Weight Training Programs: The Basics, but with Variety
Written on May 24, 2011 at 7:16 am, by Eric Cressey
Our puppy, Tank, is about nine months old now. And, he’s getting more mellow with each passing day.
When we first got him, my wife and I didn’t allow him to come upstairs, as we wanted him to gradually adjust to the downstairs of our house and slowly introduce him to more space. Accordingly, to him, upstairs became the “great beyond,” a place where unicorns played and milkbones rained down from the heavens. He would try like crazy to get up there when we took our eyes off him.
Then, one weekend in January, my wife and I were out of town to visit friends in Florida, so one of my minor leaguers and his wife watched Tank and the house. With us gone, he barked and cried at night – so they let him come upstairs to sleep with them in their bed. When we returned home, there was no turning back; he now sleeps in our bed – a change that he’s made very clear is for good.
What’s more interesting, though, is the fact that he’s still infatuated with the upstairs portion of the house. He’ll go up and take naps on the bed when my wife and I are downstairs, and if either of us goes upstairs to grab something, he’ll race up after us to ensure that he doesn’t miss a unicorn sighting or the opportunity to score a treat. Meanwhile, all the cool stuff – food, treats, his toys, cool scents of other people, stuff to chew, things to pee on, space to run around (including the door to the back yard) – are all still downstairs. If I was a dog, upstairs would be pretty boring – and the downstairs would be “where it’s at.” Puzzling, huh?
In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this piece, there is a strength and conditioning parallel to this story. A lot of lifters start with the basics (the downstairs) and make great progress – only to abandon the “staple” strength exercises in favor of something new, unproven, and gimmicky (the upstairs). Then, even when they realize that the flavor-of-the-week stuff isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, they don’t go back to what worked in the first place. Why? They’ve convinced themselves that novelty is more important than efficacy, and that it’s easier to do the fun new stuff than it is to get good with the basics. It’s the kind of logic that makes me wonder if a lot of people eat paint chips.
The question, of course, becomes “How can we ‘sell’ the basics to a beginner who appreciates variety and novelty?” My response would simply be that variety and novelty can be synonymous with progression. I’ll give you an example.
On the first day at Cressey Performance, just about every new client learns the trap bar deadlift (assuming no injury that would contraindicate the exercise). As I outlined last week, it’s an entry-level teaching progression that best allows lifters to grasp the concepts of hip hinging, vertical shin, neutral spine, and optimal hip extension patterning in spite of their mobility restrictions. It’s the basic arithmetic before we get to calculus.
Once they’ve sufficiently learned the lift and progressed in the weight they’ve lifted, we can transition them to other deadlift variations, including sumo deadlifts, rack pulls, and trap bar with chains. Then, eventually, they may graduate to conventional and snatch grip deadlift technique. This set of progressions and regressions are combined with other strength training program variables – sets and reps, training frequency, exercise pairings, and the like – to give them the novelty they need – but without compromising the training effect.
I’ve seen football strength coaches who use the squat, bench press, and clean as their primary lifts for years on end. Do kids get stronger? Absolutely. Do they get bored as hell and absolutely disinterested in their less-than-optimal training programs? Absolutely. And, do they miss out on the rich proprioceptive environment that all young athletes should have? Absolutely.
So, there is a balance that must be discovered. On one hand, you need to stick to the basics so as to not compromise the training effect. On the other hand, you need to implement variety so as to not bore folks to death. The solution is to use variations of the basics.
To that end, at Cressey Performance, we change the strength training program every four weeks to modify exercise selection, regardless of a trainee’s age and experience level. In our eyes, it provides the best balance of the basics and the novelty to keep folks motivated and progressing in their strength and conditioning programs.