5 Useful Strength Training Lessons Everyone Can Benefit From

Alright, maybe the list below is common sense, and maybe you already knew these. Regardless, I felt like this article was appropriate for any strength athlete or lifter who needed a friendly reminder, pick-me-up, or could find benefit from one of the lessons below. And by no means is this article intended to sound preachy, it’s merely trying to open up conversations on different topics/lessons you may learn in your lifting career.

In fact, the inspiration for writing this piece was a string of inconsistent lifts, which left me frustrated in my performance, and I know many others out there can relate to this feeling.

So what the heck counts as a strength training lesson? Well, a lesson could really be anything that you learn over your career under the bar, training others, and going through life while lifting. Everything relates back to one another, and to further that point, it’s not uncommon to see folks explain lifting as a metaphor for life.

1. Strength Is Dependent On Multiple Factors

Lesson: Strength Is Dependent On Readiness At Any Given Time

The reality of this hard truth is that strength is dependent on multiple factors, and one of those includes readiness. This basically means that as we train we’re continually accumulating fatigue, which will result in a decrease of performance at times. Cue those random days that you feel progressively weaker than normal.

Keep In Mind: Stefi Cohen commented on the topic saying, “When we train consistently our bodies are subject to something called accumulated fatigue. That should be the goal of any program, to progressively over time accumulate an amount of work load that will beat you down enough in order to produce positive training adaptations in the future. This is why we have peaking blocks and deloads.

The purpose of a peaking block is to accumulate work load and refine our skill. The purpose of a deload is to get your body fresh and ready for some big numbers. The expression of strength is dependent on readiness, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t hit big numbers during random training days, if you’re beat up, it means you’re doing something right.”

2. Strength Rarely Looks Linear At a Micro Level

Lesson: Strength On Paper Can Be Misleading In Short-Term Timeframes

This one is for my fellow athletes who live their lives on a “paralysis by analysis” basis. On paper, strength will rarely look/feel linear at a micro level (short-term timeframe), which can result in additional unneeded stress. Life happens and like the point above, our strength will fluctuate on a number of factors.

Keep In Mind: One way to keep yourself in check with this concept is to always consider the bigger picture. Consider where you were a year ago in the gym, and then compare your progress. Try to avoid comparing things like weeks to one another, because these can vary an incredible amount.

For example things like work stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, vacations, death in the family, and much more can play a huge role on your daily strength and performance in the gym. The idea that every day will be better than the next is not only unrealistic, but can be an unhealthy way of approaching working out.

3. You Will Probably Never Feel “Perfect” In the Gym

Lesson: Lifting Beats You Up, and Most Deal With Daily Aches and Pains

If you scroll through general fitness sites, then you’ll probably see smiling faces and overly positive folks going through workouts. And while strength sports have a lot of this, too, that’s simply not always the case. These sports are designed to tax you to your personal max on both a mental and physical level, so chances are you’ll be beat up pretty often from continually putting yourself through the gauntlet.

Keep In Mind: Greg Nuckols shared his hard truth on the topic saying, “Most lifters are dealing with some form of injury, basically all the time. When most powerlifters say they’re “healthy,” they just mean that none of their current issues are affecting their training too much, but they’re rarely healthy. 

In a recent study, 70% of the powerlifters examined were currently injured, and 87% had been injured at least once in the preceding year.  Lifters should absolutely do everything in their power to minimize injury risk.  However, at the end of the day, dealing with reasonably frequently (generally minor) injuries and some degree of pain is just part of the sport for most people.”

4. Focus On the Positives, Or Dwell On the Negatives

Lesson: Your Perception Decides Personal Growth

This lesson is something I think about often, and one of Eric Cressey’s throwback Instagram posts talking with Dave Tate really resonated with me, so I wanted to share it within this article. For this lesson, it’s more so directed at those in the field, but I think there’s a useful lesson within the post others can takeaway as well.

Keep In Mind: In Eric Cressey’s Instagram post he writes, “I spoke at an event called the Syracuse Strength Seminar back in June of 2006. At the time, I was 25 years old – and the rest of the panel consisted of Dave Tate, Joe Defranco, Mike Hope, Jim Wendler, James Smith, and Buddy Morris.

After the event, 47 of the attendees filled out online evaluations. The feedback on me was mostly positive, with the exception of three guys who clearly took issue with my age. Here are their delightful responses.

When I got the feedback, I shot Dave (@underthebar) an email to ask for his suggestions on how I could be better – and he provided some invaluable insights on presentation styles. He also shared these words that stuck with me.

“Right now you are in the paying your dues phase. I remember this very well. You are doing what you need to do. You need to continue reading your ass off, writing, training, training clients, networking, reading more, listening to audio tapes. It is a high stress time because you have to absorb and take in so much info. The age thing does not matter.

Think of this: at age 23, Tony Robbins was speaking in front of crowds of 18,000 people. The last advice I can give is when you read and listen to tapes – think. Everyone reads but very few can apply the knowledge. Education is not power – the application of it is.”

In life, you can either dwell on the haters (3/47), or recognize that the overwhelming majority of people (44/47) are openminded folks who try to find the good in situations, independent of your age or experience (or a host of other factors). It helps to have good friends and mentors who remind you to identify and leverage your strengths. Make sure you listen to the right people. Thanks, Dave.”

5. Stay Realistic With Your Dietary Choices and Changes

Lesson: Diets and Dieting Are Work and Should Be Realistically Adopted

The composition of one’s diet and the act of dieting are common in strength sports, as they’re both tools to fuel success in both training and competition. Most athletes understand this, but there’s a part of the strength athlete population that overextend what they’re capable of, then blame “dieting” for their short-comings.

Keep In Mind: To clear up this concept Hayden Bowe writes on his Instagram page, “I wrote this piece for my friends at BarBend but wanted to share it as well because I think there’s an important message here that diet critics overlook. First we need to understand what the terms diet and dieting mean before I state my side of the argument. 

  • Diet – the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
  • Dieting – restricting oneself to certain amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.

The general public often tries to demonize dieting using one common theme. It goes something along the lines of: “X% of people gain the lost weight back within Y weeks of completing a diet”. In these scenarios X is usually an astonishing large % and Y is a very short period of time. The problem with analyses like these is not that they’re incorrect, it’s that the general public often doesn’t understand the WHY, and it deters some people from even making the initial attempt towards self improvement.

If you or someone you know is overweight to the point where your/their health is at risk, or you/they just have the goal to improve your/their body composition the question should not be: to diet or not to diet (with an end date in mind)? It should be which diet can I adopt and make a part of my life, for the rest of my life. The truth is that pretty much all diets work, but they stop working at the same moment YOU do.

Once you reach your goals, the way you’ve been dieting needs to remain your diet, and that is the only way to maintain or continue to make progress. Do your research and ask questions, be realistic and choose the diet that suits your lifestyle, NOT the diet that requires you to drastically and unrealistically change your lifestyle.”

Closing Remarks

As we progress through our lifting career, the growth we endure both physically and mentally never stops, and that’s one of the beautiful things of consistently training. Hopefully this article offered some nuggets of useful information. These were all things that I’ve seen and learned recently that really resonated within me, I hope they can offer some of the same to you!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image @varbanov216 Instagram page.

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.