I’ll probably keep adding and re-organizing this post, but here it is. I started being curious about training around 2008-2009. I have always been generally active, playing basketball and volleyball when I was in highschool, then hicking, martial arts and swing dancing. At some point, I realized that professional athletes need general training outside of their discipline to perform at their best. I started learning pilates and yoga when I heard that professional dancers (non-swing) where using those tools. After getting a bit overweight in that period, I started doing P90X since a lot of the top swing dancers were doing it and talking about it. When my results slowed down I try to mix and match with Insanity, yin yoga (my body became a bit cranky) and other fitness video I liked. Finally, after reading Tim Ferris’ 4HB, especially the chapters on pre-hab et super human strength, I have truly begun to understand. For 3 years now I’ve devoured all most important literature on strength and conditioning to a point where I keep reading on the subject more as a habit than anything else. Strength through certain primitive patterns is all that matters for general well being or for athletic performance.
First of all, beside if you are a professional bodybuilder, you have no business with the following list whatever your personal goals are :
- Dual thinking cardio vs muscle training. Mellow many times a week is studio, but if you actually enjoy it or compete. Going for a run from time to time is alright. Interval training, also called metabolic training, is a great added value to any strength training program, especially if you are not practicing any sport or doing anything else.
- Splitting your training in body parts (leg, chest, quad, etc.).
- Single joint exercises (curls, flies, leg extension, etc) The only exception would be to stimulate a certain muscle group that doesn’t want to participate to a certain movement (hip thrust to simulate your butt muscle in the squat or deadlift).
- Over focusing on nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, nutrition is what matters for fat loss and muscle development, but micro-managing does no good and keep your attention from what actually matters. See my previous blog for general guideline. Even peri-nutrition workout is overrated. Carbs plays a minor role (5-10%) in protein synthesis and muscle development play a minor role in strength development. Just make sure you eat plenty of protein. The rest depends of how much fat is acceptable for you.
- Going close to failure. Technique comes first, so keep 1-2 reps in the bank.
- Thinking you need a special program for your needs or sports. Get strong and play your sport. You don’t have a sport/activity? Try one or many or ad 3-4 short, but intense conditioning sessions interval based outside of your strength practice. The exception is of course if you have a pathological problems or in rehab, then stick to what you can do that helps you getting better/stronger.
- Thinking yoga/pilates/rock climbing/etc is all the training you need. Those are activities. The best way to get better at Yoga is through strength training.
- Developing power and speed is a nice idea for an athlete, but it’s faster and safer to focus on strength first and eventually power if it lacks behind.
There are several programing’s and tools that works, but usually you can find the following characteristics:
- Simple beats complicated every time. You don’t need any special programming or equipment before you reach decent strength.
- Strength is a skill. Always aim for a ‘’as perfect as you can’’ form. Stay away from failure and keep a couple reps in the bank.
- If you don’t want to get too much muscle mass, go for sets of 2-3 reps. If you don’t mind adding some muscle mass go for sets of 4-6 reps.
- Stick with 2-5 compound lifts and use variations on those lifts instead of new exercises.
- Keep the same variation for around 15 workouts or as long you see progress.
- Deloads every 4-6 weeks are essential if you keep the same variation of a lift all the time. Classic cycling would count as a deload.
- Aim for 25-50 reps total per week for the squat/deadlift and 50-100 reps total per week for the press/pull.
- The frequency is up to you. The more frequent you practice one lift, the less intensity you should use and the less sore you will be.
- You should get stronger through time. Monitor your progress and adjust 1 variable at the time.
- Many systems will deliver results, once you committed to one, avoid to switch to another.
- We count 3 systems and the rest is pretty much variations on those systems : high frequency training (think Sheiko or Pavel), the team USA system (think Marty Gallagher or Wendler) and the Westside barbell system (think Louis Simmons). Switching system is far worst than switching exercises or switching programs from what I have heard, but I'm sure there some success strories somewhere!
Here a list of my favorite lifts by movement patterns:
- Hinge : Deadlifts (any variation), KB swing, KB/DB snatch, power clean, power snatch, sprints
- Squats (any variation) : if you have never squat, start with wall squats and goblet squat until you have developed an acceptable motor pattern. Then you can explore the front squat, box squat and finally the back squat and overhead squat.
- Upper body press : any press will do really and will complete nicely any squat or deadlift variation. Personally, I would rather avoid the classic barbell press since it is so easy to cheat (tempo press) even involuntarily. Also, I have a tendency to prefer presses where my scapula is not pin on a bench or on the floor such as DB/KB military press (1 or 2 hands), KB/DB/BB side/bent press, handstand pushups or dips. Because the push up is such a harder movement both to do properly and increase intensity that I use it mostly to practice movement/bracing than my strength per say. The progression to the 1 hand push up is a nice skill for anybody to learn. You can also use a plyo variation such as the clapping push up or the push press if your goal is strength transfer to power or just give a break to your shoulder. Honestly, I think having to make a choice and stick to it is the hardest part. You love the floor press? Just do it, you will get strong.
- Upper body pull : Pull ups (any variation on bar or rings) Most row variations are way to easy to cheat. Avoid them if you are not an advance lifter.
- Abs/anterior chain/carry : ab roller, leg raise, Turkish get up, farmer’s walk, prowler, crawling … there are a lot of exercises you might want to put into this category. Once again, variety is the enemy. Stick to a couple a variation for strength or do separate practices for movement patterning.
Here’s a list a random thoughts:
- I’m not a big fan of machines, but they can fit some people’s goals. For a busy individual who only wants to stay in shape and gain some muscle mass and bone density, the Occam protocol or the program laid out in Body by science both make a lot of sense. I would probably never do that, but some people might use them to stimulate a certain stubborn muscle group that doesn’t fire when needed.
- I love multiple small practices throughout the day. It keep me fresh, reduce soreness and deliver same or superior results.
- Bodyweight exercises are not necessarily superior or inferior to BB, DB or KB. In fact, the big advantage with BW exercises is that you recover from them faster that the rest.
- Beside if you like personal challenges or want to compete, I would avoid Olympic lifting in favor of more simple exercises.
- I know some people would swear by the overhead press or the barbell rows, but those exercises are so easy to jerk even when you don’t intend to that I’m not sure how useful they are to me, since more simple choices are available.
- Skills are specific. If you are looking to increase a specific lift, better work on that lift and use little or no assistance exercises.
- I have gain 10-15 lbs in the weeks following the integration of creatine monohydrate in my regimen.
- There are many strength standards around. I believe in the following in comparison to the bodyweight: bench press 1.5x for men 1x for women / squat 2x for men 1.5x for women / deadlift 2.5x for men 2x for women. Of course, adjust the multiplier depending of your choice of exercise. Experience has shown most coaches that there is no real carry over to sports past those standards. For most of us, we will need many years to reach them anyway and it is very hard to past them without entering a proper powerlift regimen which might defeat the purpose of most athletes besides powerlifters.