There Are Other Avenues for Progression

By on August 28, 2021

Recently, I was interviewed for the Bulldog Gear podcast by Men’s Health fitness editor, entrepreneur, and all-round fitness influencer/trailblazer, Andrew Tracy. During the discussion, which is linked below, we got onto the topic of fitness tribalism and the reasons it is so common for people to get “stuck” in just one form of training. Whether it’s bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit, or ultramarathons, there is a tendency for people to pick just one “type” of training and stick with it.

As you guys know, this is something I’ve often lamented. While specialization makes sense for professional competitors, it is far less useful for someone who just wants to be fitter all around.

Of course, there are many obvious reasons for this kind of one-track-mindedness. But a big part of it comes down to the need to see progress, and to show that progress to your peers. If you have worked for years to get your squat to 150kg, it’s only logical that you might want to add another 5kg to that.  And you may not even consider any other option!

Genetic differences in squat technique

But here’s the thing: beyond a certain point, the average person has little reason to add 5kg to their squat. From a real-world, functional perspective, they’ll never lift 150kg onto their backs in the first place. It’s unlikely they’ll ever need to lift 150kg anyway. And even if they do, it won’t be a straight bar and they’ll be using a pretty different skillset.

I’m not saying that training has to be directly useful to be worthwhile. I’m just saying that this is a case of diminishing returns. (Of course, my usual disclaimer stands: this does not apply to competitive lifters.)

If your real interest is simply in being more functional and performant… to feel better and be more imposing… wouldn’t it make more sense to spend some time increasing another aspect of your fitness?

The metaphor I’ve been using lately, is improving a car. If you want to upgrade your vehicle to become the best it can be, you would probably get a bigger engine, better mileage, a new paint job, better wheels, a plush interior… You wouldn’t just replace the wheels and say “now I have a better car.” And then save up for even better wheels.

The point is: there are more vectors for improvement.

Once you’ve built your max strength up to a satisfactory degree – once you’re stronger than 98% of the population – consider improving in other ways.

That doesn’t even need to mean moving away from powerlifting. It can mean simply improving in a different way.

Instead of adding more weight, how about trying to do an extra rep? How about trying to bring down your rest times? This way, you’ll improve your work capacity so that you can train harder for longer, and so that you get less tired out in the real world.

Alternatively, you could even try squatting more often to increase volume, grease the groove, and become even more comfortable with the movement pattern.

Or, how about aiming to squat lower? This way, you can improve your ankle and hip mobility. And by moving through a bigger range of motion, you might see surprising size gains in your legs.

Another option would be to focus on bar speed. This will increase explosiveness, rate of force production, and more. And it may translate to a bigger squat without even trying, too.

Or make this into a complex and follow up those squats with some box jumps.

I’m all for adding entirely new training modalities to existing training methods. But even if that’s not your bag, you don’t need to keep adding weight. That’s not your only option.

And if you feel resistance at this idea, maybe take a moment to reflect on why that is. Is it because your peers expect you to add more weight? Is it because adding more weight is what you think you should be doing?

And are those good reasons not to explore your other options?

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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