the joy of strength training


October 23rd, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Paralysis by analysis

Ever noticed how everyone seems to be obsessed with form these days? I blame books like Starting Strength – great book of course, but now suddenly everyone’s an expert! It’s one thing to know the theory; it’s another thing to apply it to an individual. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t need strength coaches or personal trainers, would we?

DeadliftThe other issue with form – if you are an ordinary trainee and not competing in the Olympics – is that too much focus on it can actually prevent you from progressing. You get paralysis by analysis!

Like driving a car, it’s got to become mostly automatic and that takes time.

While that process is happening, unless you have a good coach who is cue-ing you throughout the lift, there are going to be things that you simply forget about in the effort to make the lift.

If you train on your own, as many of us do, you have to do that cue-ing job yourself as well as the actual lift. Not easy.

Fixing your form 

It is good to fix form issues over time, and sometimes it takes a few weeks for changes in one’s form to bed in. However, in the meantime, one should not stop training. You also do not need necessarily to deload, I believe, unless you are actually putting yourself in danger of injury. I have in the past sacrificed progress in order to sort out form issues and I somewhat regretted it.

Apart from fixing that which is dangerous, just get on with it. If you are lifting light, sometimes the benefit of a particular change in form or technique won’t be felt because the lift is too easy. If you continue to train heavy, any change you adopt that makes your lift even the tiniest bit easier is going to feel like a huge improvement and will probably embed itself in your technique more effectively as a result.

You can work on technique and form issues during your warm up. When doing your work sets, focus on one aspect at a time rather than several in one session. You will be more likely to remember to do it during the lift and you will be able to distinguish any benefit (or disbenefit) easily because you only changed one thing.

Critiquing others

Take advice from others by all means and give it too, where appropriate. But remember that it is way, way, WAY easier to regurgitate something you read in a book than to actually understand what is going on in another person’s lift – especially if you are communicating with them on the internet. Be mindful of the fact that you don’t know what got them to that point, you don’t know what they respond to best from a psychological standpoint, in fact, you probably don’t know them at all!

Front squatMost of the time I take criticism in my stride, but every so often I get annoyed and then I let rip! I work bloody hard on my lifts and I will freely admit that they are not perfect.

But are you telling me x, y or z because you genuinely think it will help me lift more weight, or are you just trying to show that you memorized p83 of the latest Rippetoe book better than me?

We all need some positive reinforcement from time to time, especially those of us who train on our own. It can be a lonely business.

I know that a lot of people who read this are pretty knowledgeable about lifting so I would say, take a moment to think before you post criticism of someone’s lift and remember that they might be struggling and needing a little love too.

A model for giving criticism was once described to me as being like a hamburger: you sandwich the criticism between two compliments. Say something nice, then deliver your critique, then say something nice again. The person will still take on board your critique, but be left feeling good about the things they did well.

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  • 1

    Hi Gubi!
    When I read the article first time it made me so happy, I was ready to throw 50 burpees (without the push ups!)
    As I was considering it, I could not pin down what I liked most about it. Ther were several points with which I agreed, but I was trying to find out what was the covered idea behind all. Eventually I discovered it! In my mind it ties up the “correct” form with the critical comments.

    It goes along the lines, who and how really knows the “correct” form in order to be able to be critical about someone else? Is this one an “expert”? BUT THE EXPERTS HAVE BETRAYED US!

    I will only mention two gross examples (many more painful come to my mind).

    One “expert” trainer (with degrees, titles, positions in strength training football and soccer teams) argues that the only way to train is with explosive high momentum high velocity weightlifting exercises. The other one with the same credentials supports the idea that the steady velocity powerlifting exercises are the only correct training.

    Diet. We all know the high carbo loading theory (the pasta dinners before marathons). Another school of thought (with Medical Doctors, degrees and all) tell us that a high protein diet is the way to go! Another one (with scientific research behind it) explainsthat the best diet is a very specific proportion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
    And another one is totally vegetarian!

    This is by the way the answer to a reader who was asking “if you are a PT or if you have a degree in kinesiology to make suggestions and give advice”.

    Everyone is responsible for the actons one undertakes. S/he will be the ONLY ONE to pay the consequences. So let’s expose our beliefs (that’s what really is) and our arguments and let anybody make his/her own choice.

    That is why I really like your site. You walk your talk,
    you have some clearcut and honest oppinions, and some excellent videos to show the way to good exercise execution.

    Keep blasting, be healthy!

    Demetre on October 26th, 2008
  • 2

    Completely on a side note, I just watched Run Fat Boy Run, and thought you might get a kick out of it, if you hadn’t seen it first. Sort of gave me the dorky inspiration to break out of this funk.

    jason on October 26th, 2008
  • 3

    @ Demetre: thanks for your comments; you are absolutely right about taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. It’s a trainee’s responsibility to try to learn as much as they need in order to train effectively, and also to sort the good advice from the bad. It’s the same with criticism – you can choose what criticism you take on board and act upon; and you don’t have to act upon every bit of critique if you don’t want to.

    @ Jason: Weird, I watched that film again only the other day! I like it, it’s got some very funny moments.

    gubernatrix on October 26th, 2008
  • 4

    hey i think ur spot on ….i get fed up and irritated sometimes..i mean the whole point of getting into strength training is to adapt our bodies to load and function efficiently this form that form damn it sometimes gets in the way …i know form is important but it cant be specifically described in words has to be experienced first hand through the lift through the breadth and if i feel good and smooth about the lift then only i think about refinements to it.

    sidharth on December 20th, 2008
  • 5

    Completely agree, Sid. It’s very easy to overthink things but sometimes you just have to ‘feel’ what’s right.

    gubernatrix on December 20th, 2008
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