Category Archives: Jim Wendler
The cool thing about the strength-training world is that there are seemingly endless exercise and programming possibilities. Unfortunately, this can also be its downfall. Having so much information and unlimited options is useless if you can’t translate and apply it appropriately.
If you persevere and succeed, typically you’ll develop your own training philosophy. And once you’ve developed your own philosophy, you’ll become tied to it and will fight to defend your position.
You become hardheaded – I fall into this category, as does anyone whose spent a lot of time training and helping others. It’s hard to watch people fall for the same stuff that many of us have fallen for, and have the advice land on deaf ears.
But that doesn’t mean a stubborn person can’t expand their horizons without sacrificing their personal training philosophy. Presented below are several training “rocks” – ideas and exercises that have become standards in the training world, along with some variations that might just open up your eyes to something different.
Do This: Dumbbell Row, Not That: Barbell Row
First, let’s all agree that the barbell row is an awesome exercise. It’s long been revered in powerlifting and bodybuilding circles as a great back developer. It’s been used by the greatest powerlifter of all time (Ed Coan), and a variation of the barbell row was a favorite of one of the greatest bodybuilders ever (Dorian Yates and his famed Yates row).
Dorian Yates’ back is the centerpiece of his insane, freaky physique, and the Yates row is one of the things he credits. Ed Coan’s accomplishments in the powerlifting world have been well documented and if you’ve ever seen Ed in person, you know he’s one of the thickest people to ever set foot in a weight room. And his 900-pound deadlift, to me, is the single-most impressive deadlift feat.
Now that I’ve satisfied all the barbell row zealots, the exercise does have its drawbacks. This is especially true for a lifter that’s made significant progress in the squat and deadlift.
The barbell row is extremely taxing to the lower back, and when coupled with heavy workouts of squatting and pulling, can be detrimental to one’s overall training goals.
The squat and deadlift already put a tremendous strain on the lower back and the last thing a person needs is to have a fatigued lower back when attempting big weights in these two movements.
Enter the dumbbell row – this movement has received a huge kick in the PR department due to Matt Krocazleski and the Kroc row. The dumbbell row offers all the benefits of the barbell row plus a few additional perks like:
- You can use more weight in the dumbbell row.
- It’s much easier on the lower back.
- It’s great for developing grip strength, an important component in all sports.
- It’s great for upper back/lat development that can be transferred to the deadlift and the bench press.
Even if you’re not a believer or user of the Krow row, sets of 6-15 reps of the dumbbell row, done with or without straps (I recommend having personal records for straps/no straps), can do wonders for your back development and strength.
Do This: Trap Bar Deadlift, Not That: Straight Bar Deadlift
Unlike the dumbbell row/barbell row, these two lifts aren’t interchangeable. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the trap bar can be used as an accessory exercise but not necessarily as a main movement.
But if you’re not a competitive powerlifter and need a good change of pace from pulling with a straight bar, the trap bar deadlift is a great option.
I liken this movement to a non-competitive lifter going between the hang clean and full clean (or power clean). While not the same thing, it offers a great change of pace, yet still maintains the integrity of the movement.
The trap bar is also a great way to increase quad strength, and it takes a bit of stress off the lower back as the handles keep the center of gravity closely aligned with the hips. For strength coaches that battle with sport coaches about the safety of the deadlift in their programs, the trap bar is a great compromise.
Let’s face it, chasing the Big Three (squat, bench press, deadlift) can get tiresome, and having an acceptable substitution that can be used for several months might be just what you need to keep the competitive fires burning.
Finally, the trap bar allows you to pick something heavy off the ground and there’s nothing more awesome than that.
Don’t be so stubborn in your vision to leave this lift out of your training because it isn’t a competitive lift – expand your vision a bit without sacrificing your principles.
Do This: Dynamic Effort with 70-80%, Not That: Dynamic Effort with 50%
A couple years ago, I went through my training logs and calculated my box squat percentages based on my box squat max. When bands were used, I calculated (as best I could) the amount of bar weight/band weight at the bottom of the movement (while on the box).
The results surprised me then but not now – the average percentage used was 77%. These were weights done on “dynamic day” and didn’t count the heralded circa-max phase.
After reading, thinking, and talking to other lifters (take a look at the translated Russian texts and the book Supertraining), dynamic training is almost always heavier than 50% (50% being a load that’s much too light to elicit a training response).
If you want to effectively use dynamic training in your programming, here’s a simple 12-week template:
- Weeks 1-6: Dynamic Work done with the high end of Prilipin’s table Max Effort done with the low end of Prilipin’s table.
- Weeks 7-12: Dynamic Work done with the low end of Prilipin’s table; Max Effort done with the high end of Prilipin’s table.
Now this is a very, very simplified overview, but if programmed correctly (i.e., done with your training level in mind, training goals, recovery protocols and your commitment to such protocols, and the ability to auto-regulate without abandoning the principles of your training), this can be very effective.
Whatever template you choose to apply these to, remember that the weight on dynamic day must be heavy enough to apply proper force and light enough to still move fast.
Do This: Hurdle Jumps, Not That: Box Jumps
Just about anyone can do a box jump. As far as jumping exercises go, the box jump is pretty low stress and relatively easy on the body and knees. Even for lower level lifters and athletes (and regular gym goers), if the box jump is used properly (i.e., not as a conditioning tool) they’re extremely effective and relatively safe.
Hurdle jumps, or rather, hurdle bounding is another story. This isn’t to be used by everyone. Bounding over a set of 5-10 hurdles with minimal ground contact is incredibly stressful to the body and requires a quickness and coordination not everyone can achieve.
But they’re extremely effective in developing explosive power. You don’t gather your body and “rest” between hurdles – you jump like a jackrabbit over them.
Here’s a video I found on YouTube that shows someone jumping over hurdles:
I used hurdle jumps for my entire high school career and they’re a great way to develop speed and power when combined with box jumps, squats, and sprints.
Like any new exercise, start with a low volume and work up slowly. All of the throwers in high school, trained by Darren Llewellyn, lived on squats, cleans, and jumps. All of us could bound over 10 low hurdles with ease, with half of us being able to jump over 10 high hurdles without a problem.
This is highly recommended for those that are in competitive sports who are looking for an edge in speed and power. This is not recommend for the out of shape former athlete looking to recapture lost glory.
Do This: Prowler Walk, Not That: Prowler Sprint
Over the past year, I’ve been asked many questions about training for an older lifter – how to minimize the stress on an aging body while fighting with a younger mind.
In short: “My body is breaking down, but I still want to kick ass!”
There are a number of easy things to do concerning lifting: minimize volume work with the main lifts, increase volume of easier assistant lifts, and increase knowledge/use of recovery methods.
But when it comes to conditioning work, it’s hard to stomach the use of a treadmill or elliptical trainer. There’s something about these machines that sap the Testosterone from a lifter that’s spent so many years shunning these machines.
I still believe that a simple walk outside is one of the best things a person can do. Physically, it’s great for the heart, lungs, and lower back. Mentally, it can help clear your mind, and if you live near a great park or trail, gives you some relaxing time to yourself.
I know people still want some grit in their conditioning and that’s where Prowler walking comes in. Walking with the Prowler achieves three things:
- Provides the necessary “hard” conditioning that lifters crave.
- Is much less stressful on the knees and ankles than sprinting with the Prowler.
- Gives the lower body some extra strength work without too much stress on the back (in other words, the Prowler can be used as a leg exercise).
The same basic tenets and workouts of Prowler sprinting applies to walking, so no need to change things up from what’s already been prescribed several times.
If any of these exercises or training ideas is applicable to your training and jive with your goals, then give them a shot – even if they might butt heads with your well-worn philosophy.
Remember, remaining stagnant and stubborn is easy, but it takes a better man to expand their horizons (and lifts) with methods that may be contrary to their beliefs.
The only person you’re hurting is yourself, as a new personal record easily remedies a bruised ego.
I hate most articles about getting stronger. Not because the information is always wrong or the author is an idiot (or worse, a keyboard warrior), it’s just that they always say the same damn thing.
Eat big, use multi-joint lifts, and get plenty of rest – it’s great advice, but come on, tell me something I don’t know; or at least, something I might’ve forgotten about.
This article is different. Here are a few rarely talked about tips to help you push more iron. These things can make a huge difference in your training, programming, and most importantly, your results.
However, they aren’t to be added into your training all at once. These are ideas for blocks of your training (6-12 weeks) that can be added to your overall strength program without sacrificing your principles or your main work.
Over the past year, I’ve started to see training a bit differently. I realize that training can be remarkably fluid as long as the principles are steadfast.
Think of programming as a dinner, with a huge T-bone steak being the constant. My steak is heavy barbell training. This never changes. The seasonings I put on the steak, however, and the side dishes change every training cycle.
My side dishes might be mobility, strongman, conditioning, or high-rep assistance work. The seasonings might be Boring But Big assistance work or adding in athletic movements such as jumps.
But at the center of this training is still a steak.
Here are 5 great ways to season your own training and make some progress if you’re getting a bit stale.
1. Strongman Training
One of the best things about playing a physical sport such as football or wrestling is the strength one develops when playing and practicing the sport. You’re using your hips, legs, back, arms, and grip to compete against your opponent. You drag, push, and pull on every play and every match.
This kind of strength has been lost over the years due to loss of physical labor and the lack of “free play” that many children either don’t or aren’t allowed to involve themselves in.
We all know examples of older men who’ve worked for years on a farm that possess some crazy grip and hip strength. They may not be able to show it immediately in the weight room, but they can sure throw you through a window if you get out of line.
If you’re many years past your glory days as an athlete or never participated much in athletics, including some form of strongman training into your own program will do more for your overall strength than you realize.
However, I see people using these exercises too often for the conditioning aspect when they can easily be done to raise your level of strength. So don’t be afraid to add some weight to them and take some extra rest. You’ll still get plenty of conditioning simply by using heavier weights.
I’ve been using the Prowler less as a conditioning tool and more as a way to strengthen my legs and hips. That means using more weight, more rest, and taking big walking steps.
While my lungs are still gasping for air, I’ve noticed that my legs are much more taxed and “feel stronger.” I can’t exactly quantify the strength gained, but I feel better, my knees feel better, my conditioning hasn’t noticeably dropped off, and my legs have grown.
If you’re an older lifter, walking with heavier weights is a terrific way to get more leg volume in without added stress on the back. These things are also great to use with younger lifters, as the techniques are simple to teach – Push! Pull! Carry! – and can be a great way to supplement barbell training.
Often a coach has to limit the weight on the barbell because the technique isn’t where it needs to be. They need another way to strengthen their legs, and this is where a sled and Prowler (or something similar) can come into play.
Remember to not confuse using these tools as a means of making them puke, rather a way to strengthen their bodies.
We’ll concentrate on 3 basic exercises:
Push something. This can be a car, truck, blocking sled, Prowler, or whatever else you can think to push. If you’re using a vehicle – although this should go without saying – make sure you have someone in the driver’s seat, and not your three year-old daughter or your basset hound.
If you don’t have access to any of these things, the next best thing is to use a weighted vest and walk up and down a hill or a long flight of stairs. The key to picking something is, if it looks heavy and can be pushed, it’s a good choice.
Pull something. A sled is probably your best bet for pulling something. While a heavy chain can be used, basically anything that can be attached to a chain or strap and dragged across the ground can work. I recommend pulling something heavy while walking forwards and backwards. You can attach the strap to your belt, a harness, or simply hold the strap/chain in your hand.
Carry something. This is known as the farmer’s walk. You can use farmer’s walk handles, a trap bar (or hex bar), or dumbbells.
How to use this in your training: Take one day (a Saturday, for example) and do 1-3 of these exercises, or, use one of these ideas after each workout.
Remember that when you put something into your workout, you’ll probably have to take something out. Constantly adding movements and exercises into the mix without taking stuff out is not a good idea.
For example, if you’re squatting, you can do your main movement first (squat) and then use 1 supplemental lift (your main assistance lift), plus maybe 1-2 assistance lifts as your weight training. After this, use one of the push/pull/carry movements at the end.
Or, you can do the main movement (squat), followed by 1 supplemental movement, and then the strongman movement. Once you’ve completed that, hit some lighter assistance work and you’re done. I personally devote two days/week to this style of training. These are done on separate days than my lifting.
How I load the implements is simple. I start light and add weight. I don’t use any charts, graphs, or scientific tables. Load up and get stupid.
2. High Reps
I touched on the importance of this in the 100 Rep Challenge but you don’t have to do the challenge to get the benefits. This is something I’ve done for the past couple years and they’ll always have a small place in my training.
After the main work is done, do 2-3 exercises that target problem areas and do about 100 reps of each. This is usually done in 1-3 sets. For me, this means exercises for the hamstrings, hips, arms (biceps/triceps), upper back, abs, neck, grip, shoulders, and lats.
For example, after my squat workout, I may do some band leg curls, crunches, and neck work. After a pressing workout, band pull-aparts, triceps pushdowns, and fat man rows might be an option.
It’s not something that I record or really think about too much – I just pick a single-joint exercise and use a high-rep range to spark some new growth and (hopefully) prevent injuries.
I never use a weight that kills me or affects my recovery. For instance, the one-leg squats I do are always with my bodyweight and are great for my knees and hip flexibility.
The neck work is awesome because, well, everyone wants a big neck. The upper back work is something we all can use and is a great way to get some extra volume in.
3. Know your Body(Weight)
At the very last S.W.I.S. conference held, I had the opportunity to listen to T Nation contributor Joe Defranco talk about how important pull-up strength was to speed training.
It wasn’t due to the upper body strength gained from doing the movement, rather the ability to even perform the movement. If you can do a lot of chin-ups, you have good relative body strength. Translation:You’re not weak and you’re not fat.
That doesn’t mean you’ll be super fast, but it means you’re setting yourself up, at the very least, to be as fast as you can be.
Yet bodyweight training on its own has limitations, so it’s best to think of it as an effective supplement to your regular barbell training. It’s also one of the best ways to let you know if you’ve put on a little too much fat and not enough muscle.
Until hearing Defranco at that conference, I never thought too much about bodyweight strength – it was never an issue for those I trained, or me. I can’t imagine being in high school and not being able to do 50 push-ups and 20 chin-ups, or not being able to run (not jog!) a mile.
I’m quite certain there was a direct correlation between all these numbers and the ease of getting laid, though I’m not sure about that now.
You don’t have to go hog wild with bodyweight movements – chin-ups, pull-ups, dips, push-ups, and sit-ups are still great things, so there’s no need to become a gymnast or try to emulate the latest Thug Workout, or waste your time and shoulders doing a “muscle up.” Adding in one or two bodyweight exercises at the end of your workout can do great things for your body and your recovery.
I touched on high-rep movements earlier and this is a great way to add in some bodyweight work. You don’t have to do a ton of reps with these exercises, even doing three sets to failure (in place of the high-rep exercises) of basic bodyweight exercises would be a good place to start.
After your upper body main work, you can use push-ups and chin-ups (or fat man rows) to end your workout.
Supplemental Lift: DB incline press
Supplemental Lift: DB rows
Assistance: Push-ups, fat man rows
Supplemental Lift: Straight leg deadlift
Supplemental Lift: Leg press
Assistance: Walking lunge (bodyweight), sit-ups
I wouldn’t worry too much about programming the bodyweight work – it’s a small, assistance lift. If you’re going for higher reps on these (as I believe you should), use a barbell in a power rack and set it on an incline for push-ups and fat man rows.
Adding in some bodyweight training doesn’t mean you have to become a bodyweight champion, rather, it’s a great way to supplement your heavy barbell training with exercises that keep you honest in your strength and your body composition.
4. Be an Athlete
I’ve touched on this before and it bears repeating. If you want to be fast, you have to train like an athlete. You must learn to jump and explode. The best way to do this is to throw objects explosively and jump.
For lifters, a simple way to do this is to do a basic warm-up and then some kind of explosive work before your main lifting. Remember that speed should be trained first in a workout, when you’re fresh.
You don’t need to break up your athletic training like you’re a bodybuilder – there aren’t upper body days and lower body days. You jump and throw. And if you’re throwing correctly, your hips and legs will come into play. If not, well, you need to work on that.
This is where a medicine ball comes in handy. Throwing a med ball from a variety of positions – chest pass, overhead forward, and overhead backward – is probably the most common.
You don’t need a million variations – just get good at a few total body throws and you’ll reap the benefits. I don’t know why everyone wants so much variety when they can barely master one.
A 10-20 pound med ball would probably suit most, but don’t confuse weight with being explosive. This isn’t a time to measure your pecker by how heavy of a med ball you can use – use the ball that allows you to be explosive. If in doubt, use a lighter ball.
Fifteen to thirty throws before you train would be enough for most people. Don’t use this as a conditioning session.
Using jumps (box jumps, jumps over an object, and standing long jumps) are all easy to use and implement in your training. Like the med ball throws, these are to be done before your main weight training (or can be done on a separate day) and 15-30 jumps per workout would be a great place to start.
As with any workout, you should progressively work up in intensity. No need to go for max distance or height on the first throw or jump of the day. When I was training athletes, I would use these at the beginning of the workout. In my own training, I have two separate days devoted to these.
Finally, don’t be afraid of using a jump rope. You may stumble in the beginning, but the footwork developed will do wonders. Using a rope for a basic warm-up is easy to do and kills two birds with one big stone.
5. Peak to Compete
Competing is paramount for anyone who wants to push their strength to a new level, however, I realize that most are hesitant to do so. So I propose the following: as a block of training, focus almost exclusively on peaking for 1 or 2 lifts. Not four, not five, and not three – just one or two.
This will teach you how to program your training, how long you have to peak, and how to dial back (and push) other aspects of your training.
Here’s a good example of what I like to do in my own training, broken into two 6-week training blocks:
6-Week Block #1
- Core lifts – maintained
- Supplemental lifts – pushed hard, volume and intensity high
- Assistance – normal
- Prowler – heavy
6-Week Block #2
- Core lifts testing – pushed with heavier singles at end of workout
- Core lifts not testing – maintained
- Supplemental lifts – volume backed off, intensity high
- Assistance – eliminated
- Prowler – eliminated
Supplemental lifts: Safety squat bar, Trap bar, Football bar presses, T-bar rows
Assistance: Arms, lats, upper back, abs, low back
I think the problem most people run into is that they expect everything to increase at the same time. There’s little thought to the effects of each part of their training and how it relates to another. You can’t just throw a pound of everything into a recipe and expect it to taste good.
For example, people want their bench press to go up, but they aren’t willing to back off another area to prioritize it. Or they won’t formulate a well-thought out plan (periodization) to get them there. Training doesn’t work like that.
If you’re like me and need Spike® Shooter on intravenous drip just to get through another article on getting stronger, I hope this one gave you some ideas you haven’t heard before (or at least, not often).
Granted, there’s no substitute for training hard, eating like a machine, and getting your Z’s, so if you haven’t already addressed those aspects of your game then do that first. But after you exhaust the basics, give these tips a go – you never know what gains can be waiting for you just around the corner.
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.
There’s no excuse to be out of shape. You don’t have to be a marathon runner and you don’t have to be able to fight five rounds for the UFC title, but there’s no acceptable reason for being an out of shape lard-ass.
Being in shape requires one thing: hard work. And working hard requires no talent. None.
For athletes, you can’t always be the strongest or fastest guy on the field, but being in better shape might be the thing that gives you an edge on both the competition and the up-and-comers trying to take your spot on the roster.
To be the last man standing after a game, you need to be the last man standing at practice. If you’re like me and had minimal to no talent, you need all the help you can get. Being in better shape and being stronger were two things I could control.
For competitive lifters, you certainly don’t need to be running miles every week, and you don’t need to be bored doing endless cardio. But a consistent conditioning protocol will help you recover better, have a lower resting heart rate, decrease body fat levels, improve sleep, and improve your general fitness level. This is especially important for the lifters that have done minimal or zero athletic work in the past five years.
For the everyday lifter, it’s about having pride in yourself. Respectable levels of conditioning, flexibility, and strength will help you personally, professionally, socially, and most importantly, improve your health.
Here’s a list of some of the conditioning activities I’ve done along with the pros and cons of each. As many of you know, I’ve been on both sides of the conditioning spectrum and I’ll never make the mistake of being out of shape again.
Much has been written about the Prowler and its benefits. While simple by design, the Prowler is one of the most effective conditioning tools an athlete can have. Any level of athlete, regardless of training level or sport, can use it.
The best thing about the Prowler is the “hard” level of conditioning it can produce with minimal wear and tear on the body. It’s very easy on the knees, hips, and ankles, making it great for older strength athletes.
For younger athletes, it’s a great way to build the lungs and legs/hips with minimal coaching; just load up some weight and push. It doesn’t require the technicality of a squat or the constant coaching of the deadlift.
The Prowler also offers a quick and efficient workout. A Prowler eliminates 60-minute conditioning sessions; in less than 20 minutes, an athlete can push his way to burning lungs and legs. This is a huge plus when running large groups or for the lifter that doesn’t have a great deal of time to train (job, school, family, etc.).
The Prowler also allows you to change weights and distances with ease; a stronger, bigger lifter can load the Prowler and use it along side a weaker, smaller, lifter. This makes it applicable to any size, strength, and conditioning level, a huge plus for personal trainers working with a large variety of clients.
The two biggest drawbacks of the Prowler are the price and the difficulty of “prescribing” a workout. Because the Prowler can be pushed on a wide variety of surfaces (cement, concrete, grass, or turf) that all vary greatly in drag coefficient, it’s hard for any fitness professional to accurately say what weight and distance to push.
People who own the Prowler may have only one surface to push on (for example, the street in front of their house) and this surface may be much harder or easier than what a prescribed workout was based upon. Thus, a Prowler requires some intelligent thinking of its owner, which can be a tall order, especially in the strength-training world.
- Efficient and effective.
- Requires little skill.
- Can be used by a large variety of people due to variable weights and distances.
- Price is well out of range for many athletes and lifters.
- No standardized surface and workouts.
Hill sprints are simply brutal. The legs and lungs are taxed heavily if the hill is steep and long enough. Because I grew up in the Chicago area, Walter Payton was a huge influence on me, and his use of hill running to prepare his mind and body for the rigors of the upcoming NFL season made any Illinois kid want to run hills. I’m sure his off-season regimen was partly responsible for his legendary strength and durability.
Anyone who’s ever run hill sprints knows the mental strength it can develop – even more so than a Prowler. There’s something very primal about lacing up your cleats and attacking a large hill for a training session.
Of course, the big drawback of running hill sprints is finding a decent hill. Many lifters live in flat, barren areas where there isn’t a hill bigger than a speed bump. And those that do live in hilly areas may find it difficult to find one that has a good enough surface to run on. So hill sprints, while extremely effective, have enormous geographical limitations.
The other drawback to hill sprints is the wear and tear on the ankles and Achilles. If you’re new to running or are trying to reclaim lost glory like yours truly, make sure you take the necessary steps to stretch and prepare before attacking the hill.
For those that want to find a hill, Google Maps is your friend; I highly recommend looking for sledding hills and reservoirs. These two places are prime areas for some steep hills.
Prescribing a hill sprint workout is much harder than prescribing a Prowler workout. There’s no standard hill length or grade so the athlete is going to have to use his best judgment. As with anything in weight training, set a small, reachable goal the first time out and build slowly.
- Great workout for the legs and lungs.
- Builds the body and the mind.
- Very hard on the ankles and Achilles tendon.
- Not everyone has access to a hill.
- No standard hill, requiring the athlete to develop his own training and programming.
I’ve used the jump rope since junior high and it’s a great way to warm-up the body and hit some basic conditioning work. It’s great for your feet and agility, and I always feel more “athletic” after I’ve jumped rope for a training cycle.
As a warm-up, I used the jump rope for 500+ jumps before training in high school. This was mainly used with double foot and single foot jumps and was followed by a thorough stretching session.
And if you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to work out. Of all the different warm-up options, this is the most efficient way to get the heart rate up and get some sort of athletic benefit.
There are two drawbacks to jumping rope. First, not everyone can do it. I learned this when I was personal training and saw way too many people trip over the rope or receive a stinging whip from an errant jump. Simply working on technique and slowing down the jumps can solve this problem.
The second drawback is shin splints. In college, I used to jump rope in my apartment and after several weeks of 1000+ jumps/day, I suffered from a nasty bout of shin splints.
Despite these things, the jump rope can be used very effectively for conditioning during the workout. After you perform the main lift of the day, use the jump rope between assistance lifts.
|C1||Jump Rope||5||50 jumps||60 sec.|
|C3||Jump Rope||5||50 jumps||60 sec.|
|C4||Hanging Leg Raise||5||10||60 sec.|
|C5||Jump Rope||5||50 jumps||60 sec.|
|C6||Glute Ham Raise||5||12||60 sec.|
** per leg
This allows you to get your main lifts in without sacrificing the strength portion of your training, along with getting your conditioning in while doing your assistance work. This is optimal for people who have minimal equipment, especially during the winter when the weather won’t allow you to get outside. It’s also a great way to maximize your time in the weight room.
- Time and space efficient.
- Makes you feel more athletic.
- Shin splints.
- Requires skill and agility many people don’t possess.
One of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done was running up the press box side of the University of Arizona stadium. The steps get steeper as you go farther and your legs and lungs are on fire. I remember walking back to my car and my legs shaking like a young Elvis. Very humbling.
Like hill sprints, stadium steps build the legs and lungs to a high degree, but also like hill sprints, the area you live in and the size of the stadium largely limit you. Also, the stadiums near your home may not be open to the public.
However, if you can get in, do yourself a favor and run stadium steps.
Stadium steps are also easier on the ankles than hill sprints. And like hill sprints and the Prowler, they’re very knee friendly as the vertical distance of the footfall is much less than running on flat surface.
For people living in big cities, running stairs is a much easier option. Apartment and office buildings have huge amounts of stairs that can be used and abused.
- Great for building lungs and legs.
- Easy on the ankles and knees.
- Limited access to stadiums and tall buildings.
The first time I used a weighted vest I was surprised at how much it affected my low back and traps. I thought my lungs would be the first to go but by the end of the walk, my back and traps were screaming. I’ve used the weight vest on walks around my neighborhood and the hill I sprint. For the hill, I did not run with the weight vest on, I simply walked up the hill. This killed my legs.
The weight vest is a great way to turn simple tasks, like walking, into something very difficult. We all have access to the outdoors and thus have access to someplace to walk (and I’m not talking about a treadmill).
Add in the low back and trap development one can get from using a heavy weight vest and you have a tremendous conditioning resource. Also, weight vest walks can be done any time of year, unless you’re living in blizzard conditions year round.
I think the weight vest is a great option for older lifters that don’t want to be bored by traditional cardio equipment. It’s also easy on the body (meaning your knees aren’t pounded), yet still requires enough effort and strength to make it challenging and not feel like you’re “just taking a stroll.”
I recommend using the weight vest for distance (e.g., walk for 1 or 2 miles) rather than time.
The drawback to the weight vest is the price. Like the Prowler, it’s out of many lifters’ budgets. And there’s a big difference between using a well-designed weight vest and a backpack stuffed with weights and textbooks.
- Can make walking around the neighborhood more manly.
- Great for total body conditioning.
Body Weight Conditioning
Dave Tate, who learned it from John Davies, introduced this to me. I’m not sure if Davies is still part of the fitness world but this simple bodyweight-conditioning workout was short and brutal. It consisted of the following:
|A||Jumping Jacks||30 seconds|
|B||Mountain Climbers||30 seconds|
|D||Split Squat Jump||30 seconds|
Don’t be fooled, this is a brutal workout. With people that have limited space and funds, this is a great conditioning alternative. This is also great for when the weather won’t allow you to get out and stretch your legs.
There are two drawbacks. The first is that it’s a very short workout, something that can be remedied by longer rest periods, more exercises, more reps, and more sets. Suffice it to say, doing these exercises as listed above isn’t easy, especially for those who carry more muscle.
Second, of all the conditioning stuff I’ve done, this is by far the most boring. That may be my personal opinion but I’d much rather run hills or push a Prowler.
Feel free to mix and match exercises, time, and rest periods with body weight conditioning, but remember that there’s no need to get too fancy. Simple is always best.
- Requires little space and equipment.
- Great for the winter time.
- Not terribly exciting.
- Athletes still need to run.
Incline Treadmill Sprints
This is by far my favorite winter conditioning tool. Since most people train in commercial gyms, it’s very easy to prescribe. Running treadmill sprints is also easy to do.
- Turn on treadmill.
- Ramp up the incline as far as it can go.
- Start at 6 miles/hour.
- Run for 15 seconds.
- Hop off treadmill (feet on the sides of the belt) and rest for 45 seconds. During the rest period increase speed .5 mph.
- Repeat until you get to a speed that is challenging for you.
- Do this 20-30 times.
Incline treadmill sprints have a great built in warm-up (starting at a lower speed) and allow you to adjust the speed for your conditioning and speed level. It’s very easy on the knees and hard on the lungs. Plus, you can do more work in 20 minutes than people who fart around for an hour.
A good option is doing these with a partner – he rests/you go. You can be a little more lax on the rest times than what I listed as it doesn’t matter that much. The key is to run the sprints without taking too much rest in-between.
- Requires little space and equipment.
- Great for the winter time.
- Not terribly exciting.
- If you misstep, you will fall and people will point at you and laugh.
Sled pulling garnered popularity due to the heavy endorsement by Louie Simmons. He got the idea from Eskill Thommason, who visited Finland to see why they were such great deadlifters. He noticed that many of them were lumberjacks whose job required they pull trees down the trails for the trucks to pick up.
Sled dragging is terribly simple – hook a sled up to your lifting belt or harness and walk forwards or backwards. You can add more weight and pull for shorter distance or use less weight and go for time. Jim Hoskinson used one-mile sled drags to rehab a very bad knee injury and returned to the platform for some very strong lifts.
I like hooking up a 100-foot rope to a sled and pulling it hand-over-hand. This is a great compliment to your regular conditioning (which is usually centered around the lower body). This is also great for the upper back and lats, and provided the rope is thick enough, will tax your grip and arms, too.
While standard sled dragging (forward/back) has fallen out of favor due to the popularity of the Prowler, it’s still a great conditioning and strength tool, especially for younger lifters. Like the Prowler, it doesn’t require much skill to walk forward or backward.
- Easy on the body.
- Requires no skill.
- Prowler can have double use as a sled.
- Not nearly as taxing and efficient as the Prowler.
Putting Conditioning into Action
Many years ago, I was at a standstill with conditioning and uncertain where to put it in my training. When do I do it? What if I get weaker? Will my legs be able to handle it? I had a million reservations and none were valid. They were simply excuses.
I believe that if you want to get something done and you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. I’ve had some of the best squat workouts during my heavy conditioning phases (which were mainly hill sprints). It didn’t start like that. My legs were exhausted. They shook when I walked out light weights during squat sessions. I lowered my training max and simply willed the weights up when I felt awful.
Eventually my legs got stronger and in better shape. Sure, it took a few months, but 60 days in a lifetime of training is nothing, because training isn’t about an 8-week program – it’s about building your body and your strength over a lifetime of training. If you’re looking for another empty promise of the “6-Week Six Pack,” you’ve come to the wrong guy.
My training plan is simple. It’s three things per training session, usually done 3-4 times/week.
That’s it, and that’s all you need. If you stretch hard, lift heavy, and run fast, everything else seems to take care of itself. I’m not forging new ground here, but what I am doing is rekindling the things that were taught to me by “the ancients” that have lost meaning and glam in today’s world of complexity for complexity sake.
Now Go Do It!
Do yourself a favor and embrace what some of the strongest people on earth have done – combine stretching, lifting, and conditioning into a balanced program.
These three things make up the N.O.V. (North of Vag) training program, and these things make up my training past and my training future. A future that will assure my “Sell By” stamp will never have a date on it.