Programming

Know-Think-Guess: The 70/20/10 Rule of Programming

Good programming is a balancing act worthy of a Game of Thrones episode: on one side sit the foundational movements–pushes, pulls, hinges, squats, and carries–while on the other sit the latest and greatest in cutting-edge research-velocity based training, blood flow restriction, PRI, post-activation potentiation and more. Stuck neatly in the middle is the modern-day coach, like Jon Snow caught between the white walkers and the mortal threats from the seven kingdoms. How much credence should be given to the up and coming methods? Is it really worth abandoning tried-and-true approaches? Today's article is an attempt to help answer that question, providing some guidance for just how to navigate the relatively narrow space between these two worlds. It's a strategy I've been able to use to help me be both innovative and effective, allowing me to use some of the more exciting things I've come across while not abandoning some of the staples of strength and conditioning. In fact, aside from the principles of specificity and periodization, this one idea has done more to inform my programming choices than anything else I've come across.

70/20/10

The idea at the heart of today's conversation is borrowed from Stuart McMillan, one of the industry's preeminent sprint and speed coaches. He mentioned something he called the 70/20/10 rule in passing, and while I can't remember anything else from that article, this one has stuck with me. Put as simply as possible, 70% of his programming is made of up things he knows, 20% is comprised of things he thinks, and the remaining 10% is left to things he guesses.

My first thought was to wonder where that particular breakdown had come from. I'm the first to acknowledge when someone's smarter than me, and I'll happily be deferring to Stu for years to come, but I wanted to understand the 70/20/10 on my own terms.

70%–The Minimum Adaptable Load

Minimum Adaptable Load (a concept previously covered on this site) is the point at which the applied stimulus or stress is sufficient to cause an adaptation or change in the athlete. The stimulus applied can vary, from the weight on the bar and how many times its lifted on one end of the spectrum to sprint distances, times, and rest intervals on the other. Adaptation is simply the goal of that particular training cycle; hypertrophy, maximum power output, body composition or the like. Minimum Adaptable Load is important for one very basic reason: change doesn’t happen during the session; change happens when we recover from the session.

The exact threshold for Minimum Adaptable Load changes from athlete to athlete, and even within athletes as their training age, their nutrition, or even their lifestyle changes and it can be tough to hit a moving target. While this presents a challenge, a good coach or trainer should be able to adjust training stressors appropriately for their athletes and clients. By devoting 70% of the session’s volume to the strategies we know to be effective, we are likely to meet the threshold needed for adaptation while not exceeding it by so much that we don’t have room for additional strategies.

Consider a strength athlete; with goals of improving their ability to squat, press, pull, lift, carry, and potentially throw the greatest amount of weight possible, what would constitute their 70%? Depending on the specifics of their sport and what season they were in, my programming would likely include big, heavy compound movements loaded from 85% up to 100% of 1RM. In short, they’d spend more time squatting, carrying, pressing, pulling and lifting than they would curling, sprinting, jumping, or walking. While those movements could very well have a place in their programming, they don’t offer the greatest ROI for the athlete, and I’m reserving this 70% for my heavy artillery.

Once I’ve chosen my movements and loading schemes, it’s time to consider overall volume in the context of the larger program. Again, I’m only allowing 70% of my session for these movements, so depending on total volume, I may pull a movement out, drop a set or two, or break the workload up differently to allow me to focus on what I think is most important without overtaxing the athlete.

20%–A Good Bet

With 70% of an athlete's time and energy accounted for, it makes sense to give the bulk of the remainder to something we're confident in, but hasn't stood the test of time. Too little investment here and we're unlikely to see enough influence (or lack thereof) to inform our future programming choices, too much and there's nothing left for the real cutting-edge work.

Continuing the example of our strength athlete, plyometric work (either on its own or for potential post-activation potentiation effects) are one possible choice. Since true explosive power and speed aren't are primary goals, we don't need to devote the same number of reps or contacts we might for a pure throwing or jumping athlete, but a few sets and reps or our most transferable movement patterns make sense. In this case a squat jump (loaded or unloaded, with or without counter movement), a broad jump, and maybe a hinge or rotationally-driven throw could be helpful.

10%–Room to Play

I look at this final piece of the puzzle as playtime... a crazy idea I had, something a single study hinted at, an intuition that an athlete might benefit from something. I'm not ready to devote much of an athlete's training or recovery to something that may be half-baked at best, but as long as I'm confident I'm not doing any harm, this gives me a chance to insert an extra little "kick". It may not work, but again, as long as it's safe, we can probably consider it GPP (General Physical Preparedness) at worst, right?

Maybe strength athlete benefits from working with unstable loads, using something akin to an earthquake or bamboo bar, or possibly moving a barbell with an uneven or hanging load. The instability certainly won't hurt him in his training (provided it doesn’t detract from his primary training modalities), and has some potential carryover to his specific sport and goals, from injury prevention to improved neuromuscular communication.

Putting it to Work

A few days after first running across this concept, I sat down to rework some of my own programming. Knowing I was hoping to put a little more muscle on, and feeling a little bored at the prospect of another body-part split filled with sets of 6-12, I decided to put this idea to the test.

I began with the basics, as I knew they'd work, and wrote a workout that followed some solid principles; progressive overload, moderate weights and rest periods etc. In anticipation of adding to this foundation, I left the volume a little lower than I knew I could handle, allowing for the think and the guess. From there I chose two methods, one I'd seen solid research on, and one I just wanted to play with, and filled in the rest of the volume.

Specifically, I chose to include some traditional explosive plyometric work (as both a Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) element and to directly target fast-twitch fibers) as well as something called Velocity Based Training (VBT). I'd seen some interesting research on VBT using only 35% of 1RM for cluster sets of 5-6, and wanted to give it a go.

I thought the plyometric work would help, and so gave it a good focus, particularly on lower body days, emphasizing either vertical (quad-dominant) or horizontal (glute and hamstring focus) patterns depending on the days movement patterns. This made up the 20%.

I hoped the VBT protocols would work, but wasn't ready to let it overrun my program. I added a set or two at the beginning of days that didn't include plyometric training. If I was pressing, I'd follow VBT protocols with a machine-based press in the hope that I'd target fast-twitch fibers, spark some hypertrophy, and perhaps even see a carryover through the rest of the workout.

Determining Volume

At this point at least a few of you have your hands up, waiting impatiently for the teacher to call on you. Let's get to you guys now:

"How do you determine volume? Is it sets and reps, time, or what?”

"Yes."

In short, use your best judgement in choosing a method to measure volume and determine your 70/20/10 workload. For a Hypertrophy cycle (typically a volume-driven cycle) I might use sets and reps. For a power/speed athlete I might use time or RPE. Ultimately volume will likely play a role, but there's room to interpret "workload" here in a way that matches the stresses of the training cycle.

Evaluation

If we’re going to introduce new methods into our programming, then ultimately we’d like some sense of their effectiveness; at some point in the misty past most of what we take for granted as known was merely thought or guessed. It’s tricky to separate one aspect of a program from another, and if we were to follow stricter scientific methodology, we’d likely only introduce one variable at a time for testing. Still, there are a few benchmarks I’ve looked for in deciding whether an idea had merit or not.

  1. 1)    The athlete or client progressed within the specific mode being employed. If we add plyometric work to improve max strength, did the athlete jump higher or farther?
  2. 2)    Assuming you have some sort of expectation for the athlete’s progress (i.e. last off-season they gained 5 pounds of lean mass in 20 weeks), did this program exceed those expectations?
  3. 3)    Did the athlete and I look forward to this section of their programming? It’s a little subjective, but on some level I think we have a sense of what’s paying dividends, and in the absence of other evidence, it’s at least worth recognizing.
  4. 4)    Were there any other unexpected benefits observed during the training block? Case-in-point, while I was experimenting with VBT protocols for some of my upper body pushing movements, I found that my bench press felt a little more explosive through the sticking point. I hadn’t done anything else to directly target that adaptation, and so it’s conceivable that there was some impact from the explosive, lighter weight work I was doing at the time.

The Hidden Benefit

As clients and athletes finished their own cycles, I started applying the lens of 70/20/10 to the work they were being given. I love some of the work coming out of the PRI world, but I'm not ready to abandon the foundation of a program in favor of these drills. Adding one or two movements a week? That felt about right, and forced me to choose the best drill for the athlete. Similarly, PAP has some good research behind it, and I have some athletes with goals that I think can be helped by its inclusion, but I'm not ready to pull too much volume away from their main lifts. Could I give 20% of a session over to it? Absolutely, and again, I'm forced to prioritize the application of a technique.

Limiting yourself to the 70/20/10 framework offers a self-editing process of sorts, forcing the coach to whittle away at their programming until it's lean and mean. Instead of including five or six lower body patterns in a given workout, maybe I'm limited to four. Inherently I'll choose the four that are most effective. The basics will likely become even more basic as you search out the movements that give you and your athletes the biggest payout.

What Now?

For those of you who enjoy your highlighters, you'll love this part: grab a program you've written  (hard-copy) and mark that sucker up. Highlight your basics, the 70% built around things you know will drive the right adaptation. Find your next tier of movements, the ones you think help the athlete, and highlight those as well. Finally, highlight the movements you've included based on some good solid guesswork as to how they may help.

Step back and look at what you've got. How much time is being devoted to each avenue of attack? How many sets and reps, how much mental energy? If something seems out of line, tweak it a bit, and as you continue to move forward, take some notes and keep track of what you find. After all, there's no substitute for lessons learned through experience.

about the author

Jesse McMeekin has been toiling away in a weight room for more than 20 years. A former competitive lacrosse and football player, as well as drug-free bodybuilder, Jesse currently works with world-class athletes, paramilitary members, weekend warriors, desk-bound CEOs, and a variety of other clientele and athletes. Jesse holds multiple certifications including the CSCS, USAW L1 SPC, Pn1, and FMSC. Wearing a number of hats, Jesse runs his own website (www.revolutionstrengthcoach.com), trains clients privately and through Equinox, and is an Equinox EFTI Master Instructor. He currently lives in Westchester County with his beautiful wife and their dog.

Readiness, Preparedness and the Plight of a Minor League Baseball Player

So about two months ago I was out doing some grocery shopping when I got a call from an athlete of mine who is currently playing minor league baseball.  For the sake of this article, let's call him Tim. Before we get to the phone call, however, let me give you a quick backstory:  Tim is a very good athlete who put in a lot of hard work this offseason and managed to take his fastball from high 80's to 93-96 MPH.  For anyone who has played baseball, and played for an extended period of time, you'll know these type of velocity jumps are hard to come by.  As an unrelated aside, I hate when coaches try and take all the credit for their athletes improvement.  Yes, good programming and coaching makes an enormous difference, but at the end of the day nothing is possible if the athlete isn't making the sacrifices and putting in the time to get better.

Anyways, when I picked up the phone I could immediately tell something was wrong and it didn't take long to figure out why...Tim's velocity had disappeared.  Just several weeks before he was sitting 93-96 MPH, but now that he had been at spring training for a few weeks his velocity had dropped to 85-88 MPH.  If you aren't a baseball person, that's a big drop and is enough to make a team reconsider signing you.

After we spoke for a little while, and Tim filled me in on what all they had him doing, it became crystal clear why he was experiencing so many problems:  his true preparedness level was being masked by fatigue.

Readiness vs. Preparedness

Over the past several years there has been a BOOM in tracking software that allows coaches to see how their athletes are recovering, and how ready they are to perform on a specific day.

Whether we're talking something as simple as tracking daily fluctuations in Heart Rate Variability, or something as complicated as Omegawave, the end goal is the same:  coaches want to know the status of the athlete right now to make the best training decisions for the day in question.

While this concept of readiness and preparedness is a simple one, it unfortunately gets routinely overlooked and deserves our attention.  To help better understand the relationship between preparedness and readiness take a look at the graph below.

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The graph above is owned by Omegawave and Val Nasedkin. It does an incredible job displaying the concepts we're talking about today, and I couldn't recommend checking out their software enough. Furthermore, much of the verbiage we'll be using today comes directly from them.

While there's a lot going on in the graph, I want to draw your attention to the two main pieces we're focusing on today:  readiness vs. preparedness.

When thinking of preparedness, think of it as your overall fitness level.  In other words, it's the accumulation of all the work you've done over time.  Thus, it's a long term quality.  You aren't changing your overall level of preparedness in a single day or one week, we're talking about training for months and years to acquire truly high levels of preparedness.

Readiness, on the other hand, is a short term quality that merely reflects the athlete's ability to display his or her preparedness level on a particular day.  For example, let's say you take an athlete out to run 100 meter sprints at 100% effort on Monday.  What do you think will happen to their readiness level on Tuesday?  It's going to drop, and it's going to drop because you have created fatigue.  You have essentially masked the athletes true preparedness level with fatigue.

In the offseason, this isn't actually a bad thing when managed properly because in order to create adaptation we have to stress the system and generate adequate amounts of fatigue.  In fact, it's a major part of the offseason for highly competitive athletes.  Grab them in the middle of a grueling training cycle and you'll see performance levels below what they're truly capable of.  That's just how the training process works.

If you'd like to see a real world example of this process, you should checkout this article by Lance Goyke on fight conditioning.  You'll notice fatigue is generated, but once the athlete tapers things change drastically.

To further help drive this point home, I'll steal a line from Dr. Pat Davidson's ebook and training program MASS:

"Fatigue is the mask behind which fitness hides. It’s fun to wear masks, because nobody really knows who you are. I live a life of reverse Halloween. I wear a mask nearly year round, and it’s called fatigue.  Every now and then I enjoy reverse Halloween days, and I take off my mask. When I take off the mask, then you see that a monster was living there all along, and I do things that may seem scary to most.

Training is the process of living in fatigue for most of the time. Training is the reverse Halloween phenomenon. Training is how rabid dogs learn to put the foam away behind a mask. And then there are the reverse Halloween days where the real monster, who has been masked by the regular guy face unveils the beast that has been lurking in the shadows all along.

You can’t let the monster out too often. It’s not safe. You keep the monster hidden away by masking it with fatigue. Fatigue is the chains that keep the monster from destroying the city. Every now and then it can be fun to take off the chains though. Remove the fatigue and let the monster rage."

Back to Tim and Velocity

Returning to our man Tim and his velocity dilemma, the answer was really quite simple:  the organization was creating too much fatigue and hiding his true abilities.  What does too much fatigue look like?  Give this a go:

  • - Wake up everyday at 6:30
  • - Run everyday
  • - Throw everyday
  • - Train everyday
  • - Play one to two games a day

Out of respect for Tim and the organization I don't want to get into any specifics, but the above gauntlet is more or less what he was being told to do on a daily basis.  Thus, it's really no surprise his velocity disappeared.

And just to prove a point, once Tim left camp and got back into a good routine his velocity immediately jumped back to 93-96 MPH #takethemaskoff.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Fight Conditioning: How to Build an Engine that Won't Gas Out

The easiest way to lose a fight is to gas out. When this fatigue sets in, not only are your muscles weaker, but you also make poor decisions because of it. This is why proper conditioning is absolutely essential.

But how do you do it? If you know a little bit of physiology, it’s actually not that difficult to understand.

A fighter of mine recently competed in a tournament, so I’m going to use his case study to illustrate how someone like him would want to prepare for a fight.

INITIAL ASSESSMENT

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First, I had him send me a bunch of pictures and videos to get an idea of his muscle balance/imbalance.

After that, I had him perform multiple conditioning tests.

From this assessment, I can come up with a rough outline for what he needs to work on.

Here are my notes on his assessment (we’ll define these abbreviated terms soon):

  • - Extended posture; obvious need for deep abdominal muscles
  • - Not in pain
  • - HRR to 130 BPM took 1m50s (biggest weakness)
  • - RHR ~58 BPM (not great)
  • - AT = 172 BPM, almost went one mile in 6 minutes (not bad)
  • - Fight rounds are 6 minutes with a minimum of 6 minutes between rounds
  • - Fights are only one round
  • - Has a good training foundation

If you’re unsure on how to do conditioning tests, read this.

We had 11 weeks from when I started with him to the day of his fight.

11-10 WEEKS OUT

Since his fight prep will start 8 weeks out, we have these two weeks to build a stronger foundation (which is always important).

The focus will be on max strength and local muscular endurance using the strength-aerobic method on one day with two different exercises. The strength-aerobic method consists of heavy weight, low rep sets followed by low weight, constant tension sets. This method trains the contractility of the fast-twitch muscles to make him strong, then the size of the slow-twitch muscle fibers to make him more resistant to fatigue while maintaining work output..

We also incorporated some explosive repeats to develop his HRR, which, as you recall, was his biggest weakness in the conditioning tests.

Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) - a measure of the ability for the recovery systems to turn on after a bout of intense activity

Here is how we organized his explosive repeats

  • - 10s:50s (work:rest) x 6-7 rounds
  • - Then a general strength exercise
  • - 10s:40s (work:rest) x 6-7 rounds
  • - This gradual decrease of the rest period is to develop aerobic power

Aerobic Power - how quickly the aerobic system is able to turn on and produce energy

The aerobic system can produce the most energy over a long period of time, but it takes a while to get going. Developing aerobic power is essential for any fighter.

We also used some HICT for fast-twitch muscle endurance (so he can still be fast in later rounds).

High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT) - a training method for making the strong fast-twitch muscle fibers more resistant to fatigue

And we used COD for left ventricle eccentric hypertrophy (so his heart can beat more efficiently).

Cardiac Output Development (COD) - a training method for increasing the efficiency of the heart.

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during COD.

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9 WEEKS OUT

This was a taper week to get ready for a grueling training camp, so his training volume was low here.

8-6 WEEKS OUT

The focus of these weeks was on local muscular endurance.

We used HRI to develop aerobic power.

High Resistance Intervals (HRI) - a training method similar to the explosive repeats we talked about earlier, but the recovery time of each set is based on HRR instead of a fixed time interval.

He had a general strength and movement day.

We also ramped up the difficulty of the explosive repeats:

  • - 15-20s:50s (work:rest) x 8-10
  • - Split squats
  • - 15-20s:40s (work:rest) x 8-10 (made the intervals slightly more difficult than before)

The longer work periods just place a little bit more stress on him, making it even more necessary that his heart rate turn on.

6-3 WEEKS OUT

The focus of these weeks was on cardiac power.

Cardiac Power - the contractility of the heart; how hard it can work.

To make his heart contract harder, I had him do MMA drills for CPI (increased sport specificity)

Cardiac Power Intervals (CPI) - a training method for developing contractility of the heart muscle.

This is how I had him do CPIs:

  • - 60s-120s work
  • - Recover HR to 130 BPM
  • - 10 rounds

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during CPIs.

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He also did the strength-aerobic method from earlier to hold onto his max strength and the hypertrophy of his slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Lastly, we introduced some threshold training.

Threshold Training - a training method for raising the anaerobic threshold, allowing for more work to be done at his maximum sustainable level of intensity

His initial tests showed me that his estimated AT was 172 BPM.

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) - the point at which the work being done becomes too much to maintain; where the energy demanded surpasses the energy produced

For his threshold training, he just needs to keep his heart rate around at 172 +/- 5 BPM for as long as I prescribe. We started off 4m:3m x 3 rounds, and progressed to 6m:6m x 3-5 rounds, making the intervals just like the worst-case scenario for his tournament (his rounds are 6 minutes long and he will have no less than 6 minutes between fights).

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during threshold training.

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Constant Monitoring

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In an email exchange, he sent me the above picture and told me that he noticed it takes him 40-45 seconds to rev his heart rate from 130 to about 165 BPM.

What this tells me is that he’s super efficient, but could use some increased contractility of his heart muscle. This made me decide to keep in his CPIs and make that a focus of his training camp for as long as possible.

3-2 WEEKS OUT

The focus of these two weeks is fight specificity.

Basically, everything needs to resemble the fight so that his body is acclimated. As I mentioned above, we decided to continue CPIs.

We also continued threshold training.

  • - 6m:6m (work:rest) x 3 for worst-case scenarios, or
  • - 6m:10m (work:rest) x 4 for better-case scenarios

The reason we didn’t stick to only the 6m:6m intervals is because I wanted him to be able to develop higher intensity during the 6m work period if he was given a long rest time between rounds. The hope was that he would be able to spar at these intervals. If not, I asked him to do drilling on whatever skills needed practice instead.

2-1 WEEKS OUT

The focus of these weeks is rest. This is also known as a taper.

Start taper on 7/10.

Fight is on 7/18.

Intensity and volume both come way down during the taper so that he can recover from the intense 7 weeks he just had.

On one day, I gave him a COD exercise circuit to get some active recovery.

He was allowed 3 easy mat days.

I instructed him to recover as hard as he’d been training (e.g. diet, sleep, compression leg sleeves, acai bowl by the pool).

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He went in to the gym on Friday, did his warm up, then left.

On Saturday, his instructions were simply to go whoop ass.

To measure his recovery, we monitored his RHR.

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) - how fast your heart beats first thing in the morning; can be collected and used to monitor recovery

I had him start tracking his RHR a few weeks before the competition. Your heart rate will usually be lowest in the morning because you haven’t been moving, then it will rise and fall throughout the day.

The following graph shows his recovery (as measured by his RHR) over the last few weeks.

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This is especially remarkable when I tell you that the 46 BPM he measured on July 15th was at 2PM, not immediately upon waking. Plus, this is the lowest his heart rate has ever been, telling me that he is more prepared for this fight than ever.

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This graph illustrates the power of a taper before a fight. Had we not allowed his body to recover from his training, he would have been fatigued going into the competition and would not have been able to perform his best.

OUTCOME

Here’s what he had to say when I asked him how he did:

“All in all - not bad. Choked the guy in first match, lost on points in second. I showed both physically and mentally. Gas tank was for days.

“Not happy with overall results though wanted to bring home some hardware. Next time.”

The second round was actually kind of amazing. He pulled off a great move that would have scored him enough points to move on to the next round… but time expired too soon.

“There is a rule [that the] athlete needs to stabilize position for 4 seconds before getting points. What I did was 5 points move: 2 for take down + 3 for getting to side control. If I initiated scramble 5 seconds earlier - I would have stayed alive in the tournament… Shitty timing on my part. Lesson learnt though.

“Just want to say thank you for the though [sic] and work you put in in [sic] my prep. It changed many things in a positive way. The biggest tournament of the year for me is ***** [removed] in spring and I look forward to getting ready for it with you.”

[Click Here to apply to be a Team RP Athlete today]

REFLECTIONS

  • - This guy is the perfect client and 100% compliant
  • - It was difficult to plan what he would do on the mat
  • - Life stress can get in the way
  • - I'm glad we had good communication because otherwise I wouldn't have known how long it took his HR to climb during CPIs
  • - As he becomes more experienced, he will do better and better
  • - I am 95% happy with his training leading up to the tournament
  • - I wish I had asked him what drills he needed to work on the mat
  • - I wish I had redone the conditioning tests after the fight

The biggest lesson that I want you to walk away with is that your conditioning alone probably won’t win you a competition, but it can certainly lose you a competition.

Don’t let that happen to you. If you need a strength and conditioning coach or any advice on your fight prep, don’t hesitate to reach out.

about the author

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Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.

Coming Up With a Long Term Plan: The Proper Lens to Look Through for Your Macrocycle

A major issue amongst the novice and intermediate athletes of the strength community today is their vision. The amount of emails and questions I get regarding how to get ready for X in 4 weeks completely out weighs the questions I get regarding long term progress. I of course answer with the best advice and help I can give, but I always try to point them in the direction of long term preparation. I do this for two reasons:

1.  It gives the best results

2.  It highlights those who are exceptionally motivated

The people who are looking down the line for success will always beat the ones looking for an easy way out. I truly believe everyone has the ability to reach their goals, but the proper motivation and guidance are needed.

The Long Term Plan

This is where devising a macro cycle comes into play. A macrocycle is essentially a long term block periodization plan that leads an athlete to an ultimate goal. This goal is typically a competition or a milestone that has high levels of emotional attachment. This means the macrocycle is your treasure map to striking gold. If you know anything about gold miners, you know they don’t just mindlessly hack away at the same spot hoping for something to magically change.

This is the major flaw in the training programs of many athletes.

If someone decides to compete in a strongman show 20 weeks out, the worst thing they can do is begin hitting the competition events right away. They are hacking away at the same thing hoping for improvements in performance to come. Specificity is an incredibly important portion of a training program, however, if it begins to over take its purpose it can certainly inhibit you. The reason sport specific training can elicit a peak is because for a short period of time the sport specific traits are exposed to higher volumes and given more emphasis while under residual fatigue. This causes the body to super-compensate the recovery/neural aspects of the stimulus (i.e. the sport specific training). This is your ace card and your final progression. If you play that card too early, then you're going to miss out on a lot of potential for improvement and eventually have to settle or fold.

So what is supposed to fill the rest of your macrocycle? It is most effective to reverse engineer it when looking at your own training. I will take you through how I am viewing an upcoming goal of mine through a long term lens. Beginning around 28 weeks out, this is the first major step in my longer term plans. There is no standard number of weeks when planning a macrocycle, however, I would recommend a minimum of 15 weeks to allow you to flow well.

Start: 06/01

Compete: 11/14

Goal: bulk up to 198 and total over 1460

First 5 weeks:

-Kcal set 3100 weekly, maintain BW of 188

-Increase muscle mass and work capacity

Weeks 6-10 (in this phase currently)

-Kcal drop to 2800-2600, increase body comp

-Increase movement quality and muscle mass

Weeks 11-16

-Kcal increase until BW reaches 190-192

-Begin implementing SPP and developing alactic capacity

Weeks 17-22

-Kcal increase to maintain 193-195

-Bulk of sport specific volume handled

Weeks 23-28

-Cycling of Kcal throughout week to maintain 195

-Peaking phase begins

Now this is a very rough and vague outline for where my training and nutrition will go. My longer term goal is to compete in the 231 class in strongman, meaning I will be bulking long term. Hence the cut of bf % and kcal because it's easier to maintain body composition while gaining weight than to improve it. To aid in this goal I am currently doing a John Meadows program 7 days a week, then I will transition into a phase were I develop efficient patterns in the bench, squat, and deadlift while returning to the alactic energy system. Finally, from week 17 on I will be focusing on building strength and preparing for the meet.

Important Considerations

The goal of this was to show you the changes and transitions training must go through in order to properly prepare you to reach a goal. When creating an effective long term plan you must objectively look at yourself. What are your weaknesses? What will be your limiting factor in performance? What is your long term vision? It is uncommon that you are creating the last major macrocycle, this only happens once or twice in a life time. Most macrocycles are only means to further progress yourself using other goals as a medium.

The most important variables are the energy system the sport utilizes, the strength demands of the sport, the movement demands of the sport, favorable anthropometrics, and the conditions the sport will be performed in.

These are by no means the only ones, but these can generally be applied to all sports.

So you're at block one...how do you start? I recommend looking at the most successful participants in your sport and break down their performance and learn about them. You should have a clear indication of the direction you want to go with the program based on the research you have done before hand. Since you are working backwards it should be easy to periodize everything. The beginning portion of your program should be set to fixing weaknesses and creating a rock solid foundation. It should then progress to focusing on building important attributes for the sport. Finally, the program should be heavy in sport specific volume that translates best to your goals.

Think about how treasure maps work in movies:  the trip begins nice, but as you get closer and closer to the treasure you have to evade more dangers until you finally reach the end and are glad its all over.

Step 1: Pick 1-2 goals that you will be programming toward

Step 2: Pick the qualities and attributes you would like to improve to reach the goals

Step 3: Do the calendar math on how many total weeks you will have

Step 4: Pool together the movements you will be using

Step 5: Establish the method you would like to peak with and its attributes

Step 6: Begin reverse engineering the program back to week 1

Step 7: Sit on it, and review the program multiple times before you begin

Closing Thoughts

I may be beating a dead horse with this, but when it comes to planning out the macrocycle reverse engineering is most effective. You have a clear cut end goal with the traits you want to peak.  You then take one step back and start asking yourself questions:  what type of training protocol would allow you to peak for this? And so on and so forth.

Long term progress is not a linear track. This is where too much specificity can hurt you. If you spend more time developing your aerobic GPP you have a greater ability to handle general volume, which will allow you to handle more specific work, which will allow you to handle even greater amounts of specificity and so on. Do not allow yourself to view this process linearly, it is very much cyclic in nature. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of long term commitment. Don’t be afraid of any bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid of the success you may reach.

about the author

Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

Loaded Carries: The What, The When and The Why

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Do reps that should be fast feel slow, even when they're light? Does something just feel missing from your training? Do your movements feel stale and uncomfortable? Or do you just flat out feel un-athletic? If you answered yes to any of those questions then I can almost guarantee you don’t do any type of loaded carries, and if you do, you probably aren’t programming them properly. Loaded carries are the most underutilized movements in today’s strength and conditioning field. The amount of versatility loaded carries can provide to a program is parallel to the barbell, really. The biggest reasons you should be doing loaded carries are:

1.  Stability

2.  Energy system development

3.  Recovery.

Stability, and I don’t mean single leg bosu squats. I mean stabilizing the spine in a safe, fixed position, while fighting the inertia of a load and then creating movement. This is a two pronged approach to teaching true stability in an athlete. In human gait there is minimal inertia fought and a minimal amount of reflexive stabilization needed. Reflexive stabilization is the inert firing of muscles to stabilize a moving part on the opposite side. In loaded carries, the athletes are forced to stabilize and control the load imposed in order to move.

An athlete who can properly stabilize moving parts will have a greater ability to consciously create pressure. This happens through strengthening the reflexive muscles of the core that are difficult to properly utilize. This can lead to major increases in intra-abdominal pressure and thickness of the trunk, which can then help prevent certain injuries.

It is not uncommon for athletes to have acute and sometimes debilitating injuries due to lack of stability throughout ranges of motion. If one can safely translate (walk) through space with load and train the reflexive stabilizers then this risk of injury greatly decreases. You can’t consciously control every single muscle in your system, reflexive stabilization saves you more than you give it credit for.

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Energy system development is the big boy. You cannot reach your specific goals if you don’t first have a proper foundation. The versatility of loaded carries can give you an easy to implement portal to any energy system you wish to engage in. This opens the door to multiple skills as well as safely increasing training stress. Slow and de-conditioned athletes alike will benefit more than they can imagine from this.

Loaded carries can develop the alactic and aerobic capacity simultaneously. This is possible by having an athlete perform very alactic runs followed by light walking or another low intensity exercise that will facilitate aerobic recovery for the next set. I will go into how to properly program and progress carries later in the article.

However, something important to understand is the gift of GPP you can give to an athlete. Sure it’s great to spend their whole off-season doing sport specific movements, but that’s what their pre and in-season training should be geared toward. Developing a large generalized work capacity is an opportunity to further improve and refine sport specific skill and the greatest gift we can give to our athletes IS the opportunity to improve.

Types of Carries

Our first step into how to properly implement loaded carries is to define the different types. I break them down into two categories: direct and indirect.

Direct

Directly loaded carries can be further broken down into anterior, posterior and parallel loads. Anterior carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant stabilizes the load on the anterior portion of the spine and are in direct contact with it. This includes sandbag, keg, hussafelt, conan’s wheel, kettlebell front rack walks, etc.

Posterior loaded carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant is in direct contact with a load on the posterior portion of the spine, this is mainly characterized by the yoke walk.

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Finally, direct parallel loads are where the participant is in direct contact with the object but the load is parallel to the spine. This includes any hand loaded carry like farmers and any overhead walks.

Indirect

Indirect carries do not necessarily involve the participant actually carrying the object, however, they are still overcoming the inertia of load. I often refer to these more generally as moving events. This includes, prowler pushes, sled drags, and truck pulls etc.

The key to keeping your adaptations coming is to expose yourself to different types of carries before changing the protocol. Incorporating multiple types of loads and carries will allow an athlete to further their work capacity without increasing difficulty. Outside of strongman carries, utilize kettlebells and buddy carries as well to add variety.

Programming

Now that you are aware of the different types of carries we can implement, the next step is to define how we can program them. When creating a program, every movement chosen should directly reflect the goal of that program or block. Hence, I have categorized the different ways to program loaded carries based on your and/or your athlete’s goals:

Increase speed/alactic capacity

Using loaded carries to increase speed or expand the ability to fight off metabolic waste (alactic capacity) can be extremely effective in a short period of time. Often times with deconditioned athletes I choose light loaded carries over sprints. This is because the load imposed that the athlete must overcome acts as a limiting factor for them to “over sprint.” I wont go into the proper mechanics of sprinting, but squeezing and trying your hardest to go fast certainly isn’t the correct way.

The nice thing about loaded carries for speed is that there really isn’t any running. Although you are going as fast as possible, the gait pattern is still walking. There is no flight phase (i.e. the major difference between running and walking) in loaded carries because it just wouldn’t work. Why? Your reflexive stabilizers are not prime movers, although they can be powerful enough to carry heavy loads, they will never be powerful enough to carry heavy loads without a point of contact on the ground.

This lack of flight phase simplifies the movement and makes it more accessible to more populations. Programming carrying events for speed is simple. Vertically increase volume over a given distance while keeping speed constant. This means pick a distance to train (40-60ft) and a speed (<10s) to maintain. These two variables should stay relatively the same throughout the block. What you can manipulate to create adaptation is volume and intensity (surprise, surprise).

For most athletes new to carrying events that fit this category, I would recommend accumulating 200-300ft at a given speed with a light load. The overall feel of the protocol should not be higher than a 7/10 RPE. The key to truly improving speed is frequency, being able to do the same session 2-3 times a week will be far more beneficial then just “killing it” one day.

If you're a more advanced athlete looking to focus on increasing work capacity as opposed to maximal speed, I would recommend not going past 400ft. To further progress someone who has mastered loaded carries it is best to manipulate rest time. The reason I limit most carrying sessions to 400ft is because no matter how efficient the pattern, the ground reaction forces associated with carrying events is significantly higher than walking and although this stress can lead to great adaptation, too much stress will soar over the line of diminishing return and potentially lead to pain.

Examples:

Novice: 5x50ft 60% of max in under 9s. Rest as needed.

Advanced: 8x40ft 70% of max under 8s with 90s rest.

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Facilitate recovery

Carrying events are wonderful to facilitate recovery because of the high levels of stress imposed and very small amount of total volume needed. This fits better into the active recovery needs of a healthy athlete that hasn’t already built up excessive amounts of stress (the peak of the season or in a high volume strength block wouldn’t be ideal times). The fact that the participant is fighting inertia to stay “neutral” systemically engages the entire body. This gives it a great bang for your buck. You are able to reap the rewards of loaded carries while facilitating recovery.

Examples:

Novice: 3x50ft 50% of max under 9s

Advanced: 4x40ft 50% of max under 8s with 60s rest.

Improve GPP

A incredibly effective, and fun, way to increase work capacity is though loaded carries. Since they are loaded versions of walking they can be taken for long distances. The training variables you need to worry about here are rest time and distance. Load will take a back seat here while volume will play a secondary role. Due to the nature of this training the total amount of distance covered will be more variable since the load will be so low, but I would not recommend exceeding 600ft.

Increasing work capacity with this protocol can be done in two energy systems: the glycolytic and aerobic. Both can do an incredibly effective job, but there are some notable differences in programming for either energy system. In this scenario, rest time and distance are directly correlated with total volume, while work is inversely correlated with total volume.

The more glycolytic you would like to make your training the more distance you should cover per set with more rest time and less total sets. The opposite would be true for a more aerobic training session

Examples:

Novice:

Glycolytic: 3x150ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 6x50ft with 40% of max with 45s rest

Advanced:

Glycolytic: 3x200ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 10x40ft with 50% of max with 45s rest

Closing Thoughts

When training moving events I typically program them at the begging of a training session. Next time you squat, try hitting some yoke with one of these protocols and watch how much more powerful your squats feel. Producing high amounts of force over a short period of time will excite the nervous system and prepare you for lifting weights. An added benefit to programming your carries at the beginning of the session is that although it isn’t fatiguing it is an opportunity for the athlete to efficiently increase work capacity.

Loaded carries will give you a whole new world of development to dive into which will ultimately lead to an increase in performance. Not everyone will take a 1000lb yoke for a 50ft ride but I promise everyone has something great to gain from exposure to loaded carries regardless of their goals. Stop being slow, start being explosive. Stop being bored on the treadmill, start running with kegs.

The Minimal Adaptable Load And What It Means For Your Training

As coaches and athletes we’re always in pursuit of the same thing:

PROGRESS

And that progress will come in many different shapes and sizes. For one person it may mean losing 15 lbs, for another it may mean deadlifting 500lbs, and for another it may mean winning a world championship.

At the end of the day, however, progress is always the uniting principle by which we can gauge the effectiveness of a training program:

Is it taking you/he/she closer towards their goal?

If yes, then you’re making progress.

If no, then you’re not.

BUT, here's the magical question:  how do I or my athletes make progress?

The answer...stress.

But not just any stress, it has to be the right type of stressor, at the right time, in the right amount.  If any of those factors are off, then you won't be incurring the type of positive adaptation you're looking for.

While there are many variables to consider when putting together a comprehensive training program, I'd like to focus today on one that I believe doesn't get enough attention, and the implications it has for training.  And that variable is called:  The Minimal Adaptable Load.

The Process of Adaptation

Before continuing, it's important that you know a thing or two about adaptation since that is, at the end of the day, how we make progress.

Thus, let's walk through the basic process.

In the graph below you'll notice fitness level is on the y-axis and time is on the x-axis.  The 0 point on the y-axis represents your current fitness level, while above it represents improvement and below represents decline.  It's important to note that any fitness quality can replace "fitness level" on the y-axis.  For example, you could easily get more specific and put something like speed strength, or starting strength, or absolute strength, but for today we'll just focus on the broader concept of fitness.

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As you can see in the above graph, the process of adaptation follows a pretty simple formula:

Step 1:  Provide a stressor/training stimulus

Step 2:  Fatigue

Step 3:  Recovery

Step 4:  Supercompensation

Step 5:  Involution

If you'd like to read more about adaptation, then checkout this post I wrote for Eric Cressey a little while back.

Let's take this a step further and consider three separate scenarios:

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Scenario 1:  Not Enough Stress (Purple Dashed Line)

In this scenario, the athlete has not been stressed nearly enough.  While they did accumulate low levels of fatigue, it wasn't enough to force a positive adaptation (notice how the purple dashed line doesn't cross back over the original fitness level).

Scenario 2:  Too Much Stress (Red Dashed Line)

This is the exact opposite of our first scenario:  the athlete has been stressed far too much (driven too low) and can't adequately recover.  In other words, they dug a hole too deep to climb out of (again...not surpassing the original fitness level and maybe even getting worse).

Scenario 3:  Just Right (Green Dashed Line)

Jackpot!  The athlete has been stressed enough to force adaptation to occur.  Fatigue accumulated, but it was the right amount of fatigue because the athlete could adequately recover from it.

The Minimal Adaptable Load

What you just experienced in Scenario 3 is the minimal adaptable load.  And seeing as this is a term you're probably not familiar with (I'm fairly certain I made it up this past weekend) let's go ahead and define it:

The minimal adaptable load represents the total amount of volume in tons/lbs/kgs that must be lifted over the course of a designated period of time in order to incur a positive adaptation in a fitness quality.

Hopefully I don't need to explain why this concept is important, but this value does change with time.  When you first start off training you can practically just look at weights and get stronger, but once you've been lifting for a while it takes a little more effort to keep putting weight on the bar.

Which brings us to our next big point:

The Beginner vs. The Advanced Athlete

I think the real beauty of the minimal adaptable load shows through when considering how you go about training a beginner vs. a more advanced athlete.

Since the beginner has a lower training age it won't take nearly as much stress/load to improve a given fitness quality.  The more advanced athlete with an older training age, on the other hand, will require significant stress/loading to improve a given fitness quality.

For example, take a freshman in high school who hasn't touched weights once his entire life and an all american going into his senior year of college.  Different scenarios?

You bet your ass they are.

And that has to show through in their programming.

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The beginner can afford to train several different fitness qualities at once because it doesn't take much loading to incur a positive adaptation.  For example, let's say it takes 300 lbs of volume (and this is a completely arbritrary number) for him to see improvement in maximal strength.  That's not much at all, so you can afford to go after multiple qualities at once.

The advanced athlete, on the other hand, might need 10,000 lbs of volume (again, made up number) to see progress.  Thus, he needs to periodize his programming to focus on one fitness quality at a time.  He cannot train max strength, strength speed, and speed strength simultaneously because it'll be impossible to make progress in any category.  If he actually did perform the necessary amount of loading in each category he'd be so overtrained that he'd get worse.

Keeping Track of Training

The other important thing to note is that you should be keeping track of your training (and your athletes training if you're a coach).

If you don't have these numbers, then how are you ever going to appropriately monitor training from month to month, and year to year.

For example, let's say you hit a 3 month block aimed at improving your deadlift.  At the end of those three months you retest and see very minimal gains.  What should you do next?

Well...you should consult you're training log.  Look at volume, look at intensity, look at how many different fitness qualities you're attempting to train at once etc.  In essence, bury yourself in the numbers and figure out where your program is coming up short.

Granted, there are other variables to consider as well:  nutrition, total allostatic load etc.  But having a training log is an invaluable tool when it comes time to making consistent progress over the long haul.

Key Takeaways

While we touched on some bigger concepts in today's article, here are the three major takeaways I hope you have:

1.  Identify your and/or your athletes training age because it will have a big impact on how you approach programming for them.

2.  Keep track of your and/or your athletes training with a detailed training log because it gives you invaluable data on training volume etc.

3.  Begin thinking in terms of the minimal adaptable load (i.e. how much volume needs to be lifted over x amount of time for me to see gains in y lift).

As always, feel free to post questions, comments, concerns and/or pictures of people curling in the squat rack below.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding Stress and Adaptation

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Your body has its own bank account.

It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.

In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.

For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept...

Be sure to checkout the rest of the post over at Eric Cressey's site by clicking the link below:

Click Me==> Strength and Conditioning Programs:  Understanding Stress and Adaptation

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Programming Around An Injury: 5 Things You Have to Know

In all long term pursuits there are obstacles that define you. The path to success isn’t exactly linear. In the realm of iron, often times these obstacles are pain or injury related. And believe it or not…working through pain and/or injury usually isn’t your best option.

Way too often I see people loose their hard earned gains over an injury, and it’s sickening.

It’s important to understand that there are certain phases of an injury where it may not be in your best interest to train around it, however, there are certainly instances where an athlete can continue to make strategic progress toward their goal while rehabilitating an injury.

In essence, an injury doesn’t mean it’s time to stop training, it just means you have to be very smart in the way you approach training.

When it comes to making a full recovery, step one is to not let the injury define you:

You can still be a good deadlifter even if your lower back isn't allowing you to pull.

That national title can still be in your hands even with a tender ankle.

Ultimately, assuming an athlete isn't completely restricted by their injury, you can still implement certain modalities that'll get a training effect and boost performance.

Look at the Adaptations at Jeopardy

Cardiac output, blood pressure, and aerobic enzymes can drop in as little as a week, meaning aerobic adaptations quickly deplete. However, this can be combated with three lower intensity or two higher intensity aerobic sessions a week.

Anaerobic adaptations, on the other hand, tend to stick around a little longer and can be maintained with one to two moderate to vigorous training sessions per week. That means missing one or two heavy sessions a month won't kill your strength.

While this is outside the scope of this article, it's also important to understand the relationship between anaerobic and aerobic adaptations.  They are very much intertwined and play important roles in the functioning of each other.  To learn more about this, I'd recommend checking out our energy systems webinar by clicking here.

Classify

The next step is to objectively classify the functional capabilities surrounding the injury:

“How much pain free volume can you handle?

What are the restrictions in range of motion?

Are there external limitations (splint, casts, harness etc)?

Does the site of pain exhibit impaired recovery?”

Taking a deeper look at the adaptations at jeopardy, and classifying the scope of the problem are both absolutely critical to the success of your program.

Aerobic Strength Training

Aerobic strength training protocols are very effective and very underutilized training methods, especially in strength sports.  Aerobic adaptations are incredibly important for strength athletes for a multitude of reasons, but here are a few to get your head spinning

1.  Decrease in resting heart rate helps balance the autonomic nervous system via increased vagal tone

2.  Increases in stroke volume have a direct effect on the creation of pressure throughout the organism, and both of these (#1 and #2), in turn, increase cardiac output

3.  Increases in resting calcium levels and enzymes lead to much more powerful contractions

4.  VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor, which leads to growth hormone further down the cascade) increases in response to metabolic waste built up during training, and has a profound effect on recovery over time.

Some of my favorite protocols include: Charlie Francis style tempos paired bodyweight exercises, low impact unilateral plyometrics, and volume unilateral resistance training (rear foot elevated, half kneeling press, get-ups, etc).

Unilateral Work

Another very important tool to utilize is unilateral work, especially in those with one limb out of commission. The myth of ignoring it due to the creation of muscle imbalances isn't true. Motor program adaptations, especially if there's a lack of sensory-motor feedback to one limb, are spread to both arms.

Meaning if you have a broken ankle, doing unilateral plyometrics on the non injured ankle will benefit the injured side. This is essential in rehabilitating and maintaining adaptations on the affected side.

Some Samples

To help visualize what a program would look like I have attached two very different programs for two very different athletes with very different situations.

The first is Nick. He is amongst the most elite amateur strongmen in the nation, and has a fractured ring finger and torn ligament on his right side.  He has severe swelling in the finger, along with some daily pain and goes to physical therapy twice a week. Currently, he cannot grasp much in his right hand or overly extend his wrist, and he trains three days a week. His longterm goal is to get his Light Weight Pro Card in strongman, however, his current goal is to maintain his strength while improving movement quality and work capacity until the finger is completely healed. Due to this being his long term goal, most of his volume and time are spent in his movement prep. His resistance training, on the other hand, leans more toward aerobic strength to assist with recovery and to avoid over fatiguing his nervous system due to his limited move pool.

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The next athlete’s program I will share with you is Summer--a high level strongman athlete herself.  She's been dealing with chronic and debilitating foot pain in her right foot due to an ineffective surgery several years ago.  Thus, she cannot perform much running or load the foot frequently, and struggles with dorsiflexion.  To make matters even more complicated, she's currently in a boot trying to resolve the issue.

With all of that in mind, here are Summer's primary goals right now:  increase upper body muscle mass and strength.  In order to help facilitate that goal, her movement prep and resistance training are geared toward upper body volume.  Also, seeing as her injury may be longer in its healing process, she will go through multiple blocks with a similar template.

Here's a sample day of her training  (If you're interested in hearing more about Summer’s story, click here).

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Perhaps the most important part of programming for an injured athlete, besides keeping them as healthy as possible, is to keep their levels of motivation high.  Work hard to narrow their focus, and find things they can still work on despite their limitations.  For example, this could be an ideal time to set short term goals that aren’t always a priority, such as improving body composition or focusing on movement quality.

Lastly, be sure to take into consideration the impact a limited movement pool will have on programming volumes and intensity.  You cannot vary their routines to the extent you do a healthy athletes, so be sure to monitor volume and intensity very closely to avoid overtraining.

Hope you enjoyed the article, and post any questions or comments you have below.

about the author

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Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

Minus the Fanfare: Blend Methodologies for Well Rounded Performance

You want to be strong, but you're not into the whole knee wrap, smelling salts, arched back powerlifting thing. You want to be big, but you're not into the whole protein powder, hulking out, fake tan bodybuilding thing. You want to be fit, but you're not into the whole kipping, Reebok Nano, 150 wall balls for time CrossFit thing. You want a little bit of everything – minus the fanfare. And you can have it. Simply by adopting the best aspects of each of the aforementioned methodologies (and ditching the superfluous shenanigans), you can create a custom training plan for increased strength, size, and stamina all your own. Here's how:

For strength, look to powerlifting. Make the basic barbell lifts (or variations thereof) the foundation of your training program. After a thorough dynamic warm-up, begin each workout with some type of squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, pull-up, or row.

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Over the course of the training week, perform each of these major lifts at least once. Go heavy (4-6 reps), focusing on lifting the weight as explosively as possible while maintaining perfect form, and take plenty of rest between sets. Utilize progressive overload by adding weight, reps, or sets each and every week.

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After you've done your strength work, shift your attention to muscle building. For this, borrow from bodybuilding. Incorporate both multi- and single-joint movements, sticking to the 8-12 rep range (though higher rep sets can certainly be employed, as well). Count "one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand" during the lowering, or eccentric, phase of every rep. Rest incompletely between sets.

For extra time under tension, work similar movements back-to-back with the following templates:

  • Compound set: multi-joint to multi-joint or single-joint to single-joint (ex: push-ups to dips)
  • Pre-exhaust set: single-joint to multi-joint (ex: bicep curls to lat pull-downs)
  • Post-exhaust set: multi-joint to single-joint (ex: walking lunges to physioball leg curls)

Once you've gotten a solid pump, conclude each workout with some high-intensity circuit training. Race the clock and attempt to beat your own previous best performance, but never substitute speed for movement quality.

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Here are a few of my favorite bodyweight circuits:

For time: 25 reps each of inverted rows, push-ups, bodyweight squats, and straight leg sit-ups (all 25 reps, broken up as needed, must be completed before transitioning to the next exercise)

For 10 minutes: As many rounds as possible of 10 inverted rows, 10 push-ups, and 10 bodyweight squats

21-15-9: burpees and inverted rows (21 burpees, 21 inverted rows, 15 burpees, etc.)

There you have it. No need to get caught up in the frivolity of any one style of training in particular when you can have the best of all of them at once. With an intelligent fusion of powerlifting, bodybuilding, and circuit training, incredible gains in strength, size, and stamina are all yours for the taking.

And if, for whatever reason, your gains or enthusiasm ever begin to wane, there are always elements of gymnastics, Olympic lifting, and strongman to add to the mix. But those are topics for another day.

about the author

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Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains a fitness blog and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.fitnesspollenator.com. Be sure to like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fitnesspollenator.

Steak and Potato Training: What Longhorn Steakhouse Can Teach You About Strength Training

Do you ever go out to eat and can’t decide what to get? You sit there for 20 minutes going back and forth between two different options, and suddenly a third option comes into the picture making it impossible to make a decision.

No?

Maybe that’s just me, but I’m a little crazy anyway.

When I go to my favorite restaurant, Longhorn Steakhouse, there is no question what I am going to get:  STEAK.  Obviously.  And a couple sweet potatoes on the side.

When I first started off in the weight room, I was that guy who was at a random restaurant and didn’t know what he wanted.  Now I'm that guy at Longhorn Steakhouse, and I know exactly what I want.

I bet you are probably questioning how I got to Longhorn.  Well gather round children, here we go! (Mario voice)

As you may already know, I compete in Strongman Competitions. I used to train for football, but now I train to lift weights.  Training for football still requires lifting heavy, but training for a competition requires heavy lifting in specific ranges of motion.

Football was not my Longhorn.  It was more of like a Red Robin to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love and miss Red Robin, but Longhorn stole my heart.  At Red Robin my go to is a bacon cheeseburger, not a steak.  That’s because a bacon cheeseburger at Red Robin is better than their steak.

But now I’m at Longhorn.

Where’s my steak?

My point here is that when you are at different restaurants you order different things.  Same concept when it comes to training.  You do different training and diet programs when it comes to training for different end goals.

Squatting, it’s like brussels sprouts.  Whether I’m at Longhorn or at Red Robin, I’m not ordering them.  People might say they're good for you, but it’s just not worth choking them down anymore.

It fills me up and takes up room in my stomach.  Valuable room in which could be replaced with high quality nutrient dense foods.  Squatting hurts my knees, and if I ignore the pain and fight through it...it travels to my hips.

This negatively affects my other lifts, both in quality and volume. I bet you are sitting there and thinking how the hell did this guy become the national champion strongman?

I got strong and efficient in specific movements.  Not one event in strongman requires you to squat or have your femurs at or below 90 degrees.  I have tried, and I am still trying, to bring the squat back into my training.  I squat light and do single leg exercises to maintain full range of motion strength and to stimulate hypertrophy.

Deadlift is the big time lift that takes the place of squats.  Being able to deadlift pain free, I have worked my deadlift volume up to 3-5 times per week (depending on the phase).  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t squat.  I am saying that you can get strong as fuck without certain “main lifts.”

Maybe bench press is your brussels sprouts.  Your best bet would be to work the same muscles, but shorten the range of motion.  Floor press would be the deadlift to a squat; shorter range of motion but, working similar muscles.  Unless you are a competitive weightlifter, there is no problem. There is always an alternative.

Whatever lifts you choose to be your staples, make sure you can attack them day after day and remain pain free.  Accumulating volume is the secret to strength, but accumulating the volume in a safe and efficient way is the hard part.  Being able to dial up or dial down frequency and intensity at the right time is always crucial.  As long as you know what your end goal is, the process will be that much easier. Find your favorite restaurant, and go get steak every night.

How do you know if certain lifts are a bad idea?  You just know.  You know that the kid in the squat rack going down a quarter of the way isn’t onto something.  You know the guy in his 50’s screaming to get an extra rep on bench probably is not onto anything either.  If it looks and sounds bad, no doubt it's bad.

Just go ahead and watch this clip of the world record clean and Jerk. It looks effortless and beautiful and he’s petting 533lbs over his head.

Steak and Potato Exercises:  (available at any restaurant, quality guaranteed)

Lower:

Deadlift

Goblet Squat

Barbell Hip Bridge

Rear Foot Elevated Squat

Double and Single Leg RDL

Glute Ham Raise

Upper:

Deadlift

Pull Ups/Inverted Rows

Push Ups

Floor Press

Chest Supported Row

Half Kneeling Db Press

Core:

Deadlift

Round Back Breathing

Planks/buzz saws

Hanging Hold

Suitcase/Farmers Carries

Med Ball Break

What's your steak and potato exercise?  What's your brussels sprout?  Drop us a line below and let us know!

about the author

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Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.