I can still remember my 4th grade teacher Ms. Carroll explaining this one to me when correcting my essays in regards to my run on sentences, that seemed to go on and on, with no end in sight, and just a couple of commas thrown in for good measure…. Oh wait, I did it again there huh?
Guess I never fully understood that lesson with regards to my sentence structure, oops. In fairness, she always left out the “Stupid” part.
Never the less, it has stuck with me not only in my career as a coach trying to communicate complex concepts to the average gym goer, but also as a lifter myself.
True, there are a ton of different things you can think of while you're lifting, and if you're coaching, many different cues you can use with your client, but that doesn't mean you should think about/use them all.
As humans we can only keep a couple things in our forefront at one time, and the second you start adding more stuff, something else is gonna slip out the window.
That's when form tends to break down, even though your whole focus is on all the different cues that would ideally give you “perfect” form.
Let's first dispel the myth that there is such thing as “perfect” form. There isn't. I've been doing this for 12 years and I still haven't seen a perfect squat, bench press, chin up etc. so don't put that pressure on yourself.
Instead of thinking of all the different things you need to do to have a perfect squat, just think of the 1 or 2 cues that will have the greatest carry over for you specifically.
Same goes for if you're coaching a client, 1 or 2 cues per exercise (if you need to give them more than that, you're not using the proper progression/regression of whatever exercise you're trying to master).
Here’s the thing, the KISS Principle also applies to your mental approach before you begin each set of an exercise, and I'd even goes so far as to say between each repetition.
In the strength training world many of us hear the phrase, 9 out of 10 lifts are made or missed before you ever touch the bar. This refers not only to your attitude before you begin the lift, but also to your mental preparedness.
Some folks can lift all psyched up out of their minds, and some folks can't (I definitely cannot). The one thing that all of them have in common is that if they made the lift, they were prepared to do it, and knew what they needed to do in order to complete it.
Now, if the average trainee takes this same approach that the advanced weightlifter does to their own training, regardless of what weight is on the bar, the progress their body makes will be very impressive.
This starts with simplifying what you need to do, and the steps you need to take to do it.
So how do I go about simplifying this stuff and taking on this mental approach you're probably asking.
First you need to figure out what the one or two things are that will make the biggest difference in your technique during each rep.
For example, for some people it's pulling the bar to them, and touching the same spot on their chest every rep for the bench press, others it's focusing on bracing their abdomen correctly and driving through their legs.
All of these cues are great and aren’t mutually exclusive, but to think of it all at the same time would be a recipe for disaster.
Find out what that is for you, and only focus on those 1 or 2 cues for each set and every workout until those are no longer the weak links. Once you’ve improved those parts of the lift, reevaluate and find out what the next cues are that you should pay attention to.
The other technique which I use for not only myself, but my clients, is coming up with a small mental checklist I go through before each lift. Keep that checklist simple with only a few items that set you up for big success.
In order for me to nail my squat for example, all I really need to do is check off each task on the list in order, and I know I’ll be successful.
My squat checklist looks something like this usually:
- My Mantra - Yes, I have one, it helps me get focused and feel ready. I just say “Strong and Confident” 3 times, and it gets me clear of all thoughts except my task at hand, but also calms me and focuses me.
- Get my upper back as tight as possible.
- Take a big, deep belly breath, and brace my abs.
If I don't go through this, I'm a total mental basket case, and will either be too jazzed up and not focused, be thinking about how heavy the weight is, or worst of all, be thinking about something else entirely like what's for lunch (did I mention I have AD/HD??).
Again, each person’s checklist will probably be a little different because it’s based on each individuals needs. Just keep it short and sweet.
The simpler you can make your thought process for each exercise the easier it will be for you to do each with optimal form and that will lead to some incredible strength gains.
Remember the K.I.S.S. principle.