Why You Need to Move Well Before You Lift Heavy

This is the number one roadblock I run into.

I tell you to do pushups and they don’t understand you can’t just bench.

I tell you to goblet squat and you don’t understand why you can’t load up the barbell and back squat.

You may think about this as “regression”. Truth is, it could be just what you need to progress.

It’s definitely an ego/pride thing and particularly common in the male population. Even more-so among those who are athletic or have some background in weight training. The last thing they want to do is mobility and stability work. They just want to head to the gym and do the same damn thing everyone else is doing.

They don’t give “movement” the respect it deserves.

Bird Dog Meme

Why Are You Ignoring Movement?

Because you can’t see the end game in it.

You can’t make a correlation between your goals and doing some bodyweight exercises. It’s almost impossible for you to justify because you’re saying “What’s the Point?”. And… I get it. I’ve been there.

I’ve wondered why the hell I’m doing a bird dog.  I’ve constantly questioned, “Is this really getting me any closer to my goals?”. It all sounds a bit ridiculous, especially to the average gym goer.

But you’re not average. You found your way here,  you must be a bit ahead of the curve. You still need convincing though, understandable.

Your Neural Edge And Why It’s Important

In every exercise you perform, there is going to be a cutoff point. A point where your brain goes from trying to learn how to efficiently perform a movement to just doing whatever it can to get it done. This point is often found through load.

Confused? Here is an example.

You perform an air squat. You may not be as crisp through certain areas of the squat, but your brain is still making an effort to sort things out. It wants to find out which muscles should fire, in what order and the correct timing. It wants to LEARN how to produce a better squat.

Now, take that same squat with a loaded barbell on the back. We’ll say it’s your 3 rep max.

That barbell has added a great stressor to your situation. From the brain’s perspective, priorities have shifted. No longer is it concerned with sorting out efficiency, muscle timing, coordination, etc.  It will choose the path of least resistance and just make an effort to get the damn weight up.

The rich learning environment has taken a back seat. Let’s get to the lockout by any means necessary is now the focus. Unfortunately, by any means necessary, can mean compensation.

Think of this as a long continuum. At one end is a heavily loaded squat, at the other is a completely unloaded or even assisted squat. As you work your way down the continuum your ability to learn that pattern or exercise diminishes.

Exercise Loads Effect On Learning

Note: To really smart fitness people. This is a really simplistic view of all this. Obviously, there are situations where loading up an exercise does have learning benefits. I’m trying to keep shit simple though, get off my back!

Isn’t This Just About Good Form?

The general idea is, you need to perform the squat with good form before you load it up.

But “good form” is just a bucket term. Stability, mobility and all these fancy terms are the real make-up of “good form”.

Let’s break down the squat.

There are several components needed to create  “good form” in the squat

  • Ankle Mobility
  • Ankle Stability
  • Knee Stability
  • Hip Mobility
  • Hip Stability
  • Core Stability

Issues in any of these areas could be your hang up. And they may not get sorted out by just rehearsing your squat pattern. You could cue the hell out of “form” and still not get the results you are looking for.

Breaking things out and focusing efforts on hip mobility, core stability, etc instead of the actual squat, may give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Once again, think of this as a continuum.  Multiple joints, global focus and complex exercises on one end and single joint, local focus and isolated exercises on the other.

The Complexity of Exercise Continuum

I’m Not Telling You To Stop Lifting Heavy, But Let’s Compromise

I don’t want you to drastically change your workout and cut all lifting. You weren’t going to do that anyways.

But, I got a better plan. Why not organize your workout, so we can cover everything I just talked about and still get some lifting in.

It really isn’t that complicated. Let’s say it’s squat day. Here is how you would break it out.

Stretching/Mobility: You start with some foam rolling, making sure to work the foot, ankle, hips and spend extra time in any areas you have issues with. Add a few stretches in targeting those same areas.

Warm-Up: In your warm up, you would do some more active mobility work for the ankles, hips. Do some “isolated” or more focused exercises that just deal with the ankle, hip, and core function. Throw in a few bodyweight squats at the end.

Lifting: You do some lighter warm-up sets to groove the squat pattern and work your way up to heavier loads. Ensure the heavier squats are still under control and performed with great form. Cut off any sets where you “lose it”

That’s it.

You’re really just moving along the two continuums I discussed. More focused and lighter loaded work in the early stages of your workout and more complex and heavy loaded in the later.

Working on movement is really just great workout organization, proper build up to lifting heavy and awareness of your limits.

If You Continue to Ignore Movement…

You are leaving performance and results on the table.

I know it’s not exciting to get on your back and do leg lowering or spend a few minutes foam rolling. But you know what’s even less exciting? Losing 20 pounds of potential progress on your squat PR.

Don’t for a second fool yourself into believing that movement efficiency doesn’t have a correlation to strength.

Good movement also has a strong correlation to injury prevention.

So if you are interested in staying pain and injury free and increase your performance. Maybe give it a shot?

Do you currently put an emphasis on quality movement in your workouts? Does this change your mind at all?