Simple strength training – can it get you stronger?
Many perceive complex training programs with dozens of accessory exercises to be somehow superior to the simpler ones. As training knowledge develops more and more, people are looking for the latest solutions, new training models and extraordinary movements. The question is: Is performing a lot of fancy exercises actually necessary?
There is a lot of athletes and coaches who make great gains without overly complexing their workouts. For example, Scot Mendelson is one of them (you can find out what I learnt from him here). Focusing on simple training stimuli such as including some strength exercises and some hypertrophy exercises can work like magic if it’s periodised correctly. Continue reading to learn how to use simple workouts to make more strength gains.
Simplicity over complexity
It is nice to throw an additional exercise or two to get some extra benefits from your training but it’s also nice to know why are you adding them to your routine in the first place. Every exercise should serve a purpose and if your main goal is to deadlift a lot of weight, you should probably stick to deadlifting a lot of weight and performing movements that resemble the deadlift in their mechanics. If you are unsure what certain exercises are meant to help you with, there is no logical reason to add them to your routine. Doing more exercises doesn’t mean that you’re going to grow more or become stronger faster assuming that you have already paid your duty and lifted some heavy iron this session.
If you are to design a routine that is effective, make sure that you stick to specific exercises. Want to press more overhead? Guess what you gonna work with… Overhead Presses!
Should you also add a couple of exercises to build some base strength, functional muscle mass and strengthen your weak points? Sure, but do you know which exercises are you going to use and what exactly will they be helping you fix?
My advice here is simple, if you want to get better at something, you would be better off doing this very thing and a couple of precisely selected movements that are intended to help you strengthen your weak links and build the parameters necessary to achieve your goal rather than focusing on something else.
Remember that you’re not trying to get good at something else, you’re trying to bring yourself closer to achieving a previously set goal.
The capabilities of your body
Throwing in random exercises to your routine takes energy to execute them and takes energy to recover from them. Think of energy as a currency. You only have a set amount that you can spend, if you spend any more than that, you won’t be able to buy anything else when you need it. The same principles actually apply to training. If you devote too much energy to bullshit exercises, you won’t have the energy to do your best in the exercises you actually need and you won’t have enough energy to recover from the workouts properly which means that you won’t get as strong and as big as you were hoping to get.
Every single exercise depletes your energy tank and you need to be aware of that. Only incorporate the exercises that actually help you in what you are training for. If you can’t define the purpose of the exercise – don’t do it.
A perfect routine?
There is no perfect training routine but there are some tips and examples that you can use to create one that will be significantly more effective in helping you realise the goals that you set for yourself. Since this text doesn’t take any specific discipline into account and is pretty much general, I can only provide you with a template that I use on most occasions, while working with my athletes.
- Main exercise
- Variation exercises designed to strengthen the weak points
- Smaller exercises that allow to lift less weight but focus on the working muscles more and focus on agonists, synergists and antagonists
The main exercise is to be performed as it is sport-specific but it isn’t always executed in 1:1 manner. Sometimes the number of repetitions is to be altered to build a stronger foundation to peak from. Sometimes the exercise itself is slightly altered in its execution by manipulating the technique, thus allowing for a greater range of motion with less weight or a shorter range of motion with more weight if the overload is the main goal. Sometimes, different tactics are used, when the main exercise has been used for too long and the routine requires a change of the stimulus, a variation can be used instead but that goes mostly for the advanced lifters.
The variation exercises are usually there to strengthen the weak points so if I’m working with an Olympic lifter and the weak point of the Clean and Jerk is the Jerk itself, I might be incorporating some Power Jerks, Push Presses or Thrusters to develop more explosive strength while pressing overhead.
Smaller exercises help to isolate a certain muscle or muscle group by allowing to lift only a limited amount of weight. They also teach the athlete how to focus on certain muscles or muscle groups and how to work the mechanics of just a certain part of the lift. The main reason for their existence is to disassemble a large, complex movement and focus on the single elements of the puzzle.
Taking all that into account, training programming becomes very simple if you only know the function of each muscle and are capable of splitting a complex movement into smaller parts.
If you want to be strong, you should be focusing on the following objectives:
- Your routine should focus on sport-specific movements
- Variations and accessory exercises are there to help you strengthen your weak points, as it goes for the sticking points, you can literally obliterate them with isometric training
- Make sure you only train the movements and parameters you actually require