Friday, July 22, 2011

Strength Work and Technique Work Are NOT Mutually Exclusive

I used to get at least a couple of emails every week from someone who wanted to improve their squat numbers and their squatting technique. Usually, the email would read something like this:

Thank you for your Squat Rx videos. I've learned a lot from them. I realize now that I am flexing my lower back as I lower into my squat and I'm not really engaging my glutes or hamstrings at all. My thoracic spine mobility stinks and so does my hamstring flexibility. I have bad posture to boot. I can squat 225lbs x 5 x 5, but I'm going to start squatting only the empty bar until I get my technique right. What do you think? Any advice you could give would be awesome. Thanks.

My canned response would usually be something like this:

Thank you for the kind words about the videos. I'm glad you found them informative.
I think that relying on empty bar work is going to be a mistake if you are hoping to bring up your squat numbers as well as technique. My suggestion would be to back off on the weights a little for a few weeks and strive to make every rep as rock-solid as you can. Concentrate on ONE THING (and only one) to improve on with your squat in a given session and make sure you "git'r done". Good luck and let me know how it goes.

I think there is great value in spending time with the empty bar, or even a broomstick for some movements, but here's the thing: you can easily chew up a few months to a year doing nothing but corrective drills and empty bar work, only to find other issues waiting for you when you finally decide it's okay to add weight. Yes, a lot of people need to "work on technique" (and I define technique broadly to include the bar path, inter/intra-muscular coordination, proprioception, range of motion, tempo, etc), but that must not be exclusive of heavy work if your goals include lifting heavy weights. So, at what point is the weight heavy enough? It depends on the exercise and the individual, of course, but for squats, 60% of your one-rep-max for multiple low rep sets is a good starting point. As a general rule, beginners will have greater tolerance to handle higher percentages and volume, while more advanced lifters may use even lower percentages and at times with additional resistance in the form of bands or chains.


Mattt said...

I'm new to this site but really like what I'm learning. I sent you a mail yesterday but it probably ended up in your bulk folder. Anyway, I'm a huge fan of front squats and never do back squats due to fear of lower back injury. I used to back squat but as I got older I switched. Should I begin again with the back squats and slowly work my way back? Just curious what you think. Thanks for any advice.

Boris said...

Hi Mattt,
I think you should do what makes you happy and fits your goals. If you like front squats, keep at em. If you want to add back squats to your repertoire, then start introducing them - there's no need to completely overhaul your training if you do.

Mattt said...

Thanks Boris. I may try them now having learned the correct technique etc. I've not ever sustained an injury doing them and I'd like to continue to get stronger. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for such a great site. I'm passing it on to the other lifter at my gym here in Toronto...

Faizal S. Enu said...


This is going to be deep:

"Strength Work and Technique Work Are NOT Mutually Exclusive" = "Strength is a Skill"

Boris said...

Hi Faiz. Yes, I knew I was, in a long-winded way, saying the same thing.