Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Underrated and overrated concepts in strength training - Part 2 - The underrated

Principles -

Truth is, it's probably a bit unfair for me to list this because training principles are something only guys that have paid their dues have a keen sense of, and an association with.

It takes a long time to really figure out the key elements that are optimal for you.  By that I mean, all the various moving parts in regards to creating a solid training ideology that really resonates with you, and helps you improve on a consistent basis.

I know a lot of very good lifters that don't adhere to the principles I believe in.  Likewise, I know many great lifters that believe completely in all the principles I adhere to.

The key here is that these guys eventually settled on the components that helped them the most, and then made changes as they saw fit.  Some of those changes stayed, and some were tossed out.  This is part of the process of getting better.

Principles are really what guys that focus on "routines" need.  They focus on "routines" because they don't have the depth of experience needed yet, to build those routines.

One theory I have about the best guys out there is this; outside of genetics they have an uncanny ability to quickly theorize something and apply appropriately, or discard it.  This doesn't mean they never try something new out.  It just means they figure out very quickly what works for them, how to apply it, how to manipulate it, and how to wade through bullshit better than most.  They figure these things out faster than most, and have an innate ability to be far more introspective about how what is and what isn't working for their body.

Dorian Yates figured out very quickly that his body liked low volume work and training to failure, or past it.  Arnold figured out that his body responded to high volume work.  Both guys figured out that dbol worked really well, and used it appropriately.

A big part of these guys becoming champions, in my opinion, is that they knew what worked for them quickly, and rode that horse.  That could partly be because those guys responded better to training than most guys in general, or it could be that they found optimal paths for getting better far more quickly than a lot of guys do.

Developing a training ideology can be difficult.  Especially for novice guys, and especially because the internet offers so much information that lifters can get very confused about what exactly optimal means.  Well, it means doing what gets you from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  That is putting it in very simple terms, but at the heart of it all, that's what it is.

Recovery/sleep -

It's become very much a fad lately to spout off about how there is no such thing as overtraining and to call people pussies or lazy that believe overtraining is real.  I'm not sure why this hypermacho bullshit gets perpetuated but it isn't based in anything other than an ideology of "I'm tougher than you because I train more!"

Think about how stupid that is for a minute and then continue reading.

When Stan Efferding broke the 2300 total mark he said he trained twice a week.

To borrow a couple of quotes from this article that I loved so much....

It’s never the training routine that’s limiting growth, it’s always the recovery phase, eating and sleeping. The vast majority of people who want to get bigger and stronger already train hard enough to grow, they just don’t eat and sleep enough to grow.

I started lifting two hours a day, six days a week, doing endless sets and reps of every exercise in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I struggled to put on five pounds a year until I finally came across an experienced lifter who told me I was wasting my time with all that lifting and told me to go home and eat. By cutting my training back to an hour three days a week and hiking my calories up to over 5,000 a day, I was able to put on 20 pounds in less than a year!

Lift heavy weights three times a week for an hour. Eat lots of food and sleep as much as you can.

When I squatted 905 lbs raw in training, I was only squatting every OTHER week. Twice a month! I deadlifted on the alternate weeks and benched once a week. You heard correctly, I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total and set the all-time world record

Might know what the fuck he's talking about

As Stan got larger and stronger, the need for recovery increased greatly.  I've read many times from people that the mantra of "overtraining isn't real" is to spurn people on to train harder because they aren't training hard enough.  I'm not sure of that.  I've known plenty of guys that trained their asses off with little in the way of gains to show for it.  Why?  Because they trained far too often, and for far too long.  

One theory I have is that some guys are training stimulus sensitive.  That is, training will illicit a stronger growth response in them and they get really big and strong easily AS LONG as recovery is adhered to.  This of course will vary from individual to individual, however I personally think most guys will get as big and as strong as they can ever get training three times a week, sleeping a lot, and eating a lot of quality food.  

The main component here in my opinion, is sleep.  It's such an overlooked facet of training and recovery.  And while I'm aware that plenty of studies show that performance doesn't seem to be hurt by a lack of sleep, recovery is.  

Guys will often tell me in regards to sleep, "well I only get 5 or 6 hours a night and I've made gains."  

Maybe you have.  But I can just about promise you that you'd be further along if you were getting 8 to 9.  I don't need to find scientific data to support this.  Babies grow at an exponential rate.  They spend their day eating and sleep.  They aren't flailing around all day trying to "grow".  And you don't grow in the gym.  

When you go to the gym, you're creating the stimulus for growth.  But that growth cannot take place until recovery has happened.  And recovery is dictated by rest and food.  

Make a conscious effort to get in bed an hour earlier than you have been, and see if your training doesn't improve and if you don't get "moar gainz".

If you have trouble sleeping, try "Calm" at night.  It works very well for helping you relax, and that's a big deal for many of us with insomnia.  I have also found that liquid Melatonin works much better than the tablet version, and that small doses work better for inducing sleep (like 1-3mg) rather than larger doses.

Getting a massage once a month is also a great idea, and I don't mean deep tissue work either where afterwards you feel like someone beat you with a 2x4.  I mean 60-90 minutes of a relaxing massage.  I generally fall asleep on these which kinda sucks because you don't feel the god damn massage when your ass is asleep!

Food -

At first food may seem obvious, however if that were the case then the supplement industry wouldn't be a billion dollar a year market.  

The reason that protein shakes and supplements have become such a "big picture" in training is for no other reason than the fact that it was driven by the magazines for decades as a way to make money to stay in business.  In the 90's the supplement industry was full of advertisements essentially promising you the body of your dreams in mere months, if you took their magical pixie dust.  

And it worked.  Believe you me it spawned off mega companies in spite of the fact that the claims were like nothing a hardcore tren user had ever seen.  

Supplements like Cell-tech eventually became a punch line for this very reason.  It seems comical now to think about ads where they said some guy lost 33 pounds of fat and gained 22 pounds of muscle in 4 months but those kinds of claims were very common back in the day.  

The Cybergenics poster boy was this guy named Franco Santoriello, and one of their two page ads was photos of him throughout his "transformation" while being on Cybergenics.  Basically implying that his evolution from not so jacked greaseball Italian, to very jacked and nationally competitive bodybuilder greaseball Italian.  

They never bothered to mention that he never actually took the Cybergenics stack, and that his real stack obviously consisted of highly aromatizing compounds, hence that nice gyno he was sporting.  I suppose being honest wouldn't actually be good for bidness.  

However dishonesty it seems, does pay off in the supplement industry.

Supplements like "Hot Stuff" flew off the shelves faster than frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart right before an impending snow storm.


GNC literally couldn't keep this shit on the shelf.  My aunt was a GNC store manager and she told me every time they were due for an order to arrive people would literally be lined up outside the store waiting for them to open so they could buy it all up.

Later, when word got out that Hot Stuff possibly contained an oral steroid called Methyltestosterone, an inexpensive form of orally absorbable testosterone that works very well at increasing strength, Hot Stuff pulled their product from the shelves and a few months later released it again as a "new and improved formula" that wasn't improved at all.

At that point it didn't matter.  They had made their money and the damage was done.

I personally have no idea if companies still try this shit, as I haven't thumbed through a bodybuilding magazine in a very long time.  It wouldn't surprise me however, and "hype" does sell.

The issue is, it takes away from a bigger priority.  Which is, your diet shouldn't be made up of a bunch of pills and powders.  It should be made up primarily of quality foods like whole eggs, chicken, red meat, potatoes, rice, nut butters, healthy oils, and THEN supplemented (which is why of course they are called...supplements) with things like protein powder.

However we live in a "now" world, and people in general are lazy.  So it's easier to shake up some powder in a shaker and chug that down than cook.  I get the fact that life is busy.  However if you are really serious about making substantial gains in muscular bodyweight then taking a few hours out each week to cook up some eggs, rice, and chicken to store in a few containers really shouldn't be that big of a deal.  Cook a steak a couple of nights a week, load up once a week with a big cheat meal, and then throw in a few shakes as needed throughout the day.

A very solid rule of thumb is that you should never have more shakes in a day than you have food meals.  So if you have 4 shakes you better have had 4 or more food meals.

Paused and bottom position work -

I'm always befuddled when I see guys who are all about trying to develop strength doing things like touch and go deadlifts, or touch and go bench.

From all the anecdotal evidence I've seen, strapped up-touch n go deadlifts do very little, if anything at all, for really developing your maximal pull.  If you don't think so, do a set of deadlifts that way, then do dead stop deadlifts and see if there isn't a significant drop off.  There will be.

Furthermore, I've seen far too many guys that can do reps with damn near their maximum meet pull in this fashion (using straps and doing touch and go reps).

Now initially, one might think that being able to do reps with damn near their maximal pull would in fact, increase their max pull.  However the problem is, when most guys use straps they pull double overhand.  This allows them to get "longer" in the pull, and the mechanics of the lift changes.  Not only that, but the main limiting factor in the deadlift, hand strength, is removed.  Second, the subsequent reps have the lifter in a completely different position than the one he is in when he starts the pull from a deadstop.  In case you didn't know this, specificity reigns in lifting.

So then guys that train their pull are forced to pull without straps, from a deadstop, there is little carryover.  If you want to develop your pull, your reps should be done dead stop each time so that the lift is mimicked on every rep.

From a hypertrophy standpoint, I can see how touch and go reps or touch n go bench presses have merit.  There's more time under tension, and yes, more reps can be done.  However from a strength building standpoint they offer little in the way of developing a lift to its maximum potential.

Make sure that your training cycle still includes plenty of paused benches, pause squats, and that you still do your deadlift reps deadstop.  This is the best way to develop the lift and the bottom position strength that is required to take the lift to a new level.

But outside of the main lifts, pretty much all big lifts can be done with a paused variation.  I really like paused db bench press, and even things like dips and overhead press can be done with paused reps.  Yes, training like this will bruise the ego, however are you training to be a Youtube champion or training to actually get stronger?  Figure that part out first.

Patience - 

Lastly, be patient.

Every week I see shit from guys where they write "current max is 660.  Gotta do 710 in 6 weeks."

Really?  You're going to add 50 pounds to your lift in 6 weeks?  Why not concentrate on 670?

The biggest reason this happens, in my opinion, is that guys are constantly trying to measure up to someone else.  It's a nonstop dick measuring contest.

Are you going to keep training after those 6 weeks?  Yes??!?!?

Well then how about you set your sights on something realistic in the next 6 weeks instead of something that might take another two or even three years to accomplish?

I could write all day about this topic however, I won't.  If you're not smart enough to understand that that it's important not to let your dreams and goals get in the way of reality then either you'll fail a lot, or eventually you'll get "it".  "It" being that smart goal setting and planning will win out in the long run, while the other guy is still contemplating how to take his bench from 315 to 405 in the next 8 weeks.

Conclusion - 

It appears I may be beating you over the head with some very common ideas that get written about a lot.

Well, there's a reason for that.

Every gym out there is full of guys that train 5-6 days a week for hours at a time, living off of protein shakes and staying up all hours of the night playing xbox or jacking off to porn and then wonder why it is progress is either nonexistent or incredibly slow.

Train hard, but not too often or for too long.

Eat a lot of quality food.  Stop debating what "quality" is.  We have enough dipshits in the world.  Don't add to the quota.

Train to get stronger.  This means doing paused work, and not letting your ego get in the way.

Be patient.  Training is really a never ending process.  If you don't hit the numbers you want to in a given time frame, just stay with it.

All of the above make up principles.  And with a set of principles you can and will have a plan.  And Hannible always loved it when a plan came together.


  1. Great article! I based on what I've seen, supplement companies still do some "dusting" with their products.

  2. Patience. The hardest skill to develop.

    Nice write-up Paul.

  3. Paul, all things being equal with regards to training (volume, intensity, sets/reps), do you think its better to have more days of rest and longer sessions, or split the workout up over shorter sessions? Take something like 5/3/1 where you do your back work on the push days or dead lift day, instead of its own 5th day.

    Adding a "Back day" gives you more focus on the back, but takes away a day of full rest.

    I'm thinking back over my training career and am realizing maybe Doggcrapp left me at my biggest size at the end, even though its "only" 3 days a week. I used to feel so BOMBED on that program every day and ended up quite sloppy by the end, but it was the program I've used that had the most rest built into it.

    1. I think you narrow it down to the things you need to do so that session don't run so long. If you can't get it done in an hour to an hour and 15 you're either doing too much or resting too long between sets.

  4. I thought he loved kidney, with fava beans and a nice kee-yannn-ty.

    These past few articles were pretty great Paul. I agree that we often over emphasize training in the gym to recovery at home. What are your thoughts on Jamie Lewis's Apex Predator Diet in relation to nutrition/recovery. This is highly reliant on proteins shakes, and I often wonder if it's sustainable for very long.

    1. I'm not a fan of it as any kind of long term "diet". Food should always be the staple of eating. But Jamie makes it work for him.

  5. you say some retard things sometimes paul, but this article is not one of those things.

  6. Dam Right Paul good job again YESSSSSSSSSS

  7. " We have enough dipshits in the world. Don't add to the quota. "
    This made my morning.
    Great article. keep them coming.

  8. Jason Blaha mentioned you in his latest video, I'm just curious how did this all start?

    1. It was a hilarious discussion that spawned off on my facebook page.

  9. and the beatings poor old Stu McRoberts endured for saying the same things, only he said them more safety.


  10. Hey Paul

    Not related to this post but I am very curious on how/why you decided to post an article on TN. I know in the past you weren't a fan, and there was a bit of a disagreement between you and CT.

    Before anyone gets on me for asking this, I'm just curious that's all.

    1. I don't have anything against t-nation at all. I just had a beef with CT. That's all.

  11. Hey Paul, i used to read all the muscle sites, but since I discovered this blog its slowly dropped off, so much more wisdom in your posts that six months of articles at most other sites.

  12. ha..paul, i grew up with frANCO AND TRAINED WITH HIM BACK IN THE 80s..he was using everything but cybergenics. the cybergenics guy sold roids out of the back of his mercedes. i bought some too...lol..frank had a good physique but had issues galore..