Updated: Jan 17, 2021
"I can't lift heavy anymore." "I can't squat it hurts my knees." "Benching hurts my elbows so I just lay on the couch and eat chips now."
Training heavy and hard can be tough on our bodies. A lifetime of any athletic pursuit can definitely leave its scars, bumps, and bruises. This is expected and sometimes worn as a badge of honor, but I think things can be done better.
If you want to train for life, be strong for life, and still be a physical specimen into your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond then you need to pay attention to the little things more and more as your training age increases.
Abide by these five pillars of training & enjoy a lifetime of gains.
Do an Efficient and Effective Warm-Up
A thorough and complete warm-up a non-negotiable. I'm not talking about foam rolling and doing endless corrective exercises for half an hour before you even touch a weight or break a sweat. I'm talking about a comprehensive warmup that gets you sweating, out of breath, and prepared to train hard. All in all, this should only take 7-15 minutes. As we get older or are training around an injury the warmup may take a bit longer. Whatever it takes to get you feeling good to train hard.
Generally speaking, the warmups should move from general to specific. Start by getting the body warm and loose (cardio, mobility, SMR) then get the midline fired up, prime the CNS with a movement specific explosive exercise (sprint, jump, throw), then get a pump in working muscles with specific exercises tailored to the training task.
Read my Master Upper Body Warmup Template and Master Lower Body Warmup Template to get more detail on how to effectively program warmups specific to your training.
Focus on Technique Before Weight
Master the movement first, chase the load later. A focus on proper technique with every exercise you do before ever worrying about the weight you're using will help to reduce the risk of unnecessary orthopedic stress that comes with shotty technique and inappropriate loading. Make every single rep look the same, feel the working muscles, and work to control every point of the exercise from eccentric, through transition, to concentric. Once you have this down, start loading up the weight in a progressive manner.
Use a Full Range of Motion
One of the biggest complaints I get from clients and patients is that they "feel tight" and "immobile." They stretch and stretch but "nothing works." I watch them move around, squat, press, pull, and they are only going halfway down on pushups, can barely break parallel on an air squat, and can't put their arms overhead without extending at the lumbar spine. Yet, they tell me they "bench" 225 and "squat" 315.
This pillar goes hand in hand with great technique. Put an emphasis on a large, complete range of motion before adding tons of weight to the bar. Using a large range of motion when lifting weights is a way more effective and efficient way to improve mobility versus trying to just passively stretch tissues. Doing full depth goblet squats with a pause in the bottom will do way more for your depth on a back squat than calf and hip flex
Apply this to every exercise, go for bigger ROM week after week until you are at full ROM for an exercise. This will improve movement overall, increase the hypertrophic response, and make you more resilient to injury as you are now stronger in bigger ranges of motion.
Lifting weights through a big range of motion while striving for technical perfection IS corrective exercise.
Don't Be Married to Specific Exercises
"There is no such thing as a bad exercise, just bad programming, and bad execution." You've heard 100 trainers say this 100 times. 9 times out of 10 when interviewing a new patient or client that hurt themself lifting the culprit is usually a barbell squat, barbell deadlift, barbell bench, or an olympic lift (snatch, clean, jerk). I have never had someone tell me they hurt themselves doing a meadows row, a rear foot elevated split squat, or a weighted pushup. (Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it happens).
The barbell lifts are highly complex exercises that require a huge amount of technical proficiency and mobility. Most lifters do not take the time to develop either of these things. That coupled with fragile egos that want to put up big weights on these lifts is a recipe for trouble.
If you compete in powerlifting, olympic lifting, or CrossFit then you better be spending the time to develop the technical proficiency and mobility to perform these lifts at heavy loads. If you just like to do them, that's fine too but you also be spending the time to develop the technical proficiency and mobility to perform these lifts.
You can develop great legs without barbell back squats, you can develop great pecs without a barbell bench press, and you can train to be explosive without olympic lifts.
Choose exercises that you can perform with great technique, exercises that feel good for your body, and exercises that move you towards your goals without unnecessary orthopedic stress.
Leave Your Ego At the Door
Everyone is guilty of letting their ego run free, I am no exception. I can remember 3 specific significant injuries I suffered as a young lifter that could have been entirely avoided if I stuck to my training plan and wasn't trying to impress people that I barely knew and frankly didn't care, know, or see what I was lifting.
A progressive strength program that focuses on the foundations getting strong in moderate rep ranges may not be the sexiest thing to watch someone do.
A progressive strength program that focuses on the foundations and getting strong in moderate reps WILL produce sustainable results that will lead to a lifetime of gains.
And also, no one cares how much you lift.
Do you feel constantly banged up and tight after your lifts? Do your workouts make more injuries than gains? Are you constantly dealing with set backs from lifting weights? Do you want personalized programming to help you enjoy a lifetime of gains?
Thank you for reading.