Long-term Programming. Part 2.
Every time we train we wear down our bodies a little more, and over the years it accumulates and causes problems as we go on. High volumes, poor technique, poor recovery, and heavy loads all contribute to the wear and tear you create. I call this Physical Tax Debt (PTD). As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, most of us aren’t going to be elite in the next year or two — it’s going to take a long time to get there — so we need to maximize our training for as long as possible in order to be as consistent as we can be. Getting injured puts a rather large monkey wrench in that whole thing. So how do we avoid getting injured? Well one great way is to do less overall work.
“But then we won’t get stronger. We HAVE to train a lot to get stronger. NO LIGHT DAYS BROSKI.”
This is the motto of most lifters in the gym. At the beginning of their training journey’s they tend to get stronger a bit quicker than most people. But the longer you’re in the game, the more you see them fizzle out, stall, quit, get divorced etc. A few of them keep training and it legitimately works well for them — but they are the exception.
So how do we do less work, and still get stronger?
Learn to get the most out of the work you do.
As I mentioned earlier, technique, load, volume, and recovery all factor in to your body’s PTD. In order to maximize our lower volumes, we need to maximize our execution of the above variables.
If your technique is awful, it puts a lot of undue stress on different structural components, and can make the lift harder than necessary which puts extra stress on your nervous system. Better technique allows you to train the lifts more efficiently.
A lot of people take the issue of technique much too far in one way or another:
“Technique is everything!”
“Technique is for the weak!”
And just like everything else in life, the answer lies in the middle. Technique is something that needs to be honed over time. The more advanced you are, the better your technique needs to be. So everyone should really be making a conscious effort to consistently improve their technique over time. Focussing on one or two cues per lift is more than enough if you’re doing it consistently. DO NOT try to re-invent your entire lift because you saw a YouTube video about the posterior chain or low-bar squats, or anything else. Apply subtle changes to your squat to move your technique in the right direction. This will take a long time to get right, but by consistently improving little by little, you will improve by a great amount over the years. This way, by the time you could be considered “Advanced” you will have your technique dialed in.
If your technique is awful, it puts a lot of undue stress on different structural components, and can make the lift harder than necessary which puts extra stress on your nervous system. Better technique allows you to train the lifts more efficiently. But to get there, you need to consciously and consistently improve over time. It will not happen overnight. Nothing ever does.
I’ve written an entire article on recovery, located at https://medium.com/@alex_ayliffe/recovery-624326cd6643#.9xb9iqb3m.
If you do not have your recovery on track, you are missing out on at least 50% of getting bigger and stronger. That needs to be addressed before anything else.
“Volume and Load”
Volume and load are two of the main variables in program design, the third being frequency. The heavier the weights you use, and the more of them you move, the more stress you accumulate on the body’s nervous and structural systems. So we want to learn how to get the most training stimulus, with the least structural stress we can. One of the best ways we can do that, is to ensure quality repetitions. Technique, as I mentioned earlier, plays into this in a large way. Your technique ensures you are training how you want to train, without unwanted consequences. Technique also allows better control of the weights.
Another factor in optimizing our reps, would be bar speed. We can alter bar speed depending on our desired effect. You can move weights as fast as possible to get stronger. You can emphasize the negative to get bigger. You can use pause work to increase time under tension with lighter loads and to reinforce technique.
Speed Kills, but who’s tryin’?
Bad Joke. Megadeth sucks.
It’s been called many different things:
Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)
But they are all the same. They are all built around Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion, which can be simplified to the equation:
“Force = Mass x Acceleration”
The basic idea, is attempt to move weights as fast as possible, accelerating through the lift. This produces the most force with every rep we do. There are plenty of studies out there now to show that the direct intention of speed produces better results for strength training. But honestly, it’s not rocket science. When you push harder, you recruit more muscle to move the weight, the more muscle gets stronger. This technique allows you to use lighter weights while still exerting high forces.
In order to properly execute very forceful reps, your technique needs to be dialed in so you can control the weight. People tend to throw control/technique out the window when they are told to be explosive. DO NOT DO THIS. Control the weights through the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement, and keep your technique intact while forcefully reversing the weight and accelerating through the entire range of motion.
A great way to teach you to be more explosive is to begin incorporating jumps into your training. A few sets of 3 at the end of your warm-up can go a long way in teaching you how to explode through a lift.
However, most people get a little silly with jump training. They try to jump as high as they can onto boxes or ledges, and end up with their knees as high as their ears to make it onto the platform. This does nothing for power output — it is simply a demonstration of hip flexibility.
I’d personally recommend, that you try to jump onto things and land with knees slightly bent to absorb the impact, but no more than that. You will probably have to check your ego and lower the box height substantially. However you will get much better results this way, as you will be forced to truly explode out of your jump rather than just reach with your feet.
When it comes to gaining mass, Time under tension is a massive factor. Pauses, negatives, and tempo work all work great for hypertrophy. Pauses are also fantastic for emphasizing control and technique. These sorts of things should be utilized while you’re training to get bigger so you can use lighter loads and still tax the hell out of the muscles.
Assistance work especially benefits from these techniques as you never want to hurt yourself doing something silly like a skullcrusher, so lighten up and slow down.
Many times, speedy concentric (Lifting the weight) portions as discussed above are a great idea as well.
Lower slowly and under control, pause, explode.
In Part 3 I’ll discuss my ideas on how to use variations intelligently, when you should(n’t), and why they can come in handy.