By Scott Hansen, CSCS, BS in Exercise Science, Wrestling Coach
People lift weights to get strong and build muscle.
Squatting, deadlifting, rowing, and pressing is great and will build an impressive physique if you keep challenging yourself on these lifts and their variations.
Unfortunately, that’s where many people’s training ends
And that's where pain from working out starts
I say unfortunately because life happens in 3 dimensions, and most lifts take place only in the sagittal plane.
Most of the ones that are multi-planar can’t be loaded very well, so meatheads tend to shy away from them.
This is why the guy who looks like a brick shithouse pulls a hammy running out a grounder in beer league softball
...or the dude with a 500-pound deadlift tweaks his back moving a couch.
If you move laterally or explosively only once every 10 years, there is likely to be trouble!
We are the most well-designed machine on the planet.
We are a stack of joints, and if you go up and down the chains of the body, the primary requirement for the joints alternate between being stable and mobile.
Think about it...
Your hips and ankles need to be able to move a lot as ball and socket joints, while the knee only moves as a hinge.
On top of this, our joint mobility is like a muscle in the sense that if we don’t use it, we lose it.
If we don’t move joints through full ranges of motion, then we get stiff and have less range available to us.
Then, we decide we’re Billy Badass and do something out of the norm, and find that range of motion we haven’t been using, and we have to borrow that range of motion from some other joint system.
This is why we hurt shit and get pain from working out
For every sore lower back out there, there’s most likely a hip that’s lacking some range of motion or a stiff mid-spine
If you want to build a body like Tarzan and be bulletproof it’s imperative to
Include 3 things to your workout program:
Regular movement in all 3 planes of motion
multidirectional plyometric variations/Medicine ball drills
Hill sprints/sled pushes
1. Regular movement in all 3 planes of motion
We’re talking strictly about moving like an athlete, not a robot.
Traditional single-leg movements, like split squats and single-leg squats and deadlifts, move in the sagittal (forward / backward) plane,
but since you’re on one leg, (or at least only using the back leg minimally) they’re also resisting motion in the frontal (side to side) and transverse (up / down) plane
...so all the stabilizing muscles of your hip and trunk are working on overdrive!
If you take nothing else from this, add some single leg work into your program at least once a week to complement your squatting and deadlifting, and you’ll be far better off for it.
The next best thing to do after adding some single leg work into your program would be to include some frontal and transverse plane movements in.
This is easily accomplished in your warm-up.
Add In Single Leg Straight Leg Dead Lifts with 3-Way Reach Into Your Warm-Up
Things like lateral squats tend to be pretty awkward to load, but it doesn’t mean you can’t challenge the complexity of them over time to keep improving both your mobility and strength
Lateral Squat to Lunge Progressions
Start with the first progression and work to master it in your warm-ups over 2-4 weeks
Then move on to the next progression.
Own the movement before trying to challenge it further.
Over time, as you start to improve your mobility and your control through these newfound ranges of motion, you can start to add speed and force with jumps and medicine ball drills.
Some examples of medicine ball drills you can add to your workouts:
Standing Chest Pass
Tall Kneeling Chest Pass
Standing Side Toss
Standing Side Toss with Step
Most anyone can do box jumps right out of the gate, but it’s important to build your multi-directional movement capacity BEFORE we start jumping and landing in these different ways.
Think of it like this:
driving drunk is dangerous enough, but driving fast while drunk is even more so. Speed+Force+Lack of ROM=injury and pain from working out
2. Various carries & 3. Hill Sprints / Sled Pushes
I like having a strongman or athletic type of day during the week in my training.
Years ago, I bought one of Jason Ferruggia’s training programs, which included one and it really drove home a lot of what we used to do as kids when we were training at the Westbrook Rec Center trying to become the best wrestlers we could be.
We didn’t have much equipment, but we regularly pushed cars in parking lots, carried each other on our backs, over our shoulders, or “bridal” style in front of us upstairs, and carried dumbbells as far as we could carry them.
The fact that the few bars that we had access to were so rusty that we had to wrap towels around them so we didn’t need a tetanus shot essentially made everything we did thick grip lifts too.
This doesn’t make them bad, it just means that we might need to find some other stuff to bridge the gap and make sure our strength training carries over to the real world.
This is where a strongman/athlete day fits in.
I love to include Olympic lifting variations here, jumps, medicine ball throws, fat gripz work, rope pulling and climbing, sprints, sled pushing and dragging, sandbag lifts, carries, and any combination of the above that you can think of.
If you have access to a big ass tire and can get down to flip that sumbitch without rounding your back, those are fair game too.
Have an empty keg laying around?
Take it outside and huck it a few times.
These don’t have to be pre-programmed each week, which allows for a little extra fun in that you don’t know what kind of challenges you’ll make for yourself until you get after it.
As an added bonus, a lot of it doesn’t have to happen in a gym, so you can utilize being outside, which I hear is good for you.
Just think about Rocky 4, when he’s training in Russia for Drago, and he’s carrying the tree across his back in waist-deep snow.
That’s what we’re looking for during a strongman day.
Getting the whole body to work as a unit and doing some unconventional stuff.
As an example, here’s what I did on Friday after my warm-up:
2. Barbell Complex: Hang Clean, Front Squat, Push Press 3×3+3+1
3. Fat Grip Deadlift 4×5
4. Goblet Carries 2x about:60 seconds
5. Battling Ropes 8x:15s on/:45s off
Nothing revolutionary, but it was fun, broke up the monotony, and outside of the cleans, I didn’t really have to think about technique much, so I could just go and get after it.
Have some fun with this stuff and fill in the gaps in your training to build some real world strength and help prevent pain from working out.
If you have a friend, get them in on it, too.
I have no doubt that you guys will be able to come up with stuff to challenge each other, and when your workout partner carries the 90-pound dumbbells for 48 seconds, I’m sure it’ll push you to get 50.
At the end of the day, training is a means to an end.
It’s fun and the process is great, it allows us to feel good and fill out V-necks, but it’s also supposed to improve our ability to enjoy the activities and hobbies we like outside of the gym even more.
Don’t lose sight of that.
A solid training program should also make you less likely to get hurt doing stuff and even help alleviate some of the nagging injuries you’ve incurred over time.
Stop banging your head against the wall wondering why you can train so hard but still feel so banged up.
I did it for years and missed out on doing stuff I liked because I fucked myself up chasing big weights while ignoring things like mobility and movement.
In order to get different results, you need to do different things, so add some movement variability into your program.
You’ll feel better, reduce pain, and be able to dominate your next competition.
Which exercise are you going to add into your workout routine this week?