Experiences Over 10 Years of Barbell Training
By Coach Wyatt
1. My Intro to Lifting
I remember the first time I touched a barbell. June 2014, it was summer break after 8th grade. My high school football team had a freshman camp for 2 weeks before actual practice would start.
I remember the discomfort of that bar on my traps for the first time. Just the empty barbell felt heavy as I performed a few sets of ATG squats. And then we benched and finished with some pvc olympic lifting. That first experience set up all this.
2. Training Everything
Over the next 5 years I would experience all kinds of training modalities.
In school, I was fortunate enough to have a lifting coach who actually knew what he was doing. Those were always well structured and I attribute most of my early lifting knowledge to his teaching. We did the basics of course, but also had great exposure to olympic lifting, dumbbell work, calisthenics and plyometrics. Hell, I remember doing Nordic hamstring curls before they got popular on social media.
On my own I would go to the YMCA to lift barbells and use machines. The rest of my training consisted of calisthenics at the playground, and biking everywhere.
To many of us, this sounds like "overtraining". And objectively, it wasn't the best. But I was a kid who ate well, had plenty of time, worked on the weekends, and wasn't troubled by the stresses of an adult life. At the time this was great training. And I'm glad I trained like this because I was exposed to so much. I got to feel what it was like to train hard. 6th period weight room, after school practice, and late evening pull-up AMRAPs.
This training was far from "optimal", but it was also some of the most fun my training ever was. Almost every day I was excited to go train.
3. Experiencing the Rehab Process
Unfortunately, I would experience 2 separate shoulder surgeries in high school. But it gave me a great experience in physical therapy.
I remember sweating all over the floor during PT. It was hard work, but it was different from what I had done before. The goals were different, the exercises were foreign and creative, and it was a different kind of "hard".
After my undergrad I would go on to work in an out-patient PT clinic as a tech. On any given day I would work with 15-40 patients usually. This was probably the greatest exposure I could get. Some patients had chronic conditions, were post-op, or had a recent injury. Some were athletes while others had never touched a dumbbell.
Working with an 80 year old in chronic pain will teach you a lot about facilitating exercise. While that sounds nothing like working with a barbell athlete, it was useful. I've used many exercises and creative set ups from PT with lifters in pain. It increased my creativity and taught me even more about load management.
Even if you never get involved with the rehab profession, you (unfortunately) will probably get hurt. Use that experience as an opportunity to learn. It'll help you so much as a coach or athlete dealing with pain and injury.
You hear this thrown around a lot. It's when we hone in on one sport or task. And many believe to get good at something you have to do this. That is true, but only to a point.
Many interpret this as "hyper-specialization". These kids hear about powerlifting and all of the sudden everything is SBD. The only variations they have are some rows, arms, and pauses. While this might get you really comfortable with the powerlifts early on, it's not a great long term strategy. It becomes easy to stall out, you get more fixated on numbers, and for many it becomes boring.
My own specialization has mirrored this. I read starting strength and became the lifter that only did SBD plus a little overhead and back work. And it would stay that way for much of my first year and a half.
But, you should still be an athlete as a powerlifter. Or rather, you should still be able bodied. The best powerlifters, and I mean that in regards to performance and longevity, don't do SBD every day. They jump on boxes, use dumbbells and machines, do cardio and train the smaller exercises.
Oddly enough, my powerlifting took it's biggest jump in the months after training strongman.
My squat work became hatfield squats and above parallel high bar speed squats (wait what???).
My pressing went all to overhead. I did strict log press, push jerks, incline log press and dumbbell overhead.
My pulling changed the most. I went from sumo to conventional block pulls, trap bar, stone and sandbag picks, and way more rows and lat pull downs.
The rest of my training was moving events. I was carrying a frame and sandbags, doing broad and vertical jumps, sprinting, and pulling sleds and cars.
How could any of this make me a better powerlifter? Well let me tell ya, 4 months later I added 24 lbs to my squat and 74 lbs to my deadlift. And 6 months later 22 lbs to my bench.
And now my training is still geared towards powerlifting, but I do far more variation. I have "specialized" in powerlifting, but I still train overhead, unilateral, strongman, and cardio.
The most important thing I have learned from the last 10 years is to train with intent.
Training has a purpose. When we enjoy an exercise, it's easier to push it. That's why it's important to program things you enjoy.
But at the same time there will be exercises that you hate and just want to "get done". For me, it's dumbbell bench and overhead. Historically, I have always half assed them. But when I started treating them like my big barbell lifts, I found that I enjoyed them more and my numbers went up more.
Funny how enjoyable training improves intent. But training with intent also makes training more enjoyable.
Whatever you do with your training, do it with intent and have fun. Don't restrict yourself to only SBD. Don't dismiss other exercises or training concepts, they may actually help you.