Monday, April 5, 2010

Success by Design: Part 2

Optimizing Three Critical Components of Training

The Basics of Exercise Biomechanics

If you’re a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter, your objective is to find the easiest way to lift a weight— otherwise, you’ll lose. But if you’re lifting to increase muscle mass and strength, your goal is to find the hardest way to lift a weight.

This is a difficult concept for people to grasp, because it runs 180 degrees to what your instincts tell you to do. Watching novice lifters confirms this— everything is done with maximum “body English.”

My general rule of thumb is that if you can find a way to make an exercise harder, do it. For example, if pausing for a full second at the bottom position of a bench press is harder than “touch and go” style, use the pause. If maximally squeezing your biceps (more than would be necessary to lift the weight) at the top of a curl makes the exercise harder, do it. If crunches are harder on a Swiss ball, use one.

Of course, this approach requires that you check your ego at the door. In fact, it has been my observation that the ego is one of the most insidious obstacles to making progress in the weight room. During one of my last workouts, I noticed a trainer giving some advice to a couple who were holding down each other’s butts during leg curls— he suggested that they use their glutes to lift the front of the quads off of the padding, so that they could stabilize their own body during the exercise.

As soon as they realized that this would necessitate using less weight, they went back to their former habits. Too bad.

Of course, all good personal trainers and strength coaches have come up with their favorite “tricks” to make various exercises more effective. You don’t need a degree in Kinesiology to learn how to develop your own. All it takes is discipline and creativity.


Let’s get one thing clear: you could hire the best strength specialists available to author your training program; you could hire the best nutritionists, use the best supplements, you could even resort to using anabolic steroids, however, if you don’t execute your workouts with all-out ferocity, it’s all for naught. The more experience you have, the more this applies.

N o w, when I say “intensity,” I don’t mean the sports science definition (i.e., how close you are to 1RM), but instead, the application of effort during worko u t s .There’s an old story about how the Egyptian pharaohs managed the slaveworkers who built the pyramids: 1000 workers were instructed to haul a massive stone block up an incline to the top of the pyramid. At the end of the day, it was brought to the pharaohs attention that they had failed. So the pharaoh had 500 of the workers killed and told the remaining workers to get the job done, or he would kill off half of the remaining workers and they would try again. They accomplished the task.

The moral of the story is that often, we think we’re applying maximal effort when in fact we are not. Although both volume and intensity are both components of successful training programs, no amount of volume will compensate for insufficient intensity. If you had to choose between the two, go with intensity. Period.

Intensity must be tempered with discipline as well. If you’re on the leg press and allowing your low back to round so that you can get that last rep, you’re not being disciplined. The application of disciplined effort means that you get every rep humanly possible within the confines of perfect technique.

Optimizing The Time Between Workouts: The Essentials of Recovery

Progress occurs not during workouts, but in the spaces between workouts. Fill these spaces properly, and progress will be swift. The three areas I’d like to specifically address are post-training nutrition, massage, and the concept of active rest.

Post- Workout Nutrition & Supplementation

Eating properly can be difficult even for very serious athletes, because compared to training, the results are often more subtle and take more time to see. Nevertheless, I’d like to urge you to make a commitment. Right now. Make the decision, based on the fact that you know it’s important, to clean up your diet. Not tomorrow, NOW. A good place to start is your post training nutrition. After a hard training session, your muscles are glycogen-depleted.

This means that they are “open for business” to use the words of my colleague Will Brink. What he means is that the muscles will quickly uptake any simple carbohydrates you consume immediately after the workout. The neat thing about this is that you can use a high-glycemic drink to “deliver” creatine, branched-chain amino acids, vitamins, etc., directly into your muscles by taking them with the carbohydrate drink. This is the concept behind EAS’s Phosphagen HP, incidentally.

About The Author

Charles strength/performance coach...his colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results.
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