Thursday, November 5, 2009

Effort and Dedication Make Many Methods Work - by Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 9, No. 5 (March-April 1998)

A few years ago, while attending the annual conference of the National Strength and Conditioning Association in New Orleans, I was having a conversation with a well known Ph.D. “researcher type.” We talked for about twenty minutes, and seemed to be getting along great. Out of the blue he asked me, “Do you do power cleans?” When I replied that I did not usually do them (but I had nothing against him for doing them), he abruptly stopped talking to me and walked away.

There are many jerks in the training field. They think that they alone have all the answers, and if you don’t agree with their particular theory or approach, then you are their enemy. Their whole self esteem is based on having you agree with them.

And there are also many narrow-minded robots who can only think in one direction at a time. They take any variation or difference of opinion as a personal insult.

Every time someone thinks he has all the answers, I can find hundreds of strong men who don’t train like the know-it-all says they should, but they are usually a lot bigger and stronger than the “expert.”

Many of these know-it-all types love to argue, and like to use “science” as their defense. There is a big problem here because every camp has its own version of science. Each uses its own “pet” researchers who espouse the “party line.”

I hold a Master's degree in exercise science and can tell you that most professors of exercise science look like they never touched a weight in their lives. They can talk forever about the body’s physiological response to strength training, but have no clue on how to use the various modes and methods of training.

Many of the leading scientists and researchers don’t agree on the best modes and methods of training. Talk to Ted Lambrinides, Wayne Wescott, Ralph Carpinelli, James Graves or Mike Pollock and you may not get the same “scientific” explanation as you would from Mike Stone or William Kramer. And talk to Ellington Darden and you may get something all together different.

There are few absolute rules in strength training

One of the absolute rules I know of is that hard work (or progressive strength training), plus good nutrition and adequate recovery, equals good results. I feel sorry for the beginner who reads the “cat fights” and opposite views each backed by “science” as supposedly the best way to train. The beginner may be so confused that he does not know what to do. One author may have “absolute scientific principles” that “prove” you must train “explosively.” Then turn the page and the next author says he has the grip on “science” that you must, for example, train using extremely slow reps.

There is a big difference between giving an opinion of what works for you, and giving information that is defined as scientifically “proven” as the “best” way to train. According to Dr. Wayne Wescott, the only significant factor in a successful strength-training program is to train progressively in the anaerobic energy system. All other facts are minor compared to this, and provide different results for different people.

The enjoyment factor

Most people will get best results doing what they enjoy. You can’t argue about what someone else likes to do. If you like to train using slow reps, go for it, but don’t tell me that I must do it, too, or that I shouldn’t be moving my facial muscles or screaming as I train. If you like to train fast (or explosively), and can do it without getting hurt, then do it. Both ways can work, but neither is the best way.

Climbing mountains can be dangerous, but if you have a passion for climbing them you should be able to. It’s the same with lifting rocks and sandbags, and doing power cleans or snatches. If you enjoy doing this sort of training, or have a background in Olympic lifting, then do it. I don’t perform the Olympic movements too often because I don’t enjoy them. My background is in powerlifting.

I also don’t believe that power cleans, snatches and jerks work as much as muscle as other exercise variations. I would rather do deadlifts, rowing, presses and shrugs.

I believe that the power clean is only beneficial in the bottom of the lift and, after the initial explosion, the bar is in what Dan Riley calls “upward freefall.” Then you just fall under the bar. No musculature is being worked much after the initial explosion, and the musculature that was worked was only trained intensively through a minimal range of motion. It takes great skill to power clean right and avoid injury. I would rather teach people lifts that don’t require as much learned skill to do them. But I don’t hate anyone who likes the power clean. It can still be a fine exercise if you do it right.

The safety factor

If you are a coach, you have to judge what is best for your athletes or clients considering their different ages, medical backgrounds and injury history. For some people, lifting rocks or sandbags would be crazy. Everyone I train does not perform the same workout. A young tough athlete will be trained extremely hard. A beginner in his forties will be started very carefully and conservatively. I don’t want any deaths in my gym.

Speed of motion vs. poundage

It’s common sense that speed of motion and poundage are directly related, and are like the opposite ends of a see-saw. The faster the speed of motion, the heavier the poundages that can be used. And the slower the speed of motion, the lower the poundage that can be used. Both ways can be productive. But the terminology used in the different camps of training is not the same.

Enthusiasts of slow training would be far more effective at winning over opinions if they talked more about progression and getting stronger, and less about minor details and overcomplicating training. Training is not nearly as complicated as they enjoy making it. It seems to me that most slow-speed enthusiasts are more concerned about the strength curve of the machine that the strength of the person using the machine. They love the word “inroads” but don’t talk enough about strength and progression. Regular-speed proponents like to talk about strength, poundage and progression. These factors should still be the focus if you are training slow, and are the unifying factors of all methods.

Strength is defined as the ability to produce force. Many conventional-speed trainers believe that slow-rep training with less resistance (force) is simply taking strength training one step closer to calisthenics. Most people fall on one side or the other when it comes to speed of motion, but I see no problem with using more than one rep speed. But you need to understand the difference between poundage and progression.

Progression, not the numbers game

Using the highest possible poundage (or the highest number) is not always the same thing as progression. Poundage comparisons only have validity when comparing the same mode of training and rep speed. It’s possible to use bigger poundages but without necessarily having progressed, just as it’s possible to use reduced poundages and yet still make progress.

Certain machine variations of barbell exercises force a considerable reduction in weight used, e.g., the Tru-Squat reduces squatting poundage by 50%. It’s the same thing with speed of motion. You will use a lot less weight going at a slower speed. Poundages are only relative when measured against the same modes, rep speeds and equipment. For example, you may Hammer Leg Press 530 lbs for 8 reps at regular speed (2 seconds concentric, 4 seconds eccentric), but only be able to use 375 lbs for 8 reps at 8/8 speed. You should not let the number 530 make you feel inferior if you if you use an 8/8 speed and the accompanying reduced poundage. The workout with 375 lbs may even be harder and take more effort because it’s on an entirely different scale to that used for the 530 lbs. You can’t compare numbers at different rep speeds. Just focus on progression within the speed used.

Many people will not even consider using certain machines, or training at a slower speed, because they will have to train with lighter weights. It’s an ego thing or numbers game with them. They focus on numbers and not progression.

Don’t be hung up on numbers. Focus on progression—i.e. adding weight (using consistently good form, of course)—in the rep speed and/or on the equipment you are using. Progression, not purely the highest poundage number, is the top priority and the constant unifying factor regardless of the speed of motion or apparatus used.

Slow-rep cadence training has a bad image in the eyes of many poorly-informed conventional-speed people. This is because many people who are not strong are attracted to slow-rep training. They like it because it helps to camouflage the lack of weight being used. They can always have an excuse for the lack of weight by saying that they are going slow. Most of the people I know who do slow-rep training never talk about progression, which is why most of them look so puny. Remember, if you do use slow-rep training, the key is still progression regardless of the speed used.

There are exceptions, and more and more strong guys including NFL teams are now using slow-speed training. People like Drew Israel and Jeff Watson train using slow reps, but keep progression as their top priority; and they are getting great results. You do not have to train 10 up and 5 down. Drew is using 10/10; and Jeff Watson has coined “deep training” which is a single rep, or low reps, of 30 seconds or more for each.

I’m a regular-speed guy, but still use slow training as a change of pace. At least once a month we will use it. The speed of motion I’ve been using for this is 8 seconds up and 8 seconds down, for 8 reps to add weight. Slow training is especially good for rehab.

Don’t let the so-called experts with narrow definitions of science confuse you. Reread Brawn whenever you get confused, and get back to basics. Remember the basic Hardgainer philosophy of hard work, good food, and plenty of recovery time. Combine this with lots of effort and dedication, and you can succeed with one of many specific modes or methods of training.
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