Today I have a full day off from working with clients, and am going to spend most of it writing. I have to write a blog post for a workout that I filmed that will be released next wednesday on our website. Before I do that, I want to take some time to finish this article about strength training.

There are so many concepts behind strength training that you could spend years trying each one, with various benefits and drawbacks to each teaching. When you are determining your strength training approach, you have to consider your goals. Most people want to strength train for increased athletisism, whether that be to participate in athletics like martial arts or team sports, or just play with your children or be able to maintain your garden – this approach is dedicted to them. This is for the athlete of any level, who intends to develop smart muscle, coordination and flexibility. Many concepts behind weight lifting or strength training presume the practitioner has only one goal – big bulky muscles. That isn’t strength, as we all know, strength comes from the nervous system and then only performs as well as your flexibility will allow.

For maximal strength gains, meaning developing motor patterns, fixing bad posture, building muscle and developing endurance, your focus should be on movement, not muscle. Muscle isolation machines are everywhere now, and the overwhelming majority of the people that use them have a goal that the machine can never provide. It won’t help you lose weight, and it won’t make you stronger either. Not real-world strong anyway, that relies upon you duplicating real world conditions in the gym and those muscle isolation exercises are not real-world! Even the king of all gym exercises, the bench-press has so little correlation to real world functionality, I can honestly say I haven’t done one in years! The only thing those machines and isolation exercises will do is ruin your joints and your posture.

Strength training should be performed using the seven primal movements as a basis for training. Consider your posture, and any areas that might need improved range of motion or strength and target those areas with the appropriate movements.

– Do low repetition sets (6 to 15 reps) with weights, doing only full body lifts, both ladies and gents.

– High rep endurance weight lifting should be approached with caution, and practiced infrequently, as a way of changing things up.

– Use the deadlift often, it is the real king of the freeweight jungle.

– Maintain a high training frequency, with lower intensity for greater results.

– Rarely go to failure in any lift, try to leave gas in the tank.

– Push through your flexibility limitations with focus on exact movements with increasing range of motion rep after rep. Flexibility is the key to strength and injury prevention.

– Breath is very important and even helps maintain trunk rigidity during many full body lifts. Use a 70% breath and hold the breath when your posture is the most compromised, the base of a deadlift, for example.

– Learn proper technique and hold yourself to a standard of excellence when training.

– Avoid most seated exercises, and opt for the ones that require you to stabilize your pelvis through your core. They will create more strength, awareness and burn more calories.

– Learn how to train in the power phase as well as the strength and stability phases. The power phase is often overlooked by traditional muscle isolation training, however it is very important for real world functionality and injury prevention.

A big part of the reason that weightlifting machinery has become so popular in the gyms is because people get very self conscious because they don’t know what to do in the gym. Sitting in a machine that has a small instruction label and two handles seems easy. There’s nothing to learn beyond the sticker telling you which way to sit in the chair and how to push or pull the handles. It makes people feel like everyone isn’t watching them try to figure out how to stack the weights on the barbell and how the squat rack works. The cardio machines became popular for the same reason, nothing to learn here beyond how to program a few settings before getting sweaty. Unless your goal is to build big tight muscles at the expense of flexibility, posture and athletisism, I encourage you to learn how to use your body, not a machine.

Thank you for reading,

Peter Hirsh