Archive for February, 2010

Random Holiday Musings – Part 1

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Ok so this article in its many parts is the result of a month off serious training and coaching and probably a few too many $1 beers (as if there is such a thing as too much beer hah!).

Basically my first holiday in 5 years gave me a chance to think about all the stuff I’ve read, taught and done in my own training over the last few years. It was an excellent opportunity to spring clean a few ideas and consolidate my own philosophy of training.

So without further ado I present Part 1 of “Random Holiday Musings”, a collection of completely unrelated thoughts on diet, training, coaching, other coaches, competing and other stuff all in no particular order for your enjoyment!

Look out for additional parts over the next week or so.

Section 1 – Principles of Training

The following is a collection of the basic principles that I use to develop programs for my clients and in my own training. You’ll notice that some of these principles are contradictory and some people will find some of them offensive. I won’t apologise for that, if you want a trainer to stroke your ego and make you feel good about doing 2kg curls then I’m not your guy. I can refer you to some trainers I know but they aren’t very good.

Principle #1 – Every program, session and exercise should have a clearly defined objective.

If you rock up to the gym to “workout” without a plan and without a reason for each exercise that you do then you are just taking up valuable space.

When putting a program together I always have specific goals in mind, whether it is to add 10kg to my deadlift or get a client to run a sub 9:00 2.4km for a military fitness test.

When designing a training session I have a specific goal in mind, it might be a session designed to work on a particular skill or to overload a major movement pattern, it might be a specific recovery session to compensate for a heavier session the day before.

When I choose an exercise, load, set and rep scheme each element has a purpose. This morning before I started writing this article I was in the gym doing accessory exercises using some rep schemes that wouldn’t look out of place in a bodybuilding program but I’ve got a reason for doing them and that’s what counts, I didn’t just decide to do those reps because I read about Jay Cutler doing them in the latest issue of muscle and fiction.

Take home lesson – make sure you have a good reason for doing everything in your program and NEVER walk into the gym without knowing why you are there and what the plan for the day is.

Principle #2 – Sometimes training is going to suck

Sucky training sessions generally fall into two categories.

The first category are workouts that suck because you just don’t want to be there for whatever reason, it’s cold outside, you’re tired or you just can’t be bothered. These workouts are important for building mental toughness and discipline. You may not achieve the best results when you are tired or pissed off but in the end every little bit helps and blowing off a workout will take you further from your goal. When faced with this situation acknowledge what’s happening and just make the effort to start. Often once you get going you often forget about the negatives and end up having a great workout.

The second category is workouts that suck because they are just damn hard. These sessions can be rewarding in the end but at the time they suck because you are putting in maximal effort and every rational fibre in your body is screaming for you to stop. These workouts are also critically important because the stress of being up to your eyeballs in suck is what stimulates growth and forces the body to progress to new levels of strength and endurance.

Now within a session this doesn’t mean that the whole hour or more must be like that, just that for brief periods of time within that workout you’ve got to hit that zone that makes you want to stop. For example if you are doing 5×5 or 5/3/1 then you might not get to that point until the last set but that’s the one that counts and you’ve got to be prepared to give it everything you’ve got.

Trying to maintain a maximal level of focus and aggression for an hour or more is pretty much impossible and leads to a lot of mediocre training and unproductive exhaustion so pick your focus for the workout and push til it sucks!

If I were forced to name the biggest mistake that I see with general population trainees it would have to be that most of them don’t push themselves to the point of discomfort on a regular basis.

Principle #3 – But you can’t train hard all the time

Anyone under the age of 25 will probably have stopped reading at the last paragraph and will already be at the gym trying to smash themselves 6 days a week. The problem with this approach of course is that you can’t train hard all the time and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

Within any serious training program there needs to be variation in volume and intensity to allow for recovery.

In a training program with 3-4 sessions a week this variation should mostly occur week to week, for example 3 weeks of increasing volume or intensity followed by a week of reduced volume and intensity.

In any training program with 5-6 sessions a week variation occurs both week to week and day to day. This means that not all sessions in a week are equally intense or taxing and that from week to week the total volume and intensity is manipulated.

For serious athletes whose programs may include 2 or more training sessions a day variation in intensity and volume happens week to week, day to day and session to session.

However you manage it remember that improvements in physical attributes occur not during the workout but in the recovery periods between them.

If not pushing hard enough is the biggest mistake general population trainees make then not backing off to recover is the primary sin of the hardcore fitness enthusiast and amateur athlete!

Don’t be afraid to take weeks or even a month off training all together, you might lose a little muscle mass, strength or fitness but the break allows niggling injuries to heal and when you return to training you will quickly return to your previous level and then advance even further.

For the record over the last few years I can think of at least 4 occasions where I have been forced to take month long breaks from training and on each occasion it’s taken less than 3 weeks to return to previous levels of performance and shortly after I’ve set personal bests in core lifts like the squat or deadlift.

Principle #4 – I don’t care what it is but compete in SOMETHING.

What are you training for?

If you don’t have a really good motivator to train then how are you going to keep your training afloat when you are drowning in suck?

The reason that the vast majority of gym goers are on the new years resolution revolving door at your local Globo gym is that their reason for being there isn’t powerful enough to overcome the minor obstacles that life throws at you every day.

The easiest way to stay motivated is to compete in something. My preference is for Strongman comps but I don’t care if you want to run a marathon or just kick the ass of your business rivals at the next corporate touch football comp as long as you compete in SOMETHING.

In 2008 I stopped competing in Olympic weightlifting because I was doing too much coaching and that year marked the worst year of training I’ve ever had. Bugger all personal bests, missed training sessions, stupid injuries you name it!

In 2009 I made sure I was locked into competing in a strongman comp in June and then went balls out all year leading to my most consistent year of training and PRs ever.

In 2010 I want more, I want to go from competing to challenging for places and this means I’m doing 8-9 sessions a week even if I’ve had 3 hours sleep the night before a day with double sessions.

Come the end of this year I’m planning on opening up my own strength and conditioning facility and it’s going to be a pre-requisite that anyone who wants to train there has to commit to competing in at least 4 approved competitions a year!

Exception – I’m willing to make one exception to this principle and that is for anyone who has got another sufficiently good reason to be training. Examples include my police, fire and military clients. It would be trite of me to suggest that they need to compete in something to stay motivated, these guys train to stay alive and to protect the rest of us from dangerous situations and dangerous idiots and for that they can get a pass on the competition thing.

For everyone else get your ass into gear, enter a sporting comp of some kind and then get to work training for it.