Four Hard Learned Lessons From Chasing The Pump
Strength has escaped me over the years. It has been something that I've chased continuously. I have never been strong enough or as strong as I thought I needed to be. It wasn't until my late teens when I started bodybuilding, gaining a little mass, that the numbers in the gym were increasing, but I was still not as strong as some others training next to me. I wanted to get bigger. I wanted to get stronger.
My pursuit had me using anything and everything I could get my hands on: test boosters, pre-workout powders, BCAAs, ZMA, protein, mass builders, etc. If I thought it could get me bigger or stronger, I would try it. I reached what I thought was my peak around 25 or 26. I was a burly 243 pounds, could easily back squat 315 pounds for sets of 5, deadlift 450 pounds for reps, and bench over 315 pounds without hesitation. In my naivety, I thought I was finally getting somewhere, relatively speaking.
What I noticed soon after was not only could I move a lot of weight but I also moved like a sloth, had the coordination of a baby giraffe, the range of motion of a rock, and the aerobic capacity of a koala bear. I was stronger than I had ever been but what could I do with that strength?
My humble beginnings in bodybuilding laid a great foundation for strength but I grew to understand that simply lifting more weight did not necessarily translate into well rounded movement. I began shifting into other modes of training including CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting. To say I was a fish out of water was an understatement – it took me a year just be able to get into a proper front rack position.
I felt completely exposed but becoming exposed was the best thing that could have happened to me. Mobility and flexibility, two novel ideas to me at the time, became critical. Stability and coordination started to become more valuable. Becoming strong in multiple positions and while in motion was relatively new but refreshing. I started moving better with the barbell and through space.
At the same time, I was able to quickly pick up movements like muscle-ups and push jerks mostly due to the amount of strict pulling and pushing movements from the past. Deadlifting and squatting technique continued to be of utmost significance and the motor patterns developed over that time allow me to recognize when form is failing and to stop. Even though I have moved away from bodybuilding-centric movements as the main focus of training, I continue to incorporate and strongly believe they are a great accessory tool and immensely helpful when coming back from injury.
Is this approach for everyone, no matter the chosen modality? Not necessarily. Sport specific training is still king, especially at the competitive level. However, if you are a CrossFitter, Olympic Weightlifter or Strongman and find yourself struggling or hitting a plateau, consider adding in exercises such as barbell rows, good mornings, dumbbell flyes, skull crushers or lunge variations to get you through your sticking points. The reverse is also true. Don't be afraid of giving CrossFit and Weightlifting a shoot. For me, it feels good to be strong. And it feels even better to be able to use that strength.
Find Me Wandering,
Co-Creator, Uncharted Performance
Olympic Weightlifting Aficionado