“Go heavy or go home!”
“If you’re not adding another plate, you’re wasting your time.”
“If your numbers are not increasing, you’re workouts are useless.”
“You can’t build muscle without moving more weight.”
“You gotta do “fill-in-blank” if you want to build your ________.“
“If you don’t__________, you won’t develop your________”
“You______, if you don’t______with at least______, you are a worthless _____”
Alright, these are just a few of the common statements parroted in our wonderful expert-filled fraternity of resistance training…and as if absolute, irrefutable laws in the world of fitness/bodybuilding/strength & conditioning. If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard a few of them, said a few of them, and may even still believe a few of them. Far be it for me, or anyone else, to try and convince you otherwise.
As with all of my writings and teachings, my objective is to contribute in a manner that helps you with the next step no matter where you currently are as opposed my trying to appear smart, be argumentative, authoritative, or condescending. All of my work is based soundly on, ‘there’s science in what we do but the application is not a science’. Take from it what you can use, and set aside or discard the other. There’s more than enough confusion in our industry and my hope is to help eliminate some of it and shine light on a path free of fitness legalism.
This article is for those who have hit a proverbial roadblock (or desire avoiding one) in their training for whatever reason, no matter if injury, chronological age, or simply personal inaptitude regarding certain exercises. As well, it’s for those who want to minimize wasted time and make their training, and/or their clients’, more efficient. As with any productive read, if you get even one good idea to implement, in my estimation, it was well worth your time investment.
To illustrate the few (but key!) points of this article, I’m going to use my 30-year career working with competitive athletes and general clientele, as well as my own experience in actual dedicated training over the past 36 years, and counting. If doing the math, that’s no typo, I started training at the mature age of 12, and began working with actual clients at 18.
My clientele has ranged from 6 years of age to those into their 90’s. Currently, the range is 7 to 86 years of age. Obviously most of my work is between those bookends, and personally, that’s about where I am currently as I’m now closer to 50 than 45. This particular article is geared towards those in the “over-35″ demographic but the principles can certainly apply across the board regardless of the number after the comma after your name.
The majority of my work with clients who are non-competitive-athletes is beyond the designed program and whiteboard. It’s the session-by-session feedback and subsequent tweaks that are as much a part of a client’s success as them showing up to work. And in my own training, it’s the biofeedback aspect that is, in my opinion, the most valuable skill one can possess and sharpen, and that is developed only through years upon years of applied training, study, experience, and some admitted trial and error. It’s one of those things in life that takes you experiencing it… to know it. It’s a 6th sense that truly becomes a “new kind of intensity”. I call it Kinesthetic Sense.
Your discipline at earlier stages might have been to push yourself to the obligatory “cliff’s edge”, or to be determined to add another plate as if your self-worth depended on. But, now, that discipline has matured (if not yet, it will), and you realize that you don’t want your “training life” to flat line at the not-so-ancient age of 30. You now understand you are only as good, or fit, as your next workout. Trust me, no one cares if you “benched 315 back in the day” or “squatted 8 wheels in college”. Guess what? There’s always someone with a better, uh, heavier, story. By the way, the ones who are impressed…..oh, I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say, how you feel, function, and look speaks louder than any jacked-up stat sheet covered in dust.
Back to the skill of that 6th…Kinesthetic…Sense
No,… so sorry,…there’s no shortcut, …no matter weekend certification, business seminar, or lobotomy that will circumvent that reality.
My background in training covers many different modalities as part of performance enhancement for various sports. Over my 3 1/2 decades of training, I’ve worked through periods of dedicated powerlifting (to clarify, for those inquiring any lightweight bias, no 315 bench but did squat 545), olympic lifting, and gymnastics.
I’ve put some serious time in with most training implements common today including kettlebells, clubbells, suspension trainers, resistance bands, tubing, sandbags, various “odd objects” seen in Strongman competitions. The point to this point? They all “work” and can serve an individual in realizing their particular goals. However, none of the aforementioned methods, systems, or tools are essential to an individual unless the goals of that individual include high-level proficiency with that specific implement or sport. Aside from that specialty, these tools are all just potential players in helping you realize your bigger-picture objectives.
There are plenty of men and women who’ve gotten great results, according to their fitness objectives, without doing a single olympic lift variation, heavy single in the bench press, squat, or deadlift, and having never used, or heard of, many of the “tools of the trade” that have become rhetorically standard in the last 5-10 years. Hence, there’s science in what we do, but it’s application is not a science.
We must always first ask, “what is my primary objective?”. Then, “what do I need to do to realize that?”, “what are my options to progress towards that objective?”. And, “what is the most efficient, and practical, way(s) of getting the job done?”. Many times, it’ll simply be that you connect with a certain piece of equipment or a system and that personal preference absolutely works for you in actualizing your larger vision in an unrelated sport. For instance, you may find that you have a natural aptitude for olympic lifting, competitive kettlebell sport, or powerlifting. Consciously check your true priorities (and ego) at that gym door, and then proceed with confidence.
Now that we touched on the relevance, or lack thereof, of the particular equipment or exercises you choose to use, what you do with these weapons is the real matter of importance in you striking the target of your goals.
I’m going to touch on a few points that should be obvious but are typically ignored. I will dig into each of these points in upcoming blog posts, as to attempt that here would cause much to be missed or overlooked due to length of an informative-purposed article:
- The resistance used on an exercise is only one vital component contributing to workload of an exercise
- The amount of dead weight only contributes to the actual resistance experienced by targeted muscles or movement pattern. Quantification of poundage is only part of actual tension muscles experience. Numbers can lie in this instance
- For muscle hypertrophy, workload (or density: amount of work within certain time) is the most important factor. Not absolute strength or 1RM
- The volume of reps and sets of an exercise is a vital component of workload
- The amount of rest between sets is a contributing factor in total workload
- The manner of performance of a set, repetition by repetition, is a contributing factor in total workload. No, this this is not just “using strict, robotic form”
- The frequency a muscle group is trained is a contributing factor in overall workload
- When basic exercises, with most bang-for-buck (i.e. squats, deadlift), are avoided by individuals physically capable of performing the exercise, it’s typically for 1, 2, 3, or all-the-above reasons: 1) not knowing how to perform the exercise with optimal mechanics, 2) It’s darn demanding, 3) being identified with how much weight you think you should be lifting in order to “qualify” to do the exercise.
- There’s a point where the actual amount of weight lifted does not need to increase in order to make progress in your goals
- The more proficient you get in performing an exercise correctly (not same as just moving A to B in easiest path), the more you get out of each rep with a given poundage
- There are certain applications of certain exercises that are contraindicated for certain people but this does not mean goals and objectives can’t be attained by variations of those exercises
- There’s no magical duration a workout must last in order to contribute to your goals and objectives. It’s all cumulative.
- Mobility, stabilization, and activation drills are important precursors to “the main course” of workouts and certain ones should be part of your daily checklist like…brushing your teeth
- The more proficient (and consistent) you are in mobilizing, stabilizing, and activating targeted muscles and movement patterns, the less time you need spend on that aspect pre-training
- The older you get in training age, the more important it is to emphasize strength training, and sustaining fat-burning muscle tissue to keep metabolic integrity at optimal levels. Muscle-wasting activities and nutritional practices are best avoided. In other words, contrary to “the older you get, the more you need focus on CARRR-DIO”, IF you are determined to include it, perform just enough of specific cardiorespiratory, or endurance, exercise to get job done (a lot less duration than you probably think)
- Dual or multiple brief workouts in a day can be more effective than longer single session even for non-competitive athletes. Again, it’s all cumulative
- Outside of sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, or CrossFit (yes, I see it as a sport –and demanding one–and NOT a form of general fitness or preparation for other sports), you can look and perform significantly better by using sub-maximal loading and doing less total work (sub-submaximal) on a consistent basis.
In Parts 2 and beyond, I’ll begin to expand on each of these points and suggest a few ways of efficient application of these principles to help lead you to a lifetime of productive training according to your current primary goals and objectives.