There's strength training, then there's training to get strong. Learning how to differentiate between the two can be of critical importance for those who are displeased with their strength gains, says Sean Waxman, CSCS, a former national-level Olympic weightlifter and owner of Waxman's Gym (www.waxmansgym.com) in Los Angeles. Happily, your strongman shortcomings -- which are marked by constant light-bar loads, seemingly interminable strength plateaus and general ridicule -- can be addressed fairly easily. Find out if you're guilty of any of the following three strength-sapping sins.
1] YOU'RE NOT FLEXIBLE
A few perfunctory stretches before or after your workout are just not going to cut it if you expect to push beasty loads of weight at the gym. You need to make an honest assessment of how mobile you really are in order to get your body built to move more weight. Waxman explains, "I take a few key exercises and evaluate lifters to see where they're lacking in mobility." This is crucial, says Waxman, because if you can't get into the proper positions for these exercises, you are limiting your biomechanical advantage. Winner: gravity.
"If you can't get into mechanically advantageous positions, you're working against your own body," he says. "You can get stronger, but without greater mobility in your hips, ankles and shoulders, you won't work through full ranges of motion, which is limiting, no matter your goal."
In addition to specific, non-weighted flexibility work that mimics the moves you're going to be doing, Waxman recommends learning proper technique on exercises like the squat, Romanian deadlift, standard deadlift and bench press and focusing on full ranges of motion with lighter loads. As the weights go up - which is invariably a result of better technique and adaptation - you can cut back on the mobility work.
2] YOU DON'T SQUAT ENOUGH
"Generally speaking, people are afraid to squat," says Waxman. "And if I squatted the way most people squat, I'd be afraid of it too! A squat done properly is nothing to be afraid of. If done correctly, it's the easiest way for anybody to be able to get strong because of how much cumulative muscle it works. If you squat properly and often, you're gonna get overall strength gains. If you just squat and go back to benching after six months, your bench will have improved because there's an anabolic response that occurs as well. It's why it's the king of all exercises."
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3] YOU'RE NOT EATING ENOUGH CALORIES
"It doesn't mean that you have to be a fat slob while you're training," says Waxman. "But if you're training and you're not growing, you're not eating. If your body doesn't have the fuel to train, then you're stuck - you'll never get stronger. Ever. People are so concerned with having their abs. Well, you can do both kinda but you have to pick your concentration. You can do a little metabolic training at the end of your strength work and that can help you stay lean. It will also help with recovery. But the heavy weight training required for serious strength training requires optimal recovery and that means lots of calories. You just can't get stronger if you're starving yourself."
For more of Sean Waxman or his training philosophy, visit www.waxmansgym.com.