5 lifting lessons for better gains

written by Philip Stefanov  |  MARCH 28, 2023

Regardless of your training goals and experience, it sometimes pays to return to the basics and remind yourself of key truths that play a massive role in your success.

To that end, this week’s newsletter is dedicated to 5 key lifting lessons you can use to make better decisions.

Ready? Let’s talk about them.

1. The Big 3 Are Not Essential

Yes, you read that right. The flat barbell bench press, deadlift (sumo and conventional), and barbell back squat are not essential for reaching your genetic potential.

These three exercises are excellent, and they can help you build a lot of muscle and strength, but so can many other movements.

In fact, we could argue that people primarily interested in hypertrophy shouldn’t even consider the big three. While these are great exercises, they generate plenty of fatigue, and the trade-off might not be worth it.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should only do isolation exercises; there is a ton of value in compound lifts. I’m merely stating that these specific exercises are not mandatory unless you plan on competing in powerlifting.

In any case, if you enjoy doing these exercises, by all means, go ahead. Just know that you can get by without them, especially if you hate doing them.

2. On That Note, There Are No ‘Must-Do’ Exercises

Yes, just as the big three aren’t essential for optimal progress, there are no ‘must-do’ exercises.

You should never add an exercise to your program just because someone says it’s mandatory, even if it doesn’t feel right, it causes pain, you can’t engage the correct muscles, or similar.

You can do countless exercises and variations to train all the major muscle groups in your body. Pick activities you enjoy doing and find fitting to your unique strengths.

3. Nothing Good Comes Of Pushing Through Pain And Discomfort

I remember my first few months at the gym and my dedication to training. Back then, I watched bodybuilding inspirational videos all the time and operated under the belief that I should always push myself to the max, regardless of how I felt. “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” – that kind of thing.

Luckily, I never suffered a major injury, just a few nagging aches.

Since then, like most lifters, I have learned that there is no benefit to pushing through pain or discomfort. For example, if an exercise causes you pain, stop the set. Consider why the activity causes pain and what changes you can make to eliminate it. Maybe your form is off, or you’re lifting too much weight.

Here’s an example from my training:

Some time back, I began feeling elbow pain from skull crushers with an EZ bar. I had tons of experience with the exercise, and it never bothered any of my joints up to that point. Yet, out of nowhere, I began to feel this tendon pain at the base of my tricep. It turns out that the problem occurred because I had been using more weight than I could handle with proper form.

Instead of doing smooth reps, I allowed the bar to ‘drop’ the last few inches as my arms bent, which put stress on my elbows and led to pain. Once I started paying more attention to my tempo, I never felt the same pain and could use even more weight.

4. Coming Back Is Easier Than Most People Think

Every serious lifter is deathly afraid to take time off training because doing so would lead to significant muscle and strength loss.

While that is true to some degree, there is also a silver lining here. Returning to training and reaching your previous best form is easier and quicker than most people imagine.

You’ve already worked hard to build habits, develop muscle mass, and attain skills and knowledge to lift weights correctly. Even if you take time off and lose progress, these things will stick around and wait for you to return.

Getting back to old habits (hitting the gym after work, tracking your calories, etc.), training with proper form, and putting together a proper workout plan are much easier. It feels like riding a bike after not doing so for a long time. It feels weird initially, but you get back on track quickly.

5. Don’t Dirty Bulk. It’s Not Worth It.

Dirty bulking is not as popular as it was until a few years ago, but it’s still worth talking about because plenty of trainees think it is a good idea.

A dirty bulk sounds good to many trainees, especially those looking to add a ton of mass to their frame quickly and folks who need an excuse to stuff themselves, but it doesn’t work well.

You can’t force-feed muscle growth because your body has a limit on how much muscle it can build. For most people, a dirty bulk means gaining a bunch of fat that takes months of dieting to lose.

A much better approach is maintaining a slight calorie surplus and gaining one to two pounds monthly.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,

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