Monthly Archives: December 2015
Previously I spoke about the most important part of building a training program, in case you missed it here is the link to part one.
The first and most important part of writing a program was and always will be Specificity because without this you’re literally training blind. Once you establish your specific goal and time frame you can move up the list to the second most important part of developing a good program, that my friends is OVERLOAD.
Overload put simply is the optimal degree of homeostatic disruption caused by training that you can recover from to allow adaptations to occur.
The stress caused in training must stimulate a response that says “If this happens again I want it to be easier.” if you do too much your body will more likely follow the route of “All I can hope to do is survive, let alone adapt.” we shall cover that more soon.
When it comes to achieving the desired result that will incur a positive adaptive response it can be achieved through manipulating any of the following variables – Volume, Intensity, Density, Frequency, Exercise Selection and Muscle Fiber Recruitment (How close to failure you push). Each of these offer there own pros and cons, we shall cover each today.
Overall the main thing to remember is that to progress you must do more than you did before, be that session by session or over the span of a traceable training block- 4 weeks for example.
Can you do too much volume?
How can you know where your maximum recoverable volume limit currently is?
Keep increasing and *tracking your overall volume until you start going backwards, once you go backwards you will know you’ve exceeded the volume you can currently recover from. I would suggest looking at your training notes and find where you still had good speed on the reps and decent from while still finding the workout challenging. There will be more talk on recovery another day.
*When tracking your lifts write down not only the number of reps achieved but also how it felt on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale of 1-10.
As you can no doubt tell, the way to progress is to increase the overall volume but make sure you can still recover, this is a simple concept and now we are going to go in to the ways you can increase your overload so that you incur the necessary stimulus to adapt and continue to make gains.
Here is each method:
*Volume, Intensity and Density Quick Guide below.
Volume – Total volume is established by using this equation: Sets x Reps x Weight = Total Training Volume (for that exercise, on that day). If your weights stay the same over the course of the training cycle then either adding more reps or more sets is required. You can keep those the same and increase the weight (intensity) but this can leave you feeling beaten up and unable to recover sufficiently enough or even result in less total volume because of the limited number of sets/reps you’d be able to successfully complete.
The most optimal way to stimulate overload with this variable is to increase either the sets or reps, thus increasing your overall work capacity.
Intensity – Closely linked with total volume in the equation to establish what yours currently is, however it means the difference between making progression and burning out. Think in terms of 3×10 at 70% 1RM vs 10×3 at 90% 1RM, while the overall reps are the same the intensity is very different. One will be repeatable within a few days, the other not so much. Increased weight on the bar is good for building and revealing new strength gains but in the long run it can be very demanding both physically (your nervous system) and mentally, sometimes less is more. Increasing intensity in terms of weight on the bar does have it’s place when peaking but for the most part sticking with 60-85% of 1RM for the majority of your loading is best advised.
Density – How much work you can get out in a certain space of time. You will find this falls int he realms of things like Rest-Pause training and extended sets. These techniques allow you to get in large amounts of reps with higher levels of intensity, thus leading to increased work capacity and doing more than you did before.
*The three methods above are all interlinked as you can see, the main take home is to track what you’re doing and make sure your total reps/set with the same weight are higher than it was before (volume) OR you did the same amount of reps with more weight (intensity) OR you did the same amount of work in less time (Density).
Frequency – How many times per week you’re training each muscle group. 1x p/w VS 2x p/w for example. The more frequently you expose a muscle to the stimulus it requires to adapt the more adaption that will occur – Provided you’ve not exceeded you’re natural recoverable limits. The majority of people will do well to train each muscle group every 3-5 days (72hours apart being optimal).
Exercise Selection – Assistance movements are great for providing extra overload to specific muscle groups and can provide that much needed extra stimulus for progression. However, you will need to make sure you choices are appropriate to your current stage of training and do not interfere with a previous days recovery: EG, leg day followed by heavy pulling day with lots of rows = fried lower back.
Muscle Fiber Recruitment – Slightly more appropriate for intermediate and advanced lifters as this will mean the sue of training methods such as drop sets, forced reps, negatives and other such training protocols of a similar ilk. The easiest way to think of muscle fiber recruitment is to see it as accumulated fatigue. The more fatigue you amass the more muscle fibers you recruit to continue to generate the required force to keep lifting the weight and overcome inertia.
If you take 5×5 at 70% as the example the first set of 5 will end feeling like 75% of 1RM, then the second st might feel like 80% of 1RM, are you getting the idea? By your last set of 5 you will feel like this is 95%+ of your 1RM because of the fatigue you’ve accumulated, but it’s also worth noting that you will have recruited pretty much all of the muscles fibers you have available to you currently (type 1//2-a/b etc). You don’t always need max weight to get the benefit of lifting max weights.
Now that you know several variables that can help you increase your overload that’s specific to your training goal and create a program that allows you to keep progressing. Always aim to do more than you did before, that’s how you progress. After all, the key to progress is progress.
Kick start your new year gains with:
Pause Reps for Progress.
Using pause reps at the bottom of exercises such as Squats, Presses, Deadlifts (Extensor Chain Movements as they are technically known) severely limits and sometimes even forgoes the use of the Stretch-Reflex (after around 4 seconds) which build a greater amount of intra-muscular tension and leads to greater gains in both strength and hypertrophy because you have to generate extra force to overcome the initial inertia.
When it comes to using this style of technique you will be best to have a focus/control on not only the pause but the decent in to the movement too, this is to allow correct form and reduce any chance of injury.
The length of pause can vary from 2-8 seconds, you can do longer if you wish for heavy singles but that’s you’re own choice. Depending on the length of pause you will use different set/reps, these can change overtime but the suggestions below are a good pace to start.
Tempo = 3-6 second eccentric, select pause, (X) explosive concentric, 1 – repeat.
Your tempo when written down might look like this: 4-3-X-1
2-3sec pause – 5 reps – 5 sets
4-5sec pause – 3 reps – 8 sets
6-7sec pause – 2 reps – 10/12 sets
8+sec pause – 1 rep – 5/15 sets
You will see there is quite a range for you to choose from. I would advise that you play with your weights to establish what you can/can’t handle as I have noticed this varies dramatically depending on each individual and how they have trained for the majority of their training age.
If you want some loading suggestions then I would suggest you start off light, say 60% 1RM for the 2-3 second pause and see how it feels, you can adjust accordingly form there but unlike normal loading the longer the pause you have the lighter the weight might need to be. For example you might get away with say 75% for a 2 second pause but only be able to handle 50% for an 8+ second pause when you first apply this method.
The use of pause reps help build tremendous strength over time, don’t be a fool and rush in too heavy too soon as it’s a recipe for disaster.
If you follow a 3xPW training schedule then try this:
Day 1 – Pull
A1 – DL – 5×5 – 2sec pause at bottom of lift
B1 – Supinated Row 6×8
B2 – Pull Up x fail
C1 – Bicep Curl 12,10,8,20
D1 – Ab Roll Out 2×5
Day 2 – Push
A1 – Overhad Press 5×5
B1 – Incline Press 8×3 – 4sec pause at bottom of lift
C1 – Dip 6×8 – Add weight if needed
D1 – Ab Roll out 2×5
Day 3 – Legs
A1 – Front Squat – 10×2 – 6second pause at bottom of lift
B1 – Back Squat – 2×12
B2 – Walking Lunge – Weighted – As far as possible.
C1 – Calf Raise 2×100 reps
C2 – Ab Roll Out 2×5
In the world of fitness you will hear some of the more experienced lifters talk a lot about lifting according to how they feel.
It seems that now lots of people are using that word, but it does not mean what you think it means…
When you gain enough experience to base your lifts off how you feel it does not mean any of the following:
– Going too light too often.
– Stopping short because you don’t ‘feel’ it.
– Staying in your comfort zones.
The three points above are very common and people use feel as an excuse not to work harder, where as the experienced lifters use feel to test their limits and perhaps work up to a new 8,5 or 3RM for the day and maybe even add a little more weight to their assistance/back off sets.
It is true that if they really don’t feel strong enough to push a new RM they won’t but they will still hit their minimum lifting numbers according to their program.
Experienced lifters do work off of feel but they also follow a a progressive and periodised program as well. For these people ‘feel’ means a new RM/PB not “I’m going to take it easy because I’m a tad sore” which is what it means to many.
Some call this Auto-Regulation. This is linked in with utilising the RPE (Rate of perceived exertion) scale to gauge your lifts. You might record a deadlift that feels like an 8RPE to you but when you watch it back it looks like a 7, meaning you will help understand what each RPE point means to you and how/when to push harder or hold back.
Any good program will be progressive and have scheduled de-loads and a logical structure one the Macro/Meso & Micro-cycles, however until you are at a Training Age* that allows you to understand what ‘feel’ actually is you’d be better off following a strict structured program and striving for constant progression.
*Training Age si the amount of years you’ve been lifting. As an example you can have an 18year old Olympic Lifter who has been lifting for 14years easily out-lift a 30Year old man who has been lifting 6month.
If you have been lifting for a considerable amount of time then you will already know what feel really is, if you;re still new to lifting I would advise you write everything down when you train. I literally mean everything… How the reps felt, how they looked on camera, how their speed was, who your form was, EVERYTHING. Doing this will help you grasp the concept of what feel actually is very quickly.
In the words of a wise man:
“Don’t think, feel.” – Bruce Lee
Have you ever heard of the training concept PPL (Pull-Push-Legs)?
It would not surprise me it you had in fact done a variation of this accidentally. This training method is quite effective and a great option for those with limited time.
How does it work on a weekly basis?
You start of the week by loading up on all of your Pulling movements, then it’s a rest day followed by your Pressing day, one more day off and then it’s time for you Leg day which you will then need the weekend to recover from. Simple yet satisfying.
Pull Day – Deadlift, Rows (any variations), Pull/Chin Ups, Bicep Work.
Push Day – OHP (any variations), Bench (any variations), Dips, Tricep Work.
Leg Day – Squat (any variations), Lunges, Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Leg Isolation Work.
I’ve not given any specifics in terms of exercise choice or set/rep range for the reason that the PPL principle can be used for multiple goals, however you will find that the most benefit comes from utilising a Heavy-Medium-Light through process, similar to the way the *Cube Method rotates its intensity.
*If you’ve not read the cube method, grab a copy of the e-book online and get reading.
If you were to use a 3 day per week training split and adjust the weights loading/volume according to a H-M-L thought process you will avoid stagnation, boredom and make some real progress.
Monday -Pull- Heavy – Light – Medium
Wednesday -Push- Light – Medium – Heavy
Friday -Legs- Medium – Heavy – Light
Now depending on your goals and needs H-L-M will mean different things but the basic concept is there, this is what makes PPL work very well for multiple goals. All you need to do is take some time to establish what you need/want.
Occasionally people can struggle to bring up a lift, below is an 8 week program based on performing said lift twice per week. Ideally you will know your 1RM, if not then use this calculation to establish it:
Reps x Weight x 0.0333 + Original Weight = Estimated 1RM
The program focuses on increasing the overall load/accumulated volume while keeping the work capacity (sets/reps) the same. It’s a good place for intermediates to start breaking their plateaus.
Session 1 – 3×8 @70%
Session 2 – 3×8 @72%
Session 3 -3×8 @75%
Session 4 -12×2 @90%
Session 5 – 3×8 @72%
Session 6 – 3×8 @75%
Session 7 -3×8 @77%
Session 8 -12×2 @90%
Session 9 – 3×8 @75%
Session 10 – 3×8 @77%
Session 11 -3×8 @80%
Session 12 -12×2 @90%
Session 13 – Rest or Active Mobility
Session 14 – Test 1 or 2RM for new baseline %
Week 8: Deload
Session 15 – 2×8 Old 70%
Session 16 – 2×8 Old 70%
Once you have finished the program you can either repeat it on the same lift of you can pick a different one.
If you were training 4days per week this could be what the program might look like one the weekly basis:
Day 1 – Squat (using session 1 above)
Day 2 – Pressing Day – 5RM Ramp – OH, INC, DIP or CG
Day 3 – Off
Day 4 – Squat (using session 2 above)
Day 5 – Pulling Day – 5RM Ramp – Deadlift* Pull Ups, Rows, Face Pulls
Day 6 – Off
Day 7 – Off
*Deadlift only on weeks where the squat is 3×8 for both session only.
This is not fancy but it works because if follows the basic principles of overload.