Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Training Strategies - By Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 10, No. 2 (September-October 1998)

It takes most people about three weeks of working out at Whelan Strength Training before they are able to complete my one-hour planned workout. Some take longer, and some such as young well-conditioned athletes will come along a lot quicker.

Once they have completed the initial conditioning phase and are able to perform the planned work, my number one goal as coach is to get them through it every time. I would be hurting their training if I flattened them before all the training at any given workout was done. Knocking someone out early in a workout is easy—the human body can only take so much. Any coach can do that, but a good coach tries to get each trainee through the entire workout. That’s the hard part. If a trainee goes down, I want him or her back up in a few minutes, to finish. I really want my charges to stay on their feet till the end of each workout. I want to push them to the edge of the cliff, but not over it till the work is all done. If they stay down after the last planned set, that’s okay because they have finished the work.

Achieving this requires different techniques for different people. Some need an extra minute of rest at a few points during the workout. Some need positive strokes, and some need a kick in the ass. Some like or need a lot of shouting, and some don’t. Some need a goal drilled into their head. They need a target because they have trouble thinking in terms of “going to failure.” I usually give such trainees a high number that would be hard to reach, so they will go to failure. But they need a number, just like a “smart bomb” needs a chimney and not just a building.

Other people don’t want to know the weight on the bar or have any knowledge of their previous best performances for reps, because this puts pressure on them. I lie a lot to these people. I’ll tell them the wrong weight (usually that it’s lighter) or don’t tell them the weight or reps until they are done. I frequently give them wrong information on purpose so they won’t know what to expect. My goal with them is to take the pressure off. Some people respond well to pressure and some don’t. It’s the coach’s job to learn what motivates each athlete. The coach should still push to get the best out of each trainee, but use a different mental technique in doing so, when necessary.

Exercise sequence

Exercise sequence is a big factor in the success of many of my clients. Many people cannot do justice to the rest of their workout if they do legs first. Do not get hung up on absolute rules such as “always work larger muscles first.” That is just a general guideline. There are other less popular theories of exercise sequence such as pre-exhaustion, which is usually the opposite of working the largest muscles first. And there is the bodybuilding philosophy of work out the weakest body part first, or working first the parts of the physique that need the most improvement, in order to bring about symmetry. Exercise sequence varies from individual to individual and boils down to performance strategy.

You’ll usually do better at what you do first or at the beginning of a workout, but you don’t want to do anything first that greatly alters (or ends) the rest of the workout. The philosophy of working the largest muscles first is good in theory and in practice for many people, but for some it’s a disaster. When training for “general fitness” it’s easy to train the larger muscles first, but for really intensive training a few hard sets of deadlifts or squats could mean lights out for many trainees—workout over!

This is especially true when doing multiple sets. Remember that many “larger muscles first” advocates (who train in a high-intensity fashion) usually do just one set to failure per exercise. Single set training to failure is tough, but two or three sets to failure for a lower-body exercise is suicidal for many people if done at the beginning of a workout. If you do multiple sets and feel impaired after doing legs first in a workout, try doing legs at the end of your workout. Your upper body will thank you for it.

You are also supposed to enjoy your training. If you like to do legs first, fine. But if it’s agony for you and impairs the rest of your workout, don’t do it.

My number one goal as a coach is to get my charges through the planned workout. I don’t want them to do just squats and be done. I also don’t want them to be impaired to the point that they are weak in upper-body exercises because they are so wiped out. I’ve found that upper-body exercises don’t affect the lower-body exercises nearly as much as vice versa. Many if not most of my charges do their squats, deadlifts and leg presses after everything else is done. That way, if they go down and are KOed, it’s the end of the workout and everything else has already been done, so nothing gets sacrificed.

Alternate push and pull

A rule that I follow is using an equal number of pushing and pulling exercises at each workout. I usually perform a pushing and a pulling exercise for the horizontal and vertical planes for the upper body at each workout, and rotate the leg press, deadlift and Tru-Squat. (This may, however, be too much for some people. You may respond better to training the horizontal and vertical planes just once a week each.) For some advanced trainees I employ the Hammer Deadlift and Leg Press at the same workout, e.g., see Thursday’s workout (on page 21).

It’s a good idea to alternate the pushing and pulling exercises so there is built-in recovery between exercises even though you are not actually resting. You’ll lose too much strength if you do multiple pushing or pulling exercises back to back, e.g., overhead press followed by the bench press. I usually have my charges perform three exercises in a row with no rest between sets, and then have them take a minute off. If there is a leg exercise in the group (squat, leg press or deadlift) it will be put last in the group of three exercises. If there are two leg exercises in the same workout, a longer rest is allowed after the leg exercise in the first grouping.

Change-of-pace days

I’m a big believer in employing a “strategic” change-of-pace day once in a while. Mixing up your training is helpful and makes exercise fun. It’s also plain smart. When you establish certain traditions on certain days of the month or year you really look forward to those special days, and get motivated. Motivation is the key to training success. The main three change-of-pace days I use are fifties day (several to-failure sets per exercise that add up to 50 reps, e.g., 15, 12, 10, 7, 6), breakdown day (e.g., to failure, strip off weight, more reps to failure, and then another cut in poundage and a final string of reps), and slow-cadence day.

Motivation is also developed by the sandbag and farmer’s walk. In my experience people will “kill” themselves just to get their name put on the bag. I’ve had people drive five hours to Washington, DC, just to try to get their name put on the bag, or to try the “walk of doom” around the block in downtown DC with 100-pound dumbbells.

When you mix it up, remember that this strategy is still part of the overall plan, so it’s not haphazard. I’ll go two or three weeks and have a planned change of pace day. These days incorporate the same exercises that would have been done on that day, but performed in a different manner to usual—usually fifties day, breakdown fashion, or very slow cadence. Because this is planned, I’ll check back to the last day the same special workout was performed, and provide goals (or lie about the poundages) for those who need it.

Example core program

1. Horizontal Tru-Press (bench press): 3 x 8
2. Hammer Iso-Lateral Row: 3 x 8
3. Hammer Shrug: 3 x 15
4. Nautilus Power Plus Military Press: 3 x 8
5. Hammer Pulldown: 3 x 8
6. Tru-Squat: 2 x 20

1. Hammer Chest Press (incline press): 3 x 8
2. Hammer Pullover: 3 x 10
3. Hammer Deadlift: 2 x 10
3-4 minutes rest after the deadlift
4. Hammer Seated Dip: 3 x 10
5. Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 8
6. Hammer Leg Press: 2 x 20

On change-of-pace days we usually don’t perform shrugs or curls.

Warmup sets are additional to the sets listed above. For both core workouts, “finishers,” which include the sandbag carry, farmer’s walk and grip work, are performed at the end of each session, time and energy permitting.

Do not use change-of-pace days too often. Stay the course for at least two or three weeks on your core workouts before you inject a change-of-pace session. If you are over forty, or a beginner, think twice about fifties days. They should be reserved for young athletes and trainees in very good shape who enjoy this sort of grueling challenge. But even for them, fifties days or other types of extreme high-rep work should not be performed more than once a month. Some people, however, should never do this sort of training because it’s too grueling for them.

I would not make changes to the overall core plan (i.e., core workouts interspersed with a change-of-pace session every few weeks) for at least 3-4 months. Give it time to work and time for you to learn from it. Forget the micro-cycle nonsense. Keep good records—write down everything and learn from your records. After 3-4 months, try some changes. Try different exercises, rep ranges or even speed of motion if you are so inclined. Don’t be afraid to experiment sensibly. Do not always do 20-rep squats for a while. Train for 3-4 months using one rep range and then 3-4 months using another rep range. Find what works best for you. Enjoy your training and train smarter as well as harder.

Mental training

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I strongly encourage my clients to read motivational/positive thinking books, and listen to motivational cassette tapes. The world is largely negative. The more positive reinforcement, the better. Learning how to think like a champion will have a big impact on your training and life in general. I especially recommend The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. Order it from a bookstore. You can get motivational tapes from Nightingale Conant, 7300 North Lehigh Avenue, Niles, IL 60714, USA. I especially recommend The Psychology of Winning by Dennis Waitley, but anything from Zig Zigler, Norman Vincent Peale, Og Mandino, Tony Robbins or Robert Schuller is also very good.

Nutritional strategy

Beware of “nutritionists” (who are not registered dieticians) and personal trainers who give nutritional advice. Never take the advice of minimum-wage clerks who work in health food stores. Consult only a registered dietician. One of the most respected RDs in the world is Nancy Clark. She is the nutritional consultant to the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics. She offers seminars, books and various helpful nutritional flyers that are the real deal, not the latest hype. Write to Nancy Clark, Sports Medicine Brookline, 830 Boylston Street #205, Brookline, MA 02167, USA.
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