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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Strength Tip: Master The Movement Before Chasing PRs

There's a leaning towards heavy lifting these days. Perhaps the influence of Instagram and social media has now produced a highlight reel and shifted the fitness industry in an entirely new direction. I fell into a trap a few years ago of watching other lifters and fitness enthusiasts online doing their training, and started lifting heavy like they did. The problem is that social media is often a highlight reel of heavy lifts or perfect reps. It does not account for the learning curve. In the end, I was rewarded for my bandwagon training with an injured psoas and a month of dragging my leg behind me everywhere I went on my college campus.

When you're starting out learning a new lift, like the Olympic lifts for example, it is vital that you learn the movements and become consistent with it before trying to max out. If you rush to add weight to the bar prior to learning the movement, you will likely default to poor patterns and create compensations that lead to injury in the long term. It also makes it much harder to go back and start from scratch.


I've watched a great example of this unfold recently with two kids a fellow coach is working with. Both come from the same high school football team and do the same workouts with the team. The big difference is that one is a junior and the other a sophomore. When watching the other coach work with them on lifts, the junior is stronger, but when certain movements have to be corrected the corrections are harder to make. On the other hand, the sophomore does not move as much weight, but can make better technique adjustments because the poor movements haven't been ingrained under heavy loads consistently.


Another key aspect of mastering movement first, is not just the ability to move more weight long term, but also keeping joints safe in that process. The body has to learn how to handle heavy weights. You can load up most people and they can do a movement, but it does not mean their body has efficiently learned how to handle heavy weights. If you are new to lifting, the difference between getting hurt can be a 5lb jump in weight, and you don't know which 5lbs that's going to be. By taking time to adapt, not only do you develop the soft tissue at the joints involved, but you also master the technique of each lift.

Now, it must be stated that "heavy" is a relative term to the individual doing the lifting. For one person, a bar can move very quickly and yet it feels like a max (this usually happens with young individuals and new lifters). For another person, it can move very slowly and yet they still have a fair amount of weight left in the tank. Part of taking the time to refine the technicalities of the lifts you want to utilize frequently in training is that you learn to understand what you're truly capable of in the long term.


These points are also just very surface level details to consider. The last thing to say about this, is that you have to ask yourself before rushing to find a max on a lift is "What end goal am I racing towards?" The question of time constraints seems to get people, because often they end up in a "race to nowhere" in their training where no real benefit exists from maxing out. They push a maximum weight, when it really has no positive impact on their long term goals as a whole.


In the end, the choice will still be yours to make as to whether or not you choose to chase PRs before truly learning a movement. But if you want to stay healthy and lift heavy, being patient will be the best way to go.

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