There are two ways to improve your work output. Either you improve your execution or you increase your effort.
Improving your execution relates to how well you are doing a certain activity. It can be thought of as your technique, as well as your overall strategy in attacking a problem. The old adage, work smarter not harder, comes into play here. This tenet comes down to learning to be better at a certain skill and improving your performance via learning. The effects of this are cumulative and can really only be improved upon one by one. When starting an activity everything needs to be improved, but there comes a point when weak points start to appear and this is where learning comes into play.
Focusing on improving execution is like choosing to pick up a circular saw vs picking up a hand saw. Both methods work, however one works faster than the other (provided you don’t need a hand saw for a specific task). Improving your skill set is like acquiring new tools to use at a job site. The circular saw might not always be necessary ‘better’, it simply gives you extra options when you come across an issue.
Maybe you encounter a plateau doing reps of five on the low bar squat. Instead of trying to brute force it through the plateau (which may also work) you might also learn how to high bar squat for reps of five. All you’ve changed is the movement pattern, which may help drive up your low bar squat. With this thinking in mind, is to think about how different rep schemes, rest times, program variation can help bring you over a plateau.
Learning how to brace your core better during the squat will also help drive up the numbers on the bar. This is a big part of squat form where energy can ‘leak’ out of the body. The tighter the core, the less points there are for energy to not be pushed into the bar. The technical aspect of a lift flows through to bar positioning, feet placement etc. Your squat is never good enough, so always work on improving technique. Focus on one thing at a time to improve every time you get under the bar, this will add up over the years of training and over the course of five years, your squat technique will be so much more improved.
Adopting a growth mindset is the key to improving. There is no such thing as the perfect squat and there never will be, because any great squatter can tell you something they could improve. Never staying stagnant in your technique, mindset and knowledge will keep you leaps and bounds above your old lifting self. Bad technique can become a big roadblock in progression and this is not because of increased risk of injury (which is slightly possible) but more so, because of all the energy leaks over the body. Have you ever tried to push something with a piece of string? It just won’t work, you need to get a stick.
This is how my squat looked like on June 2017
This is how my squat used to look like May 2018
This is how my squat looks like December 2018.
There’s not a lot of huge differences between the three videos, there all videos of squats. However, closer inspection shows the progression in both strength levels as well as technique. I am better able to keep my torso tighter and am getting better at bracing, there is less wriggling before the set and I’ve become more efficient in my walk out. Without the focusing in on improving technique, I wouldn’t have been able to advance this far.
There comes a point where technique alone will not get you further. Increasing effort is pretty simple because everyone can always work harder. Putting in more effort, building up your tolerance for pain and understanding that success not only takes a long time but also requires a lot of hard work. The flip side of technique improvement is intensity. Technique is necessary, but consistent hard work is the other side of the coin.
You’ll be hard pressed to find anybody who has achieved a good level of success that hasn’t put in hard work. It is necessary and fantastic to have a great plan, but without execution of that plan with extremely hard work, the plan will be worth less than the paper it’s written on – at least you could have printed something else on a blank piece of paper.
To improve we need both execution and effort. But rarely both at the same time. Both require focus, but one requires finesse and the other brute force. No matter which side of the coin we are attacking, we must be dedicated and focused on the work itself and never stop striving to be be better than yesterday.
Instead of thinking of ways to work smarter, rather than harder. Look for ways to do both. Learn new techniques and strategies and execute on those lessons with everything you have.