Home Posts tagged "Are of the Deload"

Spring Sale: Final Day!

In case you haven't already heard, I'm running my spring sale right now, with four of my products for sale at 40% off. Just enter the coupon code SPRING (all CAPS) at checkout to apply the discount. The discount runs until tonight (Tuesday) at midnight. You can learn more at the following links:

Cressey Sports Performance Innovations

The Art of the Deload

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core

The Truth About Unstable Surface Training

Enjoy!

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Here’s a Black Friday Sale Even Though It’s Not Friday Yet

Everyone on the planet is having a Black Friday sale this week, so we figured we wouldn't even attempt to keep you in suspense on this one. With that in mind, you can save 20% on the following products through Cyber Monday at midnightk by entering the coupon code BF2016 (case sensitive) at checkout. Just click on the links below to learn more and add them to your cart:

Functional Stability Training: Individual Programs or a Bundle Pack

Optimal Shoulder Performance

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core

Everything Elbow

The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual

The Specialization Success Guide

The Art of the Deload

Again, that coupon code is BF2016.

Additionally, my products with Mike Robertson are on sale, too. You can pick up Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility for 20% off (no coupon code needed) HERE.

Enjoy - and thank you for your support!

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Strength Training Programs: 4 Reasons You Might Not Need to Deload

I'm a firm believer that deloads - or planned periods of reduced training volume or intensity - are an important concept to understand if you're looking to get optimal results with your strength and conditioning programs.  In fact, I thought it was so important that I wrote an entire 20-page e-book on the subject.

That's not to say, however, that I think absolutely everyone needs to worry about incorporating deloading periods, though.  In fact, I think there are several scenarios in which they aren't necessary. Read on.

1. You train less than three times per week.

If you want to deload, you actually need to load first.  That's hard to do when you're only getting to the gym 1-2 times per week. 

A while back, Dr. John Berardi talked about the importance of getting in six hours of activity each week even just for general health and maintaining or enhancing one's fitness; I've definitely seen this duration to be an appropriate target for folks. If you're a 4x/week strength training guy, you usually hit this number, if you figure 75 minutes per training session, plus a bit of additional activity throughout the week.  And, even if you only lift 3x/week, you're still going to get very close, as the full-body sessions tend to run a bit longer.  If you're only 2x/week, you're going to be at least three hours short on the week.  Adding in more deload time to an already deloaded schedule would be silly.

The obvious exception to this rule would be in-season athletes doing their strength training at a reduced frequency. These individuals are, of course, accumulating a lot of other physical activity from their sports.  They'd still want to reduce volume or intensity a bit in the weight room every 4-6 weeks, because you can't count on your "sporting volume" ever dropping predictably during the season.

art-of-the-deload2

2. You're a complete beginner.

The great thing about being a beginner is that just about everything works.  You could show up to the gym, do one set of preacher curls, then bang your head against the wall for 45 minutes and you'd still probably get bigger and stronger as long as you eat enough.  My feeling is that if you can do "anything" to improve, you might as well do a lot of "anything" while you still can.  Just dropping volume for the sake of dropping volume every few weeks isn't a good move, as you're likely missing out on a big window of adaptation. 

Beginning lifters really aren't neurally efficient enough to impose a lot of fatigue. And, just as importantly, they actually need a lot of volume early on so that they can practice new movement patterns. Finally, on the psychology side of things, you never want to hold someone back too much when they're first starting with an exercise program. The immediate results are incredibly motivating, and if you cut volume back substantially, you run the risk fo them not coming back after a period away from the gym.  Don't give them a chance to get disinterested.

In my e-book, The Art of the Deload, I outline a strategy for beginners to "deload without deloading." I call it the "Introduction Week Deload:"

This is best suited to beginners who need a chance to learn the movements with light weights.

It’s very simple: the set/rep parameters stay the same for the entire month, and the only thing that changes is the load utilized (lifter gets stronger).  At the end of the month, you change exercises and stick with the same approach.  You’ll find that in Week 1 of the new program, the beginner will be using markedly less intensity, as he or she will be cautious in feeling out the new movements.

You can “ease” into this transition by using “variation without change.”  In other words, change the exercises, but don’t completely overhaul the nature of the movements.  An example might be to switch from a neutral grip pull-up to a chin-up (supinated grip), or moving from dumbbell reverse lunges to walking dumbbell lunges.

3. Your program is predominantly corrective or rehabilitative in nature.

I know this might come as a shocker, and I really hate to burst your bubble, but side-lying clams don't impose enough fatigue to require a deload.  Stop overthinking things!

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm a firm believer that lifting heavy stuff can be tremendously "corrective" in nature as long as it's done with correct technique.  However, there are going to be times when it just isn't feasible to maintain a training effect in full.  Imagine, for instance, what happens shortly after a shoulder surgery.  If you're in a sling, you obviously can't do anything to load the affected side.  You also can't deadlift or squat, and just getting into positions for exercises like barbell hip thrusts isn't going to happen.  You have to be careful about exercises with arm swing, so dragging the sled (if you even have the equipment or space to do so) is potentially out. In other words, you're basically left training the other arm and then doing glute ham raises, leg curls, and leg extensions.  We can do more at Cressey Performance because of our equipment selection, but most folks don't have that luxury at their commercial or home gyms.

That said, it would be incredibly hard to overtrain - or even overreach - with those implements and restrictions.  So, there's no reason to cut back every fourth week just because you're supposed to do so.  Besides, if you have surgery, you're going to be on the shelf for 10-14 days anyway, as you'll be hopped up on pain killers, short on sleep, and likely restricted from going to the gym in the short-term to minimize the risk of infection.  There's no need to take more time off!

4. You have deloads within the week, rather than within the month.

This point actually piggybacks somewhat on point #1.  Some lifters will have two more challenging training days during the week, and then supplement them with 2-3 lower intensity and volume sessions during that same week.  In other words, rather than deload for an entire week every three weeks (7 out of 28 days), they'll deload a few days within each week (2/3 out of 7).  With this approach, the "supercompensation" curve is less "up and down;" the highs aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low.  However, this often yields a consistent upward and more linear trend in fitness gains.

In my opinion, it is an approach that is much more sensitive to outside factors.  Getting poor sleep, or adding in travel demands can quickly throw you for a loop, whereas you can plan around these things a bit more when you deload for an extended period of time.  You can either move the week-long deload up a bit, push it back slightly, or shorten it because you don't feel like you've loaded enough going into it.  It's harder to have that same "loading flexiblity" within the week, as opposed to within the month.

Wrap-up

To reiterate, I think implementing strategic deloads is incredibly important for the intermediate and advanced lifter, and there are certainly many different ways to implement these periods.  However, as you can tell, there are also definitely some scenarios when it's best to skip the deload period and keep on getting after it in the gym.  Take a good look at your training program and experience - and then ask yourself how you're feeling - and you'll have your answer.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 36

Here are this week's tips to guide your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, courtesy of CP coach Greg Robins:

1. Appreciate the benefits of the powerlifting-style bench press technique - even if you don't take it to an extreme.

2. Use the barbell twice.

There is something I have always made a point of doing in my training, and in many of my programs. I hadn’t realized that it had become a pseudo “rule” to my approach until I recently watched a video from Mark Bell of SuperTraining gym in California. He commented on the idea of “always using the barbell twice.” It’s a concept that more people should embody, particularly those of you who are looking to make gains in the gym, and add muscle to your frames. So what does that mean?

Basically, follow up your first main barbell exercise with another one!

Most of us will knock out our 3–5 sets of squats, presses, or deadlifts and move right into more “assistance” based work. Instead, follow up your usual upfront exercise choice by doing 3–5 more sets with that same barbell. If you want to get better at the big bang exercises, you need to do them more often. They alone are the best things you can do to make them better.

If you don’t feel like just doing more of the exact same thing, you can try a different variation, go for higher reps, modify the tempo, or add accommodating resistance.

3. Account for outside stressors.

I always try to highlight one thing with people who come to me for training advice. Shockingly, it has very little to do with the nuances of their actual training. Instead, we talk about how their training matches their ability to recover from the stresses they place on themselves. The truth is that extraordinary results are the product of an extraordinary amount of hard work. You will always get out what you put in, but only if you can handle what you put in. That concept seems to be lost on the majority of people.

Work = Recovery = Progress

The equation must stay balanced in order to make progress. Furthermore, when one side of the equation is elevated the other side must be elevated as well. To take it further, if you want to elevate progress, you will at a certain point need to elevate both ends of that equation. This is why for some individuals, smart coaches suggest they do less. It is also why, in other cases, smart coaches suggest you do more.

It’s important that we digest a few things to understand how to manipulate this equation. First, doing more work will teach your body how to recover from more work. Second, work is stress and stress is not limited to stress placed on the individual at the gym. Third, in order to make progress, one must continually be able to place more stress on the body and recover from said stress.

A well-designed progression and management of training variables will help a person to keep making progress. That being said, managing gym related stress is not the only thing one should take into account. For example, many seasoned gym goers adopt training programs designed for individuals who basically have the luxury of training as their full time job. Professional athletes, elite military personnel, and pro fitness competitors, for instance, have careers that revolve around enhancing their physical performance. Utility workers, business executives, and even strength coaches DO NOT.

You will probably not reach the level of performance these individuals have. They have the ability to optimize all their variables in order to progress. They also have built a base of work capacity and therefore a base of recovery ability over many years. You have not. Therefore, when you approach your training, you must account for things like the six hours of manual labor you do every day, the high stress of meeting your project deadline, and the seven hours on your feet coaching athletes during the day.

The solution is simple, but it takes a concerted effort to being flexible. Make sure that all components of the equation elevate and decline together. From here forward, start doing two things. One, ensure that you are raising the bar and doing a little more work. Without doing so, you will hit a standstill. Second, match the level of your training to the level of recovery you are capable of producing. If it’s deadline month, make sure that month is a lower volume approach with a deload worked in. If it’s a dead month with business and family responsibilities, make that a month where you reach a new high for work completed in the gym.

4. Get familiar with common ingredients.

How often do you read an ingredient label and see the same few words used over and over? Chances are it’s quite a bit. You aren’t exactly sure what they are, but are okay with just staying ignorant to what they are and why they’re there. As one of our current interns commented recently, “Did you know that ‘Artificial Flavor’ is a little more complex than its two-word title?” For example, let’s say you are having a “grape” beverage. The artificial flavor for grape is: methyl anthranilate. Not sure what that chemical is, but it sure sounds a lot less appealing that “artificial flavoring,” right? Now imagine what you’re eating has artificial flavoring for over ten different flavors. That’s a lot of weird chemical names that can’t pronounce, let alone understand in the context of their effects on your body. As an action point, consider looking up some of the common ingredient names you find on the back labels of your favorite foods. You might be a little surprised at what you come across.

5. Set a monthly “comfort zone” goal.

We tend to do what we’re good at. There is nothing wrong with that; why not accentuate our strengths? However, there is validity in working on our weaknesses, and experiencing new things. After all, you might just find a whole new strong point if you step outside of what you’re accustomed to doing. Furthermore, by experiencing new things, you will often draw connections between them and the things you already know and enjoy. Heck, it could even make you better at them. Consider doing one thing a month that is out of the ordinary for you. Attend a fitness class you have always avoided, or even commit to doing one thing a week in your workouts that isn’t the norm. An example might be: including single leg work on a lower body day, or doing a few sets of reps over 5 on a big exercise. Evaluate the new experience and see if it has a place in your day-to-day routine. If not, now you know first hand. If so, great!

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10 Ways to Sustain a Training Effect in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

I'm going to let you in on a little shocker: I really don't train as hard as I used to train.

Blasphemy, I know.  Every strength and conditioning coach is supposed to constantly be pursuing a mythical level of fitness at all times.  Because it's my job to make people healthier and more athletic, I, in turn, am expected to be able to bench press 800, vertical jump 40 inches, complete a marathon in under three hours, and be able to fart lightning at a moment's notice.  While I can make a decent run at the last challenge after a batch of my mom's famous calico beans recipe, I guess I'm just content with not making optimal progress.

Now, don't get me wrong; I haven't let myself turn into a blob, and I'm still training 5-6 days a week.  The goals, however, have shifted since my last powerlifting meet in December of 2007. Nowadays, I get a lot more excited about watching one of our minor league guys get a big league call-up than I do about a ten-pound squat personal record after a 16-week training cycle. I worry more about being a better husband, business partner, boss, and coach than I do about whether I'm 10 or 11% body fat, and whether it'll make my weight class. And, I certainly expect these priorities to change even more when my wife and I decide to have kids.

In short, I think I'm a lot like a solid chunk of the exercising population.  Training hard excites me, but it doesn't define me anymore.

Interestingly, though, I really haven't wasted away like one might expect. In fact, I've gotten stronger while keeping my weight about the same - or slightly lower, right where I want to be.  Just for the heck of it, not too long ago, I staged my own little mock raw powerlifting meet and totaled 1435 at a body weight of 180.6 (1396 is considered an "Elite" total, as a frame of reference).  I used the giant cambered bar for squatting, simply because my shoulder gets cranky when I back squat. Sue me.

A few notes on the mock/impromptu meet:

1. Thanks to the CSP staff and interns for helping with spots, handoffs, and videos - and putting up with my musical selection (which I think, for the record, was an outstanding representative sample of modern training music).

2. I weighed in at 180.6 first thing that morning (about three hours before I lifted).  I didn't have to cut weight.

3. I had a scoop of Athletic Greens, three cups of coffee with vanilla protein powder, and five eggs with spinach, peppers, and onions for breakfast, then drank a bottle of water at the facility before I started.  So, I really didn't carb up for this "meet" (or really prepare for it in any capacity, for that matter). I did have an accidental open mouth kiss with my dog, Tank, while I was foam rolling when he licked my face while I wasn't looking.  I'm not sure if making out with a puggle constitutes ergogenic assistance? 

4. Speaking of Tank, he makes a great cameo during my opening squat.  He's eating air, in case you're wondering.

5. The great thing about squats in powerlifting meets is that they can look like good mornings to parallel and still pass.  Score!

6. I haven't free squatted with a wider, powerlifting style stance in about three years. So, you can say that I was a bit rusty, as evidenced that my stance width was a bit erratic from attempt to attempt (and especially narrow on the third squat).

7. The first squat and last deadlift were exactly 90 minutes apart.  Talk about efficiency!

All that said, I really don't think I could have even come close to this total back in 2007, and according to some research that says strength peaks at age 29, I should be on the downslope, especially if I'm not training as hard. So, what gives?

I suspect it has a little something to do with the fact that I have a pretty good idea of how to sustain a strength training effect. Much of it has to do with my experiences with in-season athletes; some of them waste away if they don't pay attention to detail and stay consistent with their training.  Meanwhile, others come back so strong that you'd think they never left.  Here are some of the factors that have surely helped me (and them) over the years.

1. Very little alcohol consumption.

My first date with my wife was April 22, 2007. She's seen me drink twice in the entire time we've known one another. I'm absolutely not going to stand on a soapbox and say that I don't think other people should drink; they can do what they want, but it just really isn't for me.

That said, if you're concerned with helping your strength training gains along (or simply sustaining them), simply have a look at the research on alcohol's negative effect on effect on endocrine status, sleep quality, neural drive, tissue quality, and recovery from exercise.  People who drink a lot feel and move like crap.  Sorry, I don't make the rules.

2. Early to bed, early to rise.

I find the 6AM world far more entertaining, refreshing, and productive than the 1AM world.  I feel better, train better, recovery better, and am an all-around happier person when I get to bed early and awake early without an alarm.  For me, 10:30PM to 6AM is pretty much the norm.

Now, for those who insist that sleeping 1:30AM to 9AM counts exactly the same, check out some of the research on night shift workers and their health; it's not good.  As a rule of thumb, one hour before midnight is worth two after midnight - and it certainly helps to try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. 

3. A foundation of strength and mobility.

In talking with our athletes about the relationship between off- and in-season training, I use the analogy of a bank account.  During the off-season, you make deposits (work hard and acquire a training effect).  When you go in-season, you make withdrawals (play your sport). If the withdrawals exceed the deposits, you're in trouble - and that's why in-season training is so important.

Now, for the general fitness folks, this simply means that if you put a lot of "money in the bank," you'll be prepared for the day when life gets crazy and you miss a few days in the gym.  You have more wiggle room to go on a spending spree.

Mobility works the same way.  Once you've built it, it's hard to lose unless you really go out of your way to avoid moving for an extended period of time.

4. Regular manual therapy.

I'm very fortunate to have two outstanding manual therapists in my office on a weekly basis.  Chris Howard is a massage therapist and does a tremendous job with more diffuse approaches, recovery modalities, and some focal work with the Fibroblaster tool.  Nate Tiplady utilizes Graston Technique, Active Release, fascial manipulation, and chiropractic adjustments.  Along with regular foam rolling, these guys have made a big difference in me staying healthy, which leads me to...

5. No missed training sessions.

I'm fortunate to have been very healthy over the years.  Like everyone, I've had minor niggles here and there, but haven't pushed through them and let them get out of hand.  It's better to skip benching one day and do higher rep floor presses than it is to push through some pain and wind up with a torn pec.  If long-term consistency is your goal, you have to be willing to assess risk: reward in your training on a regular basis.

Moreover, training is a part of my life, just like brushing my teeth, feeding the dog, or checking my email.  It's not an option to "squeeze it out" because my calendar gets too full.  I make time instead of finding time.  Of course, it's a lot easier when your office is part of a 15,000+ square-foot gym!

6. Lots of vegetables and quality protein.

Call me crazy, but I'd take grass-fed meatloaf and spinach and onions cooked in coconut oil over a chocolate cake any day of the week.  I'm not making that up; I just don't have much of a sweet tooth.

In Precision Nutrition, Dr. John Berardi talks about the 90% rule: as long as you're good with your nutrition 90% of the time, you can get away with slip-ups or intentional cheat meals for the other 10%.  If you eat five meals a day, that's 31-32 "clean" meals and 3-4 "whoops" meals each week.  When I think about it in that context, I'm probably more like 95-98% adherent, and the other 2-5% is me grabbing a protein bar on the fly while I'm coaching at CSP. I could certainly do a lot worse.

I'm sure Dr. Berardi would agree that if you get closer to 100%, you likely have a little wiggle room with your training program. For example, you might be able to cut back slightly on the amount of conditioning needed to meet your goals.

7. Great training partners.

I've been extremely fortunate to lift in a number of great environments, from my time in the University of Connecticut varsity weight room, to my days at Southside Gym, to Cressey Performance 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0.  You've always got spotters nearby, and there are always guys to give you feedback on weight selection and technique.  We crack jokes, play loud music, and challenge and encourage each other.  I'm convinced that this factor more than any other can absolutely revolutionize the way many folks train; they need human interaction to get out of their comfort zone and realize what they're capable of accomplishing in the right environment.

8. Planned deloads.

I rarely take a week of training off altogether, but at least once a month, I'll reduce training stress substantially for 5-7 days to recharge.  The secret to avoiding burnout is to understand the difference between overload, overreaching, and overtraining.  The former two are important parts of the training equation, but if you are always seeking them 24/7/365, you can wind up with the latter. I talk about this in great detail in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

9. Accountability.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons many people struggle to achieve their fitness goals is that they are only accountable to themselves - and that's a slippery slope if you aren't blessed with great willpower and perseverance.  It's one reason why we encourage our clients to tell their friends and family about their fitness goals; they'll constantly be reminded of them in conversation throughout the day.

Being in the fitness industry is a blessing because your peers and your clients/athletes are your accountability.  Fat personal trainers don't have full schedules.  Weak people don't become strength coaches of NFL teams.  And, in my shoes, it's magnified even more because I'm in front of thousands of people every single day through the videos on this website, DVDs that we've produced, and seminars at which I present.  Even if "tapping out" on my training was something that interested me, I have too much at stake.  Think about where you can find that level of accountability in your life to help you reach your goals.

10. Cool implements to keep things fun.

I live really close to our facility, so I often joke that I have the best 15,000 square-foot home gym you'll ever see.  We've got a bunch of specialty bars, bumper plates, slideboards, sleds, tires, sledgehammers, turf, kettlebells, dumbbells, bands, chains, farmer's walk handles, TRX units, medicine balls, a glute-ham, chest-supported row, functional trainers, benches, and a host of other implements that I'm surely forgetting.  There is absolutely no excuse for me to ever get bored with training, as I have an endless source of variety at my fingertips.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, "But Eric, I don't have anything cool at my commercial gym!"  My response to that has five parts:

a. If they didn't have what you needed, why did you give them your money instead of taking your business elsewhere?
b. Have you considered outfitting home gym?
c. They probably have a lot more than you might think, but you just need to be more creative and prepare a bit more.
d. Remember that there are many different ways to add variety to programming beyond just changing exercise selection.  You can tinker with sets, reps, rest intervals, training frequency, tempo, range-of-motion, and a host of other factors.
e. Have you used a strength and conditioning program written by a qualified coach? He or she may see the same equipment through a different lens than you do. 

These are surely just ten of countless factors that one can cite when it comes to sustaining performance over the long haul, and I'm sure that they'll change as I get older.  With that said, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section: what factors have contributed to you making (or sustaining) progress with your strength and conditioning programs?

Looking for a program to take the guesswork out of your programming?  Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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Strength Training Programs: 8 Strategies for Easily Maintaining Strength

In a post a while back, I made a comment that intrigued quite a few people:

I'm always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.

If you train yourself to run a six-minute mile, then take two months off from running, you can usually come back and get pretty darn close to that same time in spite of the detraining.  However, chance are that you had to bust your butt to get to that six-minute time in the first place.

The same can be said of a 600-pound deadlift, appreciate level of mobility, or world-ranking in water chugging.

In short, once you've hit these milestones, they stick around pretty well, provided you don't completely screw up and allow yourself to detrain.  As a frame of reference, my best deadlift is 660, yet even though I don't pull over 600 all that frequently (my competitive powerlifting days are likely over), I know I can do so just about any day of the week.

I'm always amazed at where my strength levels stand at the end of a long baseball off-season.  I work some absurdly long hours from September through February when all our professional baseball players are around - and this definitely impacts how frequently I do much work in the 1-3 rep range with my lower body training.  And, frankly, I don't squat at all during this time of year because my knees are usually cranky from being on the hard floors all day.  Interestingly enough, when I get some down-time when the pro guys go in-season, my squatting numbers haven't fallen off much at all.

I don't just think this is a valuable lesson for lifters who anticipate life interfering with optimal training dedication; I also think it's a tremendously important message to older lifters who may not be able to load as frequently as they could in their younger years.  To that end, here are some strategies for sustaining the strength one has built up over the years.

1. Avoid significant weight fluctuations (particularly down).

Nothing every sapped my strength more than losing five pounds.  Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to it because I competed at a lower weight class and always had to monitory my weight to the point of being neurotic, or maybe it was just because it slightly changed my range-of-motion and leverages on the squat and bench press.  Regardless of what it was, a five pound drop in body weight equated to a 30-pound drop off my squat and 15-pound drop off my bench.

To that end, if you're trying to keep your strength up during some down time in your strength training program, make sure to keep your weight up, too.  It's not the time to be skimping on calories (unless, of course, you have a lot of fat to lose as part of your fitness goals).

2. Eat right.

"Eating enough" and "eating right" are two completely different things.  It would be very easy for me to just live on fast food during our busiest season.  Instead, I still set aside time to prepare food for the long work day.  I'm also fortunate to have a cafeteria 100 feet down the hallway, and they'll cook me up whatever healthy food I need on the fly.  I've got Athletic Greens, fish oil, and probiotics in my office, plus beef jerky and almonds in case I need solid food on the fly.  "Busy" doesn't have to mean "unhealthy" as long as you plan ahead.

3. Lift heavy at least once a month.

If you want to get strong, you need to put in at least 2-3 heavy lifting sessions per month for the lift in question. And, if you're trying to trying to bring up a bench press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up simultaneously, you've got a lot of competing demands and overall training stress.

If, however, you want to stay strong, getting in just a few heavy sets of a particular movement each month can get the job done.

4. Get sufficient sleep.

No matter how busy life gets, I am pretty good about getting at least seven hours of sleep each night - and usually a little bit more. I'm typically in bed by 10PM and asleep by 10:30, then wake up between 6 and 7AM each day.  I (like many others) have noticed that sleep before midnight makes me feel a lot better than trying to catch up by sleeping in the following morning.

5. Forget the deloads.

I'm a huge advocate of deloading periods in one's training; in fact, I wrote an entire e-book about the topic!

 However, if you're going through a time when your normal training volume is compromised, you really aren't "loading" enough to require a deload.  You're better off getting in your work whenever possible.

The obviously exception to this rule would be older lifters with appreciable levels of strength; they need to set aside specific deloading periods even if they are training with heavier sets less frequently.

6. Still crush your assistance work.

Just because you're not feeling up to crushing a personal best squat doesn't mean that you can't still get after it with your single-leg work, sled pushing, glute-ham raises, or any of a number of other assistance exercises. Do your best to keep the resistance up on your assistance work instead of just getting your reps in. Sets in the 5-8 rep range are outstanding in this regard, as they're heavy enough to have strength benefits, and the volume can help keep muscle on you, too.

7. Stick with multi-joint exercises.

If you maintain your strength on compound movements (e.g., chin-ups), you'll maintain your strength on "sub-category" isolation movements (e.g., biceps curls) just fine.  It doesn't work the other way around, though.

If life is busy and you're dragging when you get to the gym, you're much better off hitting a set of deadlifts than you are doing some leg curls.

8. Consider rearranging your schedule or changing your strength training program split.

One of the biggest appeals of The High Performance Handbook I introduced was the versatility it provided via its 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training program options.  Being able to shift from one approach to another as your schedule gets busier or lighter is valuable flexibility.

Additionally, it may be advantageous to plan your training for your less stressful days.  If you work crazy hours Monday through Friday, try lifting Saturday and Sunday, then picking 1-2 days in the middle of the week for short sessions consisting of just assistance work.

These are eight strategies you can easily apply even when life isn't easy and you want to maintain strength, but there are surely many more.  I'd love to hear your experiences with maintaining strength during busy times in your life in the comments section below!

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How to Measure Volume in Strength and Conditioning Programs

During my first ever live Facebook Fan Page Q&A last night, I received the following question, and wanted to use today's post to expand on it:

Q: How do you go about measuring volume in strength and conditioning programs? I feel like it's glossed over in a lot of textbooks and courses when it comes to programming.

A: This is an incredibly tough question to answer - and trust me, it's a question I've given a lot of thought!

Early in my career, I tried to come up with elaborate equations to calculate volume, but it was tough for a number of reasons (many of which I discuss in my e-book, The Art of the Deload).

First, not all exercises are created equal. A curl can't be weighted the same as a deadlift variation, for instance.  The more joints an exercise involves and the greater the distance the bar travels, the more stressful it is.  

Many people will make the argument that because one can use more weight on the deadlifts than the curl, the total volume (total reps x load) takes care of itself.  The problem is that it doesn't take into account the distance the bar travels or the amount of muscle mass involved.  Let's say a lifter can deadlift 500 pounds, quarter-squat 500 pounds, and barbell supine bridge 500 pounds.  I can guarantee you that the 500 pound deadlift takes of a toll on the body than the other two because there is greater amplitude required and muscle mass recruited.  The "total tonnage" argument is a sound one, but not a perfect one.

Second, all volume isn't created equal.  Imagine having three crazy stressful training sessions back-to-back-to-back on Mo-Tu-We, then four days off.  Then, take the exact same training loads, but space them out Mo-We-Fr.  I guarantee you that the body's perception of the stress of the third session will be far greater in the first scenario - which to me is the important reason we consider volume in the first place.  Timing and overlap matter.

Third, let's say that you go in to the gym fresh and squat on the first day of the training week.  We'll say that you do four sets of five reps at 315 pounds for a total tonnage of 6,300 pounds.  Then, exactly one week later, you go in and do 15 sets of lower-body training, and then go and squat at the end with the goal of getting that 6,300 pounds of "volume" again.  Since you're exhausted, you need to do ten sets of two reps instead. Wouldn't that volume of squatting hit you like a ton of bricks?  The duration of the session and your accumulated transient fatigue changed the game.  

Fourth, not all lifters are created equal.  At a body weight of 185 or so, I hit a 660 deadlift, and after I this lift, my entire body hated me for about a week.  

My wife (an optometrist) freaked out when she saw that I'd bursted some small blood vessels in my eyes and face (it actually looked like I had freckles for about four days).  As I recall, I did about two sets of lunges after this pull before realizing that I should shut it down for the day.  I wasn't hurt; I was just exhausted.

Conversely, for a 1000-pound deadlifter who outweighs me by 150 pounds, this is speed weight.

And, to really exaggerate my point, imagine a brand new female lifter who is learning to deadlift with the training plates (10 pounds/side = 65 pound deadlift).  If she does a whopping 11 reps (65lbs x 11 = 715 lbs), she'll have accumulated more volume than I did on this day.

In short, "appropriate" volume is 100% specific to the lifter's experience, age, gender, training goals, fatigue status, injury history, competing demands, and a host of other factors that I didn't even cover!

That said, when it really comes down to it, it's just something you learn in time by observing, writing, and trying out hundreds/thousands of programs. It's like a sixth sense for me by now.

I will, however, make one observation that never seeks to amaze me:

I'm always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.

To that end, most strength and conditioning coaches devote their entire career to finding a good mix of a number of factors to offer clients and athletes a great training effect, but we'll never know what an "ideal" mix of these factors is simply because factors like volume can be so cumbersome to interpret.  For that reason, writing strength and conditioning programs will always be as much art as it is science.

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Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation: Part 1

A few years ago, as my wife and I were discussing where we wanted to go for our honeymoon, we both agreed that we wanted to go somewhere that we could be active.  The “sit by the pool and crush margaritas” vacation just isn’t us – and that’s why we wound up in Costa Rica for nine days in March.  From everything we read, Costa Rica was a place where you could hike, surf, ride horses, snorkel, zipline – and get your heart rate up just by driving on narrow, cliffside roads with drivers so aggressive that they make Boston cabbies look like they’re just getting their learners’ permits.

Anyway, our “active” vacation got me to thinking about just how many people completely blow it with their workout routines and diets when they are on vacation.  I know what you’re thinking: “vacations are supposed to be time off from everything, so quit being such a nitpicker!”

I’ll agree: a vacation should be completely relaxing (and ours was), but I’d argue that doing absolutely nothing on vacation is a problem for most people for four reasons.

First, vacations are almost always a time when folks are confronted with obscene amounts of food and alcohol.  You’re not just eating a larger quantity of food; you’re eating “out” more with others preparing that food.  You’re also tempted by foods that are “new” to you – which can quickly shift the macronutrient breakdown that feels best in your normal diet.  I, for instance, ate a ton of fresh fruit in Costa Rica at pretty much every meal in spite of the fact that I’m a guy who normally doesn’t eat a ton of carbs.

When so much is out of your control on the dietary front – and you’re tempted by foods you wouldn’t otherwise eat (like that third slice of cake at 1AM on the all-inclusive cruise), exercise could be your best friend.  Well, that and cracking your own coconuts when you don't have a sharp knife on hand.

(for the record, I made an awesome pina colada protein shake out of Metabolic Cooking with fresh pineapple and coconut)

Second, a lot of people see dramatic changes to their normal sleep schedule while on vacation.  My wife and I actually wound up going to bed earlier and waking up earlier while there because we were usually wiped out by the end of the day and the sun was so bright in the morning.  Plus, on a few occasions, we had monkeys throwing mangos at our roof (not kidding).

However, most people go in the opposite direction: in bed at 2AM and up at 12PM.  We know that sleep quality, duration, and timing has a huge impact on how our body functions, so canning exercise at a time when sleep is at its poorest might not be the best idea.

Third, most vacations are longer than your typical deload week, especially when you factor in travel days.  Taking 5-7 days off is one thing, but nixing your training effect for up to two weeks is a recipe for getting soft – or, even worse, falling off the exercise bandwagon altogether.

Fourth, I’ll probably take some heat for this, as I wrote in The Art of the Deload, I think that the idea of a complete deload week is a silly idea for the overwhelming majority of the population.

The last statistic I saw had 64% of Americans as overweight or obese.  Of the other 36%, there are probably quite a few people who are naturally slender and don’t even exercise – which means that maybe a quarter of all Americans actually exercise and are in a shape other than “round.”  Go to any gym, and think about how many of those 25% of the population actually work hard enough in their strength training programs to justify taking a full week off.

Fifth, traveling sometimes means that you spend entire days sitting on planes and in airports.  A long plane ride can make an 8-hour day at your cubicle feel like a walk in the park.  I know my body is always the most stubborn when it comes to warming up the day after a long plane ride.  Some moving around on vacation can really do the body good when it comes to maintaining mobility.

Now that I’ve made my case for vacation exercise, check back soon for Part 2, where I’ll talk about what we did for training in Costa Rica.

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Strength Training Programs: How Many Sets and Reps? – Part 1

Q: I know this is a loaded question with hours upon hours of answers, but I'm trying to make some sense about the different kinds of ways/philosophies involved in writing strength and conditioning programs. I have read different articles and chapters in books that discuss program development, looked at programs at my current job, and can write a basic one for a new athlete. It's not the exercises; I'm familiar with plenty and love seeing something new. My problems come more with the sets and reps and when they change and why; I can’t seem to map out the actual progression of the program.

What philosophies, if one, do you follow and what basic rules do you find to be the most important when determining the sets and reps?

A: This is a loaded question!  The best way to get better with programming is simply to write a ton of programs and see what works and what doesn't.  However, with respect to your specific questions on sets and reps, what you choose to utilize is going to be dictated by:

1. The duration of a session - You won't be able to do 6 sets of 4 reps if you only have an client/athlete for an hour and want to accomplish other things.  This is, in particular, a big issue in collegiate strength and conditioning programs because the NCAA allows only limited number of hours per week with athletes, and sport coaches and strength and conditioning coaches have to share this time.  Additionally, it's a challenge for personal trainers in private training set-ups where clients may train in 30-, 45-, or 60-minute blocks.

I've written several times in the past about how I would never allow our business model to dictate our training model - and this sets and reps question is one reason why.  At Cressey Sports Performance, we do all semi-private training, which allows for sliding starts and finishes.  It allows us to get in all the work we need to do with clients - regardless of the sets and reps in question.  Likewise, as you'll see in the rest of this two-part series, you'll appreciate that it's why we don't have one program standardized for everyone on the dry erase board; every single CSP client has a unique program  because they all have unique needs.

2. Competing demands - The more variety (plyos, conditioning, medicine ball work, etc) that you want to add to a program, the less volume you'll be able to do on strength training.  We have limited time and recovery capacity, so we can't just keep adding all the time.

For me, a good example is what happens over the course of the baseball off-season.  Lifting volume is high when they get back, throwing is a no-go, movement training is 2x/week, and medicine ball is light.  After the first month, medicine ball work goes up, lifting comes down a bit.

Then, at the start of January, medicine ball and lifting volume comes back down and throwing volume increases.  We then get rid of medicine ball work almost altogether and go to 3x/week movement training as the season approaches, throwing intensifies, and guys do more hitting.  So, it doesn't just depend on the exercises; it depends on the big picture.

A great follow-up read to this point would be my post, Weight Training Programs: You Can’t Just Keep Adding.

3. Exercise selection - If you're doing more sets, you'll want to do it on "money" exercises like deadlifts and not curls, etc.  Moreover, certain exercises lend themselves better to higher reps than others.  For instance, we never front squat anyone over six reps, because technical breakdown often occurs with fatigue.  You also wouldn’t want to do cleans for sets of 15!

Usually, it’s also good to just “call it” on a particular exercise and move on to the next if someone has already dropped the weight on subsequent sets and form continues to deteriorate.  That energy is better spent on different exercises where technique can remain perfect even in the presence of fatigue.

4. Training age - As a general rule of thumb, the more experienced they are, the more sets and FEWER reps they'll need.  At this point in my training career, I just won't get strong on sets of five. Here's another good follow-up read: Why I Don't Like the 5x5 Workout.

Conversely, beginners generally need more sets and reps to pick up on things.  That doesn’t mean that you should just do three sets of 15 reps on everything with a novice, though.  I find myself teaching squat and deadlift variations with four sets of five reps quite a bit; the load, however, is light enough that the lifter could usually do 10-12 reps.  In other words, it’s just technique practice.

5. The Training Goal and Client/Athlete in Question – While taking heavy singles over 90% of one’s 1-rep max may be ideal for helping folks get strong, working at such a high percentage in some populations warps the risk: reward circumstances. Whether it’s older folks, those with injuries, or athletes who have a lot more to lose by getting hurt than they have to gain by adding five pounds to their squat, you have to take each individual situation into consideration.  I always remind people that we lift weights to improve quality of life, not just so that we can talk about how heavy the weights we lifted were.

6. Whether You Want to Impose or Remove Fatigue – In a “loading” week, volume is going to be higher.  If you’re deloading, though, that volume is going to be reduced.  Aside from beginner strength training programs, volume should never be the same over several weeks in a row.  I discuss several deloading strategies in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

I’ll be back in a tomorrow with more factors that influence the sets and reps in a strength training program.  In the meantime, if you're looking for a comprehensive strength and conditioning program to take all the guesswork out of things for you, check out The High Performance Handbook.

HPH-main

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Deloading to Plan for Personal Records

As we continue 'Stache Bash 2010, today's featured/discounted product is The Art of the Deload.  More importantly, though, I've moved to the horseshoe 'stache with accompanying soul patch.

Control yourselves, ladies, and we'll be able to move forward now. As a brief background on The Art of the Deload, this 26-page e-book is a quick read that'll give you practical strategies that you can quickly and easily put into practice.  In it, I outline 10 different deloading strategies that can be implemented in any resistance training program - and discuss who is the best fit for each strategy.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I'd give you a little taste of one of the ten: Method #9: Planning for the PR Deload Week With this method, you work backward from the first day of the subsequent program with the goal of testing one lift when you’re at your freshest.  Let’s say that you’re on a three days per week set-up, with the last (12th) session of the month taking place on a Friday.  Your goal is to train normally over the course of the first four weeks (Month 1), with a small amount of technique work for the lift in question taking place during your deload week. Let’s say that you’re looking to bring up your front squat.  Accumulate the majority of your specialization training over the course of Weeks 1-3, and then in Week 4, just do some front squat technique work in the 60-70% of estimated 1-rep-max range on all three days (MWF).  Obviously, do some assistance work, too, but don’t go crazy with volume or intensity. Then, take the weekend off, and come back in to test the front squat on Monday.  Effectively, you’ve imposed a ton of fatigue over the course of Weeks 1-3, rested during Week 4, and realized the fitness gains at the beginning of Week 5. If you're interested in checking out the other nine strategies I outline, you're in luck, as I'm putting The Art of the Deload on sale for 25% off - which means that you can pick it up for under $10.  Just enter the coupon code DELOAD at checkout and the discount will be applied. Click here to order now, or click here for more information. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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