Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Base building part 8 - Consistency trumps all - section A

Anytime you look for a list in regards to the most important facets in achieving success, regardless of the endeavor, you will undoubtedly find that consistency tops the list, or is near the top.

If it doesn't, I'm not sure what potato was filling out that list.

I realized just recently, that everyone talks about consistency and the importance of it, yet no one talks about how to build consistency into programming, or somehow account for it.  Consistency has become a mantra, or a "mindset".  It's just something people say that sounds important, because well, it is.  However no one really bothers to put a stamp on what that means.

"Well, train a lot.  Don't miss workouts."

"Thanks for that knowledge bomb.  Where'd you park the car Dick Tracy?"

It's only a virtue if you're not a screw up

If consistency is the most important piece in training, or one of the most important pieces in productive training, then how do we actually plan for it?  How do we build a training methodology around being consistent?

The main thing you have to do first, is outline the things that cause you to be inconsistent in your training.

After that you have to redefine what consistent productive training is.  Because you can consistently train poorly or in an unproductive manner.

For each person trying to reach their strength, fitness, muscular goals, there will be factors that cause inconsistency that is unique to them.  If you're the guy that does binge drinking each weekend, then pays for it for a few days, I can't account for that in a cookie cutter program.  You have to understand all of the things that you do, from an individualistic standpoint, that short circuits consistency in your training.

For example, I have struggled with insomnia for most of my life.  I know during meet prep it's vitally important that I not do things to hurt my sleep cycle.  Once I get into what I call "sleep debt", it can takes me days to get back out of it.  I generally cause this to happen on the weekends, when I might stay up later than usual watching movies, or being out with friends.  I have to be more cognizant of my behavior during this time lest I get into said sleep debt and end up having poor training sessions due to it.

I can't name all of the things unique to you that might cause your training to be inconsistent.  You will need to perform some genuine introspection about what those things may be, and what you need to do to rectify those problems.  That part is up to you.  However we can outline some general issues that keep your training from being consistently productive.

I can't proceed forward however, without also addressing what "productive" means as well.

For most guys, productive training sessions fall into a vacuum.  In other words, they look at productive training as single session events.  This is one of the reasons that training with damn near maximal intensities has become such a huge trend in training methodologies these days.  Because the big picture in training gets lost, and the only thing that matters is THAT DAYS training.  It doesn't matter if that days training causes so much fatigue that few other productive training sessions can be had for the next 3,5,7,10 days.  All that matters if that you pulled that max dead or pressed that max bench.


This is akin to running a company that mass produces something, and every time you can, you bust the workers asses for as many hours as they can work, push the machines to maximum working capacity until they break or damn near break, then wonder why the hell everything isn't working at the same level the next day?

What is the outcome of this?

Employee turnover becomes high because people quit, mechanics must be paid for broken equipment, and production slows or comes to a halt until people can be replaced and machines are working normally again.  So what does this company do after things are back in place?  They repeat the cycle.  Sure, some production occurs, but eventually over time you have more days where production is poor than optimal, and you never get above a general baseline of "less than optimal".

I'm beating you to the "sweat shop" comparison because eventually that shit gets shut down

Everything has limits.  People, machines, anything and everything.

What would the model of a successful company be?  They figure out through trial and error what quota can be met daily, weekly, and monthly.  How much to pay their employees for a normal work week, the rate at which the machines can work and produce goods with the least amount of malfunction, factor in every other expense they have, then create a price for their product.

What is the common denominator in this process being productive?

Consistency tends to work best with moderation.  Not extremes.

Over time, consistency outruns the company that tries to manufacture as much as possible in a single day, rather than thinking about long term consistency with their product.

Understanding that everything from 50% to 100% of your max has benefits and drawbacks, and what they are, is your best tool in designing productive training and productive training cycles.  Manipulating your volume and frequency is the other key in that.  You have to massage all of these parts over time in order to meet your needs for where you are at in your training life.  This will be different for everyone.  I throw that out there because I've heard that I'm dogmatic, and it's literally the dumbest god damn thing I've ever read about my writing and how I think about training.  Everyone needs to tweak programs and "routines" in order to meet their needs.  This is REALLY, the heart of what consistent productive training is.  Massaging all of these factors

1RM and fatigue management - 

The other part of this equation that is broken, is the means by which so many measure progress.  Namely, the 1RM equation.

"I got stronger, because I lifted a high 1 rep max."

You had to take a max to figure out you got stronger?  There aren't other ways?

Through rep PR's?  Yes.

Through bar acceleration at the same intensities?  Yes.

Through the ability to do more work (volume/intensity related) with less energy expenditure (less time)?  Yes.   

The testing of pure 1 rep maxes in the gym makes virtually no sense to me.  When you look at the training methodologies of the strongest guys from the 70's and 80's, they had long well planned out cycles that resulted in a lot of progress, with virtually no missed lifts, and they NEVER maxed in training.  Hell, they rarely worked above 90%.  Why?  Because you don't need to do so in order to get stronger, and because as Coan put it, he "saved the big ones for the meet".

You have a lot of people that scoff now at pre-planned cycles.  Well that's great, but I see most of those people stay within the same strength level meet after meet, or year after year, because they refuse to acknowledge that the body works in cycles.  You cannot be at peak strength all the time, no more than marathon runners or sprinters or any other athlete I can think of, trains at his maximum year around.

The Russians figured this out years ago, and feel that well, we are pretty stupid for beating ourselves into the ground in the gym, when those efforts rarely bear fruit on the competitive stage.  At least, not in comparison to them and what they are doing.

So why do so many guys of today feel that it's a requirement to train at such high intensity levels, and max out so often?

It's pretty simple.  Geared training methodologies, and the inability to come to terms with the fact that the body got stronger without proving that with a tested 1 rep max.  I have helped tons of guys get ready for meets, and every single time, they tell me "dude, I can't hit my lifts with as light as we are going."  Then they get to the meet and crush shit and are amazed at how good they felt.

Training should not destroy you.  It should get you better over time.  This doesn't happen because of single session blow ups.  How do you think that single awesome session happened?  It's generally because of the work you put in BEFORE that finally manifested itself in that training session.

Ruminate on that for a while.

I have a female client I am helping at the moment, and she too was upset at how "good" she felt leaving the gym each day.  Yes, she was upset by feeling good.  She was used to leaving the gym just feeling exhausted, and thought that this was indeed the measuring stick of a great workout.

Yet each week, she just destroys whatever it is I have lined up for her to do, and now she's destroying weights that were previously difficult for her.

"I want to do more!  It's so easy!"

"It's so easy because I'm not letting you do more."

The egotistical gym lurch will reply to that "well why can't she do more if she feels strong?"

Because she feels strong because we are managing her fatigue and intensities, and not letting her go heavier and beat the shit out of herself.  She gets stronger because she's not in a constant hole of trying to recover.  Anyone who doubts fatigue or under-recovery in training is either willfully ignorant or macho to a degree that makes them that way.  The whole "there is no such thing as over-training, only under eating and sleeping" bit is soooooo 1992.  Fine, set your hair on fire and go as hard as you can every single session with no regard for the fact that hey, you haven't progressed a whole lot in a very long time and injury your injuries.

In the next part, I'll talk about under-recovering, why it's YOU and not the training system that is at fault, maxing out (again), getting injured, and the most important "type" of sessions to stack up over time in order to see progress continue at a steady rate.  You know....consistency.


  1. I would probably agree with your female client. If she leaves the gym feeling good, she's probably leaving too much in the tank. With both myself and those who I've trained, more volume, more frequently has always lead to better results. Granted, I look at volume on a weekly and monthly scale, and I preach lots of sleep and good food, but still, you shouldn't be refreshed when you leave the gym.

    Me personally, I do 5-6 hard sets of pressing and 5-6 sets of pulling every day and by the end of them I'm beat. I just eat plenty of food, get to bed by 11 o'clock, and get up and do it again the next day. My clients do the same or similar.

    1. You absolutely should leave the gym feeling better than before you walked in.

      Also, did you bother reading how her lifts are skyrocketing or did you just pick that one part and then decide to argue? Or did you miss the part where the other guys I have helped hit PR's effortlessly as well?

    2. You know, I bet Klokov, Konstaninov, Poundstone, and all other great strength athletes leave the gym feeling wonderful. I bet they're never in any amount of pain or discomfort, either before or after lifting.

      Seriously though, we both know that's BS. The fastest, most effective ways to get strong all involve great deals of stress. Are your clients getting better? Absolutely. Could they be getting better faster? If they're leaving the gym with that much in the tank, then certainly.

      Your clients may be hitting PR's effortlessly, but if they want to be anything special, it's going to take hard work and volume, and the soreness and fatigue that come along with them.

      So, I guess it all comes down to what we're after. If you want to get stronger in a slow, controlled manner, by all means, leave a bunch in the tank. If you're looking to max out your potential, it's probably going to hurt.

    3. Thanks for alerting me to all of this info. I just started this lifting thing a week or so ago and need all the help I can get.

      I find it funny that guys like Sam Byrd, Mishal, Andy Bolton, Ed Coan, etc all disagree with your stance. That eventually working too hard has the opposite effects than allowing recovery to take place. I've also found the same. If you want to train like that, good luck with that. It is NOT sustainable.

    4. "5-6 hard sets of pressing and 5-6 sets of pulling every day and by the end of them I'm beat."

      5-6 hard sets of benches / overheads and 5-6 sets of DLs every day? Also back / front squats somewhere in the mix? That sounds like killer volume.

      How much weight are these people moving in the SQ/BP/DL?

    5. ....I also bet that KK, Klokov, Poundstone, etc all train balls out every session, every day, year round. Right? RIGHT?

      They manage intensity from workout to workout, week to week. Hell, I think that Poundstone has an "arm day" in there. LOL

      You're missing the entire point of this series. It's that you can't CAN'T train balls out all the time. And you can't. That's fucking nonsense. I know, I've done it. It is not sustainable. Not only that, there is a cap on where you're going to get to with that kind of training. Once that happens if you don't switch gears, you just get stuck and have no way around it. Because "train harder" isn't always an option.

      Thanks for playing and not winning.

    6. PC, you're not even addressing the point that I'm making. I said that if your training has you feeling better after a training session, you're not training hard enough. That is what I'm arguing. I'm not arguing that you shouldn't monitor volume and recovery, I'm just saying that feeling refreshed after most of your training sessions isn't optimal.

      Sure, Poundstone has an arm day, but I bet his arms are sore as hell afterwards. The same goes for KK, Klokov, Byrd, Bolton, and whoever else. They aren't jumping for joy and asking for more work after a training session, even if their workload is closely regulated. If you want to continue to argue and proclaim victory in a snarky manner, address the point at hand. Once more, my entire argument is:

      You should not feel better after training. You should be tired. If you're not, you left too much in the tank.

      So, if you want to use examples, tell me of all of the strong people who squat and press a boatload and then go home relaxed, energized, and itching for more.

      Fatman, I don't know what type of reception this will get on this blog, but I use calisthenic/gymnastic training with myself and my clients. The exercises don't really have much of an equivalent. That having been said, when I still used weights, I could clean and strict press 228 x 5 on an axle and do chin ups with 185 lbs attached. I'm currently stronger now than I was then, and I push myself hard on my gymnastic exercises daily. It leaves me tired when I go to bed every night, but I sleep well and come back ready the next day. And yes, I still take days off when I need them. I'm not arguing not to, I'm just saying that you shouldn't feel like a million bucks after training.

    7. You should in fact, feel better after training. Not tired.

      I already told you of all of these people. I have a whole series going on where I quoted them.

      I don't know of any elite level guy that trains so hard he's brutally tired after training. NONE. You can only do that for so long.

      The rest of your post there pretty much clarifies what others already thought. You're not training with incredibly heavy weights, nor are your "trainees". I train powerlifters. The guys I train hit huge PR's in competition. The same guys that do this, WERE IN FACT TRAINING AS YOU DESCRIBED BEFORE WORKING WITH ME. Do you understand this? They got better, after dialing it back a few notches.

    8. I never said "brutally tired", I just said tired. Workouts should cause fatigue. If there's no fatigue, there's nothing to spur adaptation. Sure, you might end up mentally focused and more mobile after a workout, but you'll still be tired.

      And no, your clients were not training as I describe otherwise they would have been getting results and wouldn't have to change what they were doing.

      Also, as a point of clarification, it's not correct to assume heavy weights are the end-all-be-all of intensity. Intensity can also be adjusted via manipulating leverage or speed. Just because my clients and I aren't lifting heavy weights doesn't mean we're not being taxed significantly. You might not know it, but one-arm chin ups and broad jumps into handstands involve heavy loading, even if I'm only using my bodyweight.

    9. I used to train like you, until about 9 months ago when I came across Paul's blog. Since following his methodologies, ie training light and leaving the gym feeling great, I've added more than 40lbs to my OHP, all my other lifts have gone up by at least that much, and I feel in top condition all the time. I'm not even an elite or advanced level powerlifter, but following Paul's ideas, the less weight (relatively) I use, the closer I get to putting up big numbers. My story seems to be the norm, rather than the exception. It might be worth a try.

    10. RJ, you keep training gymnasts and I will keep training powerlifters.

    11. Waspgumbo, what do you overhead press? And I'm not arguing that PC's way doesn't work. Obviously it does, and well too. I'm just saying that to get really good at things, it will take enough effort to make you tired.

      PC, despite not lifting weights, the women who train with me can both do 10 or more deadhang chin ups and, on the rare occasions when we've gone to a real gym, have deadlifted around 300 lbs and repped out with 40 lb DBs on overhead press. Strong is strong, whether it's a powerlifter or a gymnast.

    12. I'm trying to find where I said, you'd never be tired. However, you should, more often than not, leave the gym NOT tired. You're comparing gymnastic training to powerlifting. It's apples and monkey balls.

  2. Did you ever leave the gym feeling good and like you had more in the tank when you were doing DC?

    1. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Generally no, which is why it wasn't a way I can train anymore. Also the reason why I see so many guys not able to train that way for years on end. You can do it for a little while, but eventually your mind will dread training and the body eventually revolts as well.

    2. I tried out DC for a while and most days of the week I felt CRUSHED... Like I was literally under the weight of something coming down on me. Even when lying down, I felt like I wanted to "lay down even more" some how because I just couldn't get that sensation of being relaxed.

    3. That's about as well as I could explain it myself. I never felt "relaxed". Constantly "revved". Eventually it just became too much for me. I hated training like that after 2 years of it. I tried to do it again I think 1 other time, and literally scrapped it the first night.

    4. Maybe it's more acceptable to push it when the intensity is lower, via stuff like "100's", rest pause, etc. when the overall intent is to build the supporting musculature. Then, when the big lifts come around, it's better to play it conservative with "training maxes" and regulate the intensity. Thoughts?

    5. I think you have to manage your intensity in order to allow recovery and supercompensation to take place. You can sneak in all sorts of "small sessions" in order to "fill in the gaps" so to speak, but you don't want to overrun your recovery from the big stuff.

  3. It's been my experience, among myself and the 15 or so people that I've trained or trained with, that the best results come when we are doing the basics for 5-10 reps, crushing a few sets (1-3) and moving on. It's actually almost incredible how smart the body is and how little it takes to start the adaptation process. I'm convinced 50% of the volume I see in the gym is ego volume.

  4. Paul, I abhor all manners of internet debate and I know you do too, so I'm just going to ask your opinion on the following and leave it at that. No protracted arguing, no internet BS:

    Are guys who train a lot more and a lot heavier than you recommend, notably Jamie and current 198 champion Jesse Norris, simply genetic outliers who are capable of bending the precepts of training? As much as I've seen people succeed on your plan of relative caution, I've also seen many thrive on simply stepping up and putting in the hours and going heavy.

    Again, not meaning to spark debate (as I'm sure we all have better things to do), I just want to know what you think about that.

    1. It definitely works for some people, and for some people it doesn't. There are lots of guys who have tried it that way (heavy all the time, and training really often) and failed. There are guys who have tried it with low volume or lower frequency, and didn't not achieve much success either.

      It really comes back to both physiological factors, and mental factors. Some guys just don't want to go in the gym and max out or train damn near maxes, week in and out. Their mind gets worn down, and eventually the body does as well. Some guys thrive off of that.

      I do find it odd that so many of the great lifters find their way to the same place, i.e. moderation in intensities and frequency as they get more experienced.

      I do think that you also must "go after it" at some point in your training life, and bust ass like there is no tomorrow and lift hard and heavy as fuck until your eyes bleed. I know, I've done it. I just don't feel like that kind of training benefits me as well anymore.