Friday, June 6, 2014

Staying phresh

One of the biggest factors in putting together a string of successful training sessions is the ability to feel good for each one.

I know, stop the fucking presses.  I hope your house didn't get blown off the map from the energy surge created by that nuclear knowledge bomb right there.

But seriously, this is a very underrated concept.  And most people don't understand how much until they change their training around in a way so that they aren't beat to shit all the time.

Think about this, if your elbows are aching your pressing ability is going to be very sub-par.  If your knees hurt, your squatting is going to be shit.

If there is pain associated with a movement, then the body is going to automatically limit what it will allow you to lift.  Pain is a governor by the body that let's you know that you either fucked something up, or that something is fucked up.  Ignoring that signal isn't a good idea.  It could mean that there is an overuse problem, that your technique is off, that you have a muscular imbalance somewhere or that some shit is about to go.

On the flip side, when everything feels good and there are no aches and pains, lifting tends to go marvelously.  You press well, you squat well, you deadlift well, you do everything well.  Workouts are solid, and progress is made.  The longer you can stay in this zone, the more progress will be forthcoming.

The issue is, most guys don't find this "zone" very often. It's fleeting and they think about how important it is to use this as a guideline for how to adjust their training.

Lots of dudes just want to train heavy every session, go balls to the wall with reckless abandon, and have no foresight as to the ramifications these sessions will have on the next session, or the training phase they are in.

By happenstance, I noticed this "phresh" phenomenon as I was developing Base Building.  I would go in, hit the planned programming for the day, do the assistance work I had planned, and leave feeling really good.  The next session I would walk in feeling good, have a great session, walk out feeling the same way.  I would occasionally test my EDM every few weeks or months AFTER my work sets (the development of "fatigue singles") and would be happily surprised that they moved with an incredible amount of ease.

After I released Base Building within a few months I started getting tons of messages and e-mails describing the same thing.  Guys loved the fact that weren't beat to shit all the time, were able to get stronger, not have to take time off because they were drained, and saw progress on a very regular basis.  So my own perception about these things were being backed up on a regular basis from people writing in to me.

I took that a step further and started taking an extra rest day rather than being a slave to the routine on a piece of paper.  And sure enough, more PR's started coming.  So if I had a day where I did feel a bit achy, I just didn't train.  I know some guys push through that, and yes, there is a time and a place for that.  But I opted instead to really listen to my body.  If I needed the extra rest, I took it and didn't feel guilty about it.  At 39 with most of my lifts at all time highs, I felt like the rest was warranted.

Some of the things I instituted to stay "phresh" and feeling good were the following....

  • I only pushed a heavier single as a fatigue single, and rarely did it exceed my "everyday max", or EDM.  I let my body tell me when it was there, rather than trying to chase a number that may not have been on the map that day.  
  • I rotated through "like" movements rather than sticking to the same ones workout after workout.  This was key in avoiding overuse with the volume I was using.  So I rotated squats, front squats, and hack squats.  I rotated bench, incline press, and press behind the neck.  I rotated deadlifts and deficit stiff legged deadlifts, and didn't pull heavy very often.  I personally believe that heavy deadlifts tend to take more than they give back.  When I stopped chasing the numbers, they eventually came right to me.
  • I focused on bar speed instead of weight on the bar as the indicator that my strength had increased.  So the indicator I used for feedback changed, and it worked marvelously.  No longer did I have to "get up" for a weight when I may have felt like shit that day.  I simply stuck to the programming and judged my bar speed for where I was.  Yes, this is more ambiguous than weight on the bar, but if you know your body well enough, you will know when you're moving a weight with authority compared to the previous sessions.  Obviously this is nothing more than RPE (rate of perceived exertion).  
  • As noted, I took days off when I did feel tired or run down.  Because my sleep is hit or miss and my training always sucks when I'm in sleep debt, this paid off well for me.  I have found over and over again that trying to push through a hard session on little sleep doesn't work for me.
  • I upped most of my assistance movements to even higher reps.  As Wendler once wrote, "don't major in the minors."  I got a pump and called it a day.  No one cares about how much you max on tricep pushdowns or side laterals.  Use them accordingly.  
Basically all of this comes back to really listening to what your body is trying to tell you, not trying to push the envelope when the body isn't ready to (again, chasing vs letting the PR come to you), and doing some "bodybuilding." with your support work.  

If you can find that balance in there of training heavy enough to spur on progress without beating yourself to shit, you will find that area to be very rewarding and result producing.  



  1. Paul - I bough Base Building 6 weeks back and have been using it since then. Psychologically I was skeptical of the program because I am a competitive person who equates hard work to results. Then I realized that it was not likely I was any more competitive that you are yet I am not nearly as strong. So I have been using the template and still seem to be progressing at the same rate as before. Without being exhausted, injured and beat up. So thanks for that! Oh and by the way - the program is still hard work. Just the 'correct' work.

    Question: I incorporate a pressing day into my program and have just been using the bench templates. Either I am just really week on OHP and need to reset my EDM down or perhaps the template for bench is too much for OHP. If you would share your thoughts I would greatly appreciate it.


    1. It seems, not to be a dick, you're just still weak and need to get stronger. The bench volume tends to break a lot of guys spirit to be honest. They think they are "strong" then realize that much volume humbles them. Just give it time.

    2. Thanks Paul for the feedback. And of course I agree - I am just into my second year of lifting and still very much learning.

  2. For the OHP (separate day) would you apply the same rep/set scheme as for the BP BBM? Or does the OHP respond better to a different rep/set scheme?


    1. I'm not the guy to ask as I've done 365 on press behind the neck without programming for it. Honestly you can use a BB model and see how it works and let me know.

      To be even more honest, I have no idea why guys who aren't competing in strongman care THAT MUCH about increasing their overhead press.