I love training! I love almost everything about it: the effort,
the dedication, the thrill of seeing the body changing and
performance improving, the fun of trying new training methods, and
the excitement of seeing vixens bouncing on the elliptical trainer
in tight sports bras.
But there are some things I don’t like, some
flat-out dumb things that really piss me off and make me
think about the risk-to-benefit ratio of dropping a 45 pound plate
on someone’s head. Here are a few of those dumb things.
Dumb Thing #1: Using “Pro” Programs
With the advent of the internet, it’s now easy to find training
programs from pro athletes or pro teams. In the past I had some
teenage hockey players with less than a year of training under
their belts coming up to me saying they’re using the same training
program as their favourite hockey team. This is quite common in
For example, a lot of high school football coaches implement
Nebraska’s program or Miami’s program with their young
players. These coaches (and the athletes who decide to use a pro
program when they’re something like 14 years old) should be
bitch-slapped until they come to their senses!
The fact is, the programs the pros use are designed for pros:
genetic wonders who already have more than ten-plus years of
serious training behind them. They already have the base, the work
capacity, and the general conditioning. Their program can focus on
correcting specific flaws or filling some precise needs.
A young athlete should first focus on building up his foundation
of muscle mass, strength, and work capacity. Once these are
well-developed then he can move on to more specific
If you want to train like a pro, train like he did when he had
your level of experience, not how he’s training now!
Dumb Thing #2: Sticking to a Single Concept
A lot of people are quick to point out that I seem to swing back
and forth between different training methodologies and diets. An
article I wrote last week might present something completely
different than what I wrote six months ago. This is true. And I
think that coaches who don’t are probably close-minded.
There is no “universally best” training program or
system. Every training program that isn’t completely moronic
will work provided there’s a progressive overload. There’s more
than one way to skin a cat: you can use frequency to progress, you
can use density, intensity (load/weight used) or intensiveness
(training to failure and beyond), and you can use volume.
Everything will work, but no system is best for every single
An athlete in his strength/power phase will benefit the most
from a whole-body approach three times a week. But the same
strategy for a competitive bodybuilder will be far from ideal. The
key is to understand the pros and cons of each system (and why they
work) so that you can apply the proper method to the right
Dumb Thing #3: Kitchen Sink Coaches
There are quite frankly dozens of different training methods and
means (my book, Theory and Application of Modern Strength and
Power Methods, details over thirty of them) and some aspiring
coaches or motivated individuals will use every single one of them
in a training program!
They want strength so they throw everything the Westside system
has to offer, from board presses to chains and bands. They want
power so they’ll add speed bench and squats, Olympic lifts,
plyo drills, and medicine ball throws. They also want size so
they’ll include bodybuilding-type work for every muscle group,
utilizing drop sets, rest-pause, pre and post-fatigue, etc. You end
up with a training program that requires a whole manual just to
understand it and a doctorate to be able to apply
Remember, you can be a jack of all trades, but you’ll be a
master of none. Your body has a limited capacity to adapt, and if
you train too many different physical capacities at once you
won’t be able to progress optimally in any of them. This is
even more true with athletes who also throw in speed, agility work,
and sport practices.
Don’t get me wrong, you can (and should) train more than
one physical capacity during the same training phase, but rarely
should you focus on more than two or three different capacities at
once (you can train one or two others at maintenance levels). Just
understand that the more different things you include in a program,
the less work you can perform for each of them, which means a
slower rate of progression.
So you can perform a lot of work for only one capacity, changing
the focus every four to six weeks (concentrated loading), or train
more capacities at once, changing the focus less frequently
(concurrent loading). This is applicable to both sport/performance
as well as bodybuilding/aesthetic training.
In the case of bodybuilding-type training, an example of
concentrated loading would be my specialization approach in which
you concentrate most of your efforts on one muscle group while the
rest are being trained at a maintenance level.
Dumb Thing #4: Not Correcting Weaknesses and
This one should be obvious, but it isn’t to many people. First,
we need to understand what “training” really is. Training
is a planned perturbation of the homeostasis that leads to a
positive adaptation of the body aimed at improving the body or its
In my opinion, the two most important portions of this
definition are “planned” and “improving.” So
basically when you design a training program you should plan to
improve. And nothing will help you improve your body/performance
faster than correcting a weakness, a flaw, or an imbalance. As they
say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Yet how many people actively try to correct their obvious
weaknesses? Not many. Sure, they’ll include some work for their
weak muscles (or capacities) but very few actually devote a
training phase to correcting these flaws. This requires a
specialized approach (or at least a shift in training emphasis)
during which the weakness receives a training stimulus that’s more
important than the one received by the other muscle groups and/or
A lot of people avoid this for a simple reason: they like to
train what they’re good at. So training a weak point is rarely fun
because you suck at it!
We can name several types of weaknesses:
Postural Problems: This is our first area of concern. Without
proper posture it becomes extra hard to be successful at an
athletic endeavour. Imagine that your body is a car. You might have
the biggest and most powerful engine in the world, but if your
wheels are misaligned chances are you won’t be able to turn in
a good performance.
Furthermore, this misalignment will eventually cause wear and
tear that could severely damage the car. And the more powerful the
car is, and the more often you use it, the faster it’ll be damaged.
So in that regard, someone who’s active and relies heavily on
his body (an athlete for example) is more at risk from a postural
problem than someone who does nothing all day. So it’s vitally
important that an athlete has at least a decent posture if he’s to
perform optimally and avoid injuries. Eric Cressey and Mike
Robertson have written extensively on this subject here at
Testosterone Nation and I highly recommend their
Having a good posture is also very important to bodybuilders and
those training simply for aesthetic purposes: good posture really
improves the image you project. Everybody looks better with a
balanced posture than with a slouched over one! So improving your
posture is a good way to improve how you look.
Some postural problems can also make it hard to build certain
muscle groups. For example, individuals with a shoulder anteriority
will have a hard time building up their chest. (Oddly enough, this
postural problem is often caused by performing too much chest work
relative to rhomboid/rear delts work.)
Muscle Imbalances: Having a proportionally weak or
underdeveloped muscle group can be problematic for both performance
and aesthetic purposes. If you’re training for strength sports
(powerlifting and Olympic lifting for example) a weak muscle group
will limit your performance in one of the competitive lifts.
For example, weak triceps will hinder your bench pressing
performance and weak hamstrings will hurt your squat and deadlift
numbers. For athletes, a weak muscle group can represent a weak
link in the chain and will result in suboptimal performance. And
for those training for aesthetic purposes, an underdeveloped muscle
group can completely throw off your body’s proportion and
For the goal of building an aesthetic physique, having a lagging
muscle group can also diminish the overall efficacy of the big
basic movements (squat, bench press, rowing, deadlift, chins,
military press, etc.) because these exercises will put more
training stress on the strong muscles and will deemphasize the
weaker ones. As a result, these exercises will accentuate the
problem. Improving a lagging muscle group will thus improve the
efficacy of the basic lifts.
Physical Capacities: Most sports require several physical
capacities: speed, agility, strength-speed, speed-strength,
strength, strength-endurance, endurance-strength, speed-endurance,
Obviously not all of these capacities are necessary for all
sports, but most sports will require some levels of many of them.
Just like with a lagging muscle group, a lagging physical capacity
can wreck havoc on your athletic performance.
Contraction Type: For athletic training, most coaches focus
simply on concentric force during training. The exercises and
methods employed are limited to regular lifting which do help
increase concentric strength. This can leave the athletes lagging
in eccentric and isometric strength capacities, yet these
contraction types are key to optimal performance.
Without sufficient eccentric strength you’ll have a problem
absorbing force, be it from an opposing player running into you or
the weight of your own body hitting the ground with every running
stride. Without proper eccentric strength you’ll become much less
efficient at absorbing and stopping these forces.
Isometric strength is also key in any agility and speed type of
movement. Before changing direction you must first stop the
countermovement. Without proper isometric strength it’ll be harder
to stop and you won’t be able to initiate the change of
direction as fast as you could if you had sufficient isometric
strength. In other words, more isometric strength equals faster
changes of direction. If an athlete is lagging in one type of
contraction type, more work for that mode of action should be used
Dumb Thing #5: Misunderstanding “Overtraining”
If you ask me, “overtraining” is the most abused and
misunderstood concept in the entire strength training community!
Perform more than twelve sets for a muscle during a workout and
you’ll undoubtedly be accused of overtraining. Train a muscle group
more often than two times per week? Overtraining! Relying on set
extending methods such as drop sets, pre or post-fatigue, or
rest-pause? What are you doing? Don’t you know that’s
overtraining and you’ll shrink faster than your masculine pride on
a snowy Canadian winter night?!
Yes, overtraining can eventually become a problem when it comes
to your training performance, injury risks, and growth. However,
it’s far from being as common as most people would have you
The problem stems from the term itself, which is composed of
“over” and “training.” Because of that term,
individuals are quick to equate it to “training too
much.” So every time someone thinks that a routine has too
much volume, frequency, or advanced methods, they’re quick to pull
the “overtraining” trigger. When someone is tired and has
a few bad workouts he’ll also automatically assume that he’s
“overtraining.” In both cases this shows a
misunderstanding of what overtraining really is.
Overtraining is a physiological state caused by an excess
accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional,
environmental, and chemical stress that leads to a sustained
decrease in physical and mental performance, and that requires a
relatively long recovery period. There are four important elements
in that scientific definition:
“Physiological state:” Overtraining isn’t an action (i.e.
training too much) but a state in which your body can be put
through. In that regard, it’s similar to a burnout, a medical
depression, or an illness.
“Caused by an excess accumulation of physiological,
psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress:”
Stress has both a localized and a systemic effect. Every type of
stress has a systemic impact on the body; this impact isn’t
limited to the structures involved directly in the “stressful
event.” This systemic impact is caused by the release of
stress hormones (glucocorticoids like cortisol for example) and an
overexertion of the adrenal glands.
So every single type of stressor out there can contribute to the
onset of an overtraining state. Job troubles, tension in a
relationship, death in the family, pollutants and chemicals in the
air we breathe, the food we eat or the water we drink, etc. can all
contribute to overtraining. Training too much is obviously another
stress factor that can facilitate the onset of the overtraining
state, but it’s far from being the sole murder
“Leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental
performance:” The key term here is sustained. Some people
will have a few sub par workouts and will automatically assume
they’re overtraining. Not the case. It could simply be acute or
accumulated fatigue due to poor recovery management or a deficient
A real overtraining state/syndrome takes months of excessive
stress to build up. And when someone reaches that state, it’ll take
several weeks (even several months) of rest and recovery measures
to get back to a “normal” physiological state. If a few
days of rest or active rest can get your performance back up to
par, you weren’t overtraining. You probably suffered from some
fatigue accumulation, that’s all.
Worst case scenario, you might enter an overreaching state (a
transient form of overtraining). Reaching that point will normally
take 10-14 days of rest and active rest to get back up to normal.
Overreaching can actually be used as a training tool since the body
normally surcompensates (with rest) following overreaching. Elite
athletes often include periods of drastic training stress increases
followed by a 10-14 day taper to reach a peak performance level on
a certain date.
“That requires a relatively long recovery period:” As we already
mentioned, reaching a true overtraining state takes a long period
of excessive stress and requires a long period of recovery. The
following graphic illustrates the various steps toward the onset of
an overtraining state as well as the recovery period needed to get
out of these different levels.
The spectrum goes from acute fatigue, which is the normal
fatigue caused by a very intense/demanding workout, right up to a
true overtraining state. In all my life, I’ve seen two cases of
real overtraining. In both cases this happened to two high level
athletes right after the Olympic Games (accumulation of the super
intense training, the stress of qualifying for the Olympics, and
the stress of the Olympics themselves).
Understand that most international level athletes will train
close to 30-40 hours per week. Obviously not all of that is spent
in the gym; they also have their sport practice, speed and agility
work, conditioning work, etc., but these still represent a
physiological stress. Yet rarely will these athletes reach a true
How could training for a total of five or six hours per week
cause overtraining? Fatigue, yes, mostly due to improper recovery
management, a very low level of general physical preparation
(conditioning level), or a mediocre work capacity.
To paraphrase Louie Simmons, North American athletes are out of
shape. Being out of shape (low level of general preparedness or
conditioning) means you can’t recover well from a high volume of
work. But the more work you can perform, without going beyond your
capacity to recover, the more you’ll progress. So in that
regard, poor work capacity can be the real problem behind lack of
gains from a program.
By continually avoiding performing a high level of physical
work, you’ll never increase your work capacity and will suffer from
accumulated fatigue as soon as you increase your training stress
ever so slightly. Obviously, the solution isn’t to jump into
mega-volume training, but to gradually include more GPP work as
well as periods of increased training stress that will increase in
duration and frequency over time.
Ask any of my clients – they must all go through four-week
phases of very high volume work interlaced between phases of
“normal” volume training (or even phases of low volume).
And as they progress through the system, the high volume phases
will become more frequent (as their work capacity improves) or last
Dumb Thing #6: Misusing Plyometric Training
I’ll start by explaining exactly what plyometric training
is, as the term itself has been tagged to several types of training
that aren’t true plyometric training (e.g. low intensity hops
Plyometric training is also known as “shock training.” It was
developed by Yuri Verkhoshansky in 1977. The objective of this
method is to increase concentric power and force output by
stimulating the muscles and reflexes via a “shock
stretching” action preceding the overcoming portion of the
This is accomplished by dropping from a certain height
(typically 0.4m to 0.7m, although heights of up to 1.1m have been
used by very advanced athletes) to elicit a powerful stretch
activation, then jumping up as high as possible immediately upon
landing (or projecting yourself in the air in the case of a depth
push-up). The following pictures show the execution of a
plyometric/shock exercise known as a depth jump:
It’s been established in both Eastern and Western studies that
depth jumping, or shock training, can significantly increase power
production and vertical jump height. This is mostly due to the
1. An increase in reactive strength
Reactive strength refers to the capacity to rapidly switch from
an eccentric/yielding action to a concentric/overcoming action.
Lack of reactive strength will lead to a longer coupling time and,
consequently, lower force and power production during the
overcoming portion of the movement (Kurz 2001).
2. Neural adaptations
Viitasalo et al. (1998) found a different neural response
between athletes doing a lot of jumping and regular individuals
when doing a depth jump. Jumpers were able to activate more motor
units during the movement (greater EMG) and plan the motor command
faster (higher and more rapid pre-action EMG).
Kyröläinen et al. (1991) also found that 16 weeks of
depth jump training led to better jumping efficiency.
Schmidtbleicher (1987 and 1982) found that trained subjects were
able to use the kinetic energy produced during the eccentric
portion of a depth jump, while in untrained subjects this eccentric
period was actually inhibiting instead of potentiating!
Finally, Walshe et al. (1998) concluded that the superiority of
depth jump training over regular jump training was due to “the
attainment of a higher active muscle state,” meaning that the
fast eccentric portion of the movement increased muscle
3. Structural adaptations
Depth jumps have been reported to cause some muscle soreness and
muscle damage (Horita et al. 1999). This is understandable since
the eccentric force produced is very high, albeit rapid. This may
indicate that depth jumps are a powerful stimulus to stimulate
However, depth jumps don’t lead to significant hypertrophy. So
the nature of the structural adaptations following depth jumping
isn’t quantitative in nature, but qualitative: an improvement of
the strength and contractile capacity of each muscle
Soviet literature gives the following guidelines when practicing
1) The joint position upon landing should be as close as
possible to that of an important sport action (Laputin and Oleshko
2) The amortization phase should be short enough to avoid losing
the elastic energy produced, but long enough to allow for the shock
stretching to occur (Laputin and Oleshko 1982). Research indicates
that the elastic energy from landing is stored for up to two
seconds. So in theory you have a window of two seconds between the
landing and take-off phase. However, to maximize the training
effect you shouldn’t spend more than one second on the
3) The height of the drop should be regulated by the
preparedness of the athlete. The heels shouldn’t touch the ground
during the landing phase. If they do, then the height of the drop
is too high (Laputin and Oleshko 1982). A height varying from 0.5m
to 0.7m appears to be ideal for most strength and power athletes
4) Depth jumps have a very powerful training effect, so the
volume of work should be low, i.e. no more than 4 sets of 10
repetitions (or 40 total jumps spread over more sets), two to three
times per week for advanced athletes and 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions
(or 15-24 total jumps spread over more sets), one to two times per
week for lower classes of athletes (Laputin and Oleshko 1982).
5) Because of the very powerful training effect of depth
jumping, it’s idiotic to perform this type of training
systematically throughout the year. The shock method should be used
in blocks of three to four weeks with at least four weeks between
blocks (Roman 1986). In fact, some coaches recommend no more than
two to three such blocks per year (Medvedyev 1996) and only when a
rapid rise in power and reactive strength is needed to further
Remember that every training method, regardless of how effective
it is, will lose its effectiveness over time. Shock training is no
different. If you use it year-round there comes a point where
you’ll get no added benefits from it. However, by using short
“shock” blocks you can give a quick boost to your
performance. Since you only use depth jumps for a short period,
you’ll get the same performance boost every time you use such a
The Pet Peeve
Okay, with that out of the way I can discuss the matter of my
pet peeve: misused plyometric/shock training. As we saw earlier,
shock training can have a very powerful effect on power production,
but it’s also very stressful on the myotendinous structures and the
joints. This method also leads to very rapid gains in power output,
but the gains quickly stagnate and come to a halt.
My biggest problem is with coaches who use plyometric/shock
drills too often, for too long, or with an excessive volume. What
happened is that somewhere in the late 80s and early 90s, plyos
were discovered by North American coaches and seen as one of the
secrets of the Eastern block athletes. However, North American
coaches are often seduced by the “more is better”
approach and started to include way too much volume of plyo work.
The problem with many coaches and athletes is they don’t
feel that depth jumping (and other shock training) is hard;
it’s not very tiring compared to other means of training.
Because of this, they feel they can get away with using a super
high volume of shock training. Huge mistake!
With plyometric work, more is definitely not better. Quite the
contrary, doing too much shock training will lead to structural
damage which will lead to overprotective “safety
mechanisms” (Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles) which
will actually lead to a decrease in power production, not to
mention that the risk of injuries increases
Another related problem is using plyometric training for too
long. Shock training is designed to give a quick boost in peak
power production. It was used once or twice a year for phases of
two to four weeks, not more than that! And it was quite effective
when used that way.
Yet nowadays we see North American coaches use plyometric work
year round with their athletes. This will diminish the potential
benefits of the method. The goal of shock training is to provide a
quick boost in power production. If it’s used year round your
body gets used to the method as the quick boost effect is thus
lost. It can also lead to some degenerative joint problems,
especially at the ankle and knee joint.
Finally, another act of stupidity is when coaches use plyometric
training during a season. This is beyond idiotic, especially if the
sport involves a lot of jumps already (basketball, volleyball,
track events, figure skating, gymnastics, etc.). A volleyball
player might perform over 400 maximal jumps per week of sport
practice; the last thing these athletes need is more jumping! The
already high volume of jump and landing work can take its toll on
the joints. Adding shock training is a surefire way to lead to a
decrease in performance (best case scenario) or an injury (worst
Bottom line: Use plyometric/shock training to provide for a
needed boost in power production, not as a year-round system (e.g.
perform a four week shock training block six weeks prior to an
important event; stop two weeks before said event). And when you
use it, don’t let the amount of fatigue or soreness be your guide
to adjusting training volume. Stick to 40-70 total ground contacts
I feel better now knowing that because of this article I might
actually see the incidence of training stupidity decrease in
front of my eyes. Hopefully, I will have contributed to making the
training world a better (and smarter) place!