Strength Training: Getting started and getting help

Many ultimate players are entering the weight room for the first time this off season.  You should not be afraid of the weight room.   It is a very safe place if you use common sense AND know how to do the basics properly.   I strongly advise anyone entering the weight room for the first time to suck it up and get a knowledgeable person to show you how to do the compound movements: squat, lunge, deadlift, and bench press.  Paying attention to your form now and taking the time to learn things right is an investment in your ultimate career that will pay huge dividends.  You don’t need to learn everything all at once, but you do need to start learning.

Yesterday I was instructed on how to properly perform the Olympic lifts.   I have a degree in Kinesiology and fifteen years of experience in the weight room.  I have competed in a power lifting competition and I STILL sought instruction on the Olympic lifts.  Paying attention to lifting form and seeking input from experts when you learn something new is important for everyone regardless of your level of experience.  I still occasionally have people watch me squat to make absolutely sure I am breaking parallel when I think I am.

Why do I need an expert?  Can’t I just read stuff on the internet?

In some ways, lifting is like yoga. Yes, you can buy a yoga video.   But you’re not going to get much out of it unless you have already had some personal instruction.  A yoga instructor notices and corrects how your hips are turned and how your feet are planted.  They notice things that you don’t even know to think about!  Just because you can make a shape like a downward facing dog does not mean you have the proper alignment and muscle tension to reap the benefits of the pose.  In yoga, benefits accrue from constant attention to the details of muscle tension.  In lifting, injury prevention comes from constant attention to correct form and joint alignment.

More relevant to this discussion, just because something kinda looks like a deadlift, does not mean it is actually a safe and effective deadlift. Can you see the differences between these two videos?

If you understand the difference, then great!  If not, then no I’m not going to tell you what it is.  All the more reason for you to go see someone in person!  Even if you can see the difference, you may or may not be able to FEEL the difference until you have adequate experience.


Find someone you trust.

My trainer yesterday has experience in Olympic lifting competitions and he trains athletes who are preparing for the NFL combine.  I trusted that this guy knew what he was talking about.  He has experience training both himself and others in lifts I wanted to learn.

If you’re just beginning you can choose a good personal trainer or maybe even just another athlete with strength training experience.  Any personal trainer should be able to instruct you in how to do lunges, squats, and benchpress.  If you can, find someone who’s comfortable showing you how to do a deadlift as well.

Seeking training advice

If you want to take things a step further and get advice about program design, you may consider working with a personal trainer for several sessions.  Among personal trainers, you will find a huge range of experience and expertise.  If you decide to find a trainer from a large mainstream facility or your school’s gym, do your homework.  In my opinion, a certification alone doesn’t mean much.  What experience does this person have?  How long have they spent training themselves and training others?  It is not uncommon for someone to go from out of shape, to fitness buff, to ACSM certified in a manner of a few years.  Furthermore, the average personal trainer spends most of their time working with clients who want to look better or lose weight.  You are training for a sport, not for Spring break on the beach.  Find a trainer who understands the difference!

If you have a friend who is a former athlete, they may be able to give you all the advice you need to start.  An athlete who has been exposed to lengthy supervision in strength training and has years of personal experience may be a better advisor and training partner than a certified trainer with little experience in sport specific training.

Final Thoughts

The source of my concern is the ridiculousness I see every day in my local gym. I fear for the backs, knees, and shoulders of many of the lifters I see. I roll my eyes at the limited range of joint motion and enormous pectorals of others. It’s sad because just one session with a personal trainer or an athlete with strength training experience could go a long way toward preventing both their injury and my derision.

Many ultimate players are new to the idea of training seriously for sport.  My hope is that all ultimate players will come to treat the weight room with the respect it deserves. This means acknowledging the important contribution of strength training to performance. It also means learning to use the weight room properly and safely.

Once you learn the basics, the weight room is a fun and safe place to be.  With experience, you’ll gain a better understanding of how your body is supposed to work and you’ll easily be able to incorporate new things into your strength training routine.

If you are already a seasoned lifter, how did you get started?  What advice do you have for beginners?  Let us know in the comments below!

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2 comments to Strength Training: Getting started and getting help

  • I’ve been lifting for maybe 9 years now and have seen a wide spectrum of training philosophies.

    As someone who has made a ton of mistakes in the gym (luckily nothing serious) there is a major difference between bad strength training and good strength training. A couple things that were helpful to me.

    1. Stay away from the machines. Most machines aren’t going to be as effective as Olympic style lifts (squats, overhead press, power-clean, snatch, etc.) and body weight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and the like.

    2. Find someone who knows what they’re talking about to train you. As Melissa said, it’s worth the investment finding a trainer that has the knowledge to teach you right, even if that means paying some $.

    3. Don’t be tempted to lift too much too quickly. Often people get excited about the opportunity to life a tons a weight either to impress friends or others in the gym. It’s easy to look around and see people lifting more than you and think to yourself that you should be lifting more. Lift at your own weight. Everyone is at a different place and lifting too much too soon can lead to injuries.

    4. Food – Replace lost protein and calories within 20-40 minutes of your workout. I sometimes like to eat an hour before hand too. Working out hungry is not motivating.

    5. Find a workout partner or group. It’s hard to motivate yourself. No matter how hard you think you are, someone else can push you harder. Post-college, I went a year or so of running through the same routines, not really pushing myself. Eventually, I joined a Crossfit gym and I have the opportunity to work out with and be pushed by some awesome athletes.

    6. Stretch – As someone with really tight hamstrings and shoulders, while strength training has given me major power and speed advances, agility can suffer if you don’t give your muscles the opportunity to stretch. A dynamic warmup before lifting and shorter dynamic cool down stretch is very helpful (especially in old age). I’d also consider supplementing with some form of Yoga to really focus on flexibility. (Started yoga a month or so ago and it has been really helpful at just once a week.)

    7. Nutrition is a major component of any training. There are a lot of differing opinions on nutrition, but I’d say the basics are extra protein (that means eggs and meat), make an effort to hydrate with water, avoid sugar. Eat your veggies too.

    ~Tron

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