Category Archives: Full Body Training
by Jim Wendler – 5/30/2012
From November to mid-January I have a lot on my plate. With my family spread out from Colorado, New Jersey, Texas, and Illinois, I have a lot of traveling to do. Thanksgiving and Christmas are spent in different states and we travel an ungodly amount during these three months.
I am not a big fan of traveling – I’m a creature of habit. I love my bed, my room, my weight room, and my couch. Couple that with the busiest time of year for business, and my training time is always compromised.
I’m not alone. Any small business owner has a super busy season, usually around the holidays. Growing up, my father was a track/field and football coach and his time was always limited during these seasons. Maybe your children’s activities reach a peak in the summer and your time is very limited in the gym.
Whatever the case, you have to get your work done, but you have to get your training in, too. Without training, most of us would be a wreck. It gives us some purpose, lets us get out some aggression, helps push our bodies/minds further, and really, it’s just in our DNA. While training might not completely define me as a person (I’d like to think that I’m more than just a meathead), it’s a huge part of me, and my life. And if you’re reading this, it’s part of you, too.
The trick to training around a busy or awkward schedule is priorities. Since we aren’t going to give up training, it’s a priority. But we can’t give up our business, our jobs, or our children for more days in the weight room. Still, success can still be had – you just have to plan correctly.
During these times, we’re going to have two main workouts a week. You can have more if you want (this will be explained later) but when you’re busy we’ll only commit to doing two big workouts a week. These can be done on any day of the week that you have time. The only suggestion I have is that you have at least one day of rest in between them. We’ll call these workouts “Workout A” and Workout B.”
* Assistance Work
The workouts and exercises are what I use – feel free to use different ones according to your training and your programming.
I wouldn’t do more than two “big” exercises per workout. One of the early lessons I learned in training was to limit the big exercises per day – but strive to have a great workout on these 1 or 2 exercise.
These are the bread and butter. No one, no matter who you are, can have a great workout on 4 or 5 exercises per day. You may think you’re having one, but something will be compromised. As I’ve said many times before, I’d rather do one thing great than five things average. Multitasking goals and too many exercises is like trying to talk on two phones at once – everything gets confused.
Because you’re only training two times a week, you have to make these workouts count. Make sure your mind is focused on the bar on your back and not the business you left behind. Surely you can clear your mind for 60 minutes, two times a week, for something as important (to you) as your training. You should go in focused and leave satisfied.
Assistance work on these days is largely going to be based on two things: how much time you have for the workout and how long until your next workout. For example, if you have only 45 minutes to train you may have to keep the assistance work down to 1-3 exercises. If you have more time, go wild.
If you know your next workout is going to be only 2 days away, give yourself a little break on the volume of assistance work. You don’t want to make yourself sore doing assistance work if it’s going to compromise your big lifts the next workout.
Really, that’s just common sense. It would be like stuffing your face at Taco Bell before you go to a 5 star prime rib restaurant. If you know your next workout is going to be 5 days away, go nuts and beat yourself up a bit on the assistance work.
If you’re like me and like to train at your “home base” or like to train on good equipment (competition benches, Texas Squat/Deadlift bars, etc.), make sure you schedule these workouts accordingly.
For example, if I’m on the road for a long period of time (two weeks), I make it a habit to find a good gym close by. If I can get two good workouts there during the week, perfect. Most times, these gyms are hard to find and you may have to travel a lot to get there. This way you only have to commit to going to these gyms twice a week, get a good workout in and not screw up your training cycle.
Unfortunately, most people like to train 3-4 times/week, even during the busy times and when they travel. This is a reality for people that work on the road a lot and find themselves in a different city every week or even every day.
What I did for years is have an optional weight workout that can be done in basically any gym. If I couldn’t make it to a good gym (or couldn’t find one), I didn’t want to have to bench on an 8″ wide bench, pull with multisided plates, or squat with a flimsy bar. All that would do is lead to a screwed up workout and extra frustration that I don’t need on the road. No thanks.
Instead I did these workouts, which are largely assistance based.
Exercise Sets Reps
A Leg Press or Hack Squat 5-7 10-20
B Machine Press (any kind) 5-7 10-20
C Standing DB Press 5 10
D Row Machine (any kind) 5 10-20
E Face Pulls 3
F Triceps Pushdowns 3
This workout (or any variation of it) can be done if you know you’re not going to have access to a good gym during travel time or during your vacation (really though – don’t worry about it and take the damn vacation)!
The logic behind it is, I’d rather pump myself up with a bunch of machines than try to lift maximally on sub-par equipment.
If you’re not traveling and still have time to do an extra workout during the week (provided that you’ve done both Workout A and Workout B), you can amend Workout C to look something like this:
Exercise Sets Reps
A Safety-Bar Squat Good Morning 3-5 10
B DB Bench Press 5
C Bulgarian Split Squats 3
D Dumbbell Rows 3
E Rear Laterals 3
Essentially it’s a bunch of assistance exercises for the upper and lower body – you can choose anything you want. Again, “Workout C” isn’t mandatory but simply a way to get another workout in if you have time. Just remember that the main workouts, A and B, are priority. Get those in first.
Weekend Only Training
I get a lot of emails from people who only have time to train the two days of the weekend. For them I propose a modified program, which is what I’ve used when I get very busy and continue to use as the base of my training.
Because you’re training two days in a row, we separate the days into a lower body day and an upper body day. The assistance work on both days is fairly high volume with big exercises.
Workout A (Saturday)
Exercise Sets Reps
A Squat – Heavy work
B Safety Bar Squat 5 10
C Stiff Leg Deadlift 5 10
Workout B (Sunday)
Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press – Heavy work (superset this with chins)
B Press 5 10
C Rows 5 10
Workout A (Saturday)
Exercise Sets Reps
A Deadlift – Heavy work
B Safety Bar Squat 5 10
C Stiff Leg Deadlift 5 10
Workout B (Sunday)
Exercise Sets Reps
A Press – Heavy work (superset with rows)
B Bench Press 5 10
C Chins 5 10
You’re free to choose whatever assistance exercises you want but keep them high volume and “big” – front squats, leg press, dumbbell bench press, different kinds of rows, incline press, etc.
Nothing is more powerful than habit, and this can work in both positive and negative ways. Since we all have control over our habits (despite what the world may have you believe, we’re in control of our lives) let’s do something positive.
If you’re on a busy schedule, a short mobility session each morning is something that can be easily squeezed in. The old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” should be changed to, “Be physical every day to keep death at bay.”
A short 10 minute mobility session will do wonders for your body and mind and allow you to stay with the habit of doing something physical everyday. I highly recommend doing something like the Defranco Agile 8, an abbreviated Parisi warm-up (check out the Parisi Warm-up DVD), some bodyweight calisthenics, or whatever you choose.
Whenever I travel, I always bring my Travel Rehab kit. (No it doesn’t contain methadone.) I have a sawed-down PVC pipe that fits in my bag, an average band (from EFS), and a lacrosse ball.
Here’s a sample mobility program that I use:
PVC pipe – IT band, 100 rolls per leg
Lacrosse ball – piriformis, about 2 min/side
Bodyweight squat – 10-20 reps
Leg swings (front to back) – 10-20 reps
Side lunge – 10-20 reps
One-leg squat – 10-20 reps
Mountain climbers (big strides and hold each rep) – 10-20 reps
Groiners – 10-20 reps
Rollback hamstrings – 10-20 reps
Hip circles (fire hydrants) – 10-20 reps
Shoudler dislocates with band – 10-20 reps
Bent knee hip lift – 10-20 reps
This can all be done in about 20 minutes or so and gets me ready for the day. It can be done in limited space and in any hotel room. You don’t have to be explosive on any of these exercises and don’t force the range of motion if you’re feeling really tight or sore. This is not (at least I hope not) a workout; this is you getting your body ready for the day.
You can’t talk about something like “habits” without mentioning food. We all know diets fail. When a diet (a good, smart diet) becomes a habit, then it can succeed. There’s a huge difference.
When you’re a busy person, on the road, or always moving, this is one of the first things that goes in the dumper. Like my training, my food habits are pretty simple. At every meal, I have some kind of protein (always chicken, beef, or eggs), some kind of carb (rice, potato or oatmeal), and some kind of vegetable.
I do this 4 times a day and it can easily be done no matter where you are or where you eat. If I’m hungry, I just eat another meal. If I want to gain weight, the portions increase. If I need to lose weight, the portions decrease. Keeping the meals simple and basic allows for a ton of flexibility. Don’t over think this.
Train, Don’t Exercise
Training is one of our priorities – you wouldn’t be reading T Nation or this article if you were just a weekend warrior or into “fitness.” You’re into training, and training is not “exercise.”
In Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe defines training as a “physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to achieve that goal.” We aren’t “exercisers” or “fitness hipsters.” Our training each day has purpose and meaning towards a bigger and more defined picture.
We don’t randomly select things and strive “for a good sweat” or try to fit square exercises into round goals. We train. And those who train and are getting a bit older have a myriad of responsibilities. We have to prioritize our training around much of our life so that we can achieve those long-term training goals.
Life doesn’t just throw us curveballs – it throws Niekro-scuffed knuckleballs with a bit of Gaylord Perry lube, and we all know where those are going to land. But if you plan your training accordingly, those incidents won’t harm your training goals or your life outside the gym.
That’s the key – the balance between maintaining a cutthroat attitude towards your training goals and your life. You plan. You execute.
1) You’re Eating Too Many Carbs
2) You’re Eating Carbs at the Wrong Time
3) You’re Eating Too Much Fat
4)You’re Not Eating Enough Protein
5) You’re Drinking Too Many Protein Shakes
6) Your Liver is Over Stressed
7) You’re Eating Nuts
8) You’re Eating Fruit
9) You’re Not Training Heavy
10) You’re Overdoing Cardio
11) You’re Not Running Sprints or Doing Sled Work
12) You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
40 Years of Insight, Part 2
I have a box in my storage room that contains all my training journals. Besides sets and reps, I toss in what’s going on in my life. Often, I find long essays about the future, lists about “what works,” and funny little tidbits about my life that I would’ve quickly forgotten had I not wrote them down.
It hit me when I picked up this box the other day that I’ve been recording workouts since 1971, five years after first picking up a weight. That’s forty years! I started to think about the lessons I’ve learned and, before I knew it, I had a list of forty lessons that I had to learn the hard way.
One thing that Laree Draper, wife of former Mr. Universe Dave Draper, finds interesting about me is that I sit in the front row at conferences. Each year I go to camps, clinic, workshops, conferences, and gatherings. I buy nearly every new book and DVD on the market. I read and comment on a lot, although as a rule I only comment after I read something and only universally after I’ve tried it.
Now, this might seem counter to Lesson 20 (“When reading something over the top, that has the markings of “secret” or “exotic” or even “expensive,” don’t leap in with both feet and break your ankles), but as the saying goes, an intelligent person can hold conflicting opinions in his head.
Here’s the thing: I appreciate Mike Boyle’s insights about single-leg training. Why? Because I’ve listened to him talk about it three times. I like his logic, I like his decision making process. Moreover, I also like the hour-long conversation we had discussing this topic.
I strongly believe in spending money to get exposed to the cutting edge of what’s going on in the field of strength and conditioning. I read and reread books, magazines, eBooks, and blog posts, trying to cut away the extraneous and hone the message.
It costs me money to do this. And I’m okay with that.
This is so obvious I’m embarrassed to write it. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with some fairly high level bodybuilders and train with some of the best of all time. I can promise you that the training tools of the elite bodybuilders are basically the same weapons you use in the gym.
When it comes to diet, though, you need to listen up. There’s this thing called “protein” and that seems like the only thing you need to think about when cutting fat. Carbs and even fat becomes a misty island far off in the distance that one may or may not see again for a while.
These guys are serious. My friend Lance once described his sodium loading cycle for an upcoming contest and it was like sitting in the front row of a chemistry class, except I’d missed the first few months. He lost me at “hello.” Lance was eating chicken breasts, which isn’t surprising, but also a hefty amount of fish. Now, to call this “fish” is a reach as there was no salt, no seasoning, and really no nothing.
One of my coaching principles is “success leaves tracks.” If you really want good advice about fat loss, talk to a competitive bodybuilder. Avoid the weekly magazine advice you see at the supermarket check-stand and get some real information.
This one is near and dear to my heart. I’ve an unbending training principle that’s as old as medicine. “First, do no harm.” I think any coach, program, or training system that injures people is wrong. If you’re an athlete in a sport that has an age or year ceiling (high school or college eligibility) and you lose a year to an injury, you don’t get that back.
My doctor said something interesting. If you’re 75 and have a major joint repair, its purpose is to literally to help you go to the toilet on your own. At 55, the same surgery might ensure a quality of life that will keep you young. At 15, this surgery is a tragedy for an athlete and one may never be able to compete again at the higher levels of sport.
Recovery from injury and surgery may take tremendous resources to attain. Besides the financial toll – which can be overwhelming – there’s a physical and emotional toll from injuries. I’ve been on crutches several times in my life and there’s not a single aspect of life that’s easy on crutches. From bowel movements to escalators, every action and move has to be thought through before attempting it.
Again, sure, you can get injured, but you may not have another recovery. In high school, my mom and sister could help out if I was hurt. When my daughters were little and I had wrist surgeries, I had to buy shoes without laces because when my wife wasn’t around, no one was there to tie them!
Plan your training with intelligence and foresight. Train hard, but try to avoid things that can’t be fixed without a surgical team.
There’s no question that running hills or doing Tabata front squats is the “best way” to heat up your system, burn fat, and make the world a safer place. However, I think we’ve lost sight of the importance of “easy,” especially in the fat loss race.
The Tabata protocol comes out to 3:50 minutes a week, as the last ten-second rest doesn’t really mean anything. And you can make progress in those four minutes. However, don’t throw out the importance of long, easy cardio like walks or heavy hands. A long walk won’t hit your fat stores like a furnace or whatever the ad copy says, but it will give your body a chance to recover and perhaps find some gentle, easy ways to lose the muffin top.
The principle here is to move away from “either/or” in strength and conditioning. My career has been built on the idea that “everything works, for a while” and while Tabatas might be fun to watch, there’s nothing sinful about a nice long walk. Moreover, like hiking, long walks tend to be more open ended, and rarely does one look at the watch worrying about “getting it all in.”
Keep those tough HIIT workouts, the hill sprints and the hard stuff, but don’t forget to keep those long lazy “workouts” as part of your palette.
Train hard, but enjoy competition. Compete hard, but enjoy your training. One key point that must be kept in mind always is to never judge a workout or competition as “good” or “bad” solely on that single day.
I often tell my new throwers, “Sorry, you just aren’t good enough to be disappointed.” Judging one’s worth as an athlete over the results of a single day is just idiocy and will lead to long-term failure. Epictetus, the Roman Stoic philosopher tells us, “We must ever bear in mind – that apart from the will there is nothing good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or to direct events, but merely to accept them with intelligence.”
If that’s too complex, I have a favorite story.
A farmer had a horse and a son. One day, the horse died. All the neighbors said, “Oh, how bad.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.” The next day, the neighbors got together and bought the farmer a new horse. They all said, “That’s a good thing.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.” The following day, the horse threw the son while trying to break the horse. The son broke his arm. The neighbors all said, “Oh, how bad.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.” The next day, the army came into the town, drafted all the young men, save the son with a broken arm. They all died in the first battle. The neighbors said to the farmer, “Oh, how good it was for your son to have a broken arm.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.”
So, get in the gym and train. Finish your plan and shower off. Then, be sure to come back and do what Woody Allen says and “Show Up!”
When I was in the ninth grade, one quarter of my training was the military press, and I made progress. Then I dropped it. My progress stalled. When I met Dick Notmeyer, literally everything was over my head and I made progress again.
As I aged, I dropped the overhead stuff and everything went to my belly. I started up with one-arm kettlebell presses and my waistline shrunk back in weeks to a reasonable girth.
If Janda was right and certain muscles weaken with age (and he is, trust me), a quick study of that group should give you an idea of why you should press.
There’s no question that one-arm overhead presses work the obliques better than all those odd side bends and twisties I see in the gym every day. Now, you might argue that the glutes don’t work, but try to press one-handed anything over 100 pounds with a sleepy butt. I’ve tried it many times and I think I may have done it once.
When in doubt, press overhead.
I hate workouts like 10 sets of 10. For one thing, I never remember what set I’m on. I know I’m supposed to use matches or cards or something, but I’m old and never remember them, either.
I like ladders. A ladder is a series of reps that usually go up. The first set is always easy as the reps and load are low. The last set seems hard, but it’s odd because you feel like you recover in an instant. The standard ladders are:
1-2-3-1-2-3. You do a single, rest, a double, rest, a triple, rest, a single, ad infinitum!
And my favorites:
I love 2-3-5-10 for hypertrophy. If you do that cluster five times, that’s 100 quality reps and you’ll storm through the doubles and the triples with practically no rest. You’ll finish strong and pumped.
2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3 is my favorite variation of the standard 5 x 5 protocol. Again, how quickly you get through the reps and the ease of adding more plates is a pleasant surprise.
I know of no easier way to add volume than to do ladders.
These are mantras I repeat to myself and to my athletes. I’ve won National Championships in lifting and throwing on the very last lift or throw. I do it with so much regularity that Don Bailey, a good friend and fellow thrower, has told people I do it on purpose for “the theater.” It’s not true, but I do like the point.
It always works well in training. Charlie Francis, the late, great sprint coach, would end workouts when his athletes got a personal record in anything. His idea was “there you go – you peaked – now rest.” That is an extreme, but I wish I would’ve known this when I was younger. Injuries tend to show up when you want to add just a little more to your lifetime best. Learn to celebrate success and keep improving over the long haul.
This skill has to be practiced. You have to draw a line in the sand and say, “This is it. This is the last thing I do today and it’s going to be my best effort.” Now, I know most lifters don’t do this, but I also know that most don’t make any gains!
Always strive to leave practice and workouts “on top.”
This is a new idea for me. After a hard workout, come back the next day and, at a low level, move through the basic patterns of the human body in a kind of movement massage. The loads are light, the reps are unimportant, but the movement is key. With an adult, I often recommend up to three of these easy recharge workouts a week. It can be as simple as doing the basic patterning movements.
Follow with an easy walk. It doesn’t have to be much, but you’ll thank me as your mobility, flexibility, and patterning improve without much residual soreness.
Dick Notmeyer smiled and nodded as I told him about my weightlifting career. I thought I’d done it all. I had a big bench and could do pull-ups with the best of them.
Dick stopped me. “Here, you’re going to do snatches and clean and jerks.” That was basically it. For two years, I did the Olympic lifts in the summer sun and foggy blindness. It was rep after rep after rep. And I made tremendous progress.
When Pavel came out with “Power to the People” and suggested five days a week of deadlifts and side presses, a few brave souls took on the challenge and expanded their work capacity. His “Program Minimum,” of nothing but swings and get-ups, is still my “go to” recommendation for someone exploring the goals of general conditioning.
In the book, “Beyond Bodybuilding,” he sets up a hypertrophy program consisting of five days a week of deadlifts and bench presses under the direction of deLorme and Watkins, the founders of what we now call progressive resistance exercise.
I’m a fan of minimal workouts. The biggest reason is there is no wiggle room for “coulda, woulda, shoulda.” The very essence of this training idea is “do this!” It’s not the kind of training for someone who needs music, TV, Internet, and conversation during sets. Folks, it’s dull work – actually, it’s work.
Every so often, try two weeks of just two movements. Make the combination cover the bulk of the body and strive for mastery of the movements. It can change your career.
My friend, Josh Hillis, notes that when a woman can do three pull-ups and deadlift or squat 135 for five, almost universally they’re around 19% bodyfat, which is what he calls “Rockstar Hot.” Since he told me this, I’ve been carefully watching the physiques of women, although to be honest I’ve been doing that since early puberty.
There’s another issue. Women who can do three pull-ups and show some numbers on the barbell can also go out after a clinic and have a good time. Recently, a top female physique contestant told me at a bar that, “Oh, I can go out and party and not watch every single bite when I’m not peaking.” Unlike the “skinny fat” women who you normaly see in the weekly magazines, this woman was strong enough that when she trained her body had to gather up a lot of resources to adapt and recover.
What does this mean for you? I’ve seen it many times at workshops and clinics. The skinny, weak guys bring their own weighed chicken breasts and magic protein bars for the whole day. When we do something physical, they fade into the corn rows. The big, strong guys who’ve never seen a strongman event will jump in and flail around dangerously close to death and dismemberment, but fight the good fight with the anvil, axle, or stone. Then, they eat passionately and without apology.
In other words, as Brett Jones taught me, absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid that goes into the glass. The bigger the glass, the bigger everything else can be for you.
So get stronger and eat more without freaking out about it.
Twice at the Olympic training center, we were asked to take some time to do an “autobiography.” Really, we simply listed the best and worst of our athletic career. We were allowed to add life events, too.
I still have my lists. They’re odd to look at from a decade-plus distance, but I still smile when I see “Turkey Day Football” and “Picked to Start for Brentwood,” and “Winning hit in 1967” mixed in with performances that are worthy of national ranking. I don’t want to address the “Worst” list, but that was the point.
After a fairly long wait for everyone to finish, we were asked to look at the lifetime lows.
“Put your finger on it,” we were told. Now, look at the high side and see if there’s a match.
Just do it.
Incredibly, for the bulk of us, every low, every “worst moment,” lead directly over to a best moment. We have to keep Lesson 25 in mind (don’t judge everything), but the lesson was clear. Our lows are often the steppingstone to the greatest moments of our lives.
I’ve used this little exercise for my athletes and in my classrooms. Sadly, there are some who argue that they have very few “best” moments. It should come as no surprise that these timid souls often have no “worst” moments either.
I have an extremely damaged tiny spiral notebook. It’s red and falling apart. Since 1973, I’ve been keeping quotes in here that inspire me.
“The guy with the biggest butt lifts the biggest weights.”
“Arnold’s Three-Part Secret”
Positive mental outlook
Honest hard work
“Greatness comes to those that dare to sweat, dare to strain, and dare the pain.”
“Quality is the key, not quantity”
“Never, never give up. Never give up.”
“Yield to all and you soon have nothing left to yield.”
I also include training programs from people that I admire and odd snips of ideas that still are forming in my head.
Here’s one final one.
I wrote that as a senior in high school in my English class to answer something along the lines of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I was lucky to have the magazine “Strength and Health” growing up. It wasn’t just bodybuilding information; this magazine really respected all areas of strength. So several times a year I could read about throwers or football players. An article on a discus thrower named Gary Ordway came at a great time in my life as I’d embarked on an attempt to be a thrower and they listed his workouts. I’ll only list his top lifts in his preseason workout:
Deadlift: 455 x 3
Power clean: 285 x 2
Incline press: 325 x 3
Sit ups: 4 sets of 25
As a kid inclining under 100 pounds, the direction was clear. I needed to get stronger. I knew the path – lift weights.
To be a strength athlete, you have to engage in a progressive program to lead you to your goals. The nice thing about lifting is the numbers are crystal clear. I’m benching 95 and you’re benching 405. I have to get stronger!
This is why I still like the Olympic lifts and the deadlift for comparing generations. The O lifts and the DL have essentially stagnated for the past twenty years. Certainly there are amazing lifts, but there’s been less than stellar improvement across the board.
My good friend, Marty Gallagher loves to point out that outside of gear (in this case, squat suits, squat briefs, bench shirts, wraps and the like), there’s been almost no progress in powerlifting. Yes, there are exceptions, but like O lifting the sport has slowed to a crawl.
Find out what the best are doing. Look at what you’re doing. Now shrink the gap.
This is a criticism that gets tossed in my face sometimes. I’m a snob, a prude if you will, when it comes to track and field. I love reading how this magic program, device, or herb is the “do all and be all.” Fine. Take your profits, invest in some athletes, and prove it at a track meet.
The response is always something along the lines of, “Well, this isn’t sports specific,” or, “Track depends on perfection of biomechanics.” Okay, fine.
It’s easy to convince someone that a weight “feels lighter.” It’s not so easy to add three feet to the shot put or drop time off the 200-meter sprint.
If your idea does work for sprinters, throwers, and the rest of track and field, I’m going to sit in the front row and take notes. Even if I disagree with everything you say, if you get it right in Track and Field, and probably swimming, too, you’re right and I’ll listen to this grand scheme.
This looks like a rant, but it drives me crazy. Moms show up to practice and ask, “Are the boys hydrating?” No, first perspiration, then hydration.
The area from your hips to your shoulders is now the “core.” Today, Grandma asks me if discus throwing “builds your core.” Is shot putting “functional?” To play a one-hour game of soccer – or 20 minutes of standing and 40 minutes of picking daisies – my daughter used to get a sports drink, an orange, cookies, and a treat. This was to counteract the incredible efforts of a group of seven-year-old girls who usually forgot which goal to kick the ball towards.
I’m tired of it. Let’s bring an end to this pseudo-quasi-scientific language that’s permeating youth sports, recreation, and fitness. American children are getting fatter at a rate that no one predicted twenty years ago and yet parents flock around their kids like paparazzi around this week’s latest Lindsay Lohan scandal.
It’s called “water.” Deal with it.
I have an axiom when asked for advice. “Well, in four years, you’re going to be four years older no matter what, but if you go to college, you’ll have your degree.” Or, “In thirty years, you’re going to be thirty years older no matter what, but if you save ten percent of your income, you’ll have a comfortable retirement.”
The longer you put off something like “squat mastery” or eating clean, the more you’ll regret it later. Now, I don’t know when and what’s going to happen, but life seems so much easier when you master the basics, make yourself a slave to good habits, save ten percent of your income, and nurture quality relationships “now” versus “later.”
Get the degree, finish the thesis, buy good insurance, see your dentist twice a year, and do all the boring things of life as often as you can. Trust me, your health – financial, physical, spiritual, and emotional – will benefit from taking care of business early on.
Some of the athletes I first worked with are now sneaking up on age fifty and two are already over the half-century mark. Whenever we talk, the most common “gift” that I bestowed on them was this understanding to get Ôer done.
Aerobic dance continues to flourish in community centers. There’s a lot of “woos” as you walk past. What you don’t see is progress. For the record, if I took the introductory class, I would get the workout of a lifetime. Why? Because I would suck at it! Fat loss exercise, however, and it breaks my heart to say this, is about being completely inefficient.
Aerobic dance and most of the TV offers work for a few weeks. Then, you get good at it and progress stops. This is why I like the kettlelbell swing for fat loss. It’s a massive body move that eats up a ton of energy and you move nowhere. In fact, as you improve, you probably attack the movement harder, causing you to still move nowhere.
Len Schwartz’s HeavyHands was the same principle. You load up a couple of dumbbells in each hand and go for a walk. With these big pumping arm movements, you waste a ton of energy up and down and turn an easy walk in the park to an extremely wasteful use of energy. And you burn fat.
I love the combination of swings and push-ups, or goblet squats and push-ups for fat loss. The secret to fat loss is that wonderful pause after finishing the push-up when you have to get back up. It would be “better” to press as that would save you energy, but in this case, that’s “bad.”
For fat loss exercise, discover things you’re terrible at and do them. If you’ve never skated before, pad up and see how a quarter mile can ruin you for hours. As you get better technically, find something else! It’s the polar opposite of getting good at a sport or skill, but this is why consistent fat loss is so elusive for most people.
I said this at the Test-Fest in Washington, DC, and it still holds true. I’ve argued for years that taking a weekend to listen and learn is far better than doing the “same old, same old” thing in the workout.
And as I said that at Test-Fest, a guy walked in with his wife beater, his belt, and his little bag filled with gym gear. I couldn’t have planned it better. There’s a need for all of us to humble ourselves and open up to some new ideas. You probably should hang on to 80% of what you know, but be willing to throw out that other 20% and fill it with something that will get you to the next level.
This sounds similar to “put your money where your mouth is,” but there’s more to this. I think the hotel bar after the talk or the lunch between sessions or the hallway outside the conference is an opportunity to grow in ways you can only imagine.
You might get a chance to fill out a napkin (don’t lose that napkin) with a training program from one of the great names in the iron game. You might get invited to something like a dinner or a party and meet people that will change your life. You must go to these events to understand the idea behind the ideas you see presented here at TNation.
It’s a rare day I don’t think of my mom and dad, Coach Ralph Maughan, some of my heroes, and some of my friends who are no longer alive. I carry on, as best I can, but it’s becoming woefully obvious to me that my torch is burning dim and I’ll be passing it along sooner than later.
That’s why I write. That’s why I keep lists. That’s why I answer the same questions over and over and over again.
Our time on this precious earth is short. Good health and a measure of strength can help you live a better quality of life. And that’s the greatest lesson of my life.
I have a box in my storage room that contains all my training journals. Besides sets and reps, I toss in what’s going on in my life. Often, I find long essays about the future, lists about “what works,” and funny little tidbits about my life that I would’ve quickly forgotten had I not wrote them down.
It hit me when I picked up this box the other day that I’ve been recording workouts since 1971, five years after first picking up a weight. That’s forty years! I started to think about the lessons I’ve learned and, before I knew it, I had a list of forty lessons that I had to learn the hard way.
It makes me smile to see my attempt at neat handwriting in my first journal entries. The bench press workout was 85 x 8/8/4. I noted, “I was supposed to do six on the second set but it was too easy.” In the summer before my freshman year, I benched 100 pounds; my sophomore year, I benched 200 pounds; and I got 300 during my junior year in track season. I would write what I benched as a senior weighing 162 pounds, but you wouldn’t believe it.
I have a few notes about my coach’s son who came to our weight room one afternoon to see if I was “really as strong as my dad said I was.” I told him I’d already lifted and he said something that questioned my lifts. So, I put a low 300-pound lift on the bar and it went up so fast that he told me to stop. “I believe you…wow, I believe you.”
The value of a journal is seeing the progress (and the regress) of your training and training philosophy. I believe a thorough review of your old journals is probably as good as a training session.
Lesson 2: Eat like a man
This article pulled together some wonderful disconnected links that had spun in my brain for a few years. Yes, low carb is good, but carbs are not evil. For the strength enthusiast, or someone who wants to just be powerful, this article gives the template. The carb-depletion workout fit perfectly with a weekly volume day. The carb-up fit perfectly with life!
Now, you can agree or disagree with the diet, but all the athletes I had use this template found that their ability to train longer and harder was enhanced naturally by this simple eating program. And, as the author notes, people fear you in the supermarket!
You may not need to ever squat heavy, and you may also discover that there are some better tools for you (for you, read that carefully) like Bulgarian split squats or pistols, but mastery of the squat is worth every second you spend on it.
In past articles, like this, I’ve given you a template to follow. However, I still feel that the message has NOT been delivered. You must master this basic movement. Spend years on it if you have to, as I did, but learn to do this.
Yes, these are “books,” but the depth and insights will astound you.
Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” It still stuns me and scares me. The diet advice is unsupported by research.
T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” The first part is “The Sword in the Stone” and the book changed my life.
Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” The book is a science fiction legend, but the respect for education, in all its forms, makes it worth reading.
I would also tell you to read all of Harry Potter. Any book that introduces a character in the first chapter that’s so crucial to the whole story, yet won’t be seen again until the third book, and a question from the very beginning that isn’t answered until literally the end, deserves one’s time and energy.
There are others, of course, but the idea is that at times big goals and big stories also include epic tragedy and overcoming failure.
When I first made waves as a writer, I was usually quoted for insisting we go outside and train. It’s still great advice. I think that carrying equipment outside and working out in a communal gathering is the single best way to train. As a discus thrower, bringing my kettlebell to the field to do a few movements “now and again” was a game changer in helping me improve my throws. Grab some food and drink and a training tool and go outside and have some fun lifting.
I wrote on this a few years ago here . It’s very simple.
The Southwood Program is to be performed three days a week in the gym:
Although I learned this while Nixon was President and nobody traded with China, it still holds fast as a great training program. You don’t miss a single bodypart, it’s simple to learn, and a bit rigorous to do. It also demands that you clean and military press which we’ll get back to later.
If there’s a skill that’s overlooked it’s the ability to nap when necessary. If my athletes struggle with getting or staying asleep, we’re going to have issues down the line. Training oneself to relax is the first step. I recommend squeezing a muscle tight, then breathing out and releasing it. This helps enable falling effortlessly asleep literally any time, anywhere.
Sleep is the best recovery tool I know, but the skill of sound sleeping is often overlooked. Although I recommend ZMA®, Z-12TM, and eyeshades and earplugs to just about every audience I speak to, I still say that one also needs to practice relaxing. There are many CDs, DVDs and downloads that walk you through this skill and I can’t comment on them all, but it’s worth your time to practice this underrated skill.
I learned this from Pavel. It’s a “truism.” My all-time best number of pull-ups was 14 when getting ready for my senior year of high school football. I know this because of my journal (see Lesson One!). As I grew larger, I let myself slide all the way down to four reps. I also noted my shoulders hurt.
Taking Pavel’s advice, I started doing one or two pull ups throughout my training workouts. When two became ridiculously easy, I moved to three and soon four. I am now back to nine pull-ups and “miraculously” my shoulder health is back to being fine.
One surprising point about pull-ups is that they’re also a wonderful abdominal exercise. I don’t know why that is, but it will be evident the day after a long pull-up workout.
I love pictures of the old time strongmen with the huge kettlebells and fixed bars. When I first started training, gyms had fixed barbells in a rack, so you could grab a 75-pound barbell or a 105 pounder, just like the dumbbell rack today.
There’s some beauty in this. Originally, all I had was a 53-pound kettlebell and a 70 pounder. So, when I trained, I had two options. The “lack of options” made me dig down harder for certain movements. A few years ago, I noted that most of us should toss out the bulk of our weightlifting plates and just use 45s and 25s. One would have thought I’d blasphemed! I got negative feedback for weeks from that.
I stand by it. Yes, it’s a jump to go from 185 to 225. It means you have to own 185 and you’d better be ready for the load at 225. It’s also how we trained in college as the small plates were all broken and the football team stole all the 35s to stick on their machines (I won’t comment).
So, my first group of recruits when I began coaching learned to lift with 95, 135, and 185 pounds in the snatch and clean. They mastered the loads quickly because, well, we had no other options!
At nearly every talk I give, I note the importance of dental floss. Flossing is really good for you and it seems like it makes a difference in heart health. It takes about a minute to do it, too. But I get emails from guys who tell me, “I’ll do anything to get to X, Y or Z.” When I ask them first to floss twice a day, I get a return email that says something like “that is a problem as…” Listen, if you don’t have the discipline to floss twice a day, good luck with the Velocity Diet.
I do all the weird stuff. I use a Neti Pot for my sinuses, and I no longer take allergy medicine, so it “works.” I use a tongue scraper every morning, and learned that some foods really do make mucus, and I always supplement with fiber. Now, I don’t go so far as to do some of the higher-end stuff like colonics, but that’s not a judgment on my part.
I think that taking a little time each day to “cleanse” is worth it to your overall health. To me, it’s like eating vegetables and fruit. It’s got to be good for you at some level. And, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to do.
When I first began throwing the discus as a 118-pound tower of terror, I won a lot of meets. No matter what, the kids at the other school would tell me, “If (insert name of fat kid) would’ve been here, he would’ve beaten you.” I used to believe that crap.
Whenever I win something, especially now in the Internet age, I always find out later that “somebody else” would’ve won it if, of course, they’d just shown up. Folks, it’s a truism that should be stuck to your bathroom mirror. “Show Up!”
I’ve fond memories of helping a friend off the floor as he was dieting down for an amateur bodybuilding contest and he was doing depleting workouts. He was in a brain fog for probably three weeks. Of course, on the dais under the lights, he looked magnificent and won “easily.”
The dude showed up. If you’re gunna gunna, you have to show up to prove it. “Gunna gunna” was a phrase my mom used for people who were “gunna do this and gunna do that.” It’s like graduating from high school or college. I swear to you, if you just show up, you’re gunna gunna do just fine.
One of my favorite books is Steve Ilg’s “Total Body Transformation.” Published in 2004, the book has amazing insights into human performance and reflects on Ilg’s courageous victory over a terrifying back injury. In the book, Ilg looks at a quote made about Mark Allen that he had become the World’s Greatest Athlete by winning a series of triathlons. Ilg came up with an interesting contest to see who actually was the world’s fittest human.
Ilg’s contest included basic gymnastic movements, weightlifting maxes, and yoga moves. My favorite section was the third day’s endurance event, a mountain bike race to an uphill finish. His genius is realizing that downhill is where the injuries happen, so why not test the athletes’ fitness as safely as possible?
I’ve had a lot of injuries that have caused me to spend a lot of time in hospital beds. One thing I’ve learned is that it is “almost” okay to get injured in competition, but it’s insane to get hurt in preparation. Stopping several reps short of failure or injury may not sound courageous on paper, but coming back to train tomorrow is more important than an additional “junk” rep.
I love the word “glib.” Usually, it means nonchalant (that has to be a French word; we need to find a way to say this glibly), but it also means “lacking depth and substance.” Now, most of my ex-girlfriends say that about me, but I digress.
I’ve always taken about six weeks a year to assess, reassess, and deal with my weaknesses. It’s always around the same few issues:
My hamstrings are too tight.
I need to work on X, Y, or Z.
So, how does one usually address these issues? Most people usually address weaknesses while also doing literally everything else. So, what happens in a typical six-week assessment program is we continue doing everything we did before and hope the weaknesses vanish magically. Without Harry Potter, that isn’t going to happen.
In the last decade I’ve discovered that weaknesses demand full concentration. As I’ve argued before, if you want to really address fat loss, do the Velocity Diet. Oh sure, there are other fine options, but do the V-Diet once and then decide how “grueling” Atkins or Ornish or the Zone are in terms of sacrifice.
Weaknesses need to be given full attention. If you have flexibility issues holding you back, then you need some kind of challenge. In the past I’ve recommended the Bikram Yoga 30-Day Challenge (you promise to go to the 90 minute sessions every day for thirty days) and I still can’t think of a better way to address the issue.
Weaknesses need to be attacked with depth. I charge you to examine every possibility in your search for ridding yourself of this issue. I’ve had people squat five days a week to address poor squatting technique and do 1,000 full turns a month to deal with discus throwing issues. If you have a clear weakness, total focus with every tool and weapon you can muster has to be the plan.
Don’t be glib.
Neither is it treadmilling, or whatever machine you think of right now. Conditioning is more than that. I gave some insights in this article, but few people were interested in trying out the tumbling. This little workout is the finest “finisher” I know and you only have to do it once.
Five right shoulder rolls
Five left shoulder rolls
Three cartwheels followed by three cartwheels to the other side
One set of bear crawls (about ten meters)
Sprint to waste basket
I think the intensity of conditioning trumps the duration most of the time. I have more to say on this later, but most people don’t train hard enough to get in and get out.
That said, I also think most under-appreciate hiking, biking, and long, easy treks along the beaches and meadows of this fine planet. As noted earlier, go outside and breathe real air.
Recently, I wrote a series of articles on the five basic human movements.
Now, you can certainly add vertical and horizontal and rotational and many other things to this list, but if you’re skipping one of the basic five human movements, your training isn’t optimal.
You’re probably missing loaded carries and squats. The one lesson I’ve learned over and over is most people ignore these two things. So, start doing farmer walks, waiter walks, suitcase walk, sleds, and pushing cars a few days a week and master the basics of squatting.
You won’t believe the progress you’ll make!
I still love the Atkins Diet. I keep some correspondences from 1999 from a group of women who lost 100 pounds each doing the Atkins Diet and a little weightlifting. I probably learned more from them than I ever learned from those with a bunch of initials after their names.
Here was the genius behind Atkins, in case you missed it. Dr. Atkins notes in his book that to become obese, you did something “unbalanced.” To get yourself back to sleek, lithe, firm and fantastic, you honestly can’t do a balanced approach. Finding balance at 100 pounds over-fat will keep you there. He recommended an “unbalanced” approach to get back to your target.
I’ve used this contrarian thinking process ever since I read this. In coaching the throws, I teach athletes with bad habits to throw with the “other” hand, do things backwards, try throwing with the 56-pound weight, and a variety of things that I’d consider “unbalanced.” Now, if I’m working with a raw beginner, obviously I’d pattern and model the best technique possible, but with someone with ingrained bad habits, I look for ways to completely rework the system.
If you’ve been training for four years and never really squatted, I’d recommend you squat five days a week for two years. Crazy? Yes! But that’s exactly what Dick Notmeyer had me do, and not only did I add forty pounds of lean body mass in four months, I also mastered the movement.
This “theme” seems to be a reoccurring lesson in my career.
But if you do decide to “do everything at once” for a while, there may be benefits at the other end of the wormhole.
By the time I was a senior at Utah State University, I’d lifted at least three days a week, usually five to eight, for seven and a half years. I played football, soccer, wrestled, and competed at a fairly high level as an Olympic lifter. Oh, and I was a Division One thrower gathering points as a discus thrower, hammer thrower, and shot putter.
In January of my senior year, I hit the wall. I was sick of lifting and just couldn’t keep up trying to do everything.
This “plan” worked perfectly. After all those years of training half the year as a thrower and the other half as an athlete in another sport AND keeping an enormous load in the weight room, I backed off everything.
I never went over 385 that winter and spring in the squat. I did clean and snatch, but always within reason. I didn’t play in pick up games or intramurals or, honestly, anything. I went to school, lifted a little, and threw a little. I ended up with what Coach Ralph Maughan called “the greatest season in the history of USU throwing,” which, at the time, was quite a big deal.
The lesson? Well, after doing seven years of “everything,” backing off to just one thing propelled me to a level of success that simply shocked me with the ease I attained it.
Less is more. This is a fundamental truism in the strength arts. But you first have to really put a lot of “more” in. Like Earl Nightingale used to say about the fireplace, many people walk up to the fireplace and say “give me heat.” The right way to do it is to get some paper, some kindling, some logs, and light a match. Then you get some heat.
You have to explore and learn and try many things to be able later to whittle them all down into a simple package. I can show you some short cuts and so can all the other authors here, but you need to put the time and effort into the “more” before you can master the “less.”
My friend, Pavel Tsatsouline, handed me this great two-day a week training program. I shared it with a young, busy guy who told me it was too easy. I knew he was lying, so I tweaked it for him. Here’s the “King of Less Training Programs”:
|Day One||Day Two|
|Bench press||Bench press|
That’s it. It’s the minimalist’s minimal workout. Now, let’s look at my tweaks:
- Only 45 and 25-pound plates!
- No less than ten reps on every set of bench and squat until the last set.
- No less than five reps on every deadlift.
So, the bench press workout was sets of ten, add weight, until the last set where you grind out as many as possible.
A bench example from 1993 when I did this same basic program:
225 x 10
315 x 10
365 x “as many”
For the squat, the last set should be around bodyweight, usually 185 or 225, and you go for at least 30 reps.
In the deadlift, keep grinding out those sets of five. Over time, feel free to slide this down to three reps, then two reps.
On paper, this looks so easy!
Whenever I talk with someone who has been around gyms for a long time, usually this story comes up:
The interesting thing is the experienced guy probably got more out of the exchange than the neophyte. When you try to teach someone something you know, you begin to pick up those subtle points that you may have forgotten or, perhaps more common, you may know but never knew you knew it! Teaching someone to squat might make you rethink how you move the whole system down and not just bend the knees.
Oh, sure, you can lose your mind helping someone learn the basics of weight training, but for most the time spent teaching others is like finding a vein of pure gold.
I’ve been there. I read those massive ads for Nautilus in Scholastic Coach and Athletic Journal and thought, for sure, that this was the ticket to success. Plyometrics had me leaping off tall buildings with a single bound and limping up flights of stairs. Don’t even get me started with the stupid things I’ve tried.
Most of “it” is crap. From the magic supplements, like B-15 (better than 14!) to the promises of this huckster or that guru, I’ve rarely discovered much beyond the basics that works.
I remember fasting for 14 hours before a workout and doing set after set after set of compound leg exercises and consuming a whiff of some exotic herbs to enhance my growth hormone. It enhanced someone else’s wallet.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Gravity Iron: No Weights Needed
There are no ideal routines or perfect methods. The bottom line is results. Either you’re stronger, have more endurance, a greater resistance to injury, or perform better in your sport. That’s all that matters.
Yet for many trainees, this results-first approach is too simplistic. For them, the more complex the problem, the more flamboyant the cure has to be. Rather than follow a simple, specific plan, they get caught up in exotic treadmills of ”latest and best.”
There is no such thing as best, there’s only different.
Measurable results within the framework of health, safety, and time management are the key. Why spend three times the amount of training time for 1% better results if you don’t have competitive ambition? Wouldn’t a program that offered really good results and allowed you a social life and family time be well worth the investment?
The basics are usually easy to remember. If a methodology is too complex, it creates a fabric that’s easily torn by problems. If something goes wrong, it’s hard to tell what the issue is as there’s too much going on all the time.
Let’s eliminate the inessential and focus on simplicity and progression.
In a recent forum post, TNation contributor Jack Reape was discussing hypertrophy. For a guy who can squat 700 pounds for a double, it seemed odd that he would mention a body weight routine along with the usual dose of extra heavy iron. His quote:
I asked him to explain the history of this routine and why he felt it was valid. He said, “It’s my own idea, but based on a combination of ideas from Ronnie Coleman (do 25 pull-ups in as many sets as it takes to get there) and Bill Starr (25-50 reps is the optimal range of volume for bodybuilding), amongst others. I’m a big fan of bodyweight work. I think 25-50 reps is the right volume range for non-freaky natural athletes.”
When Jack Reape speaks, I listen. Pretty solid advice. Simple advice. There’s not a lot to screw up. Kind of like childproofing, except for adults.
Even with a body weight routine alone, some people, due to lack of strength, specific build, or limitations in movement, can’t do the harder callisthenic exercises. There are some preliminary drills that will build strength to get there.
Squat, Chin, and Press
Consider the basics of human movement: Squat, Pull, and Push. That gives us three categories, A, B, and C. Inside each category will be three exercises, listed from easiest to hardest. Of course, depending on body size and leverage, there’s some wiggle room here. When weight is added, work in small increments, focusing on long-term gain. A well-fitted weight vest is your best bet, but other tools are certainly acceptable.
Category A: Squat
Tall Kneeling Get Up
The tall kneeling position gives many people trouble due to stability issues.
Start on a soft, forgiving surface and kneel with your thighs close and gluteus region fully contracted. Practice without weight. The hands should be held behind the neck in a “prisoner or hostage” style. This forces good posture and transfers the stress to the lower body.
Now smoothly swing one leg forward into a lunge position. Do not swing it wide, but in a straight line. Once it’s firmly planted, come to a standing position with both feet together. Reverse the process and return to the tall kneeling position. Endeavor to keep perfect posture throughout the drill.
Now repeat with the other leg. Your repetitions for your first workout should be at least 25 per leg.
The airborne lunge is usually a preliminary drill used to learn the pistol, but it has its own unique value. Although there are many permutations, we’ll use the standard version in this routine.
Only attempt this on a soft surface. You may want to add padding below the floating knee in case you lose your balance. A yoga block is a good choice.
Begin standing on one leg, the other leg behind you with the same-side arm reaching back and keeping it immobile by grabbing the instep. The other arm is extended forward for balance.
Slowly bend the knee of the supporting leg and lower till the knee of the immobilized leg gently kisses the ground. Immediately stand upright, maintaining good balance and form. Repeat for the appropriate amount of repetitions and then work the other leg.
The pistol is a one-legged squat done with the other leg held in front of you. There are ample tutorials online and on YouTube so an explanation here is an exercise in repetition. Most athletes fall short because of balance and flexibility issues. This exercise is also a great diagnostic check to look for mobility issues.
Here’s a hint: You may want to start with a weight held in front of you at arms’ length. The counterbalance will make stability easier but the intensity on the thigh muscles will increase.
Category B: Pull
The suspended row is a good starting point in the pulling category. No special expensive apparatus required, no need to spend hundreds of dollars on nylon straps invented by entrepreneurial commandos. A heavy segment of rope with loops tied onto each end thrown over a garage rafter or tree branch is adequate.
The version in this program has the feet elevated as well. The body starts in a position that’s parallel to the ground and under tension, rather than at rest. Keep the body rigid with no sagging. Pulling with the elbows close to the sides will allow you to use the most resistance, when you’re capable of adding it, of course.
The chin-up is a palms supinated pull from an overhead bar. If you can’t do one, you’re either too weak or too fat. Try backing up to the previous drill, the suspended row, and do it until you’re stronger.
There’s nothing special here. Keep movement speed in this and all the exercises smooth and slower. It’s not an exercise in compensatory acceleration or in the Westside Barbell Dynamic Method. These drills are grinds.
The pull-up is the same as the chin-up but with a pronated grip. This essentially weakens the degree of elbow flexion. However, by pulling the chest or waist to the bar, you can increase the range of motion. Just find a standard form of this increased range of motion and stick to it so that results and progression are measurable. A concise recording process is important for improvement.
Category C: Push
The suspended push-up keeps you honest about stability. The same rope over the rafter can be used if exotic online training gadgets aren’t handy. The feet should be elevated so the starting position is parallel to the ground and the body isn’t relaxed, but holding a plank. Keep the arms close to the torso and the entire body rigid with tension.
The one-arm push-up, like its cousin the pistol, is the subject of massive amounts of instructional material online and elsewhere. It’s an intense exercise in body tension and doubles as a hardcore abdominal drill. Getting to 50 total reps before adding weight won’t be easy but will be well worth your effort.
Handstand push-ups will be done against the wall, slowly, with the hands placed on push-up handles or parallettes. There are no extra points given for free standing ones – this is about fitness, not gymnastics. The increased range of motion of the parallettes will also improve time under tension.
You can gaze at the ground, which arches the back and transfers stress to the upper chest. You can also gaze across the room with a straight back and treat this as a type of inverted press behind the neck. It all depends upon your needs.
This program can be done two or three times per week depending upon your other activity, training, and rest. It’s important to take a back-off week every three to five weeks. Do 50% of the poundage at a much-reduced effort during the back-off week. If there’s one secret besides proper sleep, this is it.
This workout can be morphed by focusing on extended sets, like 25 to 50 straight repetitions with tiny increases in weight for increased endurance. Another way would be to add resistance and do a density training format of a high-set, low-rep nature.
The most common method is to address the toughest drills for your individual ability with many low repetition sets. In other words, there’s a lot of flexibility here.
There’s a problem with this routine, however. Many body weight routine zealots won’t see it, but you don’t actually pick anything off the ground.
They call it weight lifting for a reason. The stimulus of moving an externally fixed source of weight is highly stimulatory for the development of increased strength and size. So why not include some iron?
Don’t turn this into an either/or situation or another Internet argument. The part that’s missing – a big pulloff of the ground – is begging to be filled with the deadlift. Does it have to be a risky series of double or triples at a near-limit weight? Of course not.
Enter The Ghost
The “Green Ghost” is Eddie Kowacz, a former Marine, SWAT Operative, corrections officer, lifetime martial artist, and strength trainer. His ability to cut away the unessential is profound. The following routine, elegant in its simplicity, is his.
Green Ghost Volume Deadlift Routine
Percentages of deadlift 1RM: no less than 50%, no more than 65%
Sets per workout: 10-20
Rest: No less than one minute, no more than two minutes
Frequency: Every third day, i.e., Mon/Thu/Sun/Wed/Sat
Mix n’ match sets/reps/percentages as needed.
Every third or fifth workout: Deadlift for 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps with tolerable percentages.
Other moves are okay as long as they don’t compromise the deadlift. Presses are good on off days. Also work abs 3-5 days per week.
A couple of notes here.
This routine requires a back-off week between 3 and 5 weeks, consistent with the three-exercise routine above. The abdominal work can be standalone and include standing crunches with a jump stretch band or hanging leg raises. The body weight drills alone will scorch your midsection.
Here’s a sample weekly template.
Day 2: Deadlift
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Bodyweight routine
Day 5: Deadlift
Day 6/7: Off.
Take extra days as needed.
Repeat for three weeks then take a back off week.
The other possibility if you’re very active or have little time:
Day 1: Bodyweight routine
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Deadlift
And so on.
Take an extra day when you need and a back off week around 3 to 5 weeks.
Simplest is Best
This program can fit into a very unorganized lifestyle. Limited time in the gym will not stop you since you only have to focus on deadlifting loads that are nowhere near your strength limit. The other three groupings can be done at home with little training gear, or on the road.
If you’re frequently out of town, you can ditch the deadlifts and do some bodyweight-only drills in your hotel room. Let the normal activity of travel, namely walking, running, swimming, and asking people who don’t speak English for directions give you a much-needed break that helps restore recovery ability.
Many roads may reach the same destination, but the simplest route is always the best. Give this routine a shot and see if you don’t notice remarkable improvements in strength, mobility, even hypertrophy, as well as dramatically improved recuperation.
Save the complex programs and endless arguments about strength training dogma for those who care more about talking and typing than doing. Remember, the bottom line is results, and this simple program will deliver them.
Fix Your Front Squat
Why Should I Be Doing Front Squats?
- Increase depth achieved
- Improve core strength
- Activate glutes
Why You Suck At Front Squats
Your Abs Aren’t Strong Enough
Ab wheel rollouts OR Blast Strap fallouts
Suitcase deadlift OR Paloff press
Your Elbows Won’t Stay High Enough
Seated dumbbell external rotation
You Can’t Stand Tall
- PNF intercostal stretch
- Foam roller extensions
- Trap – 3 raises
Getting a Grip
- Keep the toes pointed slightly outwards, and make sure knees track in the direction the toes point
- Keep the chest up proud
- Elbows high at all times
- Hinge from the hips, and let the glutes fire to come back up
- Press through the full foot, keeping the heel on the ground
- Breathe deep on the eccentric, and hold full of air at the bottom to increase intra-abdominal pressure
- Don’t panic – the legs have loads of fight – or – flight in them. You’ll get out of the hole!
Lifters Who Should Be All Over Front Squats
Getting Out of The “Embarrassing” Category
Front squat workout
|B||Ab wheel rollout||12|
|–||Foam roller extensions||*|
|F||Trap-3 raises||12 per arm|
|–||PNF intercostal stretch|
|H||DB external rotations||12 per arm|
† see video below – be sure not to allow the feet to do anything but hang straight down to get full stimulation of the abdominals. It should look like you’re trying to pull yourself to horizontal.
‡ at a 3010 tempo
Squatting to Oblivion!
Leverage Alteration Training
You can learn a lot about building muscle when your car runs out of gas.
Visualize what your body position was like the last time you had to push a car. You probably started out in a very good position: arms extended, body rigid, legs flexed appropriately.
Then the fun began. You bent your arms, pushed with your forearms, hips, back, and shoulders. Your body, which is wired to be efficient, altered your leverage both consciously and unconsciously, to allow you to endure. Without knowing it, you made use of bigger muscles as the smaller ones fatigued.
Taking note of this simple process, maybe we can add a new tool to our training.
With Leverage Alteration Training you shift into a stronger, safer position as muscles fatigue that allows you to extend the movements for greater hypertrophy, strength, or endurance.
Advantages of Leverage Alteration Training (LAT)
- Focuses primarily on compound exercises. Big lifts = big gains.
- Exhausts the target movement and motor units thoroughly.
- Allows the body to get used to handling more weight safely for longer periods of time.
- Provides a healthy dose of variety, thereby extending the adaptation curve.
- Opens up a huge potential for creativity (boredom is a killer!).
Ways to Successfully Employ LAT
- The A & B standard. Do two exercises back to back. An example is the front squat-to-back squat combination below.
- The A & B staggered. Do sets of exercise A till exhausted, then do sets of a more mechanically advantaged exercise B. The old school method of starting off a chest workout with sets of incline presses before moving onto flat and decline exercises is an example.
- String together a chain into a conditioning giant set. Complexes are the rage today in the met-con world. Combine LAT principles with giant sets for conditioning workouts that make sense.
- Alternate opposing muscles. Classic push-pull. A set of presses alternated with opposing sets of rows, or sets of dips combined with chin-ups.
Some scenarios where LAT training is ideal.
- When bodyweight-only training is the only option. Stuck at home or only have access to a crappy hotel “fitness center?” Use LAT principles to devise kick-ass bodyweight-only exercise combinations, like the push-up to scapular push-up described later on in this article.
- Shorten rest periods for conditioning. Smart bodybuilders have figured out that shortening the rest interval between sets increases the calorie expenditure of workouts. LAT principles make it possible to do this and still train with effective loads.
- Lengthen rest periods for size and strength. To lift more weight, you need to rest more between sets. Alternating opposing muscle groups (pushing and pulling) allows you to double the rest time between sets of the same exercise, while still maintaining the same total number of sets per workout.
For example, perform a set of 3RM bench presses, rest two minutes, and then perform a set of 3RM chin-ups. Rest two minutes before returning to another set of 3RM bench presses. The rest between work sets is two minutes across the board, but the rest between sets of the same exercise is actually four minutes. More rest usually translates into increased strength.
- Focus on a weak muscle group or movement. LAT techniques are a fantastic way to thoroughly trash a lot of motor units to bring up a stubborn weak point.
- Recondition an injured area. Often you can’t go “guns blazing” into an injured bodypart or muscle group. While a set of heavy shoulder presses may make your shoulders scream, rear deltoid raises to front deltoid raises to lateral raises may allow you to blast shoulders pain-free.
- Focus on extended endurance for your specific sport. Condition-heavy sports like MMA, grappling, and judo require athletes go full tilt for several minutes at a time. Extended set LAT workouts mimic these conditions better than the standard 30-45 second time under tension.
But the real beauty of Leverage Alteration Training is that you don’t have to “ditch” your current training split to incorporate a few extended sets. LAT can fit seamlessly into any program to provide much-needed variety or stimulation.
Here are a few favorites.
- Front squat to back squat
This method is hopefully self-explanatory. The front squat is performed first for a predetermined number of repetitions. Watch for weakened form or fighting for stability, at which point you simply re-rack the weight and with little rest, move into back squats. You should feel safer, more stable, and able to continue training your legs. There’s no need to go to failure here – you won’t need it!
- Sissy squats to front squats
The late Vince Gironda popularized the sissy squat. The barbell is held on the front of the shoulders, usually with the heels elevated on blocks. With the hips kept locked, slowly bend the knees, allowing the upper body to lay back like a bodybuilding limbo contest. The stress should be felt on the front of the thighs. Flex your quads hard and return to a vertical position. Repeat this effort until the targeted number of repetitions is reached.
Now shift to a front squat, lowering your hips and sitting back, keeping your shins vertical. Go from lockout to stretched position in one smooth movement. The front squat will feel different because your posterior thigh will be relatively fresh, while the frontal thigh will be fatigued and warm.
- Sissy squats to front squat to back squat
This is a three-step process combining the two methods above. After the sissy and front squat combo, re-rack the weight and move to a back squat. Expect some ridiculous soreness.
- Back squat to box squat
The idea here is to take advantage of the massive systemic stimulating effects of the squat, then have some training partners set a box behind you to finish off with some box squats. Sitting back onto a box forces good technique; relieving tension on the frontal thighs allows you to continue this valuable motion. The reduced tension also forces you to recruit your posterior chain as you lean forward to get off the box to the standing position, not unlike a fat guy getting off a couch.
- Stiff legged deadlift (SLDL) to Romanian deadlift
The SLDL is usually done with a slight bend in the knees. The weight is lowered towards the ground and sometimes the trainee stands on a small bench or block to increase the range of motion. This deadlift variation puts the hamstrings and entire posterior chain at a leverage disadvantage, while grip failure, something that usually occurs in the traditional deadlift, is less of an issue.
Perform SLDL’s until form becomes even mildly compromised, then reset with a wider stance. The trick is now to “force” the butt back as if trying to touch the other side of the room with your behind. The back should remain flat and the knees bent. Keeping mental composure along with flawless form is of the utmost importance.
- Bulgarian split squat to walking lunge
Here’s another combo that uses a sub-maximal weight for dramatic effects. The traditional Bulgarian split squat requires elevating the rear leg on a bench and squatting on one leg. Carrying dumbbells at your sides as opposed to a barbell on your back keeps the center of gravity lower, thereby increasing the safety.
Train each leg individually, starting with the weaker leg. The emphasis should be on keeping the torso upright, and forcing the action at the hip more than the knee. Upon completion, keep hold of the dumbbells and reset for walking lunges. The distance is up to you, but now the lever is less severe and the balance significantly better.
- DB fly to DB bench press
The dumbbell fly to dumbbell bench press is a classic example of altering levers to get more “value” out of an exercise. We’ve all heard stories of athletes using too heavy a weight in the fly and hurting their shoulders. Here’s a chance to retain the value of the exercise while reducing some of the potential risks associated with it.
Using a flat bench or incline and holding a pair of dumbbells, bend the arms to 90 degrees and perform the dumbbell fly motion until you reach a point where the bottom or stretched position becomes unwieldy and unstable. Now it’s time to lock out the ‘bells and regroup. Take a breath, reset, and start doing the dumbbell bench press. Conclude the exercise when you’ve hit the prescribed range of repetitions.
- Incline to flat bench press
There’s nothing magical about this combination. Years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Venice Beach gang would precede the standard bench press with inclines after they discovered that super heavy benches alone didn’t lead to balanced pec development. This combination can be done on an adjustable bench or two separate benches if you have the equipment available.
- Wide to narrow grip press
This was a strategy used by Dorian Yates and scores of athletes before him. Simply start with a wide grip on the barbell and move your grip in a bit each set.
- Dips to pushups
Dipping can be done on rings or a standard dipping station. Moving from dipping to any type of pushup changes the leverage significantly.
- Pushup to scapular shrug
A simple set of pushups usually is finished when your triceps get fatigued, but you should still be able to maintain the lockout position. It’s in this position that you can do scapular shrugs. Relax the serratus muscle and allow your torso to ratchet down and inch, then tighten it again to a strong aligned position.
- Pull-ups to lat shrugs
Failure in pull-ups or chin-ups is usually failure of the elbow flexors. You can continue to exercise the lats by shortening the distance between the upper arm and torso by performing a series of shrugs. Simply focus on tightening the muscles around the armpit and it will incline the body slightly, allowing you to stimulate the largest muscles of the upper body more significantly.
- Hammer row to lat shrug
This exercise requires the use of a Hammer machine or similar apparatus. Having the chest supported is a big plus and allows you to drive the pulling muscles of the upper body to a more thorough level of stimulation. Once the upper arms become fatigued, the shoulder structure can be pulled back in a type of shrug to isolate the function of the latissimus muscles.
- One-armed DB row to shrug
Similar to the previous Hammer row example, the arm flexors may be the first to fail, but the shoulders can be shrugged back for several repetitions. Bracing your knee and arm on a strong bench helps protect the low back.
- Straight-arm pullover to bent-armed pullover
Keeping the arms straight during the pullover severely limits the weight that can be lifted due to the increased lever length. Bending the arms will allow repetitions, and stimulation of the latissimus and pectorals, to continue. Depending on your strength levels, you may fail because of triceps fatigue. Feel free to experiment.
- Pull-ups to inverted rows
These are best performed in a power rack. Set the pins in the rack so that the barbell is slightly higher than arms length if you were laying supine on the floor. At a chinning station, perform standard chin-ups to exhaustion, return to the power rack, lie on the floor, and perform inverted rows to exhaustion.
- Bent over row to shrug
This one’s a natural. When you reach your limit on bent over rows, recover to an upright position and continue with a set of shrugs. The low back stress will be minimized and the muscles of the upper back can continue to be hit even though the elbow flexors are fatigued.
- Straight-arm laterals to bent-armed laterals
Simply shortening the lever arm by bending the upper arm will allow you to continue lifting the dumbbells in good form. The bend should be at ninety degrees to ensure some moderate level of uniformity. Always begin with the arms nearly straight; when good form becomes impossible or hazardous, shift to the lever-optimized position.
- Press behind the neck to military press
The behind the neck press isn’t appropriate for trainees who lack shoulder flexibility, but for others it’s a great exercise. Perform the behind the neck press strictly, and when you sense your form degrading, lower the bar to the front of the chest and continue the set with military presses.
- Military press to upward shrug
Moving from an overhead press to an overhead ‘shrug’ is a progression that’s best started with a lighter weight. Don’t work to failure – stop when form is diminishing. Lock out the barbell and continue with a slow, controlled set of vertical shrugs.
- Wide grip upright row to overhead press
Elevating a barbell by pulling it in an upright rowing motion is not an advantaged position. Before form breaks down (and injury risk increases), clean the weight to your shoulders and continue to exercise the deltoid muscles with an overhead/military press.
- Rear deltoid raise to front deltoid raise to lateral raise
Isolating the deltoids by performing raises in various directions has been done for years. The raise to the rear, while folded over at the hips, is usually the weakest position, and should be done first. The second motion would be raises to the front with the thumb pointing up. The last motion is the standard lateral raise (to the side).
- Hammer curl to dumbbell curl
The biceps are strongest in the supinated (palms up) position. Starting your biceps session with hammer curls means you’re slightly disadvantaged while the muscle is fresh. With the onset of fatigue, supinate the palms and activate the muscle more fully.
- Scott curl to body drag curl
This is an old Vince Gironda favorite. The elbows are braced with the Scott curl, forcing the biceps into an unfavorable position. When fatigue sets in, step away from the Scott bench and do body drag curls.
- Reverse curl to barbell curl
Again, the elbow flexors aren’t in an optimal position with a fully pronated (palms down) grip. When form becomes an issue, set the barbell down for a brief second and re-grip with a supinated grip. This stronger positioning will allow you to extend the set significantly.
- Triceps extension to close grip bench press
The lying triceps extension is a very strict movement that requires keeping the elbows pointed at the ceiling and focusing on the controlled extension of the lower arm. Maintaining proper form can be difficult, so shifting to a position where you’re stronger is not only more effective, but safer.
As you fatigue, lower the weight to sternum level and position your arms laterally beside your rib cage. Now continue to do a close grip press, being sure to lock out the elbow at the top of the movement.
- Behind the back wrist curl to finger curl
This is a cool one. Hold a barbell behind your back in a pronated grip. Keep your fingers clenched and do slow wrist curls. Your forearms will fatigue and your range of motion will decrease. Now let the bar roll down and unclench the fingers. Curl the weight with just the strength of the fingers until near failure.
- Standing calf raise to donkey calf raise
This exercise requires a dipping belt across the waist. Attach a dumbbell to the belt for resistance and start with the standard calf raise. The knees should be kept locked and loaded and focus on keeping the weight on the big toe side of the foot. When form begins to fail, bend forward and continue with the heel raises, unlocking the knees slightly as well. Continue while moving slower and pausing longer in the stretched position.
The Wrap Up
Obviously, there’s no way any sane individual would want to use all of these techniques in the same program. But if your training has been lagging or a certain bodypart in particular just isn’t responding, give Leverage Activation Training a shot.
Granted, LAT is nothing new, and it certainly isn’t fancy. It’s simply an old school tool for increased efficiency and oh-so important variation. As they say, variety is the spice of life – not to mention long-term training success.
Extend your sets. Extend your results!
Spitting in Church
- Train with increased intensity using big compound lifts.
- Lose the fat. Less fat, less estrogen. ‘Nuff said.
- Get ample rest in between training. Overtraining will also lower your Testosterone, so get more quality sleep.
- Eat more protein and don’t forget the fish oil. That stuff is almost as popular today as a rowing one-footed plank on a Swiss ball.
- Cut back on the alcohol, no matter how many red wine studies you’ve read. Up the water instead.
- Make man boobs a mortal sin instead of a funny joke or reason not to wear white Under Armor to the gym.
Perform the following deadlift workout once a week:
- Load a barbell with 60% of your deadlift 1RM and set a timer for 12 minutes.
- Perform as many single reps as possible in 12 minutes, shooting for a minimum of 20 reps.
- Each rep should be performed with maximal speed from the floor.
- Release the bar completely between reps; rest until you’re ready, and repeat.
- Once 12 minutes are up, retrieve that lung you expelled around minute 9 and record your score.
- If you weigh 200 pounds, set up 275 pounds on a flat bench press, 275 pounds on a deadlifting bar, and place a 75-pound dumbbell by the dip and chin up station.
- Hit the bench for as many reps as possible. Rest 30 seconds.
- Do the same thing with deadlifts, weighted dips, and weighted chins, and record your total number of reps for each.
- Rest five minutes and repeat for 1-2 more sets.Not only will you hit all the big muscles, you’ll get a great workout in less time – with a cardiovascular benefit, too!
Make Your Plank A Pushup Instead
Get Your Sprint On