The Top Ten Worst Pieces of Training Advices I’ve Gotten Over The Last 20 Years

the rack front door

My love for the Iron began at the age of 14, when I was first introduced to lifting weights to improve my sport.  Since then, 20 years have gone by, and I, like many of my colleagues, have been on a never-ending quest to find the perfect program.  In 1997 I suffered a severe injury to my back, due to poor coaching and improper execution of some complex movements.  This injury, along with really shitty rehab, sidelined me for nearly 10 years from serious training.  Many of the items on my list contributed to my injury, and sadly I see and hear these types of things every single day.  If we don’t learn from our past, we are surely doomed to repeat it.  I present to you, in no particular order, 10 of the worst pieces of advice/coaching I have encountered over the last 20 years.

  1. You don’t need to individualize programs
  2. Total body training
  3. Staying on the same program
  4. Mass moves mass… aka The Dirty Bulk
  5. Train multiple qualities at the same time
  6. Linear periodization
  7. Your knees shouldn’t go past your toes
  8. Kettlebell cleans on a Bosu ball
  9. Use momentum for the Olympic lifts
  10. Place a box under your hips when you squat

You don’t need to individualize programs

At first, you might make great progress on hand-me-down or shared programs.  People have been doing this for decades.  It has been my experience that an individualized program, based on your neurotype expedites results dramatically.  Repeatedly I see myself and my athletes make 15-20% increases in performance when we normally expect only 3% improvements.  Personally, I have seen more improvements in my first few months of these highly specialized program than I did in a decade of other programs.  

Opinions and advice in the fitness community are endless and it can be confusing to know who to listen to and where to turn for advice.  Success does leave clues.  Master the basics and you can not go wrong.  The squat has stood the test of time because it works.

Total body training

Step Up, balance on one leg, curl the dumbells, then press.  Lunge, then curl the dumbells.  Etc etc… This methodology has been around for years and years.  Compound exercises are great!  Combining movements like curls with lunges, step ups and presses has a minimal impact.  Quite simply, combining exercises like this requires you to use such a smaller load, you properly stimulate the targeted tissues enough to get any type of training response.  You simply just get better at doing the exercise rather than get better and adapt BECAUSE of the exercises.

Staying on the same program

When I think back on how little I changed my programs in the past, it blows my mind.  I used the same program for squats, bench/incline, and deadlifts for nearly 10 years, off and on.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Charles is to have a large treasure chest of exercises.  Not only to prevent overuse injuries, but to prevent accommodation.

Mass moves mass – aka… The Dirty Bulk

Is it easier to increase your strength when you are not in a caloric deficit? – Yes.  Is it easier to increase your strength when you are LESS inflamed?  Or When you get a great nights sleep?  When you are not bloated? Yes! Can you structure your nutrition in a way that decreases your body fat while maximizing LEAN muscle mass? – Absolutely.  Training for my initial strongman competitions I walked around about 10 kilos above competition weight, then cut weight leading in to my comp.  I was indeed strong, however, I struggled to ever sleep through the night.  My gut was so bloated that I had to take short breaks while tying my sneakers each day.  I got out of breathe walking up the stairs.  Simple tasks became extremely difficult.  My first competition being coached by Coach Poliquin was the easiest weight cut I have ever had.  No complicated water cuts, or salt manipulations or any of that stuff.  I increased my protein intake, decreased my body fat, got my body weight back up the 10 kilos I was before my earlier comps, and increased my strength all at the same time.  Quite simply, my quality of life improved dramatically.

Train multiple qualities at the same time

Back before Crossfit had a name, we just called that style of exerice conditioining, as our training would lack structure or purpose.  When the movie “300” came out, I became obsessed with this style of training to achieve the body composition the Spartans sported for the film.  My training consisted 45-60 minutes of Linear periodization modeled “strength” work, followed by another hour, yes, another hour, of metabolic conditioning.  I was Crossfit before Crossfit was cool.  I was also as weak as dishwater and couldn’t have punched my way out of a paper bag.  My strength was not just stagnating,  I was getting weaker.  I now know that you CAN get leaner, AND stronger, AND put mass on at the same time, if you train properly.  You can easily get multiple adaptations to ONE training stimulus.

Linear periodization

Western or Linear periodization CAN work for beginners, but only for a short period of time, and eventually with diminishing returns.  I spent nearly a decade using the Linear periodization model.  Plateau’s, stalls, burn outs and stagnations in performance were a regular occurrence.  The Undulating Model taught by my mentor and coach Charles Poliquin has shown to be the most superior method of periodization I have ever seen.

Your Knees Shouldn’t Go Passed Your Toes

The next time someone says this nonsense to you, ask them what shoe size has to do with squat mechanics.  Quite possibly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever been told.  This MYTH is still alive and well.  It is simply just not true!  The old adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is very true when it comes to flexibility.  If you tell your ankle joint that it doesn’t need to allow your shin to track forwards eventually you will lose the ability to do so.  The same holds true for your hip and knee joints with the depth of your squat.  Partial range of motion squats off safety pins are fantastic for strength and power!  Any time you use partials in your program, always follow them up with full range of motion squats in your workout.

Kettlebell cleans on a Bosu ball

To my everlasting shame…. yes… I tried these.  By Cleaning in an unstable environment, lifting substantially less, and submaximal weight, your strength, and power should improve.  Somehow this was and is even still taught today.  At the time, this was being done by a few NFL strength and conditioning coaches, and I was lured to the dark side.  Needless to say, I saw a large decrease in strength during this dark time in my training history.

Use momentum for the olympic lifts

In high school, long before Cross-fit, we too had those “bumper plates” made from rubber.  If you’ve ever used these stupid things, you know just how bouncy they can be.  Among the many, many things I loved about my weightlifting coaches and classes in high school was that we were actually graded on our strength improvements.  The flip side to this coin is that the few of us that really, truly cared found any way possible to get more weight on the bar.  When it came time for us to max on the Power Clean, or what passed as a Power Clean, it went like this: first, deadlift the weight up.  Then rapidly lower the weight to the floor bouncing it off the ground to assist in the first pull.  Then, out of desperation, we would receive the bar in that odd, wide, half-sumo, half-split stance position that you see in most high school and college weight rooms.  Not surprisingly, a low-back injured occurred a short time thereafter.

Place A Box under your hips when you squat

I am not talking about actual Box Squats here.  I don’t even know what I would call these things.  I am not what some would call a pillar of flexibility.  I could not, for the life of me, complete a full range of motion back squat.  It may come as no surprise to you that my inability to do so resulted in L4 and L5 pain in my spine, and accompanying pain in my hips.  Rather than addressing these issues and improving my technique, my coach at the time put a step box between my feet and instructed me to stop when I touched the box.  Again, this is NOT a box squat, not even an inertia squat.  Just hit the box and stand back up, with no regard for proper position, technique, or speed.  I have seen many novice lifters and trainers employ this method over the years, and I have no doubt that squatting in this way contributed to my sciatic nerve injury.  Instead of employing this method, use things like step-ups and split squats to address restrictions.

Robert Jacobs, USAW, PICP, MA

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