The Evolution Of The Strength Athlete – Part 1
So, you wanna get strong?
That’s a wise choice, and I commend you on your choice of
physical pursuit. It goes without saying that you will
need to lift weights and add weight to the bar in
order to get stronger.
However, if you wish to reach your strength potential
(in your chosen lifts) then there is going to be much
more involved than mindlessly ‘lifting weights’.
You must master your technique, find good training
partners, join a great place to train and
pay attention to your training program. Furthermore,
if you learn how to warm-up before your strength
training sessions and give some thought to the recovery
methods that you use; you will accelerate up your strength
This article series, “The Evolution Of The Strength
Athlete”, I will discuss these topics in great detail
and help you on your way to building the strength you
I am a Powerlifter by profession. I have won multiple World
Championships, Squatted over 1200lbs and Deadlifted
over 1000lbs. However, I have also competed for many
years in Strongman and I train all kinds of athletes who
want to get stronger.
The take home point is that these articles are for
anybody who trains to develop strength (not just
Powerlifters). If at times I talk about the Squat, Bench
Press and Deadlift, it is because these are my favourite
lifts. But 95% of what I am going to share with you will
be true regardless of whether you are a Powerlifter,
Strongman, Weightlifter or just a guy who wants to get
strong. (Even bodybuilders will find a lot of value in this
So, intro over, let’s deal with the most important
thing first: Technique.
Walk into any commercial gym, anywhere in the World
and you will usually find that almost every person in there
is performing nearly every exercise that they do with
horrible form. Is it any coincidence that these people
are often also weak and in physical pain and/or injured?
The simple answer is ‘no’.
If we look at any sport, we usually find that the elite
athletes who participate in that sport have the best
technique. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule.
But in general, this point is true.
And again, this is not coincidence. These athletes
have worked hard to master their technique.
And you may ask, “Why have they done so?”
The answer is because great technique will allow
them to perform at your best level and with the
least injury risk. For the strength athlete, this means
that you must develop your technique in order to
achieve your strength potential and minimise injury-risk.
In one of the greatest books on sport ever written,
(Supertraining), the author sheds some light on
developing technique and why you must pay attention
to it. I will paraphrase Mel Siff because the book is
over 500 pages long and I can’t remember which
page this information is on. But the point stands:
“It takes approximately 500 reps to ingrain a technique.”
In other words, if you practise your Squat 500 times,
you are now likely to do what you have practised on
auto-pilot; without thinking.
Even more interestingly, Mel Siff explains that:
“It takes approximately 3000 reps to undo an old
technique and ingrain a new one.”
The take home message is obvious! Work on technique
as a priority; otherwise you will spend a lot
of time in the future, un-doing poorly learnt movement
Get your technique right before trying to mindlessly add
weight to the bar. Once you have got your form to a decent
standard, the strength gains will come much faster anyway.
I hope you are starting to view
technique with the importance in deserves. Instead of
always looking for the next training program to increase
your strength; start working on your form. It will un-lock
the fastest and most powerful strength gains you have
ever had (and reduce your injury-risk in the process).
Before I share with you some tips for improving your
Squat, Bench and Deadlift form, let me just prove what
I have said with an example from my own career.
I didn’t have great Squat, Bench or Deadlift form in the
early years. However, I soon learnt what good Squat
and Deadlift form looked like, practised it, and the
results speak for themselves. A 1214lbs Squat and a
1008lbs Deadlift are mine.
However, the Bench was another story. I have struggled
(comparatively speaking) with this lift throughout my career.
Many well-meaning people have suggested different
techniques and programs for me, and all worked to some
degree. But I never felt like I understood the Bench like
I did the Squat and Deadlift.
Fast-forward to early 2011 and I became the all-time British
Bench Press record holder with a respectable press of 755lbs.
This represented a gain of over 50lbs in 6 months (having
been stuck at my previous PR for several years)! How did
I do this? I worked with Bill Crawford of Metal Militia and he
helped me with my program. But, before he changed my
program, guess what he did?
…he forced me to work on my form! Once my technique was
good the strength piled on faster than it could have done by
changing any other thing to do with my training.
Technique reigns supreme above all else.
Now be sure to pay careful attention to the following
– Take a deep breath of air into your belly, un-rack the
bar, take a small step back with each foot and assume
your start position
– Take in some more air, force the knees out and push
the hips back to start the movement (feel like you are
sitting back into a chair)
– Try to keep the shins vertical or as close to vertical as
possible (the wider your stance the easier this is to do)
– Stay tight and go down until the crease of your hip is just
below the top of your knee
– Reverse the movement by driving with all that you have
back to the start position
– Keep your upper back arched and the chest forced out
– Repeat for reps and rack the bar
– Only relax the abs once the bar is racked
– Throughout the entire Squatting movement your head should
be driven back into the bar and you must look straight
ahead at all times
– The shoulders should be pulled back and down and the
chest forced out
– Take a deep breath of air into your belly and have your
training partner assist you in un-racking the bar
– The start position should see the bar held over the
Sternum with the arms locked out
– Lower the bar to the Sternum, squeezing it as hard as
you can and keeping the forearms perpendicular to the
– Reverse the movement by driving the bar aggressively
back to the start position in a straight line, or slightly
back towards your face
– Repeat for reps or rack the bar
– Set up to the bar with a hip width stance, toes pointed
forwards and your shins within 2 inches of the bar
– Grip the bar with a mixed grip (one hand supinated and
the other pronated)
– Arch your lower back, relax the shoulders, take a deep
breath of air and you are good to pull
– Keep the head in a neutral position or look straight ahead
– As soon as the bar breaks the floor, feel as if you are
pulling backwards. The bar must stay close to your
body throughout the duration of the pull
– When the bar gets to knee height drive the glutes
forwards to lockout the weight
– At the top, squeeze your glutes and keep the abs tight
– Take in a little air and return the bar to the floor (this
can be done quickly; there is no need to slowly lower
the bar to the floor)
– Be sure that subsequent reps are pulled from the same
starting position (do not let the bar drift further forwards
with each rep)
In this article I have provided you with some reasons
why you must focus on your technique. This is true of
warm up sets with 45 pounds and top sets with 100’s
of pounds. You have also gained a basic overview of
some key points to practise on your Squats, Benches
To take your Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift technique
to another level, check out the following books: