I would not try to mislead you with an article title, so I want to start by qualifying the title of this one. I do not claim to understand all the reasons why someone would be attracted to shortcut methods for getting a big deadlift or squat, and then end up wasting a lot of time on magic bullets that don’t work. But, if your goal is a big lift, then I GET YOU!
And I while I have labored, preached, cajoled, and done everything else I could think of on these pages to dissuade people from taking such blind alleys, one thing I’ve never done is judged my readers. We want the same things. I’d rather take you out for a few beers than judge you for your mistakes. I’ve been misguided in the past, much more so than I’d like to admit.
One other thing I know which lots of other folks don’t understand is that the fact that you don’t want to spend countless hours of hard work on a lift does not automatically mean you are lazy and don’t want to work hard! Many members of the fitness industry equate any failure to follow their methods as a general lack of commitment or what they call ‘work ethic.’ I’ve had some choice words to say about fitness trainers’ statements about people not working hard.
There is no getting past the fact that most beginners to strength training, muscle building, or just about any fitness goal want fast results with minimal effort. Not many people decide to strength training and say “I want a big deadlift, and I want it to take as long as possible and the effort to be huge.” We all want the shortest possible path to our destination. But, even those of us who move past the beginner stage and learn more about what it takes to reach big performance goals can still be attracted to shortcuts. So, let me tell you something about myself.
I hate the overhead press. Yet, I love it. That is, I have always wanted big numbers on military press! But due to my inherent shortcomings, I hate, hate, hate working on it! I value the results of hard work on the overhead press but I hate the actual work. I’m not unusual in any way in this regard! Yet, I not only don’t mind the hard work of deadlifts, I love it. I actually look forward to a grueling deadlift session. And I love the PR’s when they happen.
So you see? I can want something and not enjoy the process of getting it, and I can want something and enjoy the process of getting it. My attitude towards having a big press does not reflect my attitude towards endless rounds of pressing a barbell over my head.
Along the way, I have been tempted by the sour grapes attitude. “I never really wanted a big press, anyway.” I could not possibly count the number of people I have known who have wholeheartedly embraced big numbers on a lift then told me 2 months later that they never really wanted it that bad.
And, it may not be sour grapes. They may actually have bought into a common pseudo-psychology message and think “I must not have really wanted it because I wasn’t willing to put in the work for it.”
How difficult is it to put in grueling work that you hate, for far-off but attractive results, when you can put in grueling work that you actually enjoy for other attractive results? Pretty difficult.
It is not just about how hard you are willing to work, then. It is about something else.
Having a big lift is only one part of the goal of strength training. We have other goals and expectations. Some of those goals and expectations are not explicitly stated. Enjoyment and enrichment may be two of those goals. Would you agree that you do NOT expect your strength training to be a stroll through Dante’s Inferno? You may expect hard work and you may even expect discomfort, but this does not mean that you expect there to be no short-term rewards! That training should have no rewards in itself, and can only be successful if your focus is solely on the specific performance goals, is a false dichotomy. You can have both a positive and rewarding experience while reaching your specific performance goals.
When I am laid off from training, I am a grumpy and stressed out person. I am not this way because I’m losing strength. I’m this way because my strength training is my escape. It is how I decompress. It’s ME TIME. Me, the weights, music. I get lost in the experience and it is basically my method of mediation. The kind that comes with a lot of sweat.
I may never have a huge overhead press. I know that in order to get it, I have to do a lot of work that I do not enjoy. At the same time, I have to grapple with the knowledge that there are a lot of other things I could be doing in my training that I would enjoy. So, the press does not meet those other, unstated but important, goals and expectations.
I’ve been around the bend enough to know that either I put in the work and get there, or I don’t. There are no instant shortcut methods. There are no magic bullets. But I didn’t always know that! The Eric of 15 or so year ago, faced with the pressing dilemma, may have been attracted to something that promised a big overhead press without the negative. Maybe I could do another exercise that I like better and still get my big press!
You see? I get it! I really, really do.
But faced with things you want and processes you do not, you can be left with time-wasters and empty promises that only distract you from things that could be meeting all your goals, and checking off all the columns. How do we solve this problem?
You have to make a realistic assessment of your priorities and expectations. All your needs and desires exist in a hierarchy. So, instead of spending a lot of time jumping from one short-cut to the other, sit down and think about just what your biggest priorities are and whether or not doing them meets your other needs and expectations. Instead of giving up something that you want, think of it as gaining more of what you do want. More PR’s, more satisfaction, more enjoyment, more stress relief, etc. And remember that things can always change. You may hate practicing a lift now but find later on that you start to enjoy it. If you absolutely MUST do a certain lift, then simply consider what you are willing to sacrifice to get there. If that desire is burning enough, then you’ll do it regardless! But you don’t have to. You can get everything you want out of your training, or only some of what you want. The choice is yours. But hard, consistent, and sometimes uncomfortable work is always required. There are no short-cuts. But…
It doesn’t have to take forever to get somewhere. The last thing I would want to leave you with is the message that your strength training is going to be a long slow slog (not sure if that is a real word). The fact is, many of the existing programs have you spending a lot of time spinning your wheels, going over the same ground using weights that are not challenging enough, using volumes or intensities that are inappropriate, etc. The good news is that if things seem to be going slow, you probably can progress much faster without taking ridiculous risks.
See also these other useful strength training instructions: