Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 9, No. 2 (September-October 1997)

“All of us were young, healthy, tough, and had the attitude
that you had better throw everything you’ve got at us, because
we came to train!”
—Dr. Ken Leistner

There are many people who truly believe they are doing the best they can, but they are holding back. I get them all the time. Sometimes it takes them weeks or even months before they really understand what an all-out set to failure really is, and the total commitment it takes to do it right. Usually it is a casual attitude and a lack of preparation that holds them back. They are either mentally or physically unprepared to give an all-out effort. Subconsciously they do things to sabotage their training because deep down they really don’t enjoy it.

To get the most out of your training you must want to train hard. No one can help you if you don’t help yourself.

Once you decide that this is what you really want to do, and it is not just the latest fad you are involved with, you must seriously prepare for each workout. Training success is nothing more than a long string of consistent high-quality workouts. You take each “one at a time” while being prepared to make each set as productive as possible.

Mental Preparation

Clear your mind of problems and other concerns before you being training. You need to have all your mental energy focused on battling iron. Talking should be kept to a minimum, and if you do talk, don’t jump into your next set without refocusing your mind. Take about 20 seconds to get your mind in gear (tell you friends to shut up!) and totally concentrate on how you will very shortly be going all out. If you don’t do this, your mind will be on what you were just talking about, not on training, and you will produce a submaximal effort. Remember, you should have your mind ready for war when you train.

I have all my clients order The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, one of the best motivational/positive thinking books ever written. You should do the same. You can order it at any major book chain (Crown, Olson, Borders, etc.). And order (cassette tapes) The Psychology of Winning by Dennis Waitley, and Mental Toughness by Dr. James Loehr, from Nightingale Conant, 7300 North Lehigh Ave., Niles, IL 60714, USA (800-525-9000).

Warming Up

One of the most neglected and important elements of productive training is a good warmup. Your chance of getting injured is considerably lower if you take the few minutes to warm up. you will also perform better because your muscles will be prepared to go all out.

Before you lift any weights, a cardiovascular warmup (stationary bike, stairclimber, etc.) should be done for 5-10 minutes—to “preheat” your muscles and elevate your core body temperature. But don’t go too long as this is just a CV warmup not a CV workout. Once you are warm and sweating—after about 5-10 minutes—that’s long enough. Going longer is not beneficial and may make you weaker by robbing glucogen from your muscles and liver that should be used for your strength-training workout. This warmup should be followed by a series of static-hold stretches of at least 20 seconds each for the whole body. This should be done before every workout.

Metabolic/Cardiovascular Conditioning

Your metabolic conditioning (i.e., your ability to train hard, without excessive rest between sets, for the duration of the entire planned workout and without getting KOed) is greatly enhanced if you are doing regular CV training.

One of my pet peeves is the abundance of wrong information in “muscle magazines” about CV training. Many authors, usually ex-bodybuilders with no formal education in the exercise field, frequently recommend doing CV training only twice per week. They are concerned with cosmetics (their bodyfat level), not training their hearts. Twice per week is not enough, and three times per week is only the minimum for cardiovascular exercise. Three to five times per week is the proper range. This is not my opinion but that of The American College of Sports Medicine and almost every respected organization in the fitness field.

USA Today had an article a few years ago which stated that “weekend warriors,” or people who do less than the minimum of three times per week of CV training, are at higher risk of “sudden death” in exercise because they never get the desired CV conditioning effect from such a low training volume.

Don’t lump exercise into one category, as strength training and CV training are separate and have different rules. Strength training should mainly be considered only as training for your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, etc. And CV training should mainly be considered as working your heart muscle and burning fat. Although any exercise is better than nothing for your heart and muscles, in reality your muscles get only minimal strength benefit from CV training; and your heart gets some benefit, but minimal, from strength training. You must do both types of training to be totally fit.

Strength training works the fast twitch fibers and burns only carbohydrates, not fat; CV training works the slow twitch fibers and burns fat predominantly, and, depending on the intensity level, a percentage of carbohydrates. Just because you train with weights twice per week does not mean that you can subtract from the minimum for CV training.

Living a long and healthy life is a higher priority than adding 5 lbs to your bench press, but you can do both! Remember, your goal is not to look big in your coffin!

Your Muscles Can’t Compensate for Poor Fuel

Since you can’t use your fat storage for an energy supply during strength training, it is critical that you have a good supply of glycogen stored in your muscles and liver before you work out. You should consume about 300-400 calories of carbohydrate approximately two hours before you train. People who don’t train hard probably don’t need to do this, but if you are doing a high-intensity workout, especially if you train for over 45 minutes, you burn a tremendous number of calories (from carbohydrates).

If you ever have that weak feeling during a workout, like you are “out of gas,” it is because you have burned all your carbs and are out of fuel. Top of the “tank,” like you do with the car before a long trip, and you should not run out. Have some pasta, rice, potatoes, etc., about two hours before you train and you will be breathing steam! But for those who train early in the morning, it’s nearly impossible to do this without ruining a good night’s sleep. Getting up at 4 am to eat for a 6 am workout, for example, would ruin your night’s sleep. If you train early in the morning you can drink a high carbohydrate drink immediately upon rising. Many types are available at most health food stores. (Everything at health food stores is not garbage, just most things—and I’m only half kidding.)

Getting ALL Your Work Done

Tim Denhoff has been training with me for about four months, and has made good progress. It took him about six weeks, however, before he could train for an hour without feeling sick. We experimented with every possible exercise sequence, doing legs last, taking long rests between sets, keeping reps for legs in the moderate range, etc. But I always managed to get his whole body worked even if the planned workout was cut short. Your top priority should be to finish the planned workout. It is better to modify your exercise sequence to accomplish this than to stick with a larger-muscles-first (legs) philosophy if you can’t then finish your workout.

Most of the people that I like and respect the most, guys like Dr. Ken and other hardcore high-intensity types, usually do their leg work first. This starts off the workout with a bang! You are breathing heavily and dripping in sweat right off the bat. This sets the tone for the rest of the workout and is probably the norm for many hardcore guys. This makes the rest of the workout harder and raises the intensity level “big time.”

Doing a couple of sets to failure in the squat or Trap Bar deadlift to begin a workout is also good when you want to send a message. For example, I remember a couple of years ago when a guy (who made sure, over the phone, I knew how tough he thought he was) called me about training. I didn’t like his overly cocky attitude and, since he was not a beginner, and claimed to have been training hard for years, I thought I’d test him. In his first workout I hammered him right off the bat with high-rep leg work. I had him do 20-rep Trap Bar deadlifts immediately followed by 20 reps in the Hammer Leg Press. That knocked him out, workout over! The guy’s attitude was permanently changed.

Working legs first is great if you like to do it that way. But it is very tough. Some people, and especially beginners, would be better off doing legs at the end of their planned workouts. I know from experience that people don’t like paying for an hour’s workout if they train (doing legs first) for only 15 minutes and then spend the next 45 minutes hugging the toilet bowl! Training hard should be everyone’s goal, but if you knock yourself out early and don’t finish all the planned work, you are selling yourself short. Design your program in a manner that makes you enjoy your training and enables you to finish all the planned work.

There are few absolute rules in strength training, and this applies to exercise sequence. Working the largest muscles first is usually a good rule, but I believe a better description of this rule would be to work the largest muscles of either the upper body of lower body first (by the use of mutli-joint movements), before you do any isolation exercise for the same areas. By using this revised rule you can work upper body first, which for some people is better. If, for example, you are wiped out after deadlifts or squats (or even just impaired) and you do them first, the rest of your workout will suffer. If you get KOed, the workout will be over. My goal as a coach is to get you through the entire workout but have you teetering on the edge the whole time. A work of art would be to have you KOed on the last set of the workout.

Enjoy your training but be prepared both mentally and physically before each workout. Many of the elements of preparation are small details, but they add up to a big difference in the results you achieve.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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