Don't overcomplicate things

by Mike Doolittle, Styrka owner/head coach


I referred someone on a strength training forum to this instructional video earlier today (it's basically the same method I use to teach the deadlift)—and I think there's something really important and possibly controversial in here, but it's a point that aligns strongly with our approach to strength training at Styrka:

"There is no prerequisite to learning the deadlift. You don't need yoga-like mobility to bend over and grab a barbell. You don't need to work on your posture before learning the deadlift, because the deadlift itself will fix your posture. You don't need to worry about 'activating your glutes' before you deadlift, because it is impossible to perform a deadlift without activating all of the muscles involved—especially when it's a heavy deadlift.

"It makes no sense to waste your time or your clients' time performing secondary movements that are more complicated than the primary movements you are trying to get better at."

Something that carries over to strength training from my background as a musician is that motor skill is highly task-specific. If you want to get better at squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows, you simply have to practice them. There are basic technical standards that allow you to move more efficiently, but no novice trainee is going to perform perfect repetitions all the time. The only way to get acclimated to heavy load is by using consistent technical execution with progressive load. You mitigate injury and improve technique not by deferring to accessory work when there are technical errors, but by simply managing the volume and load.

Alan Thrall here is part of Barbell Medicine, and that crew in my view can take this view too far—essentially dismissing most or all corrective and mobility work as a waste of time. That's the other extreme I can't get on board with, as I think especially for more advanced athletes there are many instances in which such accessory work is valuable.

But the central point remains that if you want to get stronger, you don't have to make things complicated. Just learn the basic technical standards, practice, and gradually increase the load. If your technique is consistently breaking down, lighten the load and gradually work back up again.

It really is that simple.