Here’s Exactly What To Do When One Of Your Lifts Sucks

WRITTEN BY Joe Huskey

It’s Monday. While the rest of the world is hit with a mild case of depression due to the end of the weekend, you spring out of bed with excitement. Why?

Monday means you’re deadlifting.

The deadlift strength you possess is uncanny. Every one of your reps feels fast. There’s not a single ounce of wasted effort.

Other gym members are in awe of your brute strength. During deadlifts, you seem to have more followers than a half-naked Instagram model.

Midweek rolls around. It’s time to load an inhumane amount of weight onto your back and squat with it.

You hit your depth every single rep. Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes are firing in a harmonious fashion. For all you know, you’re pushing the Earth down, instead of pushing the weight up.

Obviously, you’re a specimen when it comes to strength.

Until Friday rolls around…

Most people are back flipping with excitement on Fridays. The end of a long work week has come to an end. Two days of freedom are within grasp.

For you, Friday means it’s bench press day. You save the bench press for the last workout of the week to avoid the misery.

one of your lifts sucks

You figure Friday is the day when the gym is most desolate, so no one will see your pathetic attempt to push weight off your chest.

Every rep seems to take an eternity. In your head, something is always off with your technique.

Hell, the teenager with toothpick arms presses more weight than you.

Despite your success with your other two lifts, the bench press will never be your BFF.

This situation is common amongst the strength population. It’s not only limited to having an embarrassing bench press.

Maybe your bench press and squat are off the charts. Your deadlift, on the other hand, feels like someone super glued the weight to the ground.

Or, your deadlift and bench make your squat feel like the ugly duckling of your lifting family.

What should you do to bring up the less than stellar lift?

If you can empathize with this situation, the following is for you.

Get Your Priorities In Order

Whether it be strength training or any endeavor you set out to improve, realizing what is and is not a priority is step one.

In terms of improving your weak lift, this means putting its stronger brethren in the backseat.

When you pride yourself on the strength of your star lifts, it’ll be a swift kick to your ego when you can’t do what you’re great at. Despite the possible deflation of your ego, you’ll survive.

Putting a priority mail sticker on your weak lift to expedite progress doesn’t mean you’ll abandon your strengths. You simply won’t give them the attention they’re accustomed to. This will be done by reducing their intensity, frequency, and volume.

Do More Of What You Suck At

If you were to only follow one piece of advice when bringing up a weak lift, this needs to be it. How often you practice a movement is the best method for mastery.

Imagine you’re trying to learn a new language. Would you practice once a week for five hours or five times a week for one hour?

In case you didn’t see the direction you were being lead, practicing five times a week for one hour is the correct answer.

Strength should be looked at as a skill you need to learn. To learn that particular skill, you need to practice it on a frequent basis.

Performing your lagging lift three times per week is recommended for rapid improvement. Don’t worry, the intensity and volume of each session won’t be so high it crushes your soul into oblivion.

Think of this in the long-term. Practicing your weak lift once a week equates to 52 sessions in a year’s time. Whereas, practicing it three times per week brings that number up to 156 sessions.

It doesn’t take a scientist telling you 104 more sessions of practice in a year’s time is going to yield better results. But it may take a mathematician.

Granted, you won’t be following this plan for an entire year. But the point gets made.

More practice equals more strength.

How Increased Frequency Improves Strength

Upping your frequency of a lift has positive effects on strength levels due to the following reasons:

  • Increased technical proficiency. If your form on a particular lift is crap, you won’t be able to display your strength potential. Repeating the movement on a regular basis engrains it so you can focus on lifting instead of 82 cues.
  • Improved intramuscular coordination. A fun way of saying all of your muscle fibers fire in a more synchronized fashion (i.e. you become stronger). If your body can’t get the necessary fibers turned on at the correct time, or in the right order, your strength is going to suffer.
  • Improved intermuscular coordination. Another fun science term meaning how well your differing muscle groups fire together. A great example is how well your quads, hamstrings, and glutes fire together during a deadlift.

Adding frequency to your training plan doesn’t have to be regulated to trips to the gym. High volume bodyweight work can have a supporting factor in your strength development.

Push-ups and bodyweight squats can build a base of endurance and movement quality that will aid in absolute strength. They’re also a great way to incorporate active rest on your off days.  

Adding a hip hinge movement to aid in the deadlift is a bit tricky. If you happen to have a kettlebell at home, Romanian deadlifts (RDL) and swings are go to exercises. If you’re not so lucky, mimicking a deadlift with your bodyweight gets the job done.  

Do enough reps of any of these movements and you’ll realize their benefit.

RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Reasons High Frequency Training is Objectively Better

one of your lifts sucks

Exposure to Heavier Loads

If you’ve been struggling to progress one of your lifts, chances are that movement pattern hasn’t been exposed to a progressively heavy load in a while.

Your body does this smart – yet, sometimes annoying – thing where it slams on the brakes when you attempt to apply a force it’s unprepared for. A great safety mechanism so you don’t die attempting a max you’re not ready for, but not so great when long-term strength is your goal.

Being exposed to heavier loads takes your brake off.

You can do this by performing heavy partials of your less than stellar lift. The weight will be around your one rep max. Not something to take lightly.

For the squat and bench press, the top 25% of the movement will suffice.

The deadlift is trickier since grip can be a limiting factor. If you’re confident in your technique and you have a Superman like grip, do the movement to just above the knee. If your technique and/or grip are something to be desired, do a rack pull starting above the knee.

You’ll see how to fit this into a training plan later on.

Bring up the Weak Area

You more than likely have a range of motion within your weak lift that gives you fits. Maybe it’s the lockout of your bench press or the bottom of your squat.

Whatever your sticking point, it needs some dedicated attention.

Here are common weak areas for each of the three lifts and exercises to address each. This is not an exhaustive list. But it gives you an idea of where your attention should be.

Bench Press

  •         Lockout: Top-half paused bench press and close-grip bench press for improved triceps strength.
  •         Bottom end: Pin presses slightly above the chest to up your starting strength.

Squat

  •         Weak out of the hole: Dead start and paused squats.
  •         Weak core causing loss of rib cage and pelvis position: Planks, weighted, planks, dead bug variations, paused front squats, etc. This could be an extensive list.
  •         Weak upper back causing rounding: Weighted 45 degree hyper extensions, front squats, paused front squats, and good mornings.

one of your lifts sucks

Deadlift

  •         Slow off the ground: ½ deadlift (similar to a paused deadlift, except you bring the weight to your knee then go back to the ground).
  •         Lockout: Rack pulls from just above the knee.
  •         Weak at knee: Paused deadlift (pause an inch below the knee then explode to top) and rack pull from below the knee.

The exercises where you incorporate a pause will be done for 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps. The pause strengthens your weak portion of the lift and gets you comfortable within the particular range of motion.

The movements without pauses will be done for 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps.

You’re not trying to max out when training a weak area. It’s more about accumulating a significant number of reps to encourage the weaker muscles to grow.

Putting it All Together

Now you know the three things which need to be included in your training to bring up your subpar lift; here’s what a four week plan may look like when bringing up one lift.

The squat will be the weak lift in this example. Getting stuck in the hole is where the sticking point takes place.

Week 1

Day 1

  1. Squat: 4×5 (75%)
  2. Paused Front Squat: 3×5
  3. Deadlift: 3×3 (80%)
  4. Accessory Hamstring, Glute, or Core Work

Day 2

  1. Squat: 4×5 (75%)
  2. Dead Start Squat: 3×8
  3. Squat Partials: 1xAs many as possible (100-105%)*

*As many as possible doesn’t mean crappy reps. Leave a rep or two in the tank before your form gives.

Day 3

  1. Squat: 4×5 (75%)
  2. Good Mornings: 4×10
  3. Bench Press: 3×3 (80%)
  4. Accessory Upper Back or Core Work

Off Days

  1. Bodyweight Squat: 100 reps
  2. Push-Ups: 50 reps
  3. Bodyweight Hip Hinge: 100 reps

Don’t grind out any of these reps. If your speed slows, cut the set. It’s about doing a large number of quality reps.

Week 2

Everything is the same as week 1 except your first exercise will be 4×4 (80%)

Week 3

First exercise is 3×4 (85%)

Week 4

First exercise is 3×3 (87.5-90%)

Don’t Fall Behind

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your strengths. Gravitating toward the things you’re confident with is natural. Break away from your comfort zone.

One of your lifts falling behind the curve means it needs to put at the top of your training to-do list. Make it a priority. Practice it early and often.

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Author: Joe Huskey
Joe Huskey is the owner of HuskeyStrength.com, where he helps men improve their confidence in life by using health and strength as the catalyst.
You can find Joe Huskey at http://www.huskeystrength.com

Get your hands on my cheat sheet for setting up training programs that took a 132lbs. skinny weakling from not being able to bench the bar to deadlifting 3x his own body weight and winning silver at the nationals.

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