Every now and then, I think back to when the lanky, 9th grade version of myself stepped into my high school weight room. Meek, weak, and uncoordinated, I was petrified by heavy weights. Worst of all, I held one of the biggest phobias of any pimple-faced underclassman: the fear of looking like an idiot.
Without any direction, or any clue about strength and conditioning, I stuck to the machines in the left corner of the gym. I was happy to be stuck in my comfort zone, seeing no progress whatsoever, which is a very bad place to be. Why? Because plain and simple, lifting weights is daunting.
Like everyone else, I had major imbalances that wouldn't have let me walk if I had tried to do any sort of advanced squat or deadlift. After all, just walking down a hallway without tripping into a door was a small victory (and I have the scar to prove it!).
I try to remember how I felt those first few years in order to put myself in other people's shoes. Not everyone is ready (mentally and physically) to try and pull their bodyweight from the floor on day one, or rock an ass-to-grass squat with 100 pounds on their back. In fact, if you asked the 9th grade version of myself to do either, I'm pretty sure I would have broken completely in half.
So, what am I getting at here? Just like a good house, you need a solid foundation. If you don't have one? Building and adding on is just going to end up in a disaster.
The good news? Progressions are your answer.
Before someone can squat or deadlift, they have to "earn the right" to train that movement. What that means is that they have to get really great at a more basic movement before they're allowed to move to the next one.
And the best part? Many that have had major imbalances tend to correct their issues by following these guidelines. As Dan John has said, "Regressions are the best correctives." Which simply means the best way to correct some type of imbalance is by, well, moving!
If we expand on this idea for all the major movements (squat, deadlift, push and pull), we come up with the following list. By no means is this all-inclusive (I've left off single leg movements as well as core), but it's a pretty solid start.
With the squat, here's the general progression:
- Goblet Squat to a box
- Goblet squat
- Kettlebell Racked Squat
- Front Squat
- High bar back squat
- Low Bar Back Squat
For pushing, we get would use the following:
- Incline push ups
- Feet Elevated (decline) Push ups
- Single Arm Floor Press
- Double Arm Floor Press (Barbell or Dumbbell)
- Double Arm Bench Press (Barbell or Dumbbell)
When it comes to pulling it would be:
- Farmers Holds
- Farmers Carries
- Single Arm Cable Rows
- Double Arm Cable Rows
- TRX Inverted Rows
- Barbell Inverted Rows
- Chin ups
Finally, for deadlifts we get this:
- Glute Bridge variations
- Single/Double Leg Hip Thrusts
- Elevated KB Deadlift
- KB Deadlift from the floor
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Sumo Deadlift
- Conventional Deadlift
It's silly to think that someone is ready to go from zero to sixty in one session, and the thought of doing so actually probably scares off a good amount of people. Using an easy to follow guide for the big movements will only improve your lifts. After all, just like Rome, strength will never be built in a day.