The Year 2008 A Call To Return To The Basics
The Year 2008: A Call to Return to the Basics
"Sport like art, advances in various spheres to a point where techniques displaces imagination and natural instinct. When that happens there has to be a return to basic principles.' - Alan Rose
Bands, chains, force plates, speed-strength, strength-speed, weak-point training, partial work, compensatory acceleration, super-slow, barrel throwing, chain dragging; all good stuff, but I feel that many trainees have mistakenly shifted too much emphasis of their training efforts on these advanced 'extra' training modalities. I move that we all re-focus a majority of our efforts on the basics - increasing your strength and muscle size through a renewed effort on big, basic compound movements.
Did Stefan Botev ever use chains?
When was the last time you spent 4 months trying to increase your 20-rep squat to 375 pounds? Or, how about knocking your head against 400 pounds for 5 set of 5 reps - working to increase it to 450 over the next 6 months? How's your overhead strength? Can you press 200 pounds in strict military fashion? Have you put on any new muscle in awhile? When was the last time you mixed up some Just Protein in a blender? With your knees locked can you bend down and touch your toes. Speaking of your toes, when standing up straight, can you look down (without bending over) and see them? Can you climb a set of stairs without panting like a dog? I think you're getting my point.
There is a time for advanced training techniques. Heck, I've got bands and chains in my training facility. But after consulting with trainees all over the world I feel that too much of one's training time, and time spent thinking about training, is being spent on all these 'extras' - the advanced stuff. Regardless of how effective these techniques / ideas may be you shouldn't get to far away from simply trying to get stronger, and a few other basics like getting enough protein, getting in shape, and making sure that you're flexible enough to scratch your lower back.
A Couple of Suggestions about what you need to refocus on in the Gym
Read Super Squats. That will help get you in the right frame of mind. Now I'm not saying the you have to start right into 20-rep squatting - but that sure is a good way to get back to the basics; re-learning to concentrate on a very difficult task, pouring out some real effort, packing on some solid muscle mass, and getting a great start on getting those lungs in shape. For you advanced guys, don't for one minute think that increasing your 20-repper from 400 pounds to 475 won't have a positive effect on your 600-pound single. And, I doubt if you'll need any weak-point hamstring training if your getting your butt at least to parallel.
If you just can't convince yourself to do anything beyond 5 reps then how about hitting those 5 reps real hard through the use of the time-tested 5 x 5 format. Take your current 6 rep-max (6RM) and after a good warm-up, try to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 5 minutes between sets (no more) with this weight. If it's been awhile since you've done this I'm sure you won't make 5 reps on all 5 sets. So, stay with this weight till you do. When you make all 5's, add 5% and hit it again. Stay with this for at least 4 months; 6 months is better and say goodbye to that 600-pound max.
Bench, bench, bench - bench, bench. Boy, this is one area, in my opinion where things have gone a little too crazy. Not that it's bad to want to really focus on your bench - especially for you powerlifters - but the 'extras' as applied to this lift have really overshadowed and distracted many trainees from focusing on a basic movement that will make your bench jump and protect your shoulders at the same time. Milo has presented numerous articles on the value of overhead pressing; big, strong delts, triceps, upper back and rotator cuff. Sounds like what the doctor ordered to increase that bench doesn't it? So, I move that you really get to work on it by prioritizing it above the bench press for a while. Yes, I actually just wrote that. Change your mind-set. I know it's a rush just thinking about locking out 400 pounds above your chest. But imagine the rush of locking out 250 pounds above your head! Try this and your bench will thank you come July. Here's what to do.
Dedicate one pressing workout per micro-cycle (if you bench 2 times per week it is a 7 day micro-cycle, 2 times per 10 days it is a 10 day micro-cycle) to the strict Military press. Simply bench press hard the other day. Or, really focus on the press by doing it 2 times per micro-cycle and bench press for one hard set on one of the workouts (just to stay in the groove). Just make sure the bench is not performed right after the press.
Use the same 5 x 5 format above, or if it's mixed in with 20-rep squatting hit it for 1 to 2 hard sets to failure. The goal is simple; try to move more weight. Now, don't just 'blow-off' that last sentence. When I say "try' I mean to get yourself in fighting mode and really put out all your effort to move more weight. Really fight for it. If you are training to failure then use a double-progression approach. Start with a weight that you can perform (i.e. bust your butt) to make 6 reps with. Stay with this weight until you can truly perform (i.e. bust your butt) 8 reps. Then add approximately 5% and start over. Nothing fancy - but you know in your heart that 'fancy' doesn't really bring home the bacon. Stay with the pressing for 4 to 6 months. Don't look for anything different to do. Stay in the fight, watch your bench jump and your shoulder aches disappear.
Neck and Grip Work
Have you done these in a while - or at all? If you've been getting those once-occasional neck strains more frequently or want to get rid of that nagging elbow pain then I suggest you hit the neck strap (Randy's is by far the best) and get in some serious grip work.
Hit the neck work a couple of times per micro-cycle. Keep it simple but make a decision to work this hard and heavy. I suggest using a 'power superset' format where you perform a set of neck extensions (weight hanging in front of you and lifting your head back), rest 2 minutes, and perform a set of neck flexions, 2 more minutes rest and hit the extensions again. Do the neck extensions standing or seated. Just make sure that you spread your legs, bend at the knees, and arch your low back - get your entire body tight.
The best way I've found to do the flexions is to lay supine (on your back) on a bench or floor, use your hands to stabilize a barbell plate on your forehead (towel between the plate and forehead is recommended unless you want a 'circle' etched into your forehead the rest of the day), and slowly lift your head in an arc as if trying to touch your chin to your chest. Pause at the top for a second before lowering your head to the bench. After a couple of warm-up sets perform 1 or 2 sets of 10. Use great technique, stay tight and in control - you don't want to hurt the cervical discs - but get jacked up to move some serious weight.
There are so many ways to improve your grip strength it can't be covered in this piece. If you want to learn about all the methods out there then hit the IronMind web site and order a book or two. What I suggest is very basic; perform static grip work once per micro-cycle and finger flexion and extension work once also.
For the static work simply grip something heavy (a barbell placed in the rack works great, or a couple of dumbbells) for a couple of sets for a predetermined time goal. For instance perform 2 sets shooting for 45 seconds per set. Rest 3 minutes between sets. When you make the time goal add 5%. A technique tip: Make sure you keep your shoulders slightly elevated (like a partial shrug) throughout the set so that you don't compromise your rotator cuff or other cervical structures.
Finger flexion is the action of going from an open hand to making a fist. To work this function I like using a plate loaded 'gripper'. IronMind sells one. Again, keep it simple by performing a couple of sets. If you've had elbow pain, keep the reps at 20 to get a lot of blood into the tendons of the elbow. If you're pain free then drop the rep goal all the way to 5 if you desire. Perform your reps one at a time with a pause at the bottom and an isometric squeeze at the top. Try to leave your finger imprints in the metal.
Finger extension is going from a fist to an open hand. I use a bucket filled with rice to get the job done - but 'mini-bands' can work too. Stick your fist down into the rice and apply some downward pressure. Now simply work to open your hand. I prefer higher reps here especially if a trainee has elbow pain. One or two sets will do the job. Just make sure you approach this with max effort not as a light 'rehab' movement.
Get Your Protein intake up to Speed
I think we all fall into a pattern / rut when it comes to eating. Life seems to demand that autopilot take over in this department. And what happens is that we start the 'just getting by' process. Yea, you eat some eggs for breakfast, a big turkey sandwich for lunch, and a couple of chicken breasts for dinner - so you know that you're getting in some protein. But is it enough? No, I don't think so. Let me digress for a moment.
Recently, I went though the trouble of writing down everything I eat -something that I require my trainees to do - because I was completing a chapter on nutrition for a book. Now, I would say that I am better than most trainees when it comes to nutrition; I get my 5 to 6 'feeds' per day and I have food prepped and ready to go for the day. I compete at the 198-pound weight class so I have to stay on top of my eating habits to keep my bodyfat and overall bodyweight under control. Well surprise, surprise. I wasn't as good as I thought I was. My protein intake wasn't up to speed. The solution - protein drinks. I didn't feel I had the need for these now-a-days due to the fact that I thought I was consuming enough protein to satisfy my current bodyweight. Back in the day, starting as a 118 pound high school sophomore, when I was fighting to gain any weight possible, up until I topped out at 250 pounds (at 5' 10') I consumed protein drinks multiple times everyday. Well, I need to get back to that and my guess is so do you.
If you really want to know what is going on, take a day or two to figure out how much protein you're actually consuming. Write down what you eat, get a nutrition counter and do the math. I'm confident you'll come up short in the protein department. Experience has taught me, and there is plenty of research to back it up, that you need at least one gram per pound of bodyweight to help those muscles recover from workouts.
Again, the easy solution is to get back into having those protein drinks. And I don't mean every once in a while. You need them everyday, consistently. Get some Just Protein and the 'shaker bottle' that Randy sells and actually use it. Use it everyday. It's easy to prep and easy to take with you - no excuses. By the way, it'll make it easier to get results.
Can You Touch Your Toes?
The problem most trainees have with stretching is that they think it has to be this long drawn out affair. Or they have convinced themselves that they don't need it. Research may be controversial as to whether stretching before a workout actually prevents injuries (experience has taught me it does) but it is pretty clear-cut that maintaining a normal range of motion around all of the major joints prevents injuries whether you perform your stretching before a workout or at some other time. So, to me it's a no-brainer. Increase your flexibility and you'll have less joint pain (you may eliminate it) and decrease your chances of incurring an acute injury, which will sideline your training - and hence your results. Stretching will also extend your 'training lifeline' a few decades.
First of all a stretching program can be very simple. I have a minimalist stretching program that I call the 'Big Four' which can be completed in about 2 minutes and is very effective when performed consistently. Heck, our full basic stretching program can be completed in 7 minutes. Again, there is not room enough in this article to go into much detail, so I would suggest you get the book Stretching by Bob Anderson (IronMind's got it). It will get you on the right path; your low back and shoulders will stop aching and you'll not only be able to touch those toes, but you won't need to rub up against a pole to scratch your back.
You don't have to become an Aerobics Queen to get in shape
Your training will soar once you get into shape. You'll recover faster between workouts, recover faster between sets, get fewer injuries and reduce your bodyfat. And you may extend your training a few decades again because you'll avoid having heart problems. The weight training community has come to recognize these benefits for some time now and it's even been given a 'new' name: General Physical Preparation. Cute, but it's still simply 'getting your butt in shape'.
Now, I'm not suggesting you break out the spandex tights and leg warmers and jump into the next aerobics class, but you need to do something that makes you breathe moderately hard for at least 20 minutes 2 or 3 times a week. If you are very deconditioned, walking may do the job. If your knees can't take impact then hit a bike, stepper, elliptical, or pool. If you want something strength oriented then pull a weighted sled. But if your knees are okay (and you build into it slowly) nothing beats running. If you haven't done this in a while (or have never done it) then simply do interval work where you alternate bouts of walking and running. You can do this in a very 'measured' way by going to your local high school track and jog the straight-a-ways and walk the curves. John McCallum favored this method. Once you can complete 20 minutes (or a set distance; say 2 miles) then lengthen the jog by adding one 'curve' every workout. Before you know it you'll be jogging the whole thing. Another approach to interval training is to hit the road, and use mailboxes or, if you live in the country, telephone poles for your walk / jog markers. Use the same approach as above except you'll be adding mailboxes or telephone poles to add to the jogging time.
Once you get conditioned to the point where you can perform the entire 20 minutes without walking you'll want to maintain a heart rate between 65% and 75% of your maximum predicted heart rate. If you want to be 'exacting' in your approach, get a heart rate monitor. If you want to skip the monitor then get yourself breathing to the point that it would be difficult to carry a conversation - but you could do it. This should put you at approximately the right heart rate.
Living in the 21st century is great in many ways with all the advances in technology and what this has done for the quality of life. But I feel that sometimes 'advances' can work against us when they distract us from basic principles that form the foundation of success. Hasn't using a 'spell-checker' diminished your ability to spell, or using a calculator lessened your ability to do simple math problems? I witness this frequently in the weight room when I work with high school and college athletes who can't squat their own bodyweight effectively but have chains or bands attached to a barbell with a weight that Barbie could lift. Or when they want to increase their speed and use 'overspeed' drills, or parachutes, or some other high tech gadget - but can't run 10 Forty-yard sprints without puking.
When it comes to weight training in any form whether it is Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, Strongman training, bodybuilding, sport specific training, the basic guidelines for success have been around for a long time. Modern day advances in training techniques may add the icing on the cake, but you still need to make, and maintain, the cake first.