3 Key Tips for Intermediate Lifters

The intermediate lifting stage can be a weird place to be.

Either you’ve learned just enough to think you know everything. Or you’ve learned just enough that you now feel lost in a sea of information and don’t know who to trust.

Hopefully you are staying humble and fall into the later category (There’s always more to know regardless of how far you get in any subject area).

So, instead of dropping you some one-off squat or bench technique tips. I want to give you 3 overarching principles to follow on your lifting journey that should make understanding just about everything there is to know about the world of lifting easier.

(Check out this article for programming tips!)

Tip #1: Nothing is Black and White in Fitness

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes…” -Obi-Wan Kenobi

Something you have to get over quick with learning anything related to fitness is there aren’t a lot of 100% concrete facts. More correctly, answering a fitness question almost always involves a lot of variables and what is becoming a fitness meme at this point…nuance.

As an example, a common fitness question is “can you lose bodyfat and gain muscle at the same time”, to which I could just say yes and leave it at that.

But that would be close to negligent on my part because it leaves out so much extra information that you should know.

Can everybody pull this off? Probably not.

Is this easy to pull off? Not really.

I also haven’t told you any of the requirements to actually completing this goal.

So if I as a coach tell someone “100% yes you can lose bodyfat and gain muscle at the same time” I may be setting them up for failure if they aren’t a specific case where that is possible. AND because I told them it was possible they’re going to be feeling down on themselves when they end up failing this goal.

On the flip side, if I just denied them and say “nope you can never do it there’s no possible way it could happen”, again not a good answer because there is a way to pull it off it’s just really specific, really difficult, and really time consuming.

This can happen for basically every fitness topic there is. There’s surface level generalization and then there’s the deeper understanding and reality of the topic.

That surface level generalization is where I think a lot of misunderstanding happens in our community and people can get really dogmatic because they haven’t taken the time to understand every little detail which is when you start hearing, “never eat this food”, “that exercise is terrible”, “this is the ONLY way to program”.

I know everyone wants really simple really clear cut answers and it can be frustrating to hear someone explain a bunch of caveats when all you wanted was a yes or no answer but that’s just how this field is.

In fact, if you come across a person that is saying this is the only way you can do this, this is the only way you can squat, or diet, or program or whatever, it’s guaranteed they are either lying to you or they are just ignorant to a lot of information.

A lot of BS in fitness products bank on the oversimplification of exercise science information as it can make whatever they are selling seem better than it actually is. So I urge you all to stay cognizant and keep an open mind about basically everything instead of developing that infuriating dogma of “no this is how it is”.

Tip #2: Stay Focused on the Long-Term 

I think most of us would agree that we want to be in this for the long run. We want to be able to train and exercise well into our older age and keep our body in commission long enough to do so.

Don’t really think there are too many people who would disagree with this…

“I’m here for a good time not a long time brother”

Above everything if you want to last awhile in this sport you have to enjoy the process of lifting itself

Everyone get’s caught up on oh “I just need to hit this number”, “I just need to add so many inches on my arms”, “I just need to hit this target body weight”… and then I’ll be happy…

I’m here to tell you that “moment” doesn’t exist.

I remember thinking once I’m able to rep out 2 plates on bench press that’ll be so cool, once I’m able to rep 4 plates on squat that’ll be awesome, and now that it’s just part of my normal training I don’t think anything of it.

As with most things once we reach a goal there will be that very brief moment of satisfaction and euphoria, but then its right back down to earth. So if you aren’t actually enjoying all that time in between hitting goals it’s going to be a rough process for you overall.

I never want people to lift the way I do, or engage in the same fitness endeavors I do unless they genuinely enjoy them. There are so many different ways to be physically fit and active that I do not believe you should be forcing yourself to do something you hate day in and day out. Find the type of fitness that works for YOU.

In the end we are all lifting arbitrary amounts of steel through an arbitrary amount of space and time. It’s not that deep. Chill out and enjoy the process and the gains will come.

Tip #3: Overcoming “Paralysis by Analysis”

One of the hardest things I see early intermediates try to come to grips with is finding the balance between caring about and improving form vs. becoming so obsessive with it that they end up hurting their progress.

Technique and form proficiency is a great thing and something we should strive for. It makes movements in the gym easier to perform. Let’s us get the get the stimulus we desire out of them, and can allow us to lift the most amount of weight physically possible.

However, a lot of lifters get so caught up in chasing technique perfection that they either become almost robotic in their movements and any slight deviation requires a complete deload of the bar to fix the issue. Or, and what I think is more prevalent, they start to “fix” issues that aren’t even there in the first place.

This becomes exacerbated by overzealous coaches (and I get it as a coach you feel like you’re not doing your job if you aren’t saying anything) but sometimes there truly is nothing to say.

In fact over-cueing your athlete to the point of them overthinking the lift entirely is only hurting their performance and as a by-product making you a less effective coach.

Small technique issues like minor knee cave, an elbow moving slightly out of position, or maybe even the bar being slightly off kilter are non-issues. Especially if we add into the equation anything close to maximal effort work. These irregularities in movement patterns are NORMAL.

They are not signs of major imbalances in your body, they do not require adding in a bunch of accessory exercises that you don’t need, and they don’t require stripping all of the weight off the bar and starting from scratch.

Proper technique with heavy weight is learned by performing proper technique with heavy weight. Technique sets at 50% intensity, or accessories to fix the “imbalances” you don’t actually have are not the solution.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t put every set and rep under a microscope, and understand that it takes years and years of repetition to get anywhere close to “perfect” reps. Especially under maximal intensity.

The very same could be said about over analyzing your program, your diet, your goals, everything…

Despite what others will tell you fitness is simple and basic at it’s core. It will always come down to a matter of time and consistency, that’s it.

Focus on the big things that are genuinely going to help you out, and let all of those tiny details that “fitness influencers” will tell you “matter” fade into the background. They aren’t worth your time.

(Check out the video that inspired this article!)


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.