Why strength programs are useless

Strength programs are useless.

Now that I have your attention, what do I mean by such an antagonistic title? With the popularity of the ‘average joe’ training like the professional athlete, more and more people are turning to strength programs to get the gains and hit their PR’s for that special gratification only Instagram can give.

I write programs all the time, I’ve done my fair share of hard programs, easy programs and the ones that were just right too, but what if I’m not a professional athlete? What if my only experience is a few years of CrossFit classes? Or a few nights at a weightlifting or powerlifting club? Am I really going to be moving well enough to do a strength program and actually get the desired results or am I progressively loading bad habits?

Programs are ‘things to do’, but your overall strength development at the end of the day building strength effectively and efficiently comes down to how well you move, and how well you know your body, how hard to push it and know when to back off.

Want to know what I think when I’m snatching? I put my hands on the gates of hell and rip them off

Strength programs don’t take the fact that your dog just died or you getting sacked from your job into account, they don’t care when you’ve got a stomach ache or if you’re not sleeping… They are numbers and that’s it. ‘Advanced’ athletes can be some of the worst to work with – they’re hitting good numbers, and the ego has kicked in, they’ve done lots of programs and always gotten stronger from it, so OBVIOUSLY they work right! Right?

Everyone always freaks out when I ask them:”What do you feel when you’re doing that?”, usually I’m met with a depressing, bemused “I dunno”, or even worse, being told the external cues that they have been taught: “I’m keeping my back straight, knees over toes, arms locked out, look forward, belly tight” …….. Really? You can think all that at the same time?? I can’t… Want to know what I think when I’m snatching? I put my hands on the gates of hell and rip them off, the flames explode up around me and I stand up – paint a picture that gives you confidence!

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So how come I think something as ‘silly’ as that? Without having to focus on the movement itself? Because the other training that I do is working towards FEELING the movement intrinsically, so when I do go through a full movement I don’t have to think, my body knows what to do. When was the last time you double checked something like how to do a push up, a pull up? Or how to brace? People often seem to assume that after doing something once they’ve mastered it. I’ve seen so many people that could squat a hell of a lot of weight… yet they’re taking the bar out of the rack incorrectly. They are three years away from getting an “unexplainable” back injury. It may seem like such a small thing but picking up a bar properly not only puts you in a better position to squat, but the weight doesn’t feel as heavy when it’s stacked the right way; there is more to bracing than just keeping your back straight. I’ll improve the way someone picks up a bar and after a few sessions they’ll generally hit a PR.

I recently had a difference of opinion with someone over a lifter: his clean was limited and he wasn’t able to stand up out of ‘the hole’. The lifter wore a belt and the first things I noticed was that he was being moved out of position in the pull and standing up from the squat his back rounded. This was put down to a leg strength issue and he was given a squat program and later PR’d. In my opinion, if your spine doesn’t feel safe you will not be able to access your potential strength due to the protective Central Nervous System, therefore completeing a program with the same movement patterns is just fuelling the problem. Yes now he is able to lift more… But he’s not as good as he could be. If he was given a deeper understanding of bracing would he have needed the squat program? Maybe did he already have the strength? Make a movement as close to perfect as you can THEN by all means LOAD IT UP!

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I’ve actually nothing against strength programs, they are great for giving an athlete focus and logical progression but with modern day training and time commitments people aren’t able to get the benefits. Many don’t seem to realise the foundation work that goes in to being able to cope with a program starts years before, you can’t skip that part. It used to really bug me when I was younger and playing guitar, I would see people trying to play these stupidly fast licks and their pinky finger was sticking out when not being used… How the F**K can you play something fast when your god dammed finger is half way across the room! Sort that out first then you can learn how to play fast! As a personal favour to me if you ever see a guitarists pinky sticking out, break it.

In short, we’re human, we miss things, make sure you are always learning and most importantly keep going over the things you do know to give yourself a solid foundation, when you truly move like a badass THEN it’s time for strength programs.

Check out my Facebook Page for more info on building a foundation and strength training!