Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Should women train like men for strength?

Crossfit takes a lot of heat from people in the strength community.  But so do fitness, figure, and physique competitors.

The parallel between the two tends to be that what they both do is essentially useless in regards to strength training.

Crossfit isn't "specific enough".

Figure, fitness, physique competitors have no idea how to build strength, or aren't strong.  They are "all show and no go".

They said that shit about bodybuilding men for a long time too.  But anyone that really follows the training of high level bodybuilders knows that there are plenty bodybuilders that are strong as shit.  And this whole "all show and no go" shit has gotten on my nerves for years.

Kai Green and Ronnie Coleman aren't strong?  Stan Efferding isn't strong?  Amit Sapir isn't strong?

Try 585x10 on squats belt only.




For months now I've seen women some fitness and physique competitors putting up numbers that rival and even best some of the top powerlifting women.

A few months ago I saw a video of Gillian Ward, currently an NPC Physique competitor whose roots lie in gymnastics and Crossfit, bench press 185 pounds for 15 reps at 132 pounds.

Why don't you let that sink in for a minute before you proceed.

185 for 15 at 132.

Do you know any 132 pound dudes that can do that?  Probably not.

And that's not even her best!




Gillian was kind enough to give me a very in depth look at her training history, and how she has trained throughout it.



  • I began gymnastics at the age of 2 and did tons of conditioning throughout my childhood to help with gymnastics. I was one of the less "graceful" gymnasts on the team so I compensated by getting strong and powerful. My favorite things to do were to run, jump, climb, swing and tumble and I would do it anywhere that I could. I discovered that if I trained to be strong that my gymnastics skills improved. 
  • Most of my training during my early childhood consisted of pull-ups, push-ups, dips, monkey bar climbing, squat jumps, lunges, sit-ups and sprints. 
  • In my 20's I focused on my career and put my own athletic endeavors on the back burner. I continued to train with voracity on a daily basis but had no specific athletic goal. For a few years I dabbled in mixed martial arts, ballroom dance, modern dance and even yoga. I yearned to be an athlete again and found that when I was introduced to CrossFit in 2008.
  • In 2008, I came in third at the CrossFit Games after only 14 weeks of dedicated training. This was because I had spent nearly 30 years at this point honing my physical skills and training. As a child I would day dream about having superhero strength & speed and spent my life chasing it. 
  • CrossFit introduced me to the Olympic lifts and the power lifts. The bodybuilder squats that I had done previously were not legitimate squats. Through CrossFit I fell in love with the barbell. After a few very serious injuries my CrossFit career came to a halt. It was at this juncture that I transitioned to olympic lifting and powerlifting with the guidance of Mark Rippetoe. I met Rip at the 2008 CF games and he wanted me to train for the 2012 London Olympics as a weightlifter but at the time I was not interested.
  • Once I started lifting seriously all of my nagging little injuries were gone and I felt better than I had in years. I no longer felt beat up all of the time. Instead I felt strong and capable. 
  • I have tried several programs with powerlifting as I have progressed from being a novice to being an advanced trainee. I began by running Starting Strength for as long as possible followed by the Texas Method. After I had milked that for all of it's gains I hired professional help to design a program. I used Jim Steel for a while and he drastically upped my volume. After I while I moved on from that and enlisted the help of Matt Reynolds (strong gym). He introduced me to Russian Block periodization which worked well for me. Eventually my husband took the reigns of my programming and then I started doing it myself. 

Some more info on Gillian.  These numbers are ridiculous for dudes at her bodyweight.

Best Competition Lifts (148lb class, raw)
285 Bench
465 deadlift
400 squat

Rep Prs
225 bench for 17 reps
Bodyweight bench for 33 reps
Deadlift 315x 20 reps (at BW of 140, overhand, belt less)

Overhead Press (strict)
185lbs

Max strict Pull-ups (recent)
42

Max weighted chin
135lbs added


When powerlifting I bench 2x week, squat 2x week, press 1x week, deadlift 1x per week. I generally hit some singles and doubles in the 92-102% range of my training based on way phase I'm in and then do volume work in the 70-88% range (anywhere from 4-6 sets per exercise with a rep range of 4-12). During my powerlifting training I also do front squats, rack pulls, RDLs, floor presses, close grip benches, heavy barbell rows, weighted chins and dips. I keep it simple and hit my heavy work first flowed by accessory at high volume. I typically do dedicated training for 12 weeks leading up to a meet.

I transitioned to physique competition this past Spring and have added more "body Part" work though the meat of my training is still the main lifts. Right now I am training for the IFBB North Americans at the end of August in Pittsburgh. My current training cycle looks like this -



Day 1 - "Legs"
Squat - 5x5 heavy
Squat - 2x12 moderate load
Heavy Barbell Walking Lunges - 135lbs 4x20 steps
Super-set - Leg Press, Leg Extensions, some kind of plyo for about three sets of fairly high volume

Day 2 - "Upper/Push Priority"
Bench to a heavy single or some heavy doubles
Bench Volume Work – 3 or 4 sets of 12-15
Barbell press 4x10
Weighted Dips 4x10-15
Incline DB Press superset w/DB shoulder work – 304 sets to failure
One set max push-ups to finish (maybe 100 or more)

Day 3 - "Pull-priority"
Deadlift to a heavy triple or set of 5
Deadlift volume – one single hard set of 10
Legless Rope Climbs x 10to 20 ascents
Weighted Pull-ups or high volume unweighted pull-ups
DB or BB rows – 3-4 sets till failure

Day 4 rest

Gillian Ward


After that the three day split repeats again but I focus on more bodyweight exercises such as handstand push-ups and ring work in place of benching and pressing. I add in DB pressing and benching on these days. I will warm up for these days with some Olympic lifting – maybe snatch & c&J to a heavy single. My second leg day of the week tends to be higher volume, lighter load on the squats and then I do RDL instead of the lunges.

I do not do any direct arm work and focus entirely on large multi joint movements. It is not uncommon for there to be 300-400 pull-ups and 1000 push-ups in a week of training for me. This is very atypical but I have been doing it all my life.

She's not alone.  Susan Salazar, who started out doing figure, fitness, and physique competitions now sits atop the 123 class in powerlifting by totaling a world record 1,000 pounds.

In fact, in the 123 class she out totaled the person closest to her, world record holder in the squat, Caitlyn Trout, by a whopping 53 pounds.  Susan also holds the world record for the deadlift in the 123 class with a ridiculous 427 pounds.

Erin Stern, former Figure Olympia winner, said in Oxygen magazine that she's considering getting into powerlifting herself.  From Oxygen....

“It’s important to keep that competitive outlet, so I’m toying with the idea of doing some powerlifting competitions. I’m benching 165 pounds for reps, I’m squatting 225 for reps, and I just deadlifted almost 300 pounds. My strength is good,” 


These are solid lifts for someone who doesn't specialize in "strength" and weighs something to the tune of 135 pounds or so.  Especially in the bench press.

I chatted briefly a bit with Susan about her transition into powerlifting, and how her training differed from that of when she was doing shows.

Susan Salazar


Me - Ok so you came from figure, fitness, and physique competitors. That's how you got your start. Do you think the kind of training you did for those things carried right over into making you as successful as you've been in powerlifting?


Susan - Yes...I totally agree; that type of training helps "round out" the muscle group for a better performance on platform. We work on our weaker muscles groups that way, so to speak. Also the nutrition aspect of it has a lot to do with performance because I tend maintain a more consistent diet to be able to ease into my weight class rather than try to "cut" a large amount of weight at the end.

Me - So what did your training look like before when you were doing competitions compared to getting ready for meets?

Susan - It was pretty much not a method or style at all. Just a ton of volume (more like BBing) then maxing out wen it can closer to the meet. There wasn't much too it.  I was so new to it...I really wasn't sure what to do. I just continued with my BBing training and my coach fixed my technique so there you go.

Sooooo basically her training didn't change much at all.  She just refined her technique a bit, and off she went.  In other words, her base of strength was built from doing bodybuilding style training.

Now of course, powerlifting and strength sports will probably be dominated top to bottom by women who do just specialize in those areas.  So I'm not saying that physique competitors or Crossfitters have the market cornered on getting strong by any stretch of the imagination.  What I am saying is, their training methods probably do have benefits that powerlifting women could take some notes from.

Physique competitors essentially train like bodybuilders.  Lots of movements, lots of volume, lots of reps.

Crossfit women do a lot of bodyweight work.

Gillian was a gymnast.  So a big part of her "base" was built on tons of volume bodyweight work.

I've said all of this for a while.  In the offseason, powerlifters could and should take a few notes from what bodybuilders, strongmen, and other "strength" enthusiasts do.

For women especially, train to build the musculature involved in the big three, and most importantly in the torso.  At the end of the day, more muscle moves more weight.  There's no getting around that fact.  The bigger and more muscular you are, the higher your strength ceiling will become.  Powerlifting purists sometimes scoff at this.  But no one that got more muscular ever got weaker.  And when you limit yourself mainly to the big three, you're short changing your strength ceiling potential because you don't "fill out" completely.  The stabilizing muscle groups DO MATTER.

Women tend to have more difficulty building upper body strength in comparison to men, because they tend to have a lower proportion of muscle mass in their torso compared to men (ratio wise).  Note this particular study....

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8477683

The greater gender difference in upper body strength can probably be attributed to the fact that women tend to have a lower proportion of their lean tissue distributed in the upper body.
  

You will often read that women should train like men to build strength.  Hell, even I have been guilty of saying this in the past.  But I do believe that women probably need to make some changes in their training in order to account for gender differences.  From an anecdotal standpoint, what I see going on with Physique competitors that cross over into powerlifting tends to back that up.  

Women probably need a LOT more volume and frequency than men to really maximize their upper body strength.  Not only that, they should also concentrate on getting stronger on their bodyweight movements as well.  I can't remember who, but someone once told me in regards to why Crossfit women were so muscular was all of the bodyweight movements they did.  It was something to the effect  of "bodyweight movements turn men into women, and women into beasts."  Some may argue that comment but I got the gist of it, and honestly I pretty much agree with it.  Women tend to do really well in terms of building upperbody strength and mass with high volume bodyweight work.  

To add to that, women also tend to need a significantly higher volume of upperbody work than men do overall.   

That means working the "angles" that bodybuilders talk about so much, doing a lot of rep work, and getting strong at moving your body through space. Where a man can go in and do lots of bench presses and some curls and get fairly jacked looking over time; women tend to need to do a lot of movements for a lot of volume, to really "fill in" all the gaps to achieve jackedness and get more strumpf. 

In my opinion, women should modify their strength training a bit to account for these differences and understand how to benefit from them.  

  • Women might be better off having three to four upperbody days in a week.  Possibly two pressing days, and one or two pulling days.
    • A quick look at Erin Stern's training routine from Bodybuilding.com shows she has three days dedicated to upperbody work.  
    • Monday: Shoulders and Arms
      Tuesday: Plyometric Circuit and Legs
      Wednesday: Rest or Cardio
      Thursday: Back
      Friday: Chest and Shoulders
      Saturday: High-Intensity Interval Cardio
      Sunday: Rest
  • Again by no means am I saying that Erin is the epitome of what a strength athlete is, but doing 165 for reps on bench at 135 or so, is pretty damn good.  Notice she presses twice a week, then does back on another day by itself.  Just something to think about.
  • They would benefit from doing all the various isolation movements that a lot of women in powerlifting ignore because it often gets seen as "fluff" by the men they train with.  But it may benefit the women a lot more by filling in the muscular gaps overall.  In other words, don't ignore flyes, laterals, curls, cables, and machines.  To maximize your upperbody strength and development you will need to do more work than your male counterparts.
  • Women should be including bodyweight movements because I've never seen a female that could do a ton of dips, chins, and push ups that wasn't strong on barbell movements as well.  Some may say that the barbell movements are what make them strong on the bodyweight stuff but I don't agree.  I've generally seen it the other way around.  Gymnasts can move their body through space with speed and power, and I will bet a dollar to a hole in a doughnut that they could easily perform very well immediately on barbell movements.  In contrast, a lot of powerlifting women that gain weight in order to get strong on the powerlifts aren't going to be able to do chins, lots of dips, etc.  Women tend to struggle more with getting stronger on bodyweight stuff than just moving a barbell through space.  I do think they compliment each other very well, so just cover your bases and include both.  
  • None of this means to totally exclude the lower rep ranges.  It just means to INCLUDE a lot of variation, higher reps, frequency, and volume in your upperbody training.

These are just ideas and nothing that was sent down from the Golden Gods. As you can see, the point is to cover all of the ideas touched on above. If you're a female and have been struggling to gain strength on your upperbody movements then the ideas addressed above may be what you need to change in your training to spurn on progress again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's hard to defend Crossfit when....

Shit like this gets passed..........



As most know, I've never been a crossfit basher. I've long said that it's done more for introducing more people to the barbell than anything in the history of strength and physical culture. So that is a good thing.

However, when I see shit like this it makes me shake my head.

This is exactly the thing people often complain about with Crossfit. That there is a "get the reps at all costs" mentality that is to blame for people getting fucked up and injured. And the fact is, that complaint is hard to ignore when people see shit like this, and the lift gets "passed".

Every sport has to have a set of clear cut standards that not only defines how to properly perform in said sport, but also takes into account the safety of the athlete. This is an example of where that is clearly ignored.

And before someone throws out the "you go down and judge then" bullshit, I don't need to be there judging to know this kind of shit is bad for the athlete.

Crossfit is here to stay whether you like it or not. Therefore what we should concentrate on instead of bashing it, is offering suggestions how to make it more structured and safer for the men and women that lay it on the line in these competitions. It would be infinitely better that Crossfit judged a deadlift in the same manner powerlifting does to eliminate confusion about whether the lift is good, and it would also improve safety for the athletes.

Not to mention that this shit is just ugly.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

LRB Q&A

Do you think novices in their 30s and 40s should train the same as younger novices? Should novice and less expericed trainees at above 20 percent body fat work to increase their strength to a certain level or concentrate on becoming lean first?

For the most part, all novice trainees should train similar.  Unless there are serious extremes in ages or injury history, i.e. a 10 year old or 80 year old.

The best thing about being novice is that if you're overweight you get a nice window where you can indeed lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.  It won't be equal, mind you.  But it will be one of the few times where you can pull this off.  So yes, a novice that is above 20% bodyfat (male) should get their diet in order to lose the fat.


What do you find works best to increase your ability to hold onto the bar on the deadlift as the weight gets heavy? 
Special grip exercises, deadlift holds, ect ect.
Thank you in advance for your advice.

I've never had a grip problem.  Never lost a deadlift due to grip, but the one thing I have used with people is to do dumbbell holds for time.  Find the heaviest pair you can and hold them for as long as possible.  Do that twice a week and try to beat the time each week.


What's the carry over of deficient deadlifts been for you?

I do all of my deadlifts from a deficit.  Very small for regular deadlifts, and a big deficit for stiff legs.  Since I never pull from the floor it's hard to say.

1. What training programs and templates do you think work well together?

I don't know what this means.  I am vehemently against combining training programs.  Do them AS WRITTEN.

2. Do you feel there is a large difference between doing pyramid sets verses sets of the same reps but increasing weight each set?

They both have benefits and drawbacks.  If you want to sort of "pre-fatigue" yourself by staying with the same rep range all the way to the top set, you can.  If you want to save a little more for the top sets, then pyramiding is probably a better way to "warm up".

3. What is your stance on assistance work, are rep ranges as important with these as with the Big Lifts? Should you be consistent and follow the same exercises week by week? (I feel this is probably dependent on your goals: ie: BB, PL, Strongman)

It all depends on what support work you are doing, and why.  For example, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would do sets of 6 on leg extensions.  Single joint movements don't tend to lend themselves to lower reps.  Where multi joint movements tend to like both high and low reps.  However some multi joint movements, like say front squats, tend to work better with lower rep ranges because of limiting factors (in this case, holding the bar).

Have you ever thought about doing a publicly posted skype conversation with pete rubish about gear usage? Both of you have done this but it seems that each you guys were the only knowledgeable person in each interview. It'd be a nice change of pace to see both parties bringing good information to the table. Stop yelling.

I can always ask Pete about it.

Pausing every rep for high rep sets on bench(8+) vs touch n go?

I like to pause ALL my reps on bench.  I feel like that is a great way to build power and speed from the bottom.  But if you're using the bench for hypertrophy reasons then touch and go would work well.

For someone who's been lifting for several years specifically for hypertrophy stimulation, that is now wanting to move toward powerlifting, what program and changes to lifting style should be made?

You need to focus on the big three, obviously.  You need to learn the difference in "moving weight" vs making the muscle work.  For example, bodybuilders can/do use the bench press to make the pecs work.  However in powerlifting the bench press involves everything from the legs for initial drive, and more tricep involvement.


What is your opinion of "pre-exhaustion", for mass gain purposes?

I did lots of that back in the day, and liked it a lot.  I did very well with pre-exhaustion.

High bar vs low bar squat as far as power output

All depends on the leverage of the lifter, and how they are built.  There have been lots of great high bar squatters, and lots of great low bar squatters.  My advice is to do both throughout the year.  Possible even in the same workout.  One thing I like to do is to do my pause squats high bar, but my meet training squats low bar.

Knee sleeves- elitefts or rehbands. 

I don't even own a belt, Andrew.

Any new music you're listening to for training lately

Lots of Trivium and Five Finger Death Punch.

Thoughts on including body weight movements outside of training ex. Push-ups sit ups pull ups during a base building phase.

I would like push ups as a bench day finisher.  Sit ups are an all around good movement no matter what people say.  There are a lot of muscle involved in a sit up.  Not to mention that it IS a very "functional" movement.  After all, "sitting up" is something you have to actually do every day.

Chins of course are awesome.


Lifting with knee pain

Depends on where it is.  If it's under the knee and feels like patella then get a brace for it.  If it's above the knee it could likely be IT band or even hip flexor related.  Lots of times pain radiates into an area above or below the actual problem area.

have you got any thoughts on groin hernias and recovery from surgery or nerve pain stemming from said operation? wondering if you have spoken to others that have experienced this?

Never dealt with that.

how is your training schedule? do you rotate the "big" exercises while using the base building model? squat bench deads front squatoverhead press sldl incline.

Generally it's lower body one day, upperbody the next day.  If my legs don't feel recovered I will throw in an extra upperbody day before another leg session.  But it's usually something like more back or arm work.

Other than discipline and sticking it out to it is there anything that you do to help with dieting down. You look like you did it with ease.

First thing I did was just cut out ALL junk.  No ice cream, no candy bars, etc.  Then after that I actually switched over to the diet Mike created for me.  Which was essentially no carbs on non-training days, then carbs mostly based around the training window.

Jonnie Candito - How big is your penor?

Slightly over 7".  I left your name in there Jonnie so that everyone knew you asked about my pinnis.

In general, what are some of the main underlying factors of hip hip pain at the bottom of a squat/hip impingement?

Generally that is related to glute medius/piriformis.  The best thing about that is, the same stretch tends to fix the issue.  Look up piriformis stretches and do some everyday.  It's an easy fix.

How do you effectively peak/prepare while avoiding over-training prior to a meet?

You DO need to overreach before a meet.  That's how super compensation kicks in if you time it properly.

What is your opinion on oly shoes for squatting?

If you squat like an Oly lifter, closer stance and more upright, then they tend to work well.  If you're a really wide squatter then I think people do better with more flat soled shoes.

How can a less experienced athlete (in terms of nutrition) calculate a reasonable amount of carbs for a refeeds and when should redress be done?

That's a very in depth question.  Ask my diet coach Mike Israetel.

For the over warm ups how much, percentage wise, should you go over your work set roughly?

Generally it's in the range of about 85%.

How would you rate a guy ready to use the Base Building? 
I mean, with which 1rms on big-3 at bw

If he has to ask if he's strong enough use it, he might not be.  However I've used it with fairly novice guys with great success as well.

Any merit to increasing squatting frequency and volume when a goal is systemic hypertrophy? Example going from conjugate style to 3x per week waving volume and intensity. going to work on mass for 12-18 weeks before beginning base building

Sounds like a bit of chronic routine changing to me.  Conjugate to 3X a week of madcow type stuff, then Base Building.  Mass training is largely dependent on calorie intake.  No mass building routine is going to work on a calorie deficit.  That being said, I prefer medium to high reps on multi-joint movements for mass training.  I'm not a big fan of squatting and pressing multiple times a week for "mass training".  Those kinds of programs are generally in place for practicing the lift.  Sure, you may gain some mass as side effect of it, but there is a reason why bodybuilding routines have stood the test of time for mass gain.

How to tackle the "dont ask, dont tell" culture of steroid use we currently have. It was really refreshing hearing you talk to Bret about this.

People just need to be educated better.  The media is still fairly ignorant about anabolics and still acts as if they are these horrible substances that are only used by people with low morals/cheaters.

Not progressing on OHP - even after resetting weight and building back up, any suggestions?

Overhead press with more volume, and multiple times a week, but keep bar speed good.  Don't grind out reps.  Lots of triples and sets of five.

How do you recommend a powerlifter eat the day before and during the day of a competition?

That depends on if he has been cutting weight or not.  If not, then he needs to stick with the foods he or she has been eating normally.  Don't all of a sudden add in something you weren't eating on a regular basis.  The last thing you want the day before or day of the meet is a case of the shits because of some new "super food" you had not been eating.  If you aren't cutting weight, then I suggest eating foods high in sodium to get somewhat bloated.  That does indeed help with lifting.  But you can do this by simply adding salt to healthy food choices as well.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Client's first meet success story

The last few months I have worked with a client who did his first meet last weekend.

To say he did well is a gross understatement. He went 9 for 9 with PR's on his squat and bench, and honestly, we undershot his deadlift so badly I am ashamed. I know people talk about leaving a lot on the platform, and most of the time it's to make themselves feel better, but watch his third deadlift here at 500....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyX-Fey1od4&feature=youtu.be

That was his previous best deadlift while he was fresh, and before he started working with me. He pulled it in the meet like an empty bar. He squatted 425 as well, and could have easily done 450.

Here is his write up about the last few months of working together....


-----------------------------------------------

I first worked with Paul in September of 2013; at the time I had a sloppy, nowhere close to depth squat, and a deadlift that wasn't much better. That first three months saw my training loads cut way back while he worked to overhaul my technique. By the end of it I was squatting my previous "PR" correctly, and had increased my deadlift by close to 50 lbs.

Around the beginning of the year I made the decision to enter my first powerlifting meet, the Texas Firefighter Summer Games, so I once again contacted Paul to help me prepare. Over the next six months he utilized his Basebuilding method to get me ready. With his constant coaching on technique, and exceptional ability to program my loads I was basically able to train non-stop until time for the meet. The results of this method blew my mind. I came into the meet stronger than either of us expected setting a 15 lb PR on bench, and a 20 lb on my squat. I totaled 1200 (425s, 275b, 500d), took gold in my weight class, and after every third attempt I knew without a doubt that I had more in me. During that 6 months of basebuilding I only pulled over 400 a handful of times, only squatted 405 twice, and maybe benched 260 once, if that. I'm proof the Basebuilding system works, I consistently worked sub max loads, and still posted 2 PRs, and still left a lot of weight on the platform.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Training - Db Bench and shit

Training tonight -

Db Bench Press -

30's x 50
60's x 20, 10
100's x 8

140's x 13.5, 10
100's x 31

Incline Press - 225 x 25, 17

Barbell Curls - empty bar x 100

Notes - BLLLARG. Awful. Totally thought the first set would be an easy 15. Then as they started slowing down, in my head I literally thought "what the fuck? NO! It's just the 140's!"

Oh well. My elbows have been a bit achy so I am going to drop barbell bench for a few weeks for some db bench just as a change of pace. I will still incline press and do PBN as they bother my elbows less. I want to do the 140's x 20.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Training around pain - My article at strengthsensei.com

Go check it out.

http://www.strengthsensei.com/training-around-pain/

Minimalist vs Maximalist

Everything in lifting, bodybuilding, fitness, etc eventually comes full circle.  Mainly because there's nothing new under the sun in the ways of lifting and hasn't been in quite some time.  But as humans we get bored rather easily and need to constantly drum up topics to create discourse about.  Our little world of lifting weights is no exception to that rule.

Younger lifters who weren't around in the 80's or that weren't lifting in the 90's probably don't realize that all of the studies and debates and arguments they get into on the net, have already been hashed out a multitude of times in the past.

All of the "unique" and new training programs that pop up are just recycled versions of routines and programs that existed 20, 30, even 40 years ago.  And all of the arguments and debates you see raging today were already raged many years ago.

Yet the arguing continues.  SERENITY NOW!

Lately, the argument against "minimalist training" has popped back up, which of course can't happen unless "minimalist training" is being used, and used effectively.  Because anytime something works, it has to be torn down and shown to be largely ineffective.  Even if it's effective.

One of the issues I have with the entire debate is...what is minimalist training?  

Is it limiting the number of movements you perform?

Is it limiting the number of days you train?

Is it related to volume, i.e. how much you do or how little you do?

Is it training that means one is not doing enough to obtain results?

Is it simple all of the above?

And what about "maximalist" (I totally just made that word up) training?  What the hell is that?

Is it doing more than you need to do?

Is it going above and beyond the requirements for growth and strength?

Is it training 5 days a week?  10 times a week?

Is it doing volume within a particular range?

Because a training program or method has several moving parts (the principles that define it), I think it's hard to completely nail down a specific property in a program that wholly defines what minimalist or maximalist training is.

For example, in Base Building, on bench day you generally bench, perform a pulling movement, then some support work (though not a lot).

The lifters that follow a method that has them doing two, three, or even four compound pressing movements in a single session might call that minimalist training.  Even though, depending on what model you are using in Base Building, you could be doing upwards of 10 sets of bench press.

To the guy that does 1 or 2 working sets of bench press, he might call that "maximalist" training.

I could go on and on and on all day about this and offer examples then counter examples, but the fact is, one mans maximalist training is another mans minimalist training, and vice versa.  

So we'd really have to define it from a principles perspective.

From my friend and ultra-freak Alex Viada...

"See, to me, minimalist training is really just doing what's effective. Honestly, doing the minimum needed for the intended result - targeting a specific training effect in each workout, and ending once that effect is reached. Not simply doing additional work for the sake of work."

The key word there is "effective".  I think at the heart of the matter, the principles behind "minimalist" training for many, is to do the least amount of work to achieve the greatest degree of effectiveness.

On the flip side, I believe the people that espouse maximalist training believe that they too are looking for what is most effective.

So who is right?  

It appears to me, they both are.  

The people who oppose doing the minimal amount to reach a desired result might throw out words like "lazy" or draw some kind of unsubstantiated parallel like "great workers don't show up for a job and just do the minimal amount.  They go above and beyond."

The problem there is that going above and beyond at Office Max doesn't have physiological factors that are part of the training equation.

"Johnny, can you scan these documents for one of our customers?"

"Sorry Boss.  I've done all the copying I can for the day.  If I scan one more document my CNS is going to be fried, and I doubt I'd be able to scan effectively tomorrow."  

"I understand, Johnny.  You're doing a bang up job.  Get some rest and food in you, maybe some BCAA's, and come back hard in the paint tomorrow.  Be looking for a sit down next week to talk about that promotion."  

I feel like that's just not a conversation that is ever going to happen in a work setting.  So let's cut the ridiculous comparisons and bullshit.

A better non-lifting comparison would be akin to that of someone trying to climb a mountain.  If the goal is to reach the pinnacle of the mountain, my guess is (and I'm only guessing because I've never climbed a mountain) the mountain climbers plot the most effective and efficient way to climb the mountain.  I assume they didn't try to figure out the most difficult way to get to the top, i.e. the path that took the greatest amount of energy, supplies, effort, and time, and offered the greatest amount of resistance.

Training should mirror that mode of thinking.  If you have a goal, then your entire plan should be focused on reaching that goal with the least amount of energy, effort, and time spent.  This does not mean there isn't great effort applied, or very little energy spent.  It means, you do what it takes to get from point A to point B, without traveling to point C and D first.

And here's how we arrive at the problem.  The two words there that people end up arguing about are, "least amount."

The "least amount" could be a LOT of work.  It could mean training six times a week, or more.  It could mean doing an inordinate amount of volume.  It could mean training twice a day at times.  Depending on the goal, it might require an enormous amount of work and effort.  Yet at the heart of it all, that enormous amount might have been the minimal amount required in order to reach said goal.  Less than that might not have yielded the desired effect the trainee was wanting.

So aren't both camps simply asking what is the most efficient and optimal way to train to reach results as quickly as possible?

I believe they are.

You see, I don't think the maximalist camp is saying you need to find the most difficult way up the mountain. I don't believe they are espousing that you need to go to point C and D in order to get from A to B.  I believe they want you to ask yourself how much you can do in order to become the very best you can be.

At the heart of the matter, it's really semantics.

"Do the least amount to achieve the most efficient results."

"Do the maximal amount you can withstand to achieve the most efficient results."

But what if the same conclusion can be arrived at from answering both statements?  

For example, when Stan Efferding broke the powerlifting total in the 275 class he said he trained twice a week.  He deadlifted one week, and squatted the next week.  At his age, and level of strength and muscular development, he couldn't train more often than that.

Was he doing the minimal amount required for success?

Was he doing the maximal amount he could take?

The answer to both questions appears to be..."yes."

My thinking is, there's not always a disconnect between these ideologies.  Where the disconnect comes into play is when someone under performs because they didn't train enough, or trained too much.

At that point, the minimalist training zealots scream "see, you overtrainined!"

And the maximalist training zealots scream, "you didn't train enough!"

What both sides are missing is that the athlete simple didn't train efficiently.  He or she could have trained too much or too little.  Or there could be a myriad of other factors that caused the person to under perform, or not progress.

Let's find the common ground both sides can agree upon.

You can train so little that results or progress is null, or negligible.

You can train so much that results or progress is null, of negligible.

Stating the obvious, neither are desirable.  More is not always better, and less isn't always better either.  Efficiency won't always be defined by quantity, or lack of it.  It is defined by the results produced.  At times, that will require more work, and at other times, less work.

Finding what is most efficient, and the most optimal is really what both sides are looking for.  So how do we arrive at that conclusion?

There are a few factors we need to look at in regards to how to structure our training.  

Trial and error - The only way to really find out how effective or ineffective something is, is to try it.  And it must be given a fair period of time in order for you to give a truly fair opinion about it.  There's nothing worse than reading that someone tried a particular routine or program for three weeks and that it sucked.

Any program or routine you plan on trying has to be given a fair chance to succeed or fail.  A legitimate time frame in my opinion is a minimum of six weeks.  Ten to twelve weeks is probably more ideal but most guys these days can't even read an article half the time without writing "tl;dr".


Sustainability and duration -  Any training program or method should be done with specific goals in mind.  When deciding on those goals, a time frame should be part of making that determination.  The sustainability will often dictate the time frame in which you can stay dedicated to a particular training method.

For example, if the training method you decide upon is skull fucking brutal, then you might not be able to stay dedicated to it for a lengthy period of time without needing to take more time off here and there.

If you are running a peaking cycle that lasts for 5-8 weeks, then you may be training with more volume and intensity than usual.  If you're planning a cycle that is much longer, you may need to adjust the frequency, intensity, and volume of the program so that it will be more result producing.

If your routine is filled with tons of perceived intensity techniques such as forced reps, drop sets, giant sets, and rest/pause then you'll probably need to deload from it more often than a routine with straight sets that leave a few reps in the tank.

Either way, sets specific goals and then base your training around reaching those goals within a specific time frame.  This should give you a far better idea of what training should look like, or how it should be phased.  This is a great first step in creating an efficient training model.

Drive/Desire/Buy in - No matter what, if you don't believe that a training method will be effective, it won't be.  Call it placebo effect if you want, but there's clearly some evidence to support the notion that if you believe something will work, then it will.

I've seen the training programs of some dudes that looked like total shit on paper that they made great gains from.  Because they BELIEVED it would work.  Their desire and drive to make it work was very strong.  So guess what?  It did.

I don't know why someone would be running a training program they didn't think would work, but it does happen.  I also don't know why someone would have a crazy hard on for a training program that wasn't based in sound principles, but that happens as well.  I mean Zumba classes are filled up all across the country with women who want that "long, lean muscle look." who fail to understand that shit is obtained out in that weight room area.

Regardless of those factors, you need to fully believe in your training program or routine, and pour yourself into it.  If not, then it's going to be difficult to understand if the training program itself had flaws that made it ineffective, or if it was just your lack of effort and desire that was the problem.

Experience, age, injury history, and ability of the athlete - One of the biggest factors in determining how much or little someone needs, is the qualification of the athlete.  Novice lifters with little strength can usually train far more often, with far more volume in a higher intensity range than very experienced lifters that efficient in their movements.  In other words, less qualified lifters need more time "practicing" the movements, where very strong people may need less time in that area.

A very novice lifter may be able to do a lot of work in the 90+% range of his max, multiple times a week.  Where a guy that is squatting over 800 probably isn't going to be able to do that.  And no, exceptions do not count.

The age of a lifter is going to come into play as well.  There were methods of training in my 20's that were highly productive that I could not use today.  Likewise, the way I train today probably isn't what I needed the most during my early 20's.

Injuries will also play a significant role in regards to training efficiency.  At this stage in my training I cannot press heavy multiple times a week because of my geriatric elbows.  Yet my pressing is stronger than it has ever been.  My guess is, having to train in a way that keeps my elbows from hurting hasn't kept my press down, but actually helped it.  When I was younger, I needed to train my press more often for it to progress.  Now that I'm approaching 40, with 90 year old elbows, that's not "right" for me.

This comes back to the old adage that we all need different things at different times.  The guy chasing his first 405 squat is going to need very different things than the guy chasing his first 800 pound squat.  Trying to apply the same principles to both lifters doesn't make a great deal of sense.

You as a lifter have to be introspective and honest enough with yourself to understand where you are at in your training ability, and make sound decisions based on that in order to program effectively.  If you're trying to go from squatting 350 to 400, then mirroring the training style of a guy that is trying to go from 800 to 850 is probably not what you need.  Just because it's 50 pounds for each of you doesn't mean it requires the same training model.

Asking the right questions to get the right answers - You can't end up with the correct answers if you aren't asking yourself the right questions.

For example, if you ask yourself why you are front squatting, and the answer is "well so-n-so does, and he squats a zillion." then that's not a great answer.  You are not so-n-so, and as I addressed, modeling your own training after that of someone else, who is in a very different stage of training is not a great idea.

You need to have an individualized answer for all of the right questions.

"Why am I doing front squats?  Because I need more quad development."

"Why do I need more quad development?  Because strong legs help the deadlift off the floor, and of course, helps you squat more."

Have a solid reason for why you are doing everything you are doing.  Sets, reps, movements, volume, frequency, and intensity.  Everything in your training should exist for a specific reason.  Not because you picked it out of a hat, or just arbitrarily put something down on paper.

The most important question is "am I training efficiently, and optimally?"

That may mean at times you need to do less, and at other times you need to do more.  There is no cookie cutter answer here.  Sometimes optimal training could require you to do very little.  And at other times, you may have to do more than you've ever done before.  But all of that revolves around the things I wrote about above.  Your age, ability, experience level, injury history, recovery ability, and a host of other factors.

Conclusion - 

Everyone is looking for the same thing.  Which is the best way to train to reach their goals in the fastest manner possible.  The problem is, the answer to that question is going to vary throughout the course of training life.  What you need today, may not be what you need next year, or five years from now.


Don't get caught up in the mode of thinking that you have to constantly do more work, because that may not be what you need.  And don't think that doing less is always the proper answer either.  Those are moving targets that on the surface, offer baseless answers.  You should really be in search of the quickest way to reach the small goals that add up to the big ones.  Along the way, training will evolve and change.  No one has an answer locked down here, and anyone that tells you they do is being terribly disingenuous.