By Robby Sparango
verb (used with object), ex·e·cut·ed, ex·e·cut·ing.
- To carry out; accomplish: to execute a plan or order.
- To perform or do: to execute a maneuver; to execute a gymnastic feat.
- To inflict capital punishment on; put to death according to law.
Think of any horror, thriller or suspense film for a moment.
At some point, the antagonist is laid out and presumed dead or defeated. Meanwhile, we the audience are yelling, “What are you doing? Make sure he’s dead! Cut that bastard’s head off!” Undoubtably, the good guy takes two steps away and then bam, guess who comes back to punish your lack of intention?
See where I’m going?
Hang around advanced lifters long enough and you’ll detect this intention. They’re focused on the lockout with an executioner’s resolve. They don’t playfully converse between reps. They lurk through the gym and everyone knows to stay clear. They circle their attempt like a hammerhead shark never letting the weight out of their peripheral. When they hit it, there is no question as to whether or not the rep counted.
The deadlift is king?
Off with his head.
Frequently, deadlifts routinely get dropped just before lockout. Overhead presses are quickly dumped while an athletes eyes wander and feet dance around for placement. In both of these lifts (in all lifts) you’re at your strongest position during the lockout. Ever grind through a deadlift and once you lockout just stand there holding it for awhile, looking at your coaches approval while thinking “holy shit!”
What once felt incredibly heavy you are now wielding with rigid authority. The lockout is your best friend and most lethal weapon to combat injury and gain admirable strength.
No lockout? no rep.
That’s the rule in any competition, be it olympic lifting, powerlifting or grip-sport meets.
“I don’t compete”, you say? Bollocks to that.
Everyone who lifts is competing internally at the very least against yourself.
There’s much more to the lockout, though. What follows is a brief introduction to how and why locking out is imperative to huge strength gains and mental fortitude. This doesn’t apply solely to barbell lifts either, this applies to any piece of iron that would happily crush you for disrespecting it.
It’s Heavy, Don’t Take it Lightly.
Complacency is your worst enemy in the gym. Passive lifting, or rather, “going through the motions” will merely produce a small degree of incidental strength until an injury occurs. The execution, rather, the lockout provides you an end game. Intend on the lockout and you’ll never mentally “checkout” during a lift. On the rare occasion that I find myself running, I am not thinking “left foot right foot left foot right foot” (although don’t put that past me, especially if you’ve seen me dance). No, I am thinking about the damn finish line. I don’t run to run, I run to stop running, my intention is clear and is that which propels me.
It is a very easy mistake to make during an 8 rep set of barbell push jerks or a kettlebell press to string them all together continuously. It feels natural to do this, especially during a circuit. What then has your intention become? Completing the rep, or the set? Major strength developing movements have now been reduced to the equivalent of the kipping pull-up. Again, you will see some “incidental” strength but will ultimately squander your true potential with a much higher risk of injury.
Always remain conscious of aimless lifting. Once the lockout is dialed into your central nervous system it forever remains. You will know immediately when you have not locked out and it will “feel” incorrect.
This is imperative, creating those neural pathways will ensure your body understands the load it bares and can engage accordingly.
Body awareness is critical.
You Must Pay Attention to Each and Every rep, Every Single Time.
Especially during a circuit.
Whether an overhead press, deadlift or squat of any variation you must hone in on the lockout. Unless you’re attempting a 1RM you already know the weight is going to move, so stay technically sound and intend on locking out. Visualize yourself becoming statuesque, nothing about you should be passive. Imagine Bamboo shafts shattering against you if they were swung at you like a baseball bat.
Stand still and get stronger.
Well developed muscles will always take center stage when people think of what “strong” looks like, but it’s window dressing. You learn a thing or two from training grip and bending steel. Brute, wiry strength lay dormant in your connective tissues, your tendons and ligaments. In grip strength training, I’ve encountered the most unassumingly strong women and men mangle grippers and lift weights that most humans on earth would be stopped dead in their tracks against.
This is possible through one thing and one thing only.
Time under tension. Maximally exerting yourself against an immovable object develops the impetus in those tissues, joints and your nervous system to impose “extra” force. When you stick a lockout you are isometrically recruiting any and every muscle available at your brain’s disposal. Your nervous system is firing on all cylinders and “learning” not only what that particular load feels like, but also an element just as critical, when the movement is complete. Those seconds spent locked out underneath a split jerk or commanding your deadlift are invaluable and most certainly add up. This reinforces your entire musculoskeletal system, making it not only stronger but more resilient to injury. Isometrics take the neurological “brakes” off, increasing your work output and allowing you to push yourself further.
So… what is your intention?
Whether it is to stay lean or put on slabs of muscle you must execute your lifts. When you grasp weight you are literally combining your mass with it and gravity does not differentiate, so affirm yourself accordingly. You wouldn’t hold a 135# anvil overhead casually without concern. Just because a barbell is shaped differently makes it no less lethal, so show it respect but more importantly, who the real killer is.
Robby Sparango is a grip sport competitor and Level I coach at Performance360.