As we blogged about last week, progressive overload is one of the most fundamental principles in fitness: for your body to adapt positively, you need to gradually increase the stress induced by successive workouts. To get stronger, in other words, you need to lift more weight over time.
That’s where barbells come in: they allow you to add load, with more safety and efficiency, than nearly anything else. But just because barbell-based movements are where you probably want to end up doesn’t mean they’re the best place to start. Indeed, starting barbell movements before you have a requisite base of strength is a quick road to disaster. If you can’t generate the stability needed to do a barbell exercise perfectly, your body will compensate with less ideal movement patterns to accommodate the load, putting your joints and muscles at serious risk.
If you look around a commercial gym, you can see all kinds of terrible movements in action: unsafe joint mechanics, limited range of motion, and general wobbly disaster. In almost all of those cases, the root of the problem is the same: people ran before they could walk, adding load to a dysfunctional movement.
If you can’t squat perfectly without weight, adding weight is only going to make things worse.
That’s why, at Composite, we build all of our clients’ movements from the ground up. You need to show us 25 perfect, unbroken squats before we add any load at all. Then you need to build up to 25 perfect, unbroken goblet squats while holding half your bodyweight (60 pounds, say, for a 120 pound woman) before we graduate to the bar.
Similarly, if you can’t do 10 perfect, unbroken pushups – with core stability, and a range of motion from full plank lockout at the top to chest literally touching the floor at the bottom – you have no business bench pressing. We see big guys all the time who frequently bench press 225 pounds, yet who can’t pass the pushup test. And, funny enough, they’re also the same guys who show up with a history of persistent shoulder injury.
And while a lot of people spend time on accessory movements to hit their beach muscles – bicep curls, crunches until the cows come home – they’re equally ineffective for beginners. If you can’t do eight strict pull-ups, put down the E-Z Curl bar. And if you can’t farmer’s walk for 30 second with 1-2x your body weight, then start practicing that instead, as it’s all the core work you need.
Sure, the basics aren’t sexy. But they’re also the fastest, safest, and most effective route to results – and long-term health.