Strength Training 101

From personal experience I have found that most people when beginning strength training require similar training. I have worked with everyone from high school athletes all the way through to the elderly. They all have similar movement and muscular imbalances. And in the rare occasions that they don’t, the same exercises will build the perquisite strength and movement patterns for more advanced lifts.


I begin with a spiderman crawl to warm. I’ve already written about the value in this, but the concept is worth hammering home. It is one movement that improves alignment of the body, directly addressing the issues of sitting too much as well as improving sport performance. If you want an example of an elite team taking this approach, the following video shows the most dominant team in professional sport using it as part of their warm up.


Following this, lateral band walks are a very simple of way of loading and activating glute med. For some this will be a genuine strength exercise, while for others, simply a means of preparing for the heavier training.

Following this, a perform hamstring curl on a stability ball. Using him extension, we get a fairly good assessment on whether someone leads movement with their glutes. This addresses many of the back problems I have found with clients and can see why this is a favourite of Stu Mcgill. A glute hamstring curl will also work however out of necessity (am I the only one that thinks the Hammer strength glute ham is garbage!?!) and convenience I use this exercise.


Next on the list is one of the holy grails of strength training, the goblet squat. Squating will full range of motion is something I think is very important, but in many cases I just can’t justify putting a barbell on their back. I personally don’t back squat very often. The goblet squat is a safe means of training the squat pattern as well as assessing movement. All of us that have spent many years squatting will quickly be able to assess movement imbalance and weakness using a squat. In many cases I can get someone squatting better with a goblet squat than without weight. Even if someone has the movement down I feel that being able to squat a 35kg dumbbell for 20 reps is a useful strength standard to be achieved before putting the barbell to good use. It gets the trainee used to stabilising their spine, as well as building core (yes I realise there is no such things as a core Mr Super D ,sir) strength that makes barbell squatting so much easier to learn. Jim “the first six Sabbath albums” Wendler has a strength standard for his juniors of 50 reps with 50 pounds in the goblet squat for his high school athletes before he lets them barbell squat. I think that is a brilliant standard especially at the age of the kids he is training.


Next movement is the hip hinge. I’ve found that teaching this pattern is usually the hardest thing with beginners and have found that for some getting them strong at stability hamstring curl and goblet squat will fix this pretty quickly. It comes down to their ability to learn to load the hamstring and glutes over just the lower back. First exercise I test is the Romanian Deadlift as taught by Dan John. I have found for a lot this is a movement that people can get very quickly. Also it is a perquisite for Olympic lifting. Should they be feeling their lower back more than anything, I next go to the good morning. Even though it could be said to be putting more strain on the back, I have found that with a light load it is very easy to get someone to load their hamstrings. You can also use a kettlbell for this. If this fails I skip the hinge and readdress the movement in a few weeks. And as if by magic they are then able to hinge.


Next is a loaded carry, the Famer’s walk. I usually use a trap bar though I have no issue with the farmers walk handles. This is great exercise for improving posture and hip stability in walking and running (I’m talking about you Freddy). If they do it wrong they will do some sort of waddle and usually they will realise straight away that it isn’t right without even being told. For younger athletes this is the lift I put the mot emphasis at increasing the weight in. The current facilities I work at don’t have sled tracks, but I would also consider alternating this with pushing a prowler.


For upper body I put emphasis on developing the upper back. In almost all cases there is a severe lacking in muscle. Facepulls are the easiest exercise to teach and require minimal equipment either performed with a band or with a cable machine and rope. For some I will even for go vertical pulling till this is properly addressed as I so often see poor form in this from the under development of the upper back, leading to downsloped shoulder girdles at the full contraction only reinforcing poor movement skill. Eric Cressey talks about earning the rights to train the lats. I couldn’t agree more, and this is the movement I give in the mean time. Batwings are also a great exercise and have helped me immensely with this. Goblet squats and batwings in a beginner’s program is strike of original brilliance on my part...end sarcasm.


Next is the Kneeling one arm press. There is a whole host of variations of this, but all of them teach stacking the torso over the pelvis for correct over head pressing leading to better mobility for overhead work for everything from the Turkish getup through to the barbell military press. This has been written about extensively so I won’t bore you here with the details.


For the abdominals and obliques I like to use exercises that really allow the trainee to feel the right muscles working. RKC planks and Stir the pot are my go to exercises for the abdominals. In very weak individuals I use regular planks. These variation of the basic plank make use of the lats’ sydnergy with abdominals to create greater tension.


Though side planks are also great, I have found the palov press to be my preferred exercise for the obliques. I like the fact that I can perform reps and measure weight rather than simply use time. I also like that it is standing exercise and is really addressing rotation/anti-rotation.


You will notice I haven’t’ given any vertical pulling or horizontal pressing. I often give a workout B where push ups are performed instead of kneeling presses and introduce the negative chin (insert evil laughter here). For the school athletes I train these are introduced from the beginning however for the older population I prefer for them to get strong at the other lifts first.


And now you know why I call this “rantings of a mad man”.