5 Strength Training Tips from Arthur Lynch
1. Stop thinking about your deadlifts.
After coaching dozens of people (particularly beginners and intermediates) I can honestly say the number one biggest mistake I see time and again on deadlifts is over-thinking the lift. What usually happens is the client/lifter will go very quiet (indicative of them being caught up in their own thoughts), assume the start position, grip the bar and stay down there for 5-10 seconds. After wasting those valuable seconds they’ll finally go to lift, the bar will usually come up a few inches or maybe even just past the knees and then stall. A missed lift! The inexperienced me would probably have said “Ah, they must need more lockout work” or something to that effect. Whereas in actual fact they need to walk up to the bar, take a massive breath of air into their stomach, then grip and rip, no more about it. The deadlift isn’t overly technical, especially compared to say the bench press, overhead press or any of the squat variants. You can afford to walk up quickly and just go straight to it, even if you are ever so slightly off with your hands or feet, and you will lift far more than if you go down and wait around for a few seconds. Fred Hatfield (aka Dr Squat) has spoken about how in his deadlift training he would sometimes perform a vertical jump, land and then immediately go into his deadlift in order to obtain the benefit of a stretch reflex which you don’t get from a regular deadlift as it is purely a concentric movement that begins from the bottom position. Even though his grip on the bar may not have been perfect (e.g. one hand might be slightly too far out) he still benefited from this technique. If you assume the start position of a deadlift, then waste 5-10 seconds down in the bottom position, any kind of muscular rebound (or stretch reflex) will be lost and you’ll likely have to exhale and take another breath which will cause you to lose tightness. It’s analogous to a paused squat. Because you are able to obtain the benefit of a stretch-shortening cycle in a regular squat, you can lift more than in a paused squat where some of that stored energy within the muscles has dissipated.
2. Buy some fractional plates
So your first few months of training you can easily add another 2.5kg to the bar each week. This will continue indefinitely right? Whilst that would be lovely it’s not going to happen. As you become more experienced strength gains are going to become smaller and harder to obtain. As a consequence I recommend you buy yourself some fractional weight plates. If you have the money these can be bought online for a ridiculous price. Alternatively, you can buy and use washers with an internal diameter of 2 inches. These usually weigh about 240-250 grams and are ideal for making small incremental increases in your lifts when standard 2.5kg increases are just not possible. Personally, I find these absolutely invaluable for training the Overhead Press, where 0.5-1kg can make a big difference to the lift. I also know many Olympic Weightlifters who regularly use them.
A worthwhile investment
3. Bring a camera to the gym
Let’s say you’re about to do a max set of 5 on squats and you ask your training partner to check your form for you. After finishing the set, what is the worst thing your training partner can say to you? Well it would be something along the lines of “Oh you killed it bro, great job!”. Whilst positivity is welcome, this kind of feedback provides no useful information on how you can improve your squat. Maybe your hips are shooting up too soon, maybe your knees aren't tracking properly, maybe your upper back isn't tight enough, maybe your heels are lifting off the floor a little, you’re breathing technique is incorrect or maybe the bar path is slightly off. A lot to consider isn't it? Well the best solution is to bring a camera and a small tripod a film your work sets. This is most objective way of providing feedback on how you are performing on your lifts and where improvements can be made. The trick is where to position it. Taking the example of our squats once more, if you have a problem with your knees caving inward, then record form the front, if your hips coming up too soon or moving backward is the problem then record from the side or if you want to keep an eye on your back tightness then record from the back. Simples.
This camera angle provides a detailed view of the lifter’s knee tracking, amongst other things
4. Make your squat walk-out as efficient as possible
This is small technical tweak I only just recently adopted, but it does appear to help quite a bit. When walking out my squats, I used to just assume my squatting stance, get under the bar, take it out and walk back. However Ben Esgro (A Powerlifting and Bodybuilding coach I highly recommend) outlines in an excellent Squat tutorial that I will link below how this is not the most efficient way to walkout the bar (a long one but highly informative). Instead, assume the stance you would for a conventional deadlift, with your feet pointing straight ahead of you in a narrow stance, like a vertical jump stance. Then once under the bar and when you have taken your air in, simply stand up, then walk back into your squat stance (with hopefully only 2 steps).
Click here for: Squat Tutorial
5. If you’re an Olympic-lifter you can learn from a Bodybuilder. If you’re Powerlifter you can learn from an Olympic-lifter. If you’re a Bodybuilder you can learn from a Crossfitter. If you’re a Crossfitter you can learn from a Powerlifter and any of the above can all learn something from each other
Long story short, all lifters can learn something useful from each other. Bodybuilders can learn from some of the crazy stuff Crossfitters do which happens to get them crazy jacked looking. Crossfitters can learn from Powerlifters how to just get strong which is the foundation for all other forms of athleticism. Powerlifters can learn from Bodybuilders how to build bigger muscles, which is essentially like upgrading the engine in your car to a bigger and more powerful one. It is well known in the scientific literature that there is a strong correlation between the cross-sectional area of a muscle and its ability to produce force (i.e. strength) (Schoenfeld 2010). The Powerlifter can learn from the Olympic Weightlifter how to increase their squat, and the Bodybuilder can learn from an Olympic Weightlifter how to squat properly for optimal leg development. Tom Platz, the man with probably the most famous legs in Bodybuilding history learned how to squat from Olympic Weightlifters. So to sum up, all lifters can learn from each other, so swallow your ego right now and be more open-minded. We all have our flaws and none of the lifting sports are any different in that respect.
Schoenfeld, B. (2010) “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.