We have plenty of new trainees come to us skeptical about their ability to do the big barbell exercises — squats especially. And rightfully so: it’s the hardest exercise to learn, requires a lot of movement, and is just mentally challenging. New trainees often come in with a prior injury that might initially hinder them or be cause for concern. But a knee, hip, back, or shoulder injury usually creates greater psychological barriers than physical barriers. With proper technique, a sound training program, and the attentive eye of a knowledgeable coach, anyone can get stronger regardless of their current situation.
Alex Olshannikov worked with us three years ago when he first began lifting weights. Running had taken its toll on his knees and they started to hurt. A lot. In an effort to relieve the pain, he started squatting. With proper technique, Alex’s knee pain disappeared as he got stronger. Unfortunately, a job with the United States Patent Office required him to move to Washington, DC for two years so he had to train on his own for a while.
Fast forward to December 2016. One cold night as I sat at the front desk of the gym, Alex walks in. His two years in DC were over and he had just moved back to Chicago. We quickly caught up and soon came to inevitable topic of his training. The cheerful conversation turned as gloomy as the Chicago winter as Alex told me, “I can’t squat anymore.” A year into his two-year assignment in DC, his knee pain had returned and it was worse than before. He sought the help of doctors to find an underlying problem, tried adjusting his technique, but all to no avail. By the time he returned to Chicago, he had not touched a bar in close to a full year. Chance had it that Spencer and I were hosting a squat clinic that weekend so I invited Alex to come. I had a feeling we could help him out. He was hesitant, believing that his days of heavy strength training had ended and that nothing could change it, and he’d just have to deal with his knee problem. With some encouragement, I convinced Alex to attend the clinic.
After a short discussion about squat technique, we split up the attendees to teach them the squat. Hopeful but hesitant, it came time for Alex to step under the bar. He did one rep, felt that familiar pain in his knees, but Spencer had him make a small adjustment to his form on the next rep. Just like that, no pain. He did a few more reps without any problems. As the clinic went on, we had Alex add a little bit of weight to the bar. Again, with the slight technique adjustment, his knees felt better than ever. There was hope after all!
The following week, Alex began working with our training groups. In the past four months with us, he’s lifted weights he never thought he’d ever touch and he’s got much more progress to come. At the clinic, he worked up to 185 pounds for sets of five reps. This past Monday, he worked up to 365 pounds for sets of five reps — almost double where he started. How’s that for progress?
True to his Russian roots, Alex loves strength training and couldn’t be happier to be able to do it again pain-free. The sharp knee pain is long gone, a faint memory. His body has never felt better and he’s on the path to making steady strength gains for years to come. Our method is the safest and most effective way to
train for physical strength, and Alex is another example of that.