I began this series of articles on my training philosophy by expressing my belief in the importance of knowing the why behind what you are doing and a general philosophy to guide you in the proper direction. I would like to take a step back to discuss this in a little more detail.
It is my goal to provide the program, tools, and coaching to help you achieve your goals. I will strive to continue to learn more in order to bring you the best. Of course, as I learn more I also realize there is much I don’t know. This is an ever evolving process. As it is part of my personal philosophy to have a purpose or why behind everything we do, I will always have a why based on my current knowledge.
What I encourage you to do is to understand your why, as well. We have discussed this idea of knowing your “WHY” on many occasions. When I have discussed this previously it has been focused more on a big picture “WHY” or purpose. What I would now challenge you do to is to take this concept to include your training on a daily basis. We design each session with a purpose and we want to articulate that purpose. It is our goal to have our purpose for the training and your why for your training to be congruent. Otherwise, it would not make logical sense for you to train with us.
Our training is intended to be integrative. When we consider the training from an integrative perspective we tend to talk about mind, body, spirit. We will save the discussion on the spirit for another day but we can break the mind and body components down to:
1. Physical Adaptation
When it comes to physical adaptation we focus on
Each training session will focus on one or more of these areas. Here are some of the benefits and adaptions we aim to improve.
2. Cardiorespiratory Health and Fitness
3. Body Composition ( increased muscle and/or decreased body fat)
5. Bone density
9. Resilience and Anti-fragility
When it comes to the requirements for physical adaptation, especially as it relates to strength and conditioning, you need a three step process to occur.
1. You need to provide a stimulus and
2.You then need to allow adequate time and resources (nutrition, sleep, etc) to recover.
3. For improvement to occur you need not only to recover but to super compensate in order to positively adapt.
This process was covered in our discussion on stress response.
The mental and psychological benefits of training could be placed under one category but for our purposes we will have two different categories in order to differentiate a few points.
When I refer to mental benefits of training I am referring to things such as :
1. Improved self confidence
2. Increased mental toughness
3. Emotional Resiliency
When I refer to to psychological, I am referring to things more related to the neurotransmitters in the brain as discussed in John Ratey’s book ‘Spark”. He tells us that exercising “is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin because, like the drugs, exercise elevates these neurotransmitters.”
The bottom line: “exercise balances neurotransmitters — along with the rest of the neurochemicals in the brain.” You can read the Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Note on the book “Spark”.
These benefits are related to movement and physical activity in general not specific training.
The goal of our training is to provide all of the benefits of the physical, mental, and psychological. It is also our goal to educate you on what exercise might be best suited to reach your goals and what intensity, frequency, and volume is optimal to help you attain those goals as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible.
A simple example to illustrate this approach is as follows. If your goal is to become stronger, add lean muscle, increase bone density, and become better conditioned you may need only one or two bouts of high intensity strength training lasting between 10 and 20 minutes performed each week. If the stimulus is of high enough intensity to stimulate optimal gains you will most likely not be able to recover and adapt with more of the same. However, if you also would like the mental and psychological benefits associated with less intense exercise you may choose to train more frequently without that same level of intensity and get the best of both worlds. This is the current model of our training template.
If you are more concerned with the physical adaptations and less with the mental then you might very well do better in some cases with less training but higher intensity and more recovery. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the mental benefits you may do better by training more frequently with less intensity. The problem, as I see it, occurs in most commonly in the following two situations.
1. You make the mistake of training too intensely everyday without the ability to recover. Eventually this can lead to burnout or injury. (Been there done that).
2. Your goal is to become stronger and/or better conditioned and you focus on volume and frequency of training rather than quality and intensity. As a result, your intensity of training remains moderate compared to your potential and you hit a plateau.
Hopefully, this gives you some insight into your training and helps you on your path to becoming your best self.
In Part 1 of this series of articles on the Philosophy of Training, I wanted to establish the importance of having a philosophy. In Part 2, I want to go a little deeper into my philosophy.
I mentioned in part 1, that reading the Nautilus Training Principles was my first recollection of reading anything that applied logic and true scientific principles to strength training. I had read other things that implied the use of principles. The old Muscle and Fitness magazines spoke of the Weider Instinctive principle, which basically meant that you trained based on what you feel you need to do. There is definitely something to creating an awareness to your body and how you feel but the principle is not based on either logic or science.
As I have been thinking of this series of articles, I have been putting a lot of thought into whether or not we as humans value being logical in our thoughts and actions. If we do, are we actually logical in our actions. My belief is that most people would say that they are logical. I think that most of us believe we are evolved beings and that we act rationally and logically. However, when observing many of our actions they appear to be driven by emotion and primal desires. This is not meant as a criticism but is meant to get you to think about this very fact. Nearly everyday, if not everyday, I catch myself doing, thinking, or saying something that upon reflection supports the above statement. This idea goes far beyond training but I believe it is relevant for our discussion on exercise and training.
I believe, based on my observations watching people train for 30 years, that in general, most people don’t have a logical reason for what they do for training based on the stated goals they have for training. It is for that reason that I want to give you the why behind every training session we have at Alliance. There is a purpose behind every training session. I also want to make sure I am clear in the distinction, between what I am referring to as training versus working out and/or movement in general. Although each of these can be beneficial for your overall heath and fitness, there is a difference.
Going back to the Nautilus Training Principles there was a similar distinction outlined as the “Five Distinctions Between Exercise and Recreation”. These distinctions were covered in greater detail in Ken Hutchins’s book on SuperSlow and “The Renaissance of Exercise”.
Not Fun Fun
I am not in 100% agreement with these distinctions but they are interesting to consider.
I am in agreement that optimal exercise or training should be logical. My philosophy is that you should know why you are doing what you are doing if you want to be as efficient and effective as possible. One of the biggest take aways here is that we will often choose what we like to do versus what we know we need to do in order to move towards a goal. Just go to any Big Box gym on Monday’s and you will find all the bench presses taken but will always be able to find an open squat rack. This will be the case despite many of those waiting in line to use the bench press have skinny chicken legs.
Universal/Personal and General/Specific
I am tying these together because they are similar discussions. When it comes to exercise or training we all have similar and general needs. For example, we all have the same muscle and joint functions. In general we all require the same type of movement. I believe it is important to be able to perform basic movement patterns and develop strength in those patterns.
Basic Movement Patterns
These movements would be both universal and general for everyone. What exercises and how you choose to perform them would be more personal and specific. Your specific goals will also influence what exercise you do. One issue, as I see it, is when we skip or ignore the general training for the specific and personal. Another issue is when we get attached to a personal or specific exercise and forget the original purpose for the exercise. Let’s use running as an example. Let’s say you were a runner in the past and you enjoyed it. You started running to get in better cardiovascular shape and to lose some unwanted body fat. Years later you have a knee issue and running hurts. You want to continue running and when asked why you say to lose a few more pounds and to improve your cardio. My recommendation would be one of two things. 1) correct the issue with the knee so that you don’t continue to cause further damage 2) consider a different approach to achieve the same intended goal (focus on nutrition for fat loss combined with strength training and high intensity low force interval training for cardio). If you choose to run that is fine but realize you are making the decision base on personal and specific reasons.
Training and exercise can be both mental and physical. I personally believe that the benefits of physical training can be as important for the mind as they can be for the body. However, I think it is important to make the distinction again of why you are training. On one end of the spectrum, if you are training just to relieve stress or feel better that is ok but also realize if you are not putting the intensity or mental focus into your training you are not likely to optimize the physical benefits. Vice Versa if you are training for a crucible style event like a marathon, Kokoro, etc. you may gain incredible insight mentally and spiritually but are also increasing your risk of physical injury.
This is an interesting distinction. I have actually had fun, no pun intended, joking with some clients about this one. I have sometimes jokingly asked, “Do you want to train or do you want to be entertained?” Productive training is hard and if you derive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from that hard training, then it is fun. I personally believe exercise and training can be fun. However, it does not have to be a requirement. Sometimes the things that will benefit us most and get us out of our comfort zone are not going to be fun.
Hopefully this will get you to think about your training differently. I look forward to continuing this philosophical discussion and welcome your thoughts on the subject.
Commit, Show Up, Don’t Quit, Be Uncommon, Be Your Best Self<
I came up with FITFLO as a way to better articulate my philosophy of training. The acronym describes the purpose of this philosophy which is to integrate the fundamentals of life optimization to become our best selves.I consider it very important to have a philosophy of training. If I take it a step further, I would say that I find it important to have a philosophy of life in general. I can’t really pinpoint where this idea came from but when it comes to training I think it might have been when I first began to study the Nautilus Training Principles. I believe this was the first time that I remember studying principles that made logical sense. Previously I had mostly tried to imitate the training programs of others whom I wanted to emulate.
What does it actually mean to have a philosophy? When I looked up the definition of philosophy I discovered that it’s literal translation from Greek means “love of wisdom”. I would definitely say that I do have a love for learning especially, when it comes to training and life optimization. However, I believe the following explanation of why anyone needs philosophy better suits my interpretation.
Question: Why does anyone need a philosophy?
Answer: “You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.” ( Ayn Rand , Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 5)
I realize that not everyone has a philosophy especially, when it comes to training. Even if they do have a philosophy, it may be different from mine. If I am to be honest, I also realize that this has been a source of frustration over the years. If I have learned one thing from my quest for knowledge it is that I don’t know everything. However, I do have a lot of experience in what works and doesn’t work and that has been integrated into “MY” philosophy which I would like to share and hope you benefit from.
I have posted on the FITFLO blog several old articles discussing my philosophy of strength. In this next series of articles I want to try and keep it simple and practical. For me, it is important to understand the why behind what you are doing.
I have been placing a big emphasis on movement as of late. It has become the number one priority in our training system. This has not always been the case. For a number of years, I would have to say that strength was the first priority and the cornerstone of our physical training program. So, to make movement the number one priority is not meant to underscore the importance of strength.To quote Mark Rippetoe, “Stronger people are harder to kill and generally more useful”. Strength is still very important but I now look at it from a different perspective.
Let us first look at the importance of strength from a health and longevity perspective. Once we reach the age of 25 our metabolism slows about 2-4% per decade. We also lose about five pounds of muscle per decade. Much of this decrease can be attributed to the decrease in lean muscle mass. The hand grip strength test has been used as a general indicator of strength and is considered by some to be a better indicator of overall health than cardiovascular condition. Fortunately, we can reverse or delay the affect of aging with good old high-intensity exercise. Notice I said high-intensity exercise. Low-intensity exercise does little in the way of maintaining or increasing lean body mass.
My perspective on what I consider high-intensity exercise to gain strength and muscle has changed over time. I used to think primarily in terms of more or less conventional resistance training as the main tool for stimulating these strength and muscle gains. Heck, I still remember the first day lifting weights in an organized training program. I was a very skinny kid n the 7th grade and my football coach encouraged me to start lifting weights. My first trip to the weight room involved a circuit on an old Univeral machine. The very next day, upon seeing my coach, he asked me how much I bench pressed. I guess that stuck because I have used the basic lifts such as the squat, bench, and deadlift as the main tools to build and test strength over the years. Although these exercises are very effective for building strength and muscle they are not the only way. They are also good tools for measuring individual improvement in strength but are certainly not the best way to compare strength from one person to the next.
Athletes who compete and excel in strength sports such as powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting, etc, are very strong. However, if you look at these athletes you will notice that very few of them will be good at all of those sports. The reason is that when it comes to measuring strength from one individual to another things such as leverage play a vital role. Now, if you take athletes who compete in sports that don’t require strength but don’t test for strength in that sport then you will not always be able to judge that athlete’s strength in the sport. For example, in the sport of Jiu Jitsu, you can feel if someone is strong or not yet the weight room may not be a good indicator of strength. I am reminded of Jim, one of my old training partners from Atlanta, who was one of the strongest guys I have ever felt on the mat. We started talking about training with kettle bells one day and he told me how much he liked them. It turns out the kettle bells he trained with were like 12 kgs.
One of the things I have fallen in love with lately is the strongman style lifts. This includes sled work, sandbags, farmers walks, etc. It is not necessarily as easy to measure gains in these lifts as with conventional methods but when it comes to improving functional strength I believe they may be as good or better. For some people, I definitely believe they are better. For most of these exercises, there is less stress on the spine, less eccentric loading, and very low skill. In a nutshell this means you can train with more intensity while being safer and less sore. We have seen great gains across the board using these tools. Everybody, from our young Parisi athletes getting stronger and putting on muscle to our OG class getting stronger, have made gains using these tools.
To summarize my observations on strength:
1. Strength is important for longer health and functional ability
2. Strength is individual (find a way to build it that resonates with you and do it)
As I was preparing to write an article summarizing my philosophy on strength training I came across an old email where I included an article from one of my strength training heroes, Dr. Ken Leistner. Dr. Ken passed away a few months ago and although I had read many of his articles I only had the opportunity to meet him in person once. I am thankful for that opportunity because it was a memorable experience. When I heard of his passing I was deeply saddened. It reminds me of how powerful an influence we can have on others.
Over the next several weeks we are taking a step back in time, in regards to our strength training, and training using some old school strength workouts. This training is a form of High Intensity Training or H.I.T. These are total body workouts utilizing predominantly multi joint movements trained through a full range of motion at and taken to momentary muscular failure. These old school workouts were our primary means of training several years ago and yielded excellent results. There are several reasons why we no longer use them as our primary method of training but that does not mean they can not yield great results especially, when used sparingly.
Here is a great article from a legendary old school strength coach Dr. Ken Leistner. I used to look forward to reading Dr. Ken’s articles, as they were both informational and inspiring. I had the pleasure and honor to meet Dr. Ken about a year ago thanks to Sam Kelly. The article is quite long and geared mostly to men but is very interesting if you would like to understand more about the strength training we will be doing over the next month.
To Your Strength,
Sensible Training – A Logical Approach to Size and Strength
by Dr. Ken E. Leistner
With all the numerous changes that have taken place in the field of weight training over the years it has never been truer that “the more things change the more they remain the same”. Armed with the accurate information collected over the years it is possible for anyone to improve their strength, their muscular endurance (to a certain extent), their cardiovascular endurance, and their appearance (a subjective evaluation) if the interested party is willing to take the brief time necessary to analyze the conditions necessary for inducing muscular growth stimulation.
The requirements haven’t changed over the years, and the nonsense put forth by the commercially interested and biased parties hasn’t changed either. But most importantly, the irrational approach taken towards training hasn’t changed a great deal either, and has prevented the vast majority of weight trainees from reaping even a small portion of the possible benefits made available by the use of the barbell.
Robert Sizer, a former pro-football player, All-American at Richmond University and at one time the most outstanding high school football player in the state of Virginia, was perhaps the first successful athlete in the area to pursue weight training in an attempt to improve his athletic ability at a time that this was believed to make one “musclebound”, slow and uncoordinated.
Sizer was an 180lb offensive lineman, that by accounts was stronger and faster than most men weighing 250lbs at the time. At 15 YEARS OF AGE he could squat with 450 lbs (for reps), and bench press 420 lbs.
Sizer trained with a barbell fashioned out of concrete wheels that his father made for him. In the beginning he admitted he didn’t really know what he was doing. “All” he did was train hard and brief with heavy weights on the major exercises.
“Unfortunately, as I became exposed to more people who were involved with training, I left my old methods behind and became bogged down in a progress- stifling method, or more accurately, methods of training…No one showed me how to train; I just went at it like I did everything else, and the hard work on each and every set brought results. But when I saw the other fellows doing things a bit differently, I adopted many of their techniques, not to my benefit”.
The point? There are basic considerations one has to take into account when inducing muscular growth stimulation, and this, of course, is the whole point of utilizing weights. Some of the necessary conditions that must be met for optimal results are:
– using heavy movements over a full range of motion – continuing every set of every exercise to a point of momentary but complete muscular failure – using “basic” exercises, i.e, compound movements that work the major muscular structures of the body, like the squat – training at a level of maximum intensity – limiting the amount of work done – providing the necessary requirements for growth to occur – ensuring that the exercise is truly progressive
Much of this is so obvious that it needs no further explanation, but considering the almost unbelievable amount of false information available, without such a basic understanding the trainee will not be able to formulate a program that will bring results in a manner that is proportionate with the effort expended.
The only way to produce maximum possible increases in muscle tissue mass is by the production of maximum power. This can only be done by utilizing exercises that engage as much of the particular mass as is possible, and only when working over a full range of possible motion. And while it is almost impossilbe to engage 100% of the available fibers, much more growth stimulation will occur if the exercise is carried out over as great a range as is possible. This also assists in the development of increased flexibility, as a heavy weight will pull the involved bodyparts into a fully extended position at the beginning of the movement and will also provide “prestretching” of that involved muscle. It is now apparent that the most important requirement for inducing maximum growth is intensity.
Carrying an exercise to the point of momentary but complete failure ensures that one is training at a point of greatest possible intensity (assuming that the trainee is putting forth effort and “not going through the motions” and thus “failing” long before reaching a point of actual muscular failure). There is no way to gauge the amount of effort being put forth unless one goes to the point of failure. That implies, simply, that 100% of momentary possible effort was put forth.
Also, it is only by working this hard that one can engage the maximum possible amount of muscle fibers. And unless this maximum amount of fibers is worked, growth will be retarded, if not impossible. Many trainees fear this. They are afraid of working as hard as is actually required, and thus they often return to their prior methods of training improperly. It is much easire to perform 4 sets of 8 reps of a particular movement than it is to complete one set *correctly*; for example, doing 15 reps in proper form to a point where it is momentarily impossible to move the barbell with the involved bodypart.
I recently had the “pleasure” of training (for only one session, thankfully) with one of the leading bodybuilders in the United States. I convinced him to try “my way” of doing things, and he finally consented. I coaxed him through a set of leg presses, using approximately 300lbs, and he completed 18 reps. This was followed by a set of full squats, using a fairly light weight (approx. 185 lbs), and he terminated the set long before his strength had been taxed. We then did standing presses and chins, and he did manage to go to a point of failure, although he did take momentary “breaks” during the sets to complain that the “weight is just too light to feel so heavy” and other such gems of wisdom.
The result? He called me the next day to tell me that he was very sore but that he was going to return to his prior method of training because “your way is just too hard”. He further admitted that he thought that I was correct – trainng to failure, using a weight, any weight that would allow a reasonable number of repetitions, was the proper way to train – but that he preferred an admittedly improper training method because it was “easier”. I explained that while the human body could be damaged by doing “too much work,” the body’s defense mechanisms made it almost impossible to bring about injury by training “too hard. You’ll regurgitate or faint before you cause any real damage to the body, *if* you trained even that hard,” I said.
“Well, I’ll just stick to what I’m doing,” he said. “But, hey, thanks for the time you gave me.” Indeed. (And I should of course point out that “my way” of training is not really *my* way. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the development of such common sense principles. I’ve just had the sense to utilize what is rational, correct, and result-producing).
Common sense would indicate that if one is training at the proper level of intensity, an increased amount of work would be neither desirable nor possible. ONE set of 15-20 reps in the full squat, performed with proper form and done until the trainee can no longer rise from the full squat position, will do more for building the strength and size of the involved muscles than any such number of improperly performed sets of any other leg exercises, including the full squat. And how many sets of full squats, done as described, do you think you could perform in a single workout? How many such sets would you *want* to perform? Thus it becomes obvious that the amount of work must be limited.
One also walks a very thin line in inducing muscular growth. You must work hard enough to induce growth, but not so extensively as to deplete a very definite (but unknown) amount of recovery ability. One can train properly in that all exercises are performed in correct style, taken to a point of momentary failure, etc., but if too much work is done, the system will not be able to provide the necessary factors for growth. Yet many trainees train four, five, six and sometimes even more per week.
Athletes who are preparing for a season of activity will express surprise that they progressed little while lifting weights three or four days per week, running distance and sprints on their “off” days and practicing the skills needed for their particular activity an additional two or three times per week. Their ability to recover has been depleted, and until that ability is restored, no amount of additional work will induce muscular increases. Thus training must be limited to no more than three days/week and in some cases only two/week. And for some extreme cases, training once per week will serve to induce maximal amounts of growth.
Why so-called compound movements? Before I actually knew anything about proper training (and this is not to imply that I know even a fraction of what there is to know now), I realized that there was something, an indefinable something, that wasn’t “right” about a number of bodybuilders who trained in the gym where I also trained. (This is not to be misconstrued as a criticism of all bodybuilders. Many have a great deal of athletic ability and fine, athletic-appearing physiques.)
One such man was an advanced trainee (in the sense that he had been training a number of years and had won a number of local physique titles). However, he was missing a certain athletic quality, a harmonious look. My brother put the finger on it when he observed, “He looks like a bunch of bodyparts pasted together. He’s all there, big and all, but the total picture looks awkward-no grace, no glow, no…” The point had been made.
The human body’s muscular structures are such that I was amazed at the first autopsy I witnessed. After reading GRAY’S ANATOMY and seeing a number of anatomy charts, I had assumed that one could discern individual muscles. This isn’t the case. They are so interbound and interwoven, it becomes obvious why so many years of medical training are necessary to figure the entire mystery out. Muscles work in conjunction with each other. Furthermore, greatest growth stimulation will come by working the largest muscles in the body. A secondary growth effect occurs when the major muscle masses are worked, and the statement that the “small muscles will take care of themselves if you work the big ones” is true because of this effect. Thus the greatest possible growth will occur if movements are employed that will engage the major muscular structures of the body. (More on the selection of exact exercises, later).
In addition to inducing growth stimulation, other factors are necessary for increasing the amount of muscle tissue mass. These include sleep, nutrition, and a number of psychological variables such as motivation, resistance to pain and “psyching up”, amoung others. Each of these factors is important.
Though the term “progressive exercise” has been used as a catchall to describe weight training activities, most trainees rarely make any attempt to actually have progressive and productive workouts. The “theory” is so logical as to be almost ridiculous, yet it is so often, if not always overlooked. If one were to add 5 lbs to the barbell every two or three workouts, or add another repetition, performed in proper style, with the same weight one used in the preceding workout, growth would occur (assuming that all other previously mentioned factors were taken into consideration and those considerations met), as the system would be constantly exposed to an ever-increasing load. This is progression.
Arthur Jones stated that, with curls as the example when it is possible for a trainee to curl 200 lbs in good form *without* body swing, “then his arms will be as large as they need to be for any possible purpose connected with any sport just short of wrestling bears”. This sums up progression pretty well.
I am fond of telling doubting trainees that it’s just a matter of always adding weight to the bar, adding another repetition, “If you could get to the point where you’re squatting 400lbs for 20 reps, stiff-legged deadlifting 400 lbs for 15 reps, curling 200 for 10 reps, pressing 200 for 10 resp, doing 10 dips with 300 lbs around your waist, and chinning with 100 pounds, don’t you think you would be big – I mean awfully big? And strong?” Obviously!
Knowing the basic considerations, it is possible to construct a sensible weight-training program, one that will serve almost anyone’s purpose. However, to further clarify matters, I will discuss the choice of the actual exercises. Some are more result-producing than others, and some are also less dangerous.
The available equipment should include a barbell, a squat rack (or some type of high stand that can be used to support a barbell), an overhead bar (or pipe) for the purpose of chinning and two pipes, heavy chairs or parallel bars for the purpose of performing parallel bar dips. If more equipment is available, fine; it will add variety to the program. But more equipment is not necessary to build one to his maximum possible size and strength. The best exercises for the major musculature structures of the body are full squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, standing presses, chins with the palms facing you, parallel bar dips, barbell curls, bent- over rowing motions, pullovers on a bench, shrugs and situps. (I include this exercise only as a means of covering the entire body. The abdominals will receive quite enough work during the performance of other exercises.)
A very productive program would look like this: W