A Strength Training Fallacy: The False Compromise

Posted on 30 Mar 2010 19:52

By Eric Troy

Did your mom ever tell you that when you have a disagreement with a friend you have to learn to compromise? Not to disrespect your mom but the idea that we always must reach a compromise is nonsense and is a common fallacy of thought.

The problem is that people overgeneralize the appropriateness of compromise. Compromise is about what people want and what they get. So when we have a list of wants that differs from what another individual we are involved with wants each of us must be willing to give a little to get a little. This way we don't get everything we want but we come up with a mutually beneficial and fair solution. This is compromise.

On the other hand if your buddy wants to throw a rock through your neighbor's window and you do not, you are not required to reach a compromise whereby you agree to only soap the windows instead. Your buddy is wrong and you need to have the backbone to tell him so and walk away. Don't let him bully you.

Strength training is a similar transaction. Many people who misunderstand the nature of compromise teach trainees that they must make false compromises. This allows one's training to "bully" him and usually this means that a particular lift runs roughshod over the trainee.

There is no better example than the back squat. Known widely as "the king of lifts" the back squat has become the proverbial playground bully.

Part of strength training is to prioritize certain lifts at certain times. This means that other lifts may have to be set on maintenance which involves cutting down the volume and frequency of those lifts so that maximal ability can be maintained within a certain range. It is actually not that complicated and most trainees overestimate the amount of training needed to maintain maximal ability. But putting most of your training emphasis into one or two lifts is often seen as extreme. On the other hand, having 20 exercises per workout is the opposite extreme.

The false compromise says that the middle must be the right way to go, and a that several, but not too many, lifts should be trained with equal emphasis. This is based on the assumption that a middle ground between two perceived extremes is the appropriate course by default, and not on any analyses of the actual viewpoints those extremes represent. The problem with this middle position, however, is that while it says that all the lifts should be trained "up front" at once, each of the lifts is viewed through a different lens, so that certain lifts are viewed as more superior, or more debilitating, etc. depending on who you talk to.

Usually, lifts such as the back squat are viewed as essential at all times. In fact the purported properties of the lift are downright magical. Many gurus teach that the squat actually helps your deadlift but not vice versa, for instance. With this sort of nonsense at play, strength training becomes squat training.

There IS no essential strength training lift. None. There is no exercise that we cannot do without. It should be easy to see, then, that there is no exercise that cannot be put on the back burner because we choose to focus on another.

You will never make better progress on your deadlift, for instance, than when you back off on the back squatting. You may find that the reputation of the deadlift being so murderous on the lower back has as much to do with it being viewed through a back squat lens. Why wouldn't the deadlift seem to be tough on your lower back when it's surrounded by heavy back squatting at a ratio of six to one or more as is the case with the beloved 5x5 routines?

If you want to make appropriate compromises in your training then you will not allow any lift to 'be in charge'. Setting any one or two lifts as superior to all others basically means that you must always make a false compromise. A false compromise means that not only do you not get what you want, not even that oh-so-important lift does! Remember our friend the would-be window breaker? He didn't get to break any windows, did he? You see, setting lifts like the back squat as superior ultimately means that not even the back squat gets trained appropriately because it is constantly over-trained and then detrained. Like the bully, it is either on the playground bullying or sitting in detention.

This may sound like we should always seek a middle ground with a lift. Not at all! That's another mistake in itself. Although good training tends toward the middle of two extremes this does not mean that it actually settles in the middle.

This page created 30 Mar 2010 19:52
Last updated 22 Oct 2015 18:48

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