weary of reinforcing “gaps” in your movement capacity, movement skills, muscular development, and strength performance. The lifter who can move the best, has a good build, and isn’t disconcertingly weak in any basic human movements will have the most potential for improvement.
The problem, however, is often logistical. If it’s beneficial to be pretty good at a number of things, which things should you do if you’re time crunched? The general development toolbox is teeming with options, but doing everything isn’t realistic. Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

Over the past few years I’ve been working on whittling my training arsenal down to what I believe are the most accessible and most effective exercises for general development. This repertoire of movements will cover most all of the bases if your aim general development. Note that the categories proposed are not exclusive – many of these movements can fit into a number of categories, depending on how you incorporate them.

General Warm-up
-Roll the quads and upper back
-Adductor rocking & neck nods
-Segmental rolling (lower, upper)

General Movement Skills
-Turkish get-up (bodyweight, then weighted)
-KB goblet squat (“prying” holds and reps)

General Strength 
-Hardstyle KB swing 
-KB standing 1-arm overhead press/Push-up
-KB 1-arm row/Chin-up/Pull-up

General Conditioning / Work Capacity
-Suitcase carry/Waiters walk
-Crawls (forwards, backwards, sideways, axial)
-Play (frisbee, pool games, tag, etc.)

General Movement Capacity
-Couch stretch
-Banded lat stretch
-Shoulder extension bridge stretch
-KB arm bar

General Lifestyle Habits
-Commit to one book and read a bit before bed each night.
-Commit to just one simple nutrition habit (writing down a grocery list, drinking more water, etc.).
-Commit to scheduling at least one fun get-together with friends every week where you laugh a lot.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it’s sufficient and doable. Grab a few kettlebells and a friend, train outside in the sun, and dedicate a little time to getting better at all of these movements. Focus on your weak links and strive to fill in your “gaps” rather than doing extra work building your strengths. You’ll be surprised by how much easier your more specific training will be when you transition back to a more specialized program.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Overhead Work for Powerlifters – Is it Necessary?

By Andrew McGunagle

How important is overhead work if you’re a powerlifter? You’ll never need to hoist weights over your head in competition, so is it useful to dedicate lots of training time to overhead pressing variations? Here’s my take on the topic…

Durability, sustainability, resilience – these terms should frame more strength training discussions. If you’ve got big lifting goals you’re far from, then you must understand your pursuit is going to take years. Not weeks, not months, but years.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – impressive lasting specific adaptations rely on the bedrock of general development. Appreciable movement capacity, diverse movement skills, and impressive muscular development will make it much easier to get strong. Specialize too significantly too soon, and you’ll make it difficult to realize your true potential.

If you’re skinny and weak by competitive powerlifting standards, then should you really be paring your sessions down to the three competition lifts and a handful of fairly specific assistance exercises? Is it wise to lose the capacity to put your arms overhead without compensation if you’re not competing at an elite level?

Answer those questions as if you’re a coach, then compare your answers to what you actually do as a lifter. If the two don’t line up, it may be time to make adjustments to your training.

Keep in mind that, if you’re a powerlifter, you don’t necessarily need to press a barbell overhead to get the benefits of overhead work. Press dumbbells or kettlebells. Do one arm at a time.

Are these variations as good as the standard barbell overhead press? It’s easy to argue the barbell is king, but you can still get the same shoulder, triceps, and upper back development from other variations. If unilateral variations are friendlier to your bench-weary shoulders, there’s your answer right there.

Get stronger overhead in the 5-12 rep range and pair this with a smart nutrition plan that enables you to put on size, and your bigger shoulders should translate to a bigger bench. Overhead work will eventually stall and reach a point of diminishing returns. That’s fine. As long as you’ve filled in this “gap” in your strength and physique, you’ll be a better lifter than you would’ve been if you had just benched.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Expand! The Adventure of a Lifetime

By Andrew McGunagle

When the lease for my ungodly expensive room in Palo Alto finishes at the end of March, I'll be quitting my personal training job and embarking on a solo road trip across America at the end of April. I may spend as long as a year traveling. Why? Well, when I was considering my goals for 2015, I could think of only one word:


I've spent most of my life nestled in my comfort zone. Sure, most of us do to a certain extent, but I'm particularly prone to routinely avoiding risk. I'm the guy who once spent a few hours looking over the edge of a twenty foot jump into a lake while prepubescent children giggled as they jumped off the cliff multiple times. The first time I ever met a girl for a coffee date, I nearly burned a layer of skin off my tongue nervously sipping my drink as I waited for her to show up. What's more telling is that this was the first real date I ever went on, and it was my senior year of college.

While I've since jumped off that same cliff multiple times and gone on many more dates, I still feel like I'm stuck in a bubble of limiting behaviors and beliefs. I've read many self-help books over the years, but I've come to find that true self-improvement isn't enacted by words on a page. Instead, in my opinion, change stems from three things:

1) Acquire new experiences, connections, skills, and knowledge.

2) Work on your habits (one at a time).

3) Don’t sit in your room ruminating (Or, in the words of Dan John, "show up.")

So, in an effort to take my own advice and move past my perceived boundaries, I plan on exploring America, visiting successful gyms, meeting and learning from great coaches, and being open to the opportunities that arise on the road. Are the answers out there? Who knows. In the words of Social Distortion, "wherever I have gone, I was sure to find myself there." However, the novelty and challenges of the trip will surely spur growth, and that's my goal.

Join me on my journey by checking out the articles I post along the way both here and on Instagram. Also, I will be supporting myself by doing online coaching along the way. So, if you're interested in my services, shoot me an email:

Simple Strength for Busy People

By Andrew McGunagle

Most of the people I train want to get bigger, stronger, and leaner, but they don’t have much time. At most, they make it to the gym for a few workouts each week, and they don’t have hours to spare doing endless sets of a variety of exercises. However, like nearly everyone else in the gym, my clients want results, and they want them fast.

When I first began training busy professionals, I quickly realized standard strength training progressions don’t always fit the bill. Life can get in the way and what initially looked pretty on paper can quickly turn into meaningless numbers and frustrating sessions. Additionally, attempting to force progress while these stressed trainees are only a few steps down the road toward technical mastery of the basic lifts guarantees I won’t be their strength Sherpa for long.

I needed to make lifting heavy barbells easy, flexible, and fun, so I began to employ simple auto-regulation strategies that don’t demand any knowledge of RPEs. Rather than using a plethora of intensiveness ratings that would take time for my clients to grasp and intensity percentages that wouldn’t account for fluctuations in their strength and readiness, I began to make ample use of “top” sets, “AMRAP” sets, and “back-off” sets.

“Top” sets entail working up to the most weight you can lift for the designated number of reps. At times, I’ll tell my clients I want them to work up to a conservative top set, which means they’ll be leaving a few pounds on the table and a bit of energy in the tank. These top sets allow us to establish a variety of rep PRs, which helps me gauge progress and helps them stay engaged and excited about their training as these numbers creep up.

“AMRAP” sets involve doing As Many Reps As Possible with a particular weight. In my system, that weight will often be slightly below a top set done in one of the preceding weeks, which allows us to build a base of volume underneath a weight that was limiting. AMRAP sets can certainly be challenging, but they can often pay off with new rep PRs, giving me more measures of progress and my clients a greater sense of accomplishment and momentum.
“Back-off” sets require you to decrease the weight by a particular percentage after your top set or AMRAP set. These sets are meant to increase the volume of the session, which furthers neural adaptations and promotes hypertrophy processes. I’ll often drop a rep off of what we did for the top set for the back-off sets, which limits fatigue and allows us to get more high-quality volume in overall.   

The beauty of all these tools is they allow for fluctuations in my clients’ state – we still get good work done on low-energy days, and we can really push it on days they feel invincible. This strategy enables my clients to rack up a number of personal victories throughout the training process, which keeps motivation and enjoyment high and often makes it easier to stick with nutrition habits we’re focusing on.

The following training cycle is an example of how I often arrange all of these strategies. You can run this cycle for 3 lifts during 3 main sessions each week, 2 lifts during 2 main sessions per week, 1 lift during 2 main sessions per week, or 1 lift during 1 main session each week. It’s easy, flexible, and fun, and the results of my clients make me confident you’ll see the fruits of your labors in the final few sessions.
The Simple Strength for Busy People Training Cycle:
  • Session 1: Work up to a somewhat conservative top set of 3 reps, then back off 10% and do 5 sets of 2 reps 
  • Session 2: Do AMRAP with -10% Session 1’s top set of 3, then back off 5% and do 5 sets of 3 reps. 
  • Session 3: Work up to a top set of 5 reps, back off 10% and do 2 sets of 4 reps. 
  • Session 4: Do AMRAP with -5% Session 3’s top set of 5, then back off 5% and do 2 sets of 5 reps. 
  • Session 5: Work up to a somewhat conservative top set of 2 reps, back off 10% and do 6 sets of 1 rep. 
  • Session 6: Do AMRAP with -10% Session 5’s top set of 2, then back off 5% and do 6 sets of 2 reps. 
  • Session 7: Work up to a top set of 4 reps, back off 10% and do 2 sets of 3 reps. 
  • Session 8: Do AMRAP with -5% Session 7’s top set of 4, then back off 5% and do 2 sets of 4 reps. 
  • Session 9: Work up to an all-out top set of 1 rep, hit a PR, and then celebrate.
  • Session 10: Focus on movement and recovery.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stiff-Leg Deadlifts: A Useful Variation

By Andrew McGunagle
An exercise I'm a big fan of that doesn't get much love, and is often butchered when it is implemented, is the stiff-leg deadlift. There are a few ways to do the stiff-leg deadlift, but the variation I employ most often is the stiff-leg deadlift from the floor with the bar in contact with the shins.
The name of this exercise can be a bit of a misnomer, as many people believe the knees must remain locked throughout the movement. However, locking the knees changes it to a completely different exercise - the straight-leg deadlift. The stiff-leg deadlift is done with a vertical shin position, a deep angle of the thighs, and the torso parallel to the floor. Here’s an example:

I really like this lift for a few reasons. First, it’s an excellent exercise for the posterior chain, which is a fancy term for all of the big muscles running along the backside of your body. Also, I’ve found it to be a great complement to the deadlift for lifters in the late-beginner stages, as it gives them a new appreciation for being able to use their quads to drive weights off of the floor when we cycle back to conventional deadlifts. Lastly, it’s a challenge to assume and maintain the strict shins vertical and neutral spine start position, and I believe getting my clients to the point where they have the movement capacity and movement skills to safely execute this exercise is a worthwhile pursuit.
If you want to add the stiff-leg deadlift to your training, begin by pairing RDLs with targeted mobilizations for the posterior chain and gradually work your way towards the floor. Once you’ve got enough range to safely perform the exercise, be sure to set up for the lift with your shins in close contact with the bar, perform a strict deep hip hinge to get into the start position, lock your shoulders and push your knees out, then initiate the lift by sliding the bar up your shins, pop your hips forcefully once you pass your knees, and be strict and controlled as you hinge deep and get your shoulders over the bar on the descent.
Hope this is helpful - enjoy the glute gains!
Thanks for reading!

Better Squatting with Adductor Rocking

By Andrew McGunagle
I live and train people in Palo Alto, California, and most all of my clients are busy desk-bound professionals working in tech or business. This sedentary and often stressful lifestyle leads to brutal restrictions in the hips and shoulders, and I’ve got to get my people moving better quickly so we have enough time to train hard and get results.
Over the past 6 months, I’ve become a believer in the Original Strength school of thought, which stresses the importance and use of “primitive patterns” such as rolling, rocking, and crawling to improve movement capacity. While doing things in the gym that babies do seems silly, the results I’ve witnessed have been undeniable.
One of the variations of rocking I’ve been using with my clients quite frequently is the split stance adductor mobilization. This drill has been around for a while, but a few tweaks have made this drill more effective and more valuable in my eyes. Here’s an example:
A few points of emphasis to maximize the effect of this mobilization (some of which are not perfectly demonstrated in the video):
  • Keep the outside foot flat and the toes pointed straight ahead.
  • Keep your outside leg locked in one straight line.
  • Maintain a flat/neutral spine position, but do lift your head up and look straight ahead.
  • Keep your arms straight, your palms flat, and your fingers pointed straight ahead and spread wide.
  • Smoothly rock forward over your hands and back into your hips without allowing your back position to change (don’t tuck your tail).
  • Alternate between a flat foot position and a foot up position for the foot of the bent leg. When the foot is flat, make sure it's pointed straight back. The foot up position should get a bit of stretch in the toes.
  • Stay within the range of motion where you can maintain perfect position, and strive to improve that range over time.
Do a few rounds of 6+ reps each side during your warm-up or as you’re working your way up on your main lifts, and you’ll definitely notice a decrease in the tension of the adductor complex (the inside of your leg), which often translates to better movement capacity and movement quality in your big lower body lifts. Hope this helps!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Top Ten Considerations in Strength Training - Part 3: Physical Considerations

By Andrew McGunagle

[Originally published on Shredded By Science]

In the first two installments of this series I covered a few of the key technical and mental considerations of the strength training process. If you missed those two parts, please go back and read them now. Proper technique and a particular frame of mind can take care of a slew of potential training issues before they arise, so it is in your best interest to give those matters their due. Having said that, building your strength and enhancing your physique obviously requires you to consider your body and how it responds to exercise. So, without further ado, let’s examine the final four points in this series - the physical considerations...

7) Specificity: Do the lifts! If you want to become stronger in the powerlifts, then you’ve got to squat, bench, and deadlift. If you want to become a better weightlifter, then you need to snatch and clean and jerk. If you want to be able to one-arm overhead press a big weight and do some heavy chin-ups, then do those lifts. These are the points that are made most often when it comes to specificity in strength training, and for good reason. Putting together an intelligent progression for the lifts you want to build and doing those lifts consistently for a long time will - as long as a few other undeniable requisites are in place - enable you to achieve great results. However, there are a few other points about specificity I’d like to touch on.

If doing the lifts you want to build will best build those lifts, then what’s the value of all the other stuff in helping your towards your goals? Well, in many cases the answer is: not much - jumping rope probably won’t help you bench press more weight. Nevertheless, if you break down the lifts you focus on into a set of required qualities and pinpoint your weaknesses, then you can choose general exercises that specifically address those weaknesses. Pick exercises that target muscle groups that could benefit from being bigger, and select protocols that will enable you to maximize hypertrophy in those areas. Identify where you’re weakest within the range of motion of a particular exercise, and do assistance exercises that improve your ability to produce force at those joint angles.

8) Practice: In order to maximize the neural effects of your training, you’ve got to consistently train the same movement patterns. If your set-up isn’t systematized and the execution of your lifts varies wildly, then you’ll end up missing out on a large chunk of the potential benefits of improved coordination. Essentially, you won’t be as strong as you could have been if you had simply done more perfect reps rather than loads of sloppy ones.

Consistent technique regardless of the load, distractions, and fatigue takes time, study, thought, and practice. You need to understand each element of your set-up and each phase of your execution, and you must learn to problem-solve under a variety of conditions. When I was first learning how to lift, I was often frustrated by how much my performance would fluctuate for particular lifts. One week I’d feel rock-solid on the bench, and the next week I’d be a shaky mess lifting less weight for fewer reps. How could I adhere to the principles of progressive overload with these inconsistency issues? When I finally pruned away all of the extra movements from my set-up for each lift and standardized my positions, I found that increasing my strength became a much more straightforward process.

9) Hypertrophy: You must identify underdeveloped muscle groups and, in the alleged words of Dmitry Klokov, "f--- with" them. Volume, fatigue, and a calorie surplus enable you to build muscle, and building more muscle is the most important adaptation for long-term success in the iron game. Your current structure only has so much strength potential and, while the inter- and intra-muscular coordination benefits of specificity and practice will certainly build your lifts, filling out your frame will ultimately enable you to reach a higher peak.

If you have specific strength goals such as, say, bench pressing 150 kilos, then look at how big and how heavy the average individual with your height and structure that can bench that much is. If you’re skinny and lanky compared to those lifters, then it’s reasonable to assume you’ll need to build yourself up to their standard to achieve similar performances. Don’t point to the genetic anomalies that naturally possess amazing relative strength - pinpoint the average physique that has achieved the numbers you desire, and pick up your fork and get to work.  

10) General Development: While specificity reigns supreme for building up particular lifts, that progress can only be sustained with a solid foundation of general development.  Ironing out front to back and right to left asymmetries, taking care of lagging muscle groups, attending to neglected or missing ranges of motion with SMR, mobility, and movement, and improving general work capacity are oft-forgotten requisites that ward off potential issues.

I understand this contradicts some of the points I made about specificity, but I want you to keep in mind that general work needs to be tailored to your specific goals. You shouldn’t be training for a triathlon if all you want to do is lift heavier weights - you need to do things that are reasonable and will positively impact your ability to perform your main lifts safely and sustainably. Think about improving your ability to easily adopt and “own” the positions you need to achieve, and spend some time in positions you don’t train to ensure your body doesn’t start to lock up.

You can get away with a narrow approach for quite some time, but your musculoskeletal health will ultimately suffer if you do not posses the ability to complete a variety of physical challenges more or less successfully. Plus, this general training will break up the monotony of doing the same lifts over and over, and I’ve noticed it can also improve mood and motivation. If you’re stuck in a lifting rut, expand your movement repertoire at the beginning of your next training cycle, then gradually pare things down as you work towards a peak. This is what successful lifters have been doing for decades, and it would be wise to follow suit.

Thanks for reading!