Saturday, July 24, 2010

10 things every sound training program should have - Part I

So I had a guy ask me this past week if I would take any requests for articles.  I said sure, and he asked me if I would name of 10 things I thought every good training regiment should have.  This is by no means a "complete" list.  Just a list of things that came immediately to mind.   There will be some overlap in each section but that's ok.  It reinforces the mantra of maximizing your training economy.  And that's always a good thing.

1.  A progression model or scheme - I always come back to the sailor analogy.  No sailor gets on a boat without plotting a course and just drifts aimlessly off into the ocean.  Well, not unless he wants to die.  Whether you are training for a meet, bodybuilding, football, MMA, etc you should have a rhyme and reason as to why you are doing what you are doing, and what the goal is.  Sure some guys just call Monday "bench day" and then Tuesday "arms day" and get big and strong and all of that jazz.  But that doesn't mean it is the most efficient way to train.  You need a plan where you can constantly reference something in the way of measurable progress on the bar.  Doggcrapp constantly tells people to "beat the log book", i.e. constantly get more reps than you did last time or up the weight.  Periodization models have you moving more weight the using fewer reps over a given time.  Bill Starr used a total tonnage model.  The key here is to have something you can in fact reference as measurable progress on the bar.  Period.  If you change exercises every few weeks, and bounce your rep ranges around all the time, how do you know when you progressed, and what caused the progression?  Be smart in your programming.

                                                           Not the sailor of sailors

2.  Pre-habilitation work - I have become a staunch believer in pre-hab work now.  The problem is, you don't always know what overuse injury is lying around the corner.  Then you end up in rehab, not pre-hab mode.  So what to do?  Narrow it down to some of the most common ones we see with training.  

IT Band - Foam rolling + stretching + Single Leg Work (lunging in various directions) - 

Foam roll before and after squats and deads and on days when you do conditioning.  Stretch the IT band and hip flexors and do single leg work.  A lot of IT band problems arise because of dominant leg issues.  If you are using a lot of volume in your training be aware that your dominant leg could end up hurting because of this.  So make sure to use single leg movements to identify your dominant leg, and to try and bring your weaker limb up to speed.  

Shoulder - Shoulder dislocates + cuff stretches + Cuff strengthening 

If you have lifted weights for 17 minutes or more, you have probably experienced some sort of shoulder pain.  Shoulder prehab work is not hard to work into your pressing day and as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Use a band to do shoulder dislocates for 2-3 sets of 15-20.  Do cuff stretching before you press and cuff strengthening after your heavy pressing work.  Stretch your pectorals and lats as well.  Tight lats and pecs often play a big part in shoulders going bad.  You can stretch these in between sets of presses and pulls.  

Lower Back - Piriformis and hip flexor stretching + Upperback and abdominal strengthening 

If there is a constant that I have noticed over the years when it comes to low back "pain" it is that there is no low back problem at all.  Very rarely do people have something actually wrong in the lower back.  The erectors are some of the strongest and most durable muscles in the body.  Maybe the MOST durable.  Generally what I have come to find is that most people have a problem in the piriformis muscle (tightness or strain) and this causes a lot of pain to radiate up and down the lower back.  The pain FEELS like a lower back strain, but the actual cause is generally the piriformis.  If you don't believe me, the next time you think you have "strained" your lower back, sit in a chair and cross your leg on top of the other.  Now push down on the knee of the cross leg.  This will probably cause the pain to increase.  This is because your piriformis is the culprit.  If you spend a few minutes a day doing this simple stretch your "low back pain" will get better quickly.  Strengthening the abdominals and upperback significantly will also work wonders for keeping your low back healthy because of posture.  Do you think being overpronated in the shoulders and hunched over does good things for your low back?  No, probably not.   Lots of upperback and rear delt work will improve your posture and will also help to distribute the load better across the torso, alleviating some of the load the lower back has to do.  In other words, getting your yoke as diesel as possible actually serves a prehabilitation purpose as well.  

Tennis/Golfers Elbow - Forearm stretching + forearm strengthening 

This one is a little newer for me but I've talked to a lot of guys that struggled with this for long periods and let me tell you, it can be a bitch-n-a-half.  Picking up a gallon of milk out of the fridge will send shock waves through your arm and elbow.  This is not fun.  Lots of guys say "I don't need forearm work with all of the gripping I do."  That gripping is actually part of the problem.  An overuse of those areas combined with the forearm not being able to keep up with the tremendous amounts of poundage the other large muscles of the body can move repetitively and BAM, you have tennis/golfers elbow.  Take a few minutes before and after each pulling/pushing session to perform some forearm stretches and some really basic forearm work like wrist curls.  This will go a long ways in terms of keeping your elbows from feeling like they have blow torches on them every time you press heavy.   

                                                   This should become your friend

3.  A select number of compound movements you can do pain free - This comes back to what I always refer to as training economy.  The most bang for your buck.  Whether you are a bodybuilder or powerlifter or just a guy training to look better for women (or dudes, not that there's anything wrong with that /Seinfeld reference) maximizing training economy is always smart.  So finding all of the big movements that you can do, pain free, that maximizes your training economy is of utmost importance.  

Now if you aren't a competitive powerlifter, you don't need to squat/bench/deadlift if one of those lifts causes you some sort of "bad pain".  If you fell out of a tall building onto your back and it's all Lee Majors back there now, then you don't need to squat and deadlift with a loaded bar if that causes you discomfort.  I am currently training a young lady that suffered sports injury to her spine that prohibits her from loading the spine, as in a barbell squat.  Since she just wants to get in more awesome shape, I don't need a barbell squat.  I use speed skater squats, lunges of various kinds, and a host of other things that work awesome for her.

So be smart about training economy in terms of picking lifts that are pain free and joint friendly for you, that also offer the most training economy.  If that means smith machine decline is the only pressing you can do heavy and pain free, and you aren't competing in powerlifting, then do it.  I could give a shit less what some guys who think they are king shit have to say about it.  And you shouldn't give a shit either.  Train in a way that is best for you.

If this the best thing you can do, then tell everyone else to go smell camel testicles.  

4.  A built in deload period - I'm not big on deloads.  So why is this in there?  Because I do believe it has to be in there somewhere.  I am just not big on the once a month deload.  I know some guys do really well with if.  I always found that it set me back.  Once I got the train out of the station and moving fast on the tracks, I always liked to ride it out until the coal was pretty much gone.  And THEN I would take a week or so off.  Some guys say that the every 4th week deload keeps you from overtraining, but I found about week 4,5,6 in a training cycle is generally when I start really getting into the groove of things.  So I always planned to think about a week off about every 8-9 weeks, rather than 4.  When I was running DoggCrapp training I would sometimes run for months on end.  I didn't feel burnt out, I wasn't injured, and I kept making progress.  Like I always say, strike the iron when it's hot.  

Try the every 4th week deload and see if you like it.  Then play around with a 6th week or 8th week.  Make notes of how many good vs bad training sessions you had during certain weeks and how you felt.  This will help give reenforcement on what is really working in that way, for you.

5.  A conditioning plan - This has nothing to do with post shampoo stuff.  As Dave Tate noted lately, the days of the fat-ass, bloated, can't walk without breathing heavy powerlifter are gone.  First off, no one wants to see that shit, second, the guys getting the exposure in the sport LOOK like they are strong.  Not like they live at a buffet 10 times a week.  

One of the reasons I chose the name for this blog, regardless of all of the negative connotations that come with the term "functional strength" is something Jim told me that made perfect sense.  He said that when he squatted a grand that he realized not too long after that, that all of the strength he had built was completely worthless for anything except waddling up to a bar and squatting it.  He couldn't move, he couldn't breath, he felt like shit.  And this is what non-functional strength is.  If you breath heavy walking up a couple flights of stairs, I don't care how strong you are, when you get put into a situation where the oxygen is sucked right out of you, all of that strength will be rendered meaningless.  

You don't have to train like you are trying out for the Olympics 200 meter team, but you need to do something that lets you get more work put in at the weight room, and something that makes you feel better as well.  As I like to say "you can't kick much ass in a grave."  

So what can you do?  

Hill sprints 2X a week - after lower bodyworkouts
Walking with a weighted vest, or if you're really a fat ass, just power type walking, 3X a week
Sled pulling
Prowler Pushes
Sledge Hammer on tire stuff

Pick something to do a few times a week and go after it hard for 20 minutes or so.  And don't bitch about your lifts taking a hit.  I swear lifters are some of the biggest crybabies in the world sometimes.  Yeah they will take a hit.  Why?  Because you're out of condition.  They will come back in short order once your body adjusts.  Second, even if it means 10 pounds off of your bench, a more physically conditioned body is better in every way.  

Find a hill, run up it.  Rinse and repeat until you become more awesome.  Or stay a heavy breathing fat ass.  All up to you.


  1. Paul,

    I agree 100% on the deload part. I would do the every 4th week thing and always come back feeling lethargic and out of the groove. Good article.

  2. Yup some guys do great on the 4th week deload but I constantly felt like it set me 2 steps back. When I start lifting heavy a big part is mental. So when I would walk in and take weight off the bar the next week, putting 90+% back on seemed more daunting than before, and WAY harder.

  3. Good to see the mention of conditioning. Too many people are walking time bombs because they think they can eat double quarterpounders every day as long as they lift.

    Also, like the comment on how all that strength means shit when you are gassed out.

    For these reasons and more my training has changed dramatically.


  4. Great shit Paul, as usual!

    Can't wait for the second and perhaps third part..

    Maybe i'm wrong, and if so, do tell.. but I see you didn't mention Calf stretches, ankle mobility or anything about Hamstring strength/flexibility/stabiity..

    Do you think that doesn't matter, or is there another reason you didn't include this?

    For example, my tigh ankles have really screwed with my squat, and it wasn't until I started to do calf stretches that my depth problems went away.

    Also, I have had very tight hams.. first they were weak, then they were tight.

    Any similar experiences?


    Mark from Holland

  5. Tight calves and hams are pretty straight forward. The ones I touched on tend to be the ones I think most people have trouble finding out what to do.

    Although tight hams could be more related to tight hip flexors and glutes in your case. Maybe try stretching your hip flexors then doing some glute specific work for while.

  6. I like your tips! Yes you are definitely right that the we need to be comfortable and feel better with the training we are doing. A good note on that!