By: Coach Wyatt
There is a debate within strength sports about placing more emphasis on technique and how you move versus placing emphasis on how much you move and how hard you work. Of course, this shouldn’t be a two-sided argument. Like damn near everything there are pros and cons to both approaches and each approach lies on a spectrum where they interact.
Go Hard or Go Home Right?
Starting on the “hardcore” end of the spectrum we have the athlete who maxes out at a high frequency is a believer that “more is more."
You should never take the weight off the bar.
Always do more than last week, etc.
While many of us just cringed at that last sentence, there are some positives to this mindset and approach.
Going hard is honest hard work. It takes mental and physical toughness. These are the lifters who can grind out a max effort single. The kind of people who see a hard program and will do the work. They have a level of grit that is needed for not just high-level lifting, but for when life gets hard.
At the same time, it’s easy to let hard work be too hard, be unproductive, and just downright stupid.
While the grit is admirable, the inability to make appropriate weight or exercise selections often leaves these lifters frustrated when the newbie gains stop.
In this scenario, you work harder until you can’t work anymore. This means burnout, injury, and often quitting barbell training.
Never Deviate From Perfect
Oppositely, we have the “perfect” technique mindset. In this style of training, the goal is to move well and never deviate from the “perfect” technique. On the extreme we see this being touted as a way to avoid injury. If an athlete feels something or even slightly misgrooves a lift it's back down to lighter weight and low RPE.
Again, there are positives to this. A focus on technique is a focus on efficiency. By prioritizing technique you are paying attention to the small details that matter for high-level performance.
However, prioritizing technique and having little to no exposure to ugly and grindy reps diminishes not only your ability to grind but keeps you from knowing where your weak points are. As Mike Tuchscherer once said, technique work does not mean light work. If you want to work on technique for heavy singles, you need exposure to heavy hard work.
In this scenario, you work smart, but spend so much time figuring out how to work smart and get every detail perfect that no actual work gets done.
Work Smarter So You Can Work Harder
I do have a bias towards more of the technique and low RPE work.
But… the purpose of improving your technical efficiency and awareness of how you move should be used to move more weight, do more reps, do more sets, etc. You can even expand this to working smarter not only by how you move, but how much effort you put towards getting consistent sleep, eating an adequate diet, and managing load and fatigue with programming.
Back to the point, working smarter should allow you to work harder. Smart, logical, evidence-based (or whatever you want to call it) training is hard training. Your training should be hard work. Now that doesn’t mean forcing 5 lbs more than last week, or always grinding out ugly reps that wouldn’t stand in competition. Hard work means trying to maintain technique when the barbell says to do otherwise, it means making smart weight selections, and it means getting the volume in.
This middle ground will be individualized to each person and coach. A lifter who enjoys more of the hardcore aspects of training isn’t going to do well on a low RPE program and takes out heavy work most of the year.
Oppositely, an undergrad exercise science student who likes data and spreadsheets might want a more methodical approach and not enjoy hardcore training as much. Both athletes still need aspects of each so we might nudge the hardcore lifter to start paying attention to how he moves while we might push the undergrad lifter to listen to some metal and get after a 5RM.
Work smarter AND Work harder. It's the way to lift for a lifetime.