It is easy to cling onto certain ideas and let our biases shape what we do. This is particularly true when it comes to training for strength. We can end up on a very narrow and focused path and if we just take a step back to look at the bigger picture we might notice that we add or exclude certain things which aren’t necessary or even helpful for our original goals.
I’ll share 5 of the things that I see people with the goal of getting stronger clinging on to which are not necessary and sometimes even detrimental.
The more you can dig down into the why of your goal - Why do you want to get stronger?
Why have you chosen these particular lifts to define your strength?
Then the easier it becomes to guide how you go about achieving that. Remember you are individual and you have your own motivations for doing what you do, you can set your own path and don’t have to get stuck to the ideas that others have had before you.
Keep reading to find out 5 of the things you thought where non-negotiable when it comes to get stronger but you might actually be better off without.
#1 - Avoiding cardio
We all know someone who clings onto the idea that they can’t do cardio because they will lose all their hard earned muscle, ending up as weak as a kitten.
Training for strength and training for CV fitness are competing outcomes physiologically but it is well-studied and proven that you can develop both systems very well concurrently. You only have to take a look at Rugby or even some Crossfit athletes who have managed to achieve this Holy Grail.
It is well documented that cardiovascular fitness has a whole host of health benefits. There are actually some good reasons why strength athletes should not neglect their CV system for example being able to recover faster between sets, between sessions and thus being able to tolerate a higher weekly training volume. These incremental improvements mean you can do more of the thing you love – strength training – reaching your goals at a faster rate.
If you are currently spending around 5 hours per week devoted solely to strength training but you have another hour to play with. Is the best use of that extra hour to add in another 60 minutes of strength training? What about doing two strategically placed 30 minute CV based sessions per week instead? Don’t you think that would make your healthier, better able to recover and a more rounded athlete rather than taking away from your current strength?
#2 - Adding weight to the bar
Training for strength can very quickly become a daunting idea if the only way you can get stronger is by adding weight to the bar every session. Other than in Powerlifting and the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, the weight on the bar is not a measure of how good you are. Even within these sports, there are other measures that athlete used to monitor and track progress other than the weight on the bar. While you do need to lift weights that are relatively heavy and which go up over time to get stronger, there are other ways we can train which can help. Going through periods of lighter training with the focus on strength endurance or hypertrophy can build a great foundation for future classical strength cycles while breaking the monotony of training, giving the joints a rest, allowing you to rejuvenate both physically and mentally. Similarly, training with a focus on tempo can help build useable strength through specific phases or portions of an exercise. A common example is using eccentric training where emphasis is placed on the lowering portion of the lift, this allows us to subject the muscles and connective tissue to greater levels of loading without having to load them with more weight. One way would be to lower the weight for a count of 6 seconds, pausing for a second before lifting it as fast as you can control.
#3 - Eating anything and everything
It is true that being in a calorie surplus makes getting stronger a whole lot easier but more is not always better. Past say a 500kcal surplus, more food is not necessary doing you any good for strength and is most likely worsening your overall health and well-being. If any sort of performance is your end goal then adding non-functional bodyweight is most likely going to be a hindrance. Power, relative strength or strength to bodyweight ratios are far more important than maximal strength outputs when it comes to most sporting or performance related outcomes. Even within the strength sports where weight on the bar is the outcome, they are divided into weight classes and overall scores calculated relative to bodyweight to work out the best lifter. Another consideration before using strength training as a disguise to stuff your face indefinitely is that the further you get into a specific phase, the more your body will tend towards balance and the rate of adaptation will slow. Using this rational, it makes sense to go through specific periods of calorie balance, restriction and surplus to manipulate this and re-sensitise your body to match up to your specific goals and training phases.
#4 - Squat or deadlift
Yeah that’s right, you don’t need to Back Squat or Deadlift from the ground to get stronger. Perhaps I’m playing devil’s advocate here but bear with me for the general point. Don’t get me wrong, I think if you can, the back squat is the biggest bang for your buck exercise wise that you can get for developing lower and overall body strength but context is key. In powerlifting, you are scored on the most weight you can lift for one rep for the back squat and couple other lifts. There isn’t a lot of room for negotiation on that one. In strength and conditioning the squat is commonly used to help build general lower body strength so that it can transfer to power development, acceleration and deceleration as well as other activities like impact situations. The back squat in this scenario is not the be all and end all, an athlete with shoulder troubles might not be able to get into a good position support a bar on their back but can front squat or even use a safety squat bar to get 95% of the same benefits. You can apply this to yourself and your own situation, why do you need to develop strength? Find an exercise or variation that works for you and don’t be afraid to change things up from time to time.
#5 - Accommodating resistance
Accommodating resistance is just a fancy term for the use of training methods that varies the weight lifted or ‘weight in the hands’ at different points of the lift. Common examples of this are using resistance bands or chains and more recently using support equipment like the slingshot. These methods or implements can be very valuable especially within powerlifting but the mistake I see is people jumping onto these too soon. They are a much more practical method to train for equipped powerlifting without the drawbacks involved with having to get into support equipment or needing a gang of spotters but only competitive ‘equipped’ powerlifters will understand or get this benefit which is like 0.00001% of the people who have ever set foot in a gym. Before you even consider adding these to your training, weigh up the implications in terms of set up, risk to reward and other factors like why you are doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Are you simply copying your favourite Instagram lifter? Do they have the same needs and circumstances as you?
While it's possible that the above points will help you continue to get stronger, it is worth bearing in mind that they aren't the be all and end all. Don't be afraid to mix things up from time to time and stray from the above in order to put your body in a better environment for long-term strength gains. To recap, here are the 5 things that you can get stronger without.
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Allan Young is a Personal Trainer and coach educator in Glasgow who operates Strength Coach Glasgow and is a 4x Scottish Champion Olympic Weightlifter.