Teaching Versus Learning The Lifts

Posted on 09 Jul 2009 17:19



More on Strength Training for Beginners




By Eric Troy

You know I love how the words 'teach' and 'learn' get mixed up. Provided you are concentrating on just a particular exercise rather than a general technique overview, you can teach a person a basic slow lift in 10 to 20 minutes.

Meaning, you can INSTRUCT them on it it that time frame and have them go through the motions, correct the mistakes, etc. That doesn't mean they have LEARNED the lift. That means they have received instruction on the lift and gone through an initial training session with it.

Perhaps part of the problem with all this is that we DO concentrate on individual exercises and not on GENERAL movement and technique. Most beginners that I have dealt with are coming to strength training later in life and lack a foundation. They don't have a conditioning base. They don't have many fundamentals in place at all. There are certain fundamental movement patterns that are at play in most of the basic lifts.

For instance: hip extension.

Many beginners will have trouble differentiating between hip and lumbar extension. Even if they were high school athletes they likely never specifically trained hip extension. Matter of fact..all their training was likely quad focused. Take this likely individual and try to teach them a lift and they are going to use what they have. They've already 'learned' certain movement patterns that are not conducive to their strength training. So, instead of learning they need a period of unlearning and rebuilding. Which requires different things.

In high school, besides lifting I did two primary athletic activites. Martial Arts and track. And track was the only thing through school. In track, besides training the events we trained two parts of our body. Our quads and hamstrings. We used a combo leg extension/curl gizmo that ran on hydraulics. We might have jumped in the squat rack from time to time when our coach wasn't looking. None of this trained hip extension. And my running did not use hip extension..which is why I was slow.

Sure I was the fastest in my neighborhood. But certainly not on the track. I was no sprinter. In retrospect, even the fastest runners on our team were 'bouncers' or 'shufflers' who used a relatively short and bouncy stride to propel themselves down the track. They relied on very strong quads instead of hip extension. There were a couple of guys who I thought were phenomenally quick. And they won some races. But they probably got by on the fact that the other high school programs were as crappy as ours was! Hindsight is twenty-twenty and I know that these guys who I was in awe of would have gotten flattened by any well-trained runners utilizing a proper hip extension instead of a bouncy quad dominated thing done of the balls of their feet. I know nothing much about running, but I know that.

The football players? Same scenario.

This is probably still typical. This is the person who is entering a strength training program. This is the person who is told to 'pick a program' and start cracking.

The reality is that that is exactly what a beginner wants to hear. They want gratification, in the form of weight on the bar, as soon as possible. And there are plenty of one-size-fits-all programs out there that aim to give it to them.

Programs are designed to "sell" themselves. How do you sell? Give people what they want. But first you have to make them want it. So like any good marketer you use the right words in the right combinations. And use extremes. We live in a society of extremes and extreme sells.

So make it ultra-complicated and talk about advanced Russian fancy-ass periodization. You want to see this in action go to any of the "really-smart" strength training forums and you will get treated to pages and pages of discussion about anything Russian. With some Supertraining thrown in for good measure. All this stuff is ultra-complex and more academic than real world. But it sells to the uninitiated. Here is a hint: If someone is giving you beginner advice and they preface it with 3 or 4 study abstracts…

Or, you go the other extreme and rant and rave against anything that requires a modicum of cerebral involvement and OVER-simplify everything. The key attribute of this method is it claims to operate under the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple stupid) but what it really uses is K.I.R.S (keep it restrictive [and be] stupid).

First things first. Beginners do not need even a simple short linear periodized model let alone a fancy undulated one. They also do not need to be thrown into an aggressive loading situation where they are too busy counting reps and sets to get comfortable with the lifts.

They need what I call a honeymoon period. Where the emphasis is on quality time with the lifts. We are told that pretty much anything a beginner does will make them stronger. They call it 'general adaptation'.

The problem is, the same people who tell us that then proceed to tell us they have figured out the BEST way to do it that makes no COMPROMISES.

The faulty assumption in that is that taking a honeymoon period with the lifts results in a compromise. It DOES not. This is short term thinking. People are told to train as if they are getting ready for a competition in a month. The same kind of thinking is everywhere in the 'fitness' world. Want to get in shape? Enter a marathon. Here is an 'efficient' program to get you ready.

Short term? It's motivating and appears to get results. Long term? Results in slower and less efficient progression owing to the bad habits and compensations that are built up in the beginning. You WILL spend more time UNLEARNING bad things later on than you will to LEARN good things now.

Assuming that, speaking to a general audience, I am not going to get anyone to spend a couple of weeks doing self-assessments and working on general movement, mobility, and stability, I would like to suggest a very simple way to spend some quality time with each new lift you learn. And then how to continue progressing in a natural way. Not a fancy plan but a plan that allows you to progress naturally and is NOT-RESTRICTIVE. One of the most frustrating things I have had to deal with is people asking for help on their form while they are in the midst of an aggressive program. Anybody can train aggressively. Not everyone can train smart.

One of the worst offenders in this regard is the "Starting Strength" program by Mark Rippetoe. In my experience, that program has thrown more trainees under a bus than any other. It is based on a great many unfounded assumptions and expectations and it ignores some very important fundamentals about learning.

It actually bugs the heck out of me that so many prominent figures recommend the book for the explanations of the basic lifts but seem to forget that MOST people will skip over that and go for the PROGRAM. These same people recommending the book I'll bet never used the program themselves or prescribed it for a trainee. There are people right now on forums and blogs recommending it that have been lifting for years and never used it. They recommend it because that is the trend not because they themselves have any personal experience with it. Not cool.

I don't want to launch into a series of articles aiming to derail SS. Frankly, I think that would be a waste of my time. And I don't want to diminish the good it has done. Getting beginners off high-volume split routines and onto a full-body, moderate volume routine is a good thing. It's a BIG thing and I don't think so many beginners would be using full-body routines without the surge in popularity of Starting Strength over the past 5 or so years.

The beginner should be aware that initial performance during the early stages of training, even while they appear to be better while concentrating on one movement of a general motor program, is not a good indication of future and long-term performance.

On the other hand it would be useful counter the assumptions in that program with what I say. In the end it's not up to me to tell you what's better. Only to honestly express myself and let you decide for yourself. Sol what I want to instead is to introduce some very simple things that a novice lifter can do to have the initial strength training period be both productive in terms of weight on the bar but also in terms of honing in the lifts. Just the straight information. If it seems valuable to you, than take heed. If not, throw yourself under a bus and we'll still be here later when you come to your senses!

To that end the first piece is:

The Honeymoon Period

This page created 09 Jul 2009 17:19
Last updated 20 Jul 2016 20:30

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