Sometimes it takes only one tip from another person (usually the person with well-developed common sense) to turn on the switch in your head. Have you ever been in such situation? You struggle to find the best solution to your problem, you read all the available literature, you make your head aching bad (notice the intentional Breaking Bad analogy), your eyes fall out of sockets, but everything in vain. Suddenly it takes only one word from the right person and everything gets into its right place in your head.
Just like with this article. I was analyzing all possible ways to make my own weighted vest filled with sand, while simultaneously driving myself crazy with all the ideas. Then in one conversation on this subject my friend told me the simplest thing: “Hey! Why don’t you take the backpack?” I was like: “But it won’t work for this and that”. However, a bit later I came to conclusion that backpack will do the trick for almost every exercise that I need. Read the article for more details.
As you can see, any tip can give you some enlightenment. Therefore, here are my 13 random tips on rough strength training:
1. Avoid muscular failure.
This one is simple. Everybody knows about it. However, more and more people train on the edge of their current possibilities. That’s not right, in my opinion. The more you drain your nervous system, the more time you’ll need to recuperate, therefore, you’ll be able to train less frequently. The consequences of muscle failure contradict with the simplest law of strength training: “Train as frequently as possible, while staying as fresh as possible”. Strength is a skill, and you need to develop it as one. We’ll talk more about it in tip #2.
There are times when muscular failure is suitable. For example, powerlifting contest, strongman competition, Olympics etc. However, if you are not fighting for medals, then leave your ego behind the door. Use intensity that is appropriate for YOU. I’ve seen lots of guys screw up big time because of their impatience. They got injured as fast as possible, instead of getting strong ASAP. I was a victim of impatience myself. Sometimes I still am. It never goes away. You need to tame your ego EVERY training session. Unless you want to hit plateau sooner, get injured, have no progress etc.
I should note that training to failure can be useful in bodybuilding. Plenty of trainees implemented it with success. However, I highly doubt that their joints are happy. Especially in their 40+.
Finally, by “muscular failure” here I mean situation when you cannot resist the weight on its way down (in other words, it is muscular failure in the negative phase). You know, when the guy seems to be doing Bench Press, but in reality his spotter does the Upright Row. In my opinion, this is unacceptable in proper strength training. On the other hand, muscular failure in the positive phase can be applied to get results, but remember that it is much more demanding than to leave one or two reps in the tank.
2. If you want to get good at something, practice it more.
If you want to learn guitar, you won’t play it only once a week, right? You’ll be practicing daily. The same is true for strength. However, there is one difference. Strength training drains your energy resources a lot more comparing to playing the guitar or riding a bike. That is why you won’t be able to practice it that often. Despite this fact, rules remain the same. The more often you practice the skill, the better you get at it.
I should note here that not all practice is useful. Consider the fact that to get good you repeat the same thing over and over. Here’s where the quality of your practice comes to play. Body doesn’t realize on its own whether your technique is optimal or crappy. It is just trying to adapt to the stimulus. With repetition it will get used to certain form. Your goal is to make your practice as perfect as possible for the body to absorb the best technique at initial stages. There are exceptions, but it is better to learn proper form at the beginning than to correct it later.
Here’s another thing on frequent practice. I wrote a detailed article on Volume/Intensity/Frequency relationship some time ago. You can check it out here. What I want to emphasize on is the importance of manipulating these variables. You should understand by now that you can’t have everything together. If your intensity is high, frequency and volume suffer. If your volume is high, then intensity and frequency should be lower. The main trick is to find that “sweet spot” that makes you progress the way you want.
Regarding this particular example (getting good through frequent practice), you should understand that if your goal is certain frequency (say, 6 days a week), then either intensity, or volume should go down. My advice would be to lower down the volume to minimum (to leave intensity pretty high). Let’s break down a viable example:
1. You want to squat 6 days a week.
2. You start with 1 set of 5 with 7RM 6 days a week. That’s only 6 sets per week.
3. Next week you add 1-2 sets to your weekly volume. For example, Monday and Thursday would be 2 sets of 5 with the same weight.
4. In following 5-11 weeks add 1-2 sets until you reach 3 sets of 5 for 6 days a week.
5. Retest your 7 repetition maximum and start over with 1 set of 5 protocol and new weight.
It is simple and effective way to implement high frequency training into your routine. Of course, all the other leg work in example above should be minimized.
3. Cut sugar completely for the next 30 days.
Let’s get somewhat experimental. You should know by this time that sugar is far from perfect for your body. Everybody knows that. Nevertheless, some people just can’t imagine their life without “white death” (I didn’t plan to sound too dramatic, but I couldn’t resist the urge to use this word combination). They were eating cakes and cookies all their life (that is why they are fat and ugly). One day they embrace the understanding of the diet importance. Everybody wants to look better, no matter what they say. Instead of saying “goodbye” to sugar and sweets they do lots of ineffective and sometimes stupid things. For example, shoving down the throat all the sugar they can before 6 PM with hope that metabolism is faster in the morning. Of course, this won’t work, as well as eating less sweets but each and every day.
My solution to this problem is simultaneously radical and simple. Cut down all the sugar and sweets completely for the next 30 days. Will it be hard? I barely made through first two weeks (I fucking love sweet stuff). However, by the end of week #3 I felt almost no addiction. After 30 days I finally have ultimate control over that sweet tooth.
The main trick here is the number 30. Thirty days are just a little bit more than 4 weeks. Give yourself a promise that you will be able to eat any amount of sweets after that period is over. In reality you might not want to eat those sweets anymore.
Defeating sugar addiction is another strength and victory in your arsenal. Don’t underestimate it. You will be leaner and healthier in the end. Besides, defeating sugar addiction is much easier than opiate one. You just can’t make excuses after the last sentence.
4. Get up earlier.
In what universe is this connected to strength training? Are you my grandpa or what? Hold on. Before you drop this idea as useless let me give you some food for thought. I won’t tire you with all this circadian rhythms stuff. We both know that it takes some consistency and your day can become inverted. You know, getting up in the evening and going to bed in the morning/afternoon. If you can sustain this type of day, your biological rhythms adjust and there is almost no difference, except one…
Of course, it all depends on individual. My day patterns probably won’t fit the other person. Nevertheless, 95% of the time I wake up later, I feel like crap. My eyes won’t open without the decent dose of caffeine. It takes at least an hour more to get in my usual focused state. And after the dusk I still have a feeling that productive part of the day is over. So it boils down to common sense.
If I wake up at 7-9 AM:
- I feel focused in an hour;
- I finish all my writing and editing for the day earlier;
- I create and adjust programs for clients earlier;
- I have much more time to create my music;
- I have time to train twice a day;
- I have more free time
- I have more energy throughout the day etc.
If I wake up at 12 AM – 1 PM, I easily subtract 4-5 hours from my day, considering that evening most of the time feels unproductive to me.
I encourage you to try getting up earlier and decide whether it is your thing or not. I’ve experienced dramatic increase in productivity when I implemented this. Of course, if you are a loner and rarely have contact with other people, there are far better methods of increasing productivity. For example, the one I learnt from Tim Ferriss’ “4-Hour Body”. This method proves that you can be fully recovered sleeping only 2 hours per day. You should split them into six 20-minute naps and spread them evenly throughout the day. For more information read the book. The only downside of this method – your social life will suffer big time. There is always price to pay.
Finally, yes, I can use an alarm if I’m not sure that I get up early. Don’t be afraid to use it. Alarm is a good solution for productivity.
5. Even the toughest of us have bad days.
You may think that all the big guys (in any area of life) are having no bad days. You may think that every training session of the coaches and athletes you follow is comprised of endless PRs. However, the reality is opposite. The more mature you get in terms of training experience, the less great sessions you have. Everything gets tougher and tougher. The thing that will differentiate the good athlete from the great is the ability to overcome endless failures.
Sometimes it feels like you are hitting the wall with your head. However, a chain of pathetic training sessions may lead to PR. You never know. Importantly, you should analyze everything you do and check if you are not actually wasting your time. Assuming you’ve started that training log, I suggest you to compare not just training sessions in one mesocycle, but data from several mesocycles, and even macrocycles. This will keep you sane and more objective. In times when you feel that your training is moving nowhere, it is great to see where you’ve been 3, 6, 12 months ago. Unless, of course, you’ve done more that time.
My point here is that everybody has bad days. And the better you get at something, the more crappy moments you’ll have. You either get comfortable with failures, or forget about achieving anything great.
How to get comfortable with failures? Big chances that you never will. However, here are couple of tips:
- Appreciate those who support you. Treat them like gold. Those people will give you energy to move on.
- Always strive to improve. Never stop. Educate yourself every day.
- Analyze the mistakes and never repeat them.
I hope you found something useful in this train of thought. Check out part 2 and thanks for reading.
If you have a friend, obsessed with strength training, do a good thing and share this article with him.
Do you have any thoughts? Do you think that posting tips is old and ugly? Do you think that writing so much words on such simple topics sucks? Let’s chat in comments.
Alex “Why the fuck exactly 13?” Zinchenko
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