Thursday, July 2, 2009


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 9, No. 1 (July-August 1997)

Many people make strength training a lot more complicated than it really is. I get phone calls all the time from people who say they want advice but just end up sucking the energy out of me because they can’t grasp the simplicity of training. They don’t realize that regardless of what mode or method you use, the foundation remains the same.

Many people are looking for a magic formula of success, not advice. They panic when they can’t get the exact number of reps in the bench press that the training cycle they are following says they should (cycles are a rough guide, but no guarantee of training success). They get hung up on minor details and want to “label” the type of training that I do, or think is “the best.” They don’t realize that there are many ways to train hard and productively. You don’t have to train using just one of them.

Strength training is at least as much art as it is science. Only you know what works best for you. Keep good training notes. Log every workout in detail. Learn from your training. Keep your training simple, because strength training is simple. Don’t let academic types confuse you (many of them enjoy doing this). Remember the foundation—train the whole body hard with an equal emphasis on pushing and pulling, with progression as the top priority. Many modes and methods can be used to do this. Focus on the basic multi-joint movements, eat right, and get plenty of rest. That’s it! Shake the dust off of your copy of Brawn, and reread the book. “Hard,” “safe” and “productive” are the only labels that are needed to describe your training.

Mix It Up

Even though you should train brutally hard, you should enjoy it! Stuart described this well in Brawn as “the joy of effort.” It’s all a matter of thinking. If you learn to enjoy training hard, you are more likely to be consistent. You will not stick with something that is viewed as drudgery. Enjoy training! One of the best ways to enjoy training is to “mix things up.” This will renew the enthusiasm of both your mind and body, as well as produce more balanced conditioning.

I have spent a good deal of my training time doing low reps and singles, but I also do 20-rep squats, 50s days, and high reps. I’ve used multiple sets for many years byt am currently getting good results using only one set to failure for each exercise. I’ve used both free weights and machines, and have even experimented with various speeds of motion. The point is that many modes and methods work, but it’s how you use them that counts. Don’t waste energy arguing about which one is “best” because there is no point. Try the different modes and methods yourself.

Every three or four months, change your routine. Make some big changes. Do 20-rep squats for four months, then do 10-rep squats for a while. Four months later, go down to 5 reps. I couldn’t imagine doing 20-rep squats all the time! And I couldn’t imagine doing low reps all the time either. After about every four months my joints want a change. Train with no rest between sets while doing a brief workout of no more than 30 minutes. Four months later, give yourself some rest between sets and see how heavy you can go! Use your imagination and go with your instincts. Listen to what your body is telling you—only you know how you feel. Make the changes needed to keep your enthusiasm high so you can really attack the equipment when you train. Don’t get hung up on labels as this only limits the tools you have available for building your body.

I don’t train my clients using one rigid training program. I usually start them out with higher reps, and then after several months, when they have a good foundation, we’ll try some new things. We do a 50s day once a month (usually the first workout each month), complete with Doo-Wop 1950s music blasting on the stereo. (Fifties day means 50 reps each on five different machines, for a one-hour workout.) As my clients come in the door and hear Buddy Holly or the Platters (not the marines) they scream, “Oh no! It’s 50s day!!” (This makes torture fun!)

Around the 15th of the month, for a change of pace, I’ll put my clients through one workout of extremely slow movements. I’m not an advocate of training this way all of the time, but have nothing against anyone who does, as it works for sure. Every two weeks my clients get hammered with something radically different. It keeps their body shocked and off guard, and morale and motivation high.

For the past two months I’ve been training Melvin Tuten. Melvin is a huge man, 6-7 and 335 lbs. He is an offensive tackle for the NFL Cincinnati Bengals. Because of the severe flooding in the Cincinnati area, he has stayed home (in Washington, D.C.) during the off-season and has been training with me.

On a recent 50s day Melvin got 540 lbs for 50 on the Hammer Iso-Lateral Leg Press, with a dead stop pause on each rep! He is now doing mainly a moderate to low-rep high-intensity program. But we mix it up and throw in 20 reps on the Tru-Squat sometimes, along with a 50s day, a slow day, sandbag, etc.

Mind Games

Manage your own progression system. I have always believed in progression by performance, not time. All my clients have to earn a poundage increase on the basis of the performance of their previous workouts. I have never believed that you can forecast increases according to a schedule. If you get stuck on a particular poundage, you must learn to be your own sports psychologist and play games with your head.

I frequently lie to my clients and don’t tell them the weight on the machine or bar, even if they ask. I sometimes tell them that I took off weight when I really added weight. They don’t know what to expect, so they can’t worry about not getting a certain poundage. As a result they just focus on pushing or pulling as hard as they can.

Anyone who has had success in strength training ahs had to master their mind. If you train alone, this is more difficult, but this is a challenge you should enjoy and must master if you are to maximize your potential. If, for example, you get stuck with 245 x 5, 5, 4 and can’t seem to get the 5, 5, 5 that you want, change the goal for a while. Try a week or two with sets of 4 at 255, try a triple with 265, or a double with 275. Go to failure with 215, or do just 2 sets of 5 and get rid of the third set!

If you keep good notes you can make the proper changes to avoid a mental rut, and have new goals on an almost daily basis. You are your own coach and must find ways to keep your mind positive and fresh. Then go back to 245 after a few weeks, but with a new outlook.

Effort Is The Key

A barbell, Hammer machine, Tru-Squat machine, or dumbbell will not produce good results unless the person using the tool is willing to put forth the consistent effort required. If anyone tries to tell you that they have the “only way to train,” or even “the best way to train,” don’t listen. If they say it is the best way for them to train, that’s different. But if they use a blanket statement and say they know the best way for everyone to train, they are ignorant. Many times they have something to sell you. They may want you to go along with their “program,” buy a book, or pay for a certification program, etc.

Mike Thompson and Drew Israel train very differently if you look at modes and methods. But so what? Both their approaches work. If, however, you look at the basic core foundation, they are similar and sound. Neither is better than the other. Through trial and error, and by listening to their own bodies, both men have found what they enjoy and what works for them. You should do the same.
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