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I don’t think many people believe me when I tell them “strength is a skill.” Just like any other skill - writing, playing the piano, cooking - you’re only as talented as the depth and breadth of your practice. And not to sicken you with cliches, but I truly believe that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
So what are the best assessments of someone’s strength and skill? The deadlift and a strict kettlebell military press. For those that know me, you can’t be surprised to read that!
Why are these two exercises so important in developing strength? Because neither movement has an eccentric component - meaning there’s no downward movement before someone begins their lift. This eliminates someone’s ability to load their body for the movement upwards. Instead, you see how well someone can “wedge” themselves underneath the weight, and create the requisite force and stiffness to complete the lift.
I'm a firm believer that most supplements are a waste of money. The exceptions depend on the person, but 97% of people can improve their life and results just by eating more vegetables as well as maybe taking fish oil and/or vitamin D.
So I’m never going to tell you what’s the best protein shake (there isn’t one and I don’t drink them), or what pre-workout supplement will spur dem gainz (in which case, address your sleep habits and caffeine intake so you don’t need a pre-workout in the first place).
But there is one supplement I've found to be a vital part of my progress. You can’t buy it, and unfortunately, I can’t just give you some of it either.
What is it?
Consistency. Because consistency is more important to results than stated goals or finding motivation.
The motto of StrongFirst is "strength has a greater purpose." And to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, they had me at "strength."
On that same token, I arrived at my own saying and training philosophy over the years, "Training for life."
Variants of the same message, there's a fundamental truth at the heart of these taglines: the benefits of strength training transcend the physical. Most the benefits we see are mental.
Confidence, self-worth, perseverance, stress management, and industriousness are just some of the mental qualities we train when we build a bigger and better deadlift, squat, press, etc. Heavy weights are egalitarian and the only path to success comes from failing. And succeeding.
"Simple. Not easy."
Aside from being my favorite life mantra, this phrase expresses the struggle of the first step of the Turkish get-up. Also called the roll-up, this seemingly simple first step integrates rolling patterns, glute and lat activation, and shoulder stability, all during an open-chain movement.
Sometimes when we get "stuck" on that first step, it's due to needing more practice at one of these requirements. For example, we don't often roll around on the floor in everyday life, unless of course, you're within earshot of my sense of humor.
Other times, the open-chain nature of holding a kettlebell in the air can make it hard to tell when you're in the right position, versus the sorta-right-position.
But a majority of the time the problem is mental.
I think differently from most coaches. Maybe it's because I'm left handed. Or maybe it's because of my personality type. Or maybe I just saw this Apple commercial a little too much when I was younger.
Whatever the case may be, some traditional ideas about training are anathema to me.
There's no better example than my general disdain for the traditional body part/bodybuilding programming split. I refer to these types of workouts as the "Frankenstein" program, because it treats the body as a collection of parts: Monday is chest day; Tuesday is leg day; Thursday is chest day again (because why not); Friday is back and biceps.
Is there anything wrong with this program if someone is a competitive bodybuilder? No. But is it an optimal use of time for 99% of the population? Not at all. And here's why:
The reason people fail to hit their goals is not from doing too few bicep curls or not enough bench pressing. It's because people are missing patterns, planes, and stances.
My favorite computer game growing up was "The Oregon Trail." I would play one version in the computer lab* in Elementary school and another version at home. Yes, I loved it THAT much.
(*On that note, do they still have computer labs in school? I hope so, because all I can think of is an annoying, pretentious commercial where one girls asks "What's a computer?")
Anyway, why did I love "The Trail" so much? Because the game's choose-you-own-adventure format, and against-all-odds mentality (even when playing on the "easy" level), are a combination that's still uniquely suited to my personality.
But I realized this week that "The Oregon Trail" serves as a great analogy to how many individuals view their own exercise and fitness programs. Go with me on this one.
With all of the noise on social media, and so many paths to choose from, most people are left to navigate the fitness industry for themselves. Only in this case, they're not deciding between the Columbia River Gorge or Barlow Road. Instead, they're left to decide: running or strength training? Crossfit, Flywheel, or Barre classes?
And not only are these fitness decisions different than the game, so too are the stakes - you won't die from dysentery, but you may fail to see results despite all of your time and effort.