By Ed Thompson
Almost all talk of training takes place because we like to talk about training. Sport fisherman like to talk about sport fishing. Hunters talk about hunting. Lifters talk about lifting. Such is life.
Profiting off disseminating lifting info is different from speaking about it cause you love it. Mammon taints purity of discourse. Plain and simple.
So with more than 30 years training, here are the guidelines to lifting improvement. These guidelines work in Power lifting, bodybuilding, whatever.
(Photo above:) Lifter Unknown - Photo taken around 1900.
1.) Start Young - Naturally high levels of circulating testosterone and growth hormone during the mid to late teens and early to mid 20’s, let’s say between 15 and 25 years of age, provide the perfect window to mold your body with resistance training. A tremendous strength base can be layed down during this time. This foundation can last a lifetime with a maintenance routine that is not particularly taxing. It is the initial investment that takes the most time and work.
2.) Train with maximum useful volume - If I was some guru or looking to make bucks, MAXIMUM USEFUL VOLUME would be referred to as MUV. It would be pronounced “move”, dotcomed etc. You work out as much as you possibly can, until you do not have the ability to recover. You heard me right. You work out as much and as hard as possible until you reach a point of diminishing returns to scale. Only at that point do you cut back on your training.
The vast majority of people who have made significant strides in the Iron Game, did so utilizing the window between 15 to 25 years of age, on a program of training as much as they could while still making gains. Volume has always tapered off with advancement. Period. Teaching people to train the least they can to make gains is a variation on the “Get Rich Quick” fleece.
If you investigate the proponents of consolidation training, very slow training, HIT, calisthenics, whatever, you will find a commonality. They got big and strong first through the use of MUV, lifting weights, in what if I was a guru I would term the “WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY” [15 to 25 years of age], represented by the initials WO and pronounced “woe”. MUV + WO = Major Results. MUV varies from individual to individual. It is a continuim not an endpoint.
3.) Oh but Guru X is getting great results using …insert ridiculous method here_________ - Once big and strong you can maintain mass and strength doing all kinds of things that wouldn’t have gotten you big and strong to begin with. Maintaining is different than building. As long as a person puts in slightly more work than the natural rate of decay of strength, they will maintain what they have built.
4.) What if I am not in my WO? - Life is rough. Face facts, if you first pick up a basketball at 40 years of age, you ain’t making it into the NBA. You’re running east looking for a sunset. However, you could still become a great player after many years of dedication, you just ain’t gonna play pro ball. Live with it.
If you start training later in life, you can make great strides. The strides you make just won’t be as exponential as what will happen between 15 and 25 (and those years are a range, for some folks the range could be 18 to 30.)
Don’t get sucked in by gurus. Start working out with MAXIMUM USEABLE VOLUME and when you get to the point of diminishing returns, cut back.
5.) Isn’t slow training the best way to train? - The key to strength and mass (and I am using strength imprecisely meaning both strength and power)is to use the heaviest weights you can for a variety of repetition and set schemes. Light weights get lifted faster, heavy weights get lifted slower.
There is no worthwhile scientific data to support slow lifting. You would need a longitudinal study over decades involving tens of thousands of people to come to any reasonable conclusion. For example, in heart health we have the Framingham Study or the Nurses study etc. Look at the time these people are followed and observe the sample group. We don’t have this in lifting. What we have are short studies (6 weeks or so, not multi-year)with small groups of people (not thousands but 15 college sophomores for example).
Slow lifting takes the emphasis away from lifting. Weight multiplied by the strength of the individual = the speed at which he will lift the weight. It just isn’t a grand science. All the injury talk is pap. There is no scientific evidence worth its salt to back up the proposition.
Logical lifting is lifting that is congruent with the vast anecdotal evidence gleaned from primary source reports over decades. Great muscular figures or the very strong have not, in the main, gotten that way as a result of slow training. They may maintain with slow training but it was not the causation.
Lifting speed should be controlled, but is dictated by weight lifted and your present strength.
6.) Train in a balanced fashion - Neither pushers nor pullers be. Don’t just bench or military press. Don’t just do chins or rows. Train your pushing and pulling muscles with equal gusto. Remember to train lower body as much or more than upper body. Lots of muscle mass in the lower body. Balanced training protects against injury. More injuries are occasioned over the long term by people just benching for upper body with no corresponding back work, than the number of injuries caused by lifting speed. Who says so? My observation. Want to get logical about it? Go get me a multi-year longitudinal study with thousands of participants. Oh that’s right, they don’t exist.
7.) Periodically take time off - Give the body a break from time to time. Let the mind refresh itself. Come back to the gym with a renewed fire in your belly to train. You can do this with holidays. Christmas week off. Easter week off. Couple weeks in the summer off. Whatever scheme you like. A good mental attitude is created by taking breaks. It prevents getting stale.
This does not contradict MUV. Workout as much as you can while making progress. Just make sure to take a few preplanned rest ups during the year.
8.) What is the best way to make improvement? - Go to a gym with really strong people and train with them. Seeing is believing. If you see someone lifting incredible weights your chance of lifting them will be increased. Make sure to factor in all reasons that they are strong. They might have 20 years lifting. They may be somewhat gifted. They might use ergogenic aids.
9.) What of ergogenic aids? - Some are illegal so keep away from them. Others are legal but unhealthy. I put health first. If you begin training during your WO and train enough years during this time, you will build a tremendous base to keep making gains well into your later years of life.
For a guy who starts lifting at forty, the siren song of middle age might push them towards a quick fix. I say forget that noise. Training gains when you’re older will come but you have to be patient and realize that your bodies natural state is not as compliant as during a growth spurt. So what. You can still get quite a bit stronger.
10.) But some genius has a site saying we are all genetically limited? - SHUT UP!!! How can we ever know what your genetic limitations are. Sure, we have limitations and most of them are never ever reached. Talking about genetic limitations in lifting is boob bait. There is just no way of knowing what they are. Lifting is about sweat equity, not slide rules, regression analysis or any other bull, at least not in 2004. It might be different down the road. Here’s a news flash, we ain’t down that road yet.
You could probably put most useful info on lifting into a 20 page pamphlet. Lift Hard. Use compound movements along with appropriate isolation exercises. Lift as often as possible while still making gains. Know when to back off. Lift with control but don’t count cadence. Train your body in a balanced fashion. Don’t use ergogenics if you are interested in your health. Start lifting young (15 to 25 years of age, give or take). If you start lifting when you are older realize you will make progress, you just need more patience.
Do some cardio exercise to keep your heart strong. Don’t eat like a revolting pig. If you are fat lose body fat by doing table push-aways and giving your fork a rest. If you need to gain quality weight increase your intake of good food. Booze and caffeine might be pleasurable but it don’t make them healthy or strengthening tools.
Beware of Gurus, even if they don’t charge money. Some folks are in it for the ego charge. Think for yourself. Tests things if they seem reasonable but be observant. Accept nothing dogmatically. Don’t fall for something because someone says it is logical or scientific. Just words I say. Just words. You got a brain, use it.
Shun societies and all the other garbage that takes the pleasure out of lifting. Certified this. Qualified that. Etc. Train with strong people and get strong. There just ain’t much to it.
Results will vary. So?
Oh… My agenda? To save you paying money to worthless gurus. Why? I like doing it.