The Ancient Paths
The Ancient Paths
John R. Christy
Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
- JEREMIAH 6:16 NIV
I'm in the process of reading, or more correctly I should say 'studying' a great book: The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldridge. This book is basically about becoming a warrior in Gods image, and how our 'have-it-now' society has thwarted the process by 'skipping over' stages of a young man's development. Some time long in the past fathers followed the 'ancient paths' to developing their son's to men. There weren't any manuals on how to do this; it was basically handed-down from generation to generation. The process of building great strength and size used to be the same - but it is no longer - and it is my mission to help get it back.
It is so unfortunate, that the 'ancient paths' to success in weight training have been covered so well that they are almost impossible to find anymore - especially for those trainees who are just starting out. Imagine being 16 years old (or 40 for that matter), and getting that burning desire to build your body, and the only information - the only path - that you can find is at the newsstand. The only 'paths' that the trainee can see in the newsstand magazines are the 'bad ways' presented in a fashion that makes it 100% believable; pictures of the biggest best developed bodies that steroids have to offer. Mix in all those 'wonder supplements' and plenty of nearly naked women, and boy, the trainee figures this must be the 'path to success'. Of course all this visual stimulation is backed by the promise of instant success; there is article after article about how to put on 30 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks, and bench press 400 pounds in 6 weeks - all while developing 'washboard' abs. For those of us who know the truths, how sad is this? This particular trainee is about to start what is a very noble quest, only to find out many years of frustration later that he or she has taken the 'bad way'. Of course this not only applies to weight training, but to how our culture is about everything. Think about this for a minute, and I'll come back to tying it into weight training.
How many people do you know that make coffee for themselves in the morning? My guess is that most hit Starbucks. Photos can be developed instantly. If you want to call someone you don't have to wait till they get to a land-line phone at home, just hit them on the cell phone or 'text message' them. Of course you don't have to take the time anymore to sit down and get out some paper to write a letter; buy a stamp and send it expecting the recipient to get it in a couple of days (longer if overseas). And then of course, you don't have to wait another week or so to get a response. Instead just send them an email or instant message. If you want a 'worn looking' pair of jeans you don't have to wear a pair for a year to get that look - you can just buy them that way. So, how does this apply to weight training you ask?
As an 'instant gratification society' we feel that we shouldn't have to wait for anything - including a great physique and great strength. And because of this belief, millions of trainees the world over, never get close to building the impressive muscles or strength that they could. And worse yet many turn to the 'instant gratification bodybuilding society' and start taking steroids only to build a phony physique, or the 'instant gratification powerlifting society' and start wearing all kinds of crazy support gear (bench shirts, supersuits, underwear, etc), to fool themselves into thinking that they are strong, when in reality they are simply demonstrating the strength of the fabric (and possibly the phony strength the steroids developed). I recently read about a powerlifter who was bragging about how great his bench shirt is because he can barely bench 300 pounds in the gym but 'nailed' 420 pounds at a recent powerlifting meet wearing his 'supershirt'. Can you believe this guy goes around claiming that he is a '400 pound bencher' - and the really sad part is that he actually believes it! They guy can barely bench 300 pounds!
All right, now let's 'get real' and discover the true path to success.
A Look at The Ancient Path to Weight Training Success
It is a very long path
Read of a physique or strength success story from 50 to 100 years ago or talk to someone who is truly successful today (no support gear - no steroids) and you'll find one thing in common; it took time to build the body to an impressive level of strength and development. It did not come instantly. And if you fall into the false belief that it can come instantly - like everything else seems to now-a-days - then you will never produce the results you desire. Hey, if you want an oak tree you must start with an acorn, faith in how you're making it grow - and be able to have the patience to give it TIME to get massive.
I've produced what some would consider pretty amazing results with many trainees, in which they've added 30 pounds of solid muscle with the strength to match in one-years' time. Read that again; it took one year, not 4 weeks that is promised if you travel the 'new paths' that are promoted by the mainstream muscle media. Also, the results that I helped produce did not turn these trainees into supermen - yes they were noticeably different - but they still had a long way to go to get to their full potential.
For those trainees that truly have a love for training a long path is a blessing because they want the path to go a long way so that they can keep 'climbing it' for the rest of their lives.
The path gets steeper as you go
Be prepared to do some serious uphill hiking if you want great success. At first the path is flat - easy to walk - the gains can come quickly. Then it starts a steady uphill climb. You better be prepared to do some serious fighting to keep going and realize the fact that you won't be able to cover as much ground on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis as you did at the beginning. The only way to keep going up is to get stronger and stronger. If you want to get stronger or bigger you must strive to lift heavier and heavier weights - period.
There are definitive footprints in the path to help you keep climbing
Others have gone before you and have achieved great success - follow their lead. In the 20+ years that I have been instructing trainees, and the 33+ years that I have been lifting I have found that there are only a handful of progression schemes/programs that help you to get stronger. There are many ways to put these progression schemes into programs, but I have found that the simplest ones work the best.
Single progression utilizing Micro-loading
Pick a rep target for a specific number of work sets, and slowly add a little amount of weight (micro-loads) to the bar every workout. Your goal is to keep making that rep target as the 'little' weights add up. For instance, squat one time per week (do another compound exercise for the legs the other) for 3 sets of 5 reps, rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets and add 2 pounds to the bar every workout. Start with a weight that you could actually complete 7 reps with, but stop a 5. Done properly, this unbelievably simple method can, and has for soooooo many of my trainees, produced amazing results. Just do the math; 2 pounds per week for 52 weeks equals 104 pounds on your squat. Some so-called authorities say this can't be done - well they should visit my facility and watch it happen. Or they could call many trainees around the world that I've consulted with and get it straight from them.
Progression based on percentages of a one-rep max
Determine your max on all your basic lifts then utilize a 5-week mesocycle in which you cycle to higher percentages (80%, 85%, 90%) of your max for predetermined rep goals during the first 3 weeks. You would then regenerate a week in which you perform only one set of every exercise at 80% of your best 5-rep weight. Then test for your new max in week number 5. Then, after calculating your new percentages based on your new max, you would start the cycle all over again. There are many ways to structure this type of progression scheme, but it is beyond the scope of this article to go into some of the other variations.
HIT training using a Double progression format or percentages of a one-rep max
A little explanation before getting into this approach: Although I'm not known as a 'HIT guy' - because it is not a method I prescribe for many trainees (although I've got several using it right now) - it can be a very productive approach. And to be honest this type of training has taken a bad rap by most of the 'multiple-set' coaching community. And the flip side of this is also true; there are many HIT proponents that have distorted the very method they prescribe primarily because they won't open their minds to the fact it is okay to perform multiple sets even if you train to failure. Arthur Jones stated this himself and workout records of his trainees support his statement. Ken Leistner has said, and utilized, the same. My thoughts are that if a training method works, it's safe, and if it 'fits' into a trainee's lifestyle and personality, then use it.
You may be thinking, "John this article is titled The Ancient Paths and I don't consider HIT training to be ancient". Actually it has stood the test of time. If you consider Arthur Jones the originator (which I'm confident he is not - people trained 'to failure' before Arthur) it has been in use for almost 40 years now, with many strength coaches (the one's that are open-minded) including this approach in their training arsenal today.
Okay, here are two very productive ways to use 'HIT' training.
Double progression; the scheme is very simple. Start by using a weight that you can perform, for example, 5 reps with going to failure in good form. Then at every workout try to add a rep or more till you can complete 8 reps. When you have made your top-end target add 2% (for the 'little exercises') to 5% (for the big ones) to the weight you were using and start over - very simple, very productive, and very underutilized - even by HIT aficionados.
Another approach that I really like is to first determine your one-rep max (1RM). Yes you read that correctly HIT people! It is okay to max out - there are no 'HIT rules' against it. Every week cycle through a different percentage of your 1RM; week 1 at 70% (10 rep goal), week 2 at 75%(8 rep goal), week 3 at 80%(6 rep goal), week 4 at 85%(4 rep goal), week 5 at 90%(3 rep goal) using the corresponding rep goal of that particular percentage as your 'minimum' goal. For instance at 80% of your 1RM you should be shooting to make at least 6 reps. This gives you a concrete goal to shoot for instead of 'just training to failure'. Now if you can get more than 6 reps keep going (on to failure) - these extra reps beyond the minimum are icing on the cake. And if you have a day - God forbid- that you don't feel like training to failure (I'm poking fun at you, it's okay), just shoot for the minimum goal and stop there. This WILL keep you progressing. And, by the way, it is okay to perform a second set.
The path must be traversed at your particular pace
Your life responsibilities and their effect on your recovery ability determine your pace - and this pace is the fastest that you can go. If you try to go faster than your recovery ability allows, you will end up going back down the path. I really believe that a trainee's ability to recover is not as much affected by age; as long as the trainee is in 'good shape', as it is by what they have to do on a day-to-day basis. A high school student has less responsibilities than a 40 year old father of 4 children, who is putting in a legitimate 40 hours per week into a career, plays basketball on the weekends, has church responsibilities, attends his children's extra curricular activities, makes time for his wife and friends, and possibly is taking extra college courses to further his career. This father has to train less often; go slower, relative to the high school student - but that does not mean that his ultimate results will be compromised.
There is only one path to the top
It is my guess that many people will argue this one. But it is true if you look at it this way; to get to the top of the mountain of weight training success you must focus on getting stronger - period. That's it - one path; the one that produces increases in strength. Because getting stronger will make you bigger if that is your primary goal. It will also give you the potential to run faster, jump higher, hit a ball farther, throw it faster, and become more resistant to the physical trauma associated with 'contact' sports. Now as stated earlier there are different 'footprints' that you can utilize along the path to help you make a steady climb but they all focus on one thing - increasing your strength. Sure there are other paths that you can take, and the mainstream muscle guys can show you where they are - but they are very short and they won't even get you to the 'foothills'. Rest assured that there are no footprints in the ancient path made by those who 'train for the pump', use 'muscle confusion techniques', 'multi-angular training', and a whole host of other bull. So, again, if you want to build a great physique - train to get stronger. If you want great strength - train to get stronger. If you want to be a great gymnast - train to get stronger. If you want to be a great marathoner - train to get stronger. There is only one path.
Just the other day I received an email from a trainee who has been lifting for 30 years. Boy, that is a lot of experience. But even with all that accumulated training time he mentioned that he hasn't made any progress in the last 20 years! The reason; training to get stronger was not his focus. So, what did I do? I took him back to the crossroads and made him take a good look. Standing there I pointed - and he could see where he took the wrong path.
If you have not been making any progress I suggest that you go back and stand at the crossroads and take a good look. I'm confident that you'll also see where the good way is - have the confidence to take it! As you walk it try the different footprints as you go - just don't let anyone tell you to take a different path because there isn't one. Do this and you'll start making progress, you'll be confidant that you're on the right path, and you won't even look for another.