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FerrousMaverick

Pursuing Better, Not Best

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In the food for thought category, inspired in part by Greg Nuckol's "Art of Lifting" and in part by my recent Strongman competition.  It's a topic that our own LSG has harped on more than once ("optimal use of the word optimal").

 

There's a lot of talk about the best technique, the best program, the best diet, the best advice.  And it all boils down to the fear of wasting time and effort doing something clearly wrong.  But there's something that was undeniable about the Capital Classic: a lot of people were doing things "wrong" and lifting way more than me.  I even saw one guy power clean a log and then go on and press it.  How do you even do that?

 

There's eternal debate about butt wink, sinking hips, wasted effort, etc.  My little epiphany is that none of that matters.  I was already there with butt wink, and a few other things.  The bottom line is strong is strong.  Small improvements over time add up to big improvements.  Both in your personal form and technique, and in the way you train.

 

Even my approach to preparing for my competition had flaws, but for the most part it worked.  I got my strength back to where it needed to be.  I managed to do events I never even attempted before the competition.  I have glaring weaknesses that need to be resolved.  But at the end of the day I managed to do better than I expected and push myself harder than I ever have in the past.  In my book that's better.

 

I tried a few different variations of deadlift, and found that the way Brandon Lilly describes his set up seems to work better for me than the others I've tried.  Is it the best for me?  I don't know.  How could I know?  I know if something is better than something else, but there's no way to know what's best.  More than likely what's best today probably won't be in a year from now due to changes in my strength and other relative strengths and weaknesses.  My hips drop before I initiate the pull.  I think some people call it "sinking hips".  I call it "engaging my lats".  When I engage my lats, it pulls my whole body closer to the bar and my hips get lower.  When I'm one tight ball, I pull.  My hips move a little bit before the bar breaks the ground, but my chest stays up and less stress goes to my lower back.  In fact it takes longer sets to force that to happen.

 

My press is a mess.  Thanks to feedback and pointers I've been able to find better ways of performing the lift.  I'm still weak, but I'm getting better.

 

So, how about you?  While there are clearly wrong ways of performing a lift, is there any one true and right way?  If so, why do you think that, and what is that One True WayTM?  How do you personally discover what works better for you?  Do you have a consistent approach?

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I think what is actually happening on the lift and what is best is dictated by gravity and biomechanics.

I see it a lot in weightlifting (snatch, clean and jerk), where people say "Oh, but there's MORE than one way to do things and not everyone's the same!"

Yeah, true, but there are some things that are just more efficient than other things, and just because some people are very good at/used to doing things inefficiently doesnt mean they're okay for everyone to do.

That being said, the way you interpret these things and how you think about them is entirely individual. It's why cueing fascinates me.

How the same cue can work magic in one lifter and fall totally flat on another, or how I could give one lifter 10 cues that are all telling him/her the same thing, but it doesn't click until the 11th.

I could tell you, for each lift, a number of things that are absolutely ideal and what should happen, based on my knowledge of them. Do I KNOW for a fact that they are? No, but I have pretty good reason to think so.

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I would argue that they are OK for some people to do.  Could they lift more if they did it differently?  Probably likely, but the fact of the matter is that they already have enough proficiency to do well.

 

I liken it to when I was working with underbelts in karate.  The way I was taught, and the way I was taught to teach was that you address the worst things first, and progressively help them improve.  The karate punch has certain similarities across all schools (that actually teach martial arts), but they also have certain subtleties that are particular to that school.  Do to the mechanics of striking an object/person with a fist, there are certain things that if you don't get right you will hurt yourself.  Those remain constant.

 

To take the analogy a bit further, training someone from white belt to blue belt you are teaching the specific techniques of your karate school.  The newbie comes in and refines control of their body to the point where you can give cues and they'll get what you are saying.  From brown belt and beyond, the training becomes more personal.  You are learning the combinations that work better for your body.  You have to design and perform your own preset combos to disarm or defend against attacker(s).  While you do learn even more techniques to expand your martial vocabulary, particularly from black belt training on you are improving yourself.

 

I think, in the long run, the concept of pursuing better as opposed to best is just healthier overall.  New lifters need to learn the basics of the lift.  There's no way around that.  However, a new lifter isn't going to be able to understand the cues you give them as well until they get more experience under their belt.  Each time working with them, they refine their technique until they find a groove where they can improve themselves.

 

I'm willing to concede that in more technical lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk that journey to self improvement takes longer than it would for a powerlifter or strongman.  Eventually, we all get there though.

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The two most important aspects of lifting,

1. Learn to perform the lifts safely to avoid fucking yourself up. It might take some experimentation with stance and grip, but just do shit properly. That includes machine based training too.

2. Be consistent and patient.

That's about it. Maybe a third, keep shit simple but that's more of a preference as some trainees just enjoy a lot of variation regardless of whether it brings them any real benefits.

I like the goal of just getting better. The internet is especially bad for sucking noobs into bodyweight to power ratio arguments. I firmly believe there's no "should" when it comes to lifting and bodyweight.

All variables being equal (programming, muscle mass, levers, muscle insertions etc) a bigger lifter has the greater "potential" to outlift smaller lifters.

Those variables are rarely equal, especially among casual internet permabulkers from across the globe.

So for me as a non competitive casual the focus is just to get better.

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I Like how Larry North put it

It's not about perfection, it's about progress

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For me it's been about learning my body, how a particular lift fits on me specifically. I can read and read and read and watch video after video and even get hands on advice from guys way more experienced than me. But in the end it's about transcoding all of this into my own body, knowing and getting to know better and better its strengths, weaknesses and ultimately its limits.

It may be because of my age and the fact that I started all this relatively late in life, but for me it's never been about anything BUT getting better. Best - being the best, getting a lift perfect - has never been part of my thinking. I've always understood that however I end up executing a lift, it's always going to involve some kind of compromise, whether it's my lack of experience, my lack of strength or my lack of youth. That said, feeling like I am getting better and stronger has been crucial.

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That is perfect advice.

The two most important aspects of lifting,

1. Learn to perform the lifts safely to avoid fucking yourself up. It might take some experimentation with stance and grip, but just do shit properly. That includes machine based training too.

2. Be consistent and patient.

That's about it. Maybe a third, keep shit simple but that's more of a preference as some trainees just enjoy a lot of variation regardless of whether it brings them any real benefits.

I like the goal of just getting better. The internet is especially bad for sucking noobs into bodyweight to power ratio arguments. I firmly believe there's no "should" when it comes to lifting and bodyweight.

All variables being equal (programming, muscle mass, levers, muscle insertions etc) a bigger lifter has the greater "potential" to outlift smaller lifters.

Those variables are rarely equal, especially among casual internet permabulkers from across the globe.

So for me as a non competitive casual the focus is just to get better.

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