One mistake that I see a lot of people make in their training is specializing too much in a particular strength quality and ignoring other things that can help build a more well-rounded and balanced body.
I get into this habit sometimes too. Personally, I’m addicted to going heavy all the time. I love to work up to high intensity singles, doubles, and triples. Occasionally I’ll throw some 5×5 work into my workouts too.
The problem is that if I completely ignore other rep ranges, I start to lose other abilities; endurance is a good example. If I haven’t done any decent amount of work above 8 reps for 2 months straight, it’s likely that I’ll burn out very quickly if I implement some higher rep work.
If brute strength is my only interest, or if my sport relies solely on that brute strength (powerlifting, for example), this isn’t much of an issue. However, that’s not to say that some quality sets in the 12-15 rep range wouldn’t help a powerlifter. And for somebody who trains exclusively to look and feel better, it’s reasonable to believe they might appreciate frequent variation in their training. This is one of the many reasons CrossFit has become so popular.
I think everybody could benefit by getting strong in ALL rep ranges. If you’re putting up decent weight for low, medium, and high reps, it’s likely that you’re more balanced and well-rounded than somebody who only uses a particular max-effort (at or above 90% 1RM) method or than somebody who only does high-rep drop sets and tons of volume.
Finding Your Weaknesses
Start experimenting with some styles of training that you don’t normally do.
If you never max out on the big lifts, find a safe way to test your 1RM in the squat, bench, overhead press, and deadlift.
If you’re always training at a high intensity with low volume, switch things up. Try to focus on higher volume sessions and drop the weights down a bit.
If you use a body-part split, try using a full-body routine three days a week and see how your body responds. If you currently train with a full-body routine, try an upper-lower split for a couple months and see how that goes.
Maybe you’ve never done anything else except 3×10 or 5×5. Although these are good methods, you can only make so much progress on them once you have a decent amount of strength and training experience. Try getting heavier and playing around with 3×3 or 5×2. Follow up those heavy sets with a back-off of 6-12 reps, or higher!
I think experimenting with many different set and rep schemes is the best way to become well-rounded and prepared with the necessary strength for any type of physical challenge.
Take advantage of the most challenging variations of the squat, hinge, push, and pull.
- Front squats
- High-bar back squats
- Low-bar back squats
- Overhead squats
- Box squats
- Zercher squats
- Koji squats
- Dead-stop squats
- Chain squats
- Banded squats
- Pause squats
- Jump squats
- Goblet squats
- Reverse lunges
- Walking lunges
- Bulgarian split squats
- Single-leg squats
- Snatch grip deadlifts
- Deficit deadlifts
- Snatch grip deficit deadlifts
- Sumo or “psuedo-sumo” stance deadlifts
- Jefferson deadlifts
- Rack pulls
- Trap-bar deadlifts (from both handle heights)
- Suitcase deadlifts
- Romanian deadlifts
- Split-stance RDL’s
- Pause deadlifts
- Chain deadlifts
- Banded deadlifts
- Kettlebell swings
- Hip thrusts
- Barbell glute bridges
- Horizontal and 45 degree back extensions
- Good mornings
- Reverse hyperextensions
- Glute-ham raises
- Push presses
- Military presses
- Bench presses
- Push jerks
- Floor presses
- Board presses
- Dead stop presses
- Behind the neck presses or the “Klokov Press”
- Incline presses
- Decline presses
- Landmine presses
- Dumbbell presses
- Handstand pushups
- Bent over rows
- Cable rows
- Inverted rows
- Chin-ups/Pull-ups (preferably from rings, TRX, or other straps)
- Banded pull-ups
- Batwing rows
- Face pulls
- Band pull-aparts
- Landmine rows
- Reeves rows
- Kroc rows
- Front levers
All of these variations have different benefits. Front squats are quad killers, while a low bar back squat will recruit more posterior chain. Snatch grip deadlifts increase the demand on your upper back, lats, and grip, while banded deadlifts with a light load teach good bar acceleration and rate of force development.
Landmine presses are great for those with shoulder issues, while benching from a dead-stop and shortened range of motion can focus on eliminating that sticking point we’ve all felt before. Chins done from rings or straps are easier on the elbows and wrists and harder to stabilize, but face pulls are awesome to hammer the upper back and keep your shoulders happy.
As you can see, all these exercises have applications, you just have to know where to use them.
Anterior core weakness? Front squats and zerchers.
Hard time locking out deadlifts? Hip thrusts and glute bridges.
Barbell pressing bothers your shoulders? Landmine, dumbbell, and bodyweight pressing patterns.
Want wider lats? TRX wide-grip pull-ups and reeves rows.
Start experimenting with some more challenging variations of the fundamental movements. Try something you’ve never done before. Chances are, it’s probably going to challenge you in a different way than you’re used to. If you suck at something, get better at it! Spend some time getting better at that particular exercise, and then go back to a more traditional variation (zercher squat to back squat) for some possible new strength gains.
Take Home Points
- Get outside your comfort zone. It will make you better.
- Don’t forget to make steady gains in the basic lifts, but don’t ignore the many variations of those lifts.
- Learn to appreciate the most challenging exercises. Don’t dread them, but embrace them! Think of how they’re going to help you in the future.
- Constantly analyze your specific strengths and weaknesses. Maintain the strengths, and hammer the weaknesses.
- The more well-rounded you are, the more resilient you’ll be to injuries because of your effort to address muscle weaknesses and imbalances.
- Building all-around strength will help lead to building all-around muscle. Becoming balanced can greatly improve the symmetry and shape of your physique.