Workout Tips

Small Lifts Lead to Big Gains

Keep the big stuff as the centerpiece of your program but do not neglect the small stuff to optimize structural balance, prevent injuries and attain peak performance.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES
man reaching for dumbbell on rack

Twenty years ago striped spandex and shiny chrome machines were the most efficient path to building your dream physique and achieve peak performance according to the contemporary experts of the time. 

Thankfully, over the last decade with the popularity of programs like Jailhouse Strong and the rise of CrossFit, isolation machines have lost their stronghold on the fitness world and barbell training has been on the rise.

This is a good thing and I believe effective strength training programs have multi-joint barbell core lifts at the “core” of their programs. One of the few adverse consequences catalyzed from the barbell craze is the attitude that a few multi-joint barbell movements is all one must do to progressively make strength gains and maintain structural balance. This is a mistake!

Let's take look at a recent study entitled “Improved Performance through Digit Strength Gains.” The study examined the effect of strengthening the toes and fingers at the metatarsophalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints on performance in the vertical jump and shotput. A specially designed toe and finger exercise device adapted to a Cybex machine was used for progressive resistance exercise sessions and to test for strength increases. The treatment period was 12 weeks and involved three training sessions per week. Mean gains for the subjects were impressive: 2.3 cm in the vertical jump, 20.3 cm in the modified shotput, and 67.2 cm in the standing shotput. All of these gains were significantly greater than those experienced by the control groups. It was concluded that performance in these strength based activities can be improved by strengthening the finger and toe muscle flexors.

close-up man's hands

Final Thoughts

For strength training, if these athletes had to choose one modality, power cleans or squats would be superior to a Cybex machine. However, athletes, don’t have to make that choice. Imagine the synergy of combining both?

Yes, keep those big lifts as the center piece of your program, but to lessen the chance of injury and perform at the highest possible level, don't disregard the smaller lifts.

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