Chris Shugart recently wrote an article about balance. Basically he said, "Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad? Better pack up, go home."
Okay, maybe that's not exactly what he said. Chris's point was that most trainees fell into three camps:
1. The all training, no diet camp
2. The all diet, no training camp
3. The lifestyle self-saboteur camp
And this killed their progress. The solution Chris suggested was an appropriate balance between the approaches. You'll get no argument from me, but Chris's article got me thinking about the entire "balance" thing. You see, I train athletes and a whole bunch of regular people, too. The thing is, I don't train them any different. Oh sure, the exercises change and the relative intensity changes, but my overall philosophy remains the same.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most Testosterone readers had a training program that was almost exclusively strength training based, or at best 75% strength, then cardio was thrown in whenever they got around to it.
Now I know what you're thinking: "AC, this is Testosterone, Bodybuilding's Think-Tank. We don't care about anything except looking good nekkid!" I understand that. But, in general, most athletes look better than most bodybuilders. In general, the look that the majority of people are after is more Roy Jones than Ronnie Coleman. In general, an athletic approach to physique enhancement might just be the missing link.
Roy Jones vs. Ronnie Coleman: Who would you rather look like?
So, do not adjust your monitors. For the next 30 minutes we will control the horizontal; we will control the vertical. (Ten TC points for the reference.) So suspend your belief that training consists of only weight training and aerobics and be open-minded enough to accept that there may be more to "training" than just those two areas.
In all fairness, I think the strength and conditioning industry is to blame. Think of the name: strength and conditioning. This sends the message that strength is our number one goal and everything else is just lumped together as "conditioning."
I don't buy it.
For example, when I worked with Dave Tate on some injury and mobility issues, I helped design the program, but I didn't design the "strength" portion. Dave knows more about strength than me. Yet I fulfilled the role of "strength and conditioning coach" for him.
I guess it's just a horrible term. But overall, whenever an athlete comes to our facility, he's looking to enhance performance and prevent injury. In my view, this means that all non-skill or technical training is my responsibility.
I don't like situations where I'm the "strength" coach and we have another "speed" coach or "nutritionist" all working independently. This becomes a chop-shop approach to training, and at this point in my career, I don't get involved in those situations.
The 7 Keys to Athletic Success
From my viewpoint, physical training is an actual juggling of seven key areas. (I've completely stolen the names for these phases from several sources, but special mention would have to go to Mike Boyle and Mark Verstegen, who first brought this stuff to light.)
Now, these phases are almost arbitrary. Where does mobility end and flexibility begin? Where does gluteal activation end and gluteal strengthening begin? I don't know. And it's almost a waste of time to try to figure it out. Just think of these classifications as a continuum – you may be on one end of the continuum but your goals remain similar.
This article isn't going to give you an actual program to follow; it's designed more as an overview. I realize that some readers will understand that every template needs to be tweaked, so giving an overview is better. The other reason is that every-single-freaking-time I write an actual program that includes, for example, dips or something on an adjustable bench, I get a dozen emails asking me, "I only have a flat bench, so what can I do?" or "I just had reconstructive shoulder surgery; should I be doing dips?" or other such nonsensical crap. So for your education, a template to work from is a better tool.
Can you do each of these as a separate session? Sure. But for practical purposes, I prefer to integrate all of the following into an entire training session. At first glance, it'll look just like a combination of some body weight exercises and some strength training exercises. And that's all it is, but each exercise has a separate goal.
So, this is what a "session" under my own supervision will consist of. Every single session in our facility works through the following phases:
1. MAMP: Mobility, Activation, and Movement Preparation
This is a term that essentially describes a "modern" warm-up. The point of a warm-up has been lost over the years. It's designed not to just get you warm, but to prepare you for the activity that's about to follow. Jogging on a treadmill for ten minutes isn't getting the job done, although for psychological reasons we sometimes keep in this type of activity.
I'm not going to cover the issue in too much detail as it has been done to death. For a great starting point, the Magnificent Mobility DVD will be your first resource. Another great resource will be the Parisi Warm-up DVD, which is a really comprehensive resource on the subject.
The warm-up is not an optional phase; it's designed to prepare the entire body for your workout. Time invested should be related to how poorly you can move. A very tight athlete may spend 20-30 minutes on this phase. An extremely tight athlete may spend longer, and precede it with foam roller work and static stretching.
I think it's important to say that I have absolutely no problem with a client who needs to develop range of motion doing static stretching before activity. The studies that showed static stretching to be a bad idea were flawed, and it's only common sense to have a tight client work on developing range before you do anything else.
A more athletic client may only spend 5-6 minutes on this phase. Pre-workout or during workout shakes are introduced at this time.
2. Injury Prevention
I hate this term. I've tried to come up with another term, but none really get the message across. Prehabilitation means training to prevent injury. As opposed to what? Training to increase injury?
I feel that all training should be with injury prevention as a goal. However, over the years I've recognized the need to pay special attention to "problem areas." This is part two of your warm-up. This is where we run through the type of exercise I mentioned in the 8 Weeks to Monster Shoulders article and some gluteal activation work.
This is where the yes/no answer determines how much work you do. Does anything hurt? It's a yes or no answer. "A little" or "only when I..." are "yes" answers. That means we address that area with some additional work.
Examples: The YTWL exercise, push-up plus, reach, roll, and lift for shoulders.
The push-up plus on the Swiss ball. At the end of the rep (the "plus" position), the shoulder blades should be pushed as far forward as possible. There should be no pause in either the stretched or contracted position.
Mini-band walks (also shoulder and rhomboids), glute bridge, hip/thigh extension variations for the gluteal and hip complex.
Mini-band walks. Wrap a band above your kneecaps and take side-steps.
One to two sets of 8-10 reps of each should suffice. It should take you about 6-8 minutes.
3. Core / Pillar Training
Yep, I do core training first. The logic that you train abs last because it tires them out never made any sense. Even in squatting. The abs don't work concentrically coming out of a squat, so I'm really not concerned if my athletes did a pillar bridge for 60 seconds or two sets of reverse crunches.
For an athlete, core strength is where it's at. Most coaches working with athletes would like more core strength. It's that important. And if it's that important, why would we ever do it anywhere but first? If it's a priority, then prioritize it!
A typical core session consists of one stability exercise held for time (e.g. a bridge), a rotation exercise (e.g. a wood chop), and some kind of hip flexion exercise (e.g. a reverse crunch). Basically 1-2 sets of a challenging variation (for your level) for 8-10 reps will be enough. Each workout we'd select a different trio of exercises.
The pillar bridge for stability.
Progression will take place as usual – increased reps, increased loading, increased difficulty of exercise. Time invested will be about 4-5 minutes. Basically, the movement preparation runs right into the injury prevention and core training stage, which is set up as a mini-circuit for all intents and purposes.
4. Elasticity/Reactive/SSC Training
This refers to explosive body weight work or what has become commonly known as plyometrics. Think of it as making your body more "springy." This will not only enhance sports performance (as in most sports, speed and explosiveness are the difference makers), but will also help to reduce injuries.
This stage gets a wee bit trickier. We don't count reps; we focus on time, but with quality as our key factor. As soon as the exercise slows down, we stop the set.
Additionally, the timeframe will depend on the athlete and his goal/sport (some athletes will obviously do more than others) but this portion will typically last around 4-8 seconds.
We also classify these exercises in terms of range of movement – from rapid response (think jumping side to side over a line) to very long response (think of a long range squat-jump movement).
We further split this into linear and lateral variations and single and double leg levels.
Intensity is controlled based on the exercise selection, with a box jump being at a low level and a depth jump being at a high level.
Time spent on this phase will again be 5-7 minutes.
5. Resistance Training Portion
This is still the single most important phase for a lot of athletes. Almost every high school kid that comes to see us is too weak (and too slow, too tight, too small, and too fat). And in the world of sport, strength is still a major factor. If it wasn't, then females would beat males as total body strength wouldn't be a factor.
Now for you, you might have a hypothetical strength level on a 1-10 scale of an 8 for an activity that requires only a 6. In that case, you'd reduce the volume of strength work and focus more on your weaker areas.
For time management reasons I always use the alternating set system. I have yet to hear a convincing argument for the superiority of straight sets. So we tend to do exercise one for a set, rest 60 seconds or so, exercise two for a set, rest 60 seconds or so and continue.
I think basing your exercise selection on a body part split is an exercise in futility, so we use one of two options most of the time – total body (different exercises each workout day) or an upper-lower split.
For most T-Nation readers (and most of my clients and pretty much all athletes), a strength training portion of more than 20-30 minutes in this type of routine wouldn't be necessary. Based on the alternating set system, we do a work set plus a rest every 90 seconds to 2 minutes or so, depending on total reps.
So a 30 minute time period could see you doing 15-20 work sets. This is more than enough, so don't worry about getting shortchanged. Interestingly, although the amount of time for each of these "phases" varies, I've never had the resistance portion comprise more than about 50% of the entire athlete's session.
For a pure aesthetic goal, I'd still be unlikely to have the resistance portion be much larger than 60% of the session. (Again, we'd tweak exercise selection, sets, and reps based on experience.)
6. Energy System Development
ESD = "extra stuff to do." My friend and co-author Lou Schuler came up with that term, but I think it describes exactly what we're talking about. The old term used to be "cardio," but most people tended to think that meant steady state aerobics.
ESD encompasses the entire cardio gamut from steady state aerobic work to interval training to metabolic complex work. We use this as a conditioning tool, although with a little manipulation this can obviously be used to enhance fat loss if that's a goal.
Typically, the higher the intensity, the shorter the session and vice versa, but on average this will be a 12-20 minute period of time at the most. For convenience, this can be done either during the session or in a separate workout.
7. Flexibility – Regeneration
The first part of this (which I guess is the modern cooldown) focuses on self myofascial release. This is really just an approach to addressing the quality of our soft tissue.
For most of our clients, this means using "The Stick" or the foam roller to work on a type of self-massage. Hold the "hot spots" for 30 seconds or so, or until they release. Problem areas are usually the ITB, the glutes, the quads, and the calves. Think of this as a poor man's massage therapist.
The Stick device.
The second portion in this phase is stretching. A lot has been written on stretching and flexibility work over the past few years, which type is best, etc. The result has been that most people have stopped doing any flexibility work whatsoever!
This is the worst possible solution. Now, for future reference (beyond the scope of this article), flexibility training is always necessary. This just doesn't mean stretching – it can mean a variety of things.
But for now, I don't care whether you do yoga, dynamic stretches, AIS stretching, CRAC stretching, or old fashioned deadly static stretching. What I do want is for you to spend a good 10-15 minutes on flexibility through all your tight areas. As this tends to be the most ignored portion of most people's routine, I prefer this to be done in the gym. Otherwise, it tends to be skipped.
We also have everyone drink a post-workout shake at this point.
For the anal guys who are trying to figure out how long the entire session will take, in general it averages about 50-55 minutes. A really tight client with energy system work to do may last 70-80 minutes, including the entire stretching at the end. Obviously, time is the biggest factor, so a lot of clients do their flexibility or cardio work in a separate session, which is fine.
So to summarize, start by just considering how much time you spend in each area compared to your current goals. Even adding 1-2 minutes of specific work in each area may help you improve your overall progress!