I was reading Alwyn Cosgrove's blog the other day and he recounted a story about Albert Einstein. Here's an excerpt from AC's blog:
One of Albert Einstein's student assistants once asked him, "Professor Einstein, what test are we giving the students this week?" Einstein replied, "The same test we gave them last week."
Bewildered, the student assistant replied, "But Professor Einstein, we already gave them that test." Einstein patiently answered, "Yes, but the answers are different this week."
I'd heard this story years ago, but it was a nice refresher and I thought it carried over well to training. It also reminded me that another installment of Waterbury Rules is long overdue.
Indeed, while the questions from people remain the same, some of the answers keep changing.
1. Be Specific With Your Training Parameters
The question has been asked a million times: What's the best set and rep combination for hypertrophy? Commonly, you'll hear an answer like, "3-4 sets of 10-12 reps."
That's fine, and it's been used successfully for eons. However, it's not specific enough.
Let's say two guys took that advice and applied it to the back squat. One guy might do 30 reps; the other guy might knock out 48 reps. Both followed the advice correctly, but let me tell you, there's a significant difference between 30 and 48 reps – especially with a demanding exercise like the squat.
I'm very specific with my training guidelines. Over the years I've found that by giving precise volume guidelines – say, 25 total reps with a load you could lift seven times for the first set – it allows me to easily manipulate a client's training plan without resorting to a guessing game. This is the approach I employ in my book, Huge in a Hurry.
If his performance were suffering on a program, it could be due to excessive volume of a demanding exercise. When the volume guidelines are specific, I can easily tweak them. I can drop the volume if he's rundown, or I can steadily increase it over time so his muscles will grow. If, however, I prescribed a range of sets and reps it would be much more difficult to figure out what was bogging him down, or limiting his gains.
This advice is akin to the story I heard about Dorian Yates – a guy who's known for being impeccable with his nutrition, and who had the body to prove it. Anyway, a dude once asked him for nutrition advice:
"How many grams of carbs, protein, and fat are you consuming each day?" Yates asked.
"I don't know," the guy replied.
Yates shot back, "Then how am I supposed to help you?"
2. Train Like a Fighter
Everyone wants to build muscle, lose fat, and become more athletic. Yet very few people can pull off that holy triad of training. Why? Because you'll never improve a specific fitness quality unless you train it.
Fighters have to train for strength, endurance, and mobility. Since those three components cover the basic fitness spectrum, a fighter has a body that's as powerful as it looks.
I used to think that genetics was the reason why most power athletes have such incredible bodies. That was until I started primarily working with mixed martial artists, boxers, and jiu-jitsu fighters.
These guys make faster progress than anyone you'll ever see in the gym. And it's not just genetics. I've been around hundreds of them – some with poorer genetics than the fat guy who won't get off the recumbent bike – and after putting in a few months of blood, sweat, and tears they all end up looking pretty damn impressive (some end up looking like, well, Georges St. Pierre).
The good news is you don't need to quit your job to become a CEO of the "ground and pound." All you need to do is start training like a guy whose paycheck depends on developing high levels of strength, endurance, and mobility at the same time.
Here's a circuit I designed for one of my clients, upcoming MMA star and Strikeforce fighter Kevin Casey:
- A1. Pull-up from rings for 15 reps
- No Rest
- A2. Knees-to-elbows from rings for 12 reps
- No Rest
- A3. Kettlebell squat thrust with hang snatch for 10 reps
- No Rest
- A4. Forward/back/side-to-side run with kettlebell held at chest for 30 seconds
Rest 15 seconds and repeat 1A-1D four more times
Obviously, this isn't all I have him do in our workouts, but it does portray the importance of constantly moving in different planes while challenging different muscle groups across your entire body – just like a fight.
If you walk into the gym and randomly choose traditional barbell exercises you'll undoubtedly short-change the endurance and mobility that you need to look and feel better. Start training your body to move better and you'll end up looking better.
One of the best tips I can give you is to stop doing traditional cardio exercises on a treadmill or bike. Instead, work with a wrestling, jiu-jitsu, or judo coach, and make that your energy systems training. You'll get leaner, stronger, and more mobile. And whatever strength is lacking will be made up with a few circuits per week like the one I outlined above.
Training like a fighter insures that you'll build strength, endurance, and mobility at the same time.
3. Diet When You Need It
Going on a diet has gotten a bad rap. That's probably because there have been some horrendous diets over the years. The Cabbage Soup Diet, anyone?
But don't let a few bad apples spoil the whole damn bunch. There are healthy, effective diets out there, like the Velocity Diet 3.0. that will give you outstanding results.
"You shouldn't diet. You should make lifestyle changes," they say.
Here's the way I look at it. When you get the body you want, you should then follow a sound nutritional plan to maintain your leanness. A good example is Lonnie Lowery's Diet Planning for the Long Haul. Now, this doesn't mean that following Lonnie's guidelines won't help you lose fat. But losing a lot of fat quickly demands an approach to eating that can't be maintained throughout your life.
A diet is what you go on when you need to make significant body composition changes in a short amount of time.
4. Just Because Something Sounds Good Doesn't Mean it's Good
Absorb what is useful; reject what is useless.
I'll freely admit that this Bruce Lee mantra has been a rock in my shoe ever since I first heard it. That's a shame because Bruce left behind some incredible techniques and philosophies that can be applied to training as well as life. And I'm sure he had good intentions when he spoke those words. But just like Woody Allen's "80% of success is just showing up" advice, Lee's statement has been blown out of context.
The first problem with this advice is that you must try everything. The second problem is, well, you must try everything.
Making a smart choice doesn't hinge on trying everything under the sun – there's not enough time. If you had a million dollars to invest would you just randomly try any investment approach? Of course not: there's too much to lose.
The best strategy is to research what kind of results people have experienced from following programs designed by reputable coaches. That's easy to do these days given the plethora of information that's instantly available at your fingertips. And given that we only have one body, it makes no sense to take such a lax approach to training.
There's a reason why we don't sleep standing up – it's shitty advice. I don't need to sell my Tempurpedic to know that diminishing my sleep quality is going to impair my health and recovery.
Find a person who has achieved what you want, given similar limitations and circumstances, and do what he did.
5. Don't Focus on How Long Your Workouts Last
I've received plenty of emails from people who are befuddled that my workouts appear too short on paper.
"Aren't I supposed to train for at least an hour?" I've been asked ad nauseam.
This issue boils down to the amount of time you rest between sets. I've never been a fan of the 3-5 minute rest periods. Sure, it'll make your workout longer but it'll also kill your conditioning and waste your time in the gym. My workouts don't last long because I primarily use short rest periods.
Take any weight training workout that lasts an hour and cut down the rest periods so it only takes 30 minutes to complete. Doesn't it make sense that the workout will be more challenging and better for changing your body?
My sole purpose for sharing my training information is to enhance the quality of your training time. When you focus on recruiting as many muscle groups as possible with each rep, when you do one or two compound exercises for your chest and shoulders instead of seven isolation exercises, and when you keep the rest periods short, you can get out of the gym in less time. But at the same time, you'll end up doing more work.
We're apparently drawn to round numbers. How else can you explain why "10 reps per set" has been prescribed a million times, but 11 hasn't?
The same is true with the time you spend in the gym. If you simply focus on spending an hour in the gym you'll lose focus of why you're really there: to make progress.
6. Make HFT Simple
I've been working with one of those young, Hollywood celebrity dudes who wants what every guy wants: big arms, big chest, big upper back.
I train him every morning for an hour (okay, approximately an hour), so we have the basics covered: intense full-body energy-systems training, hardcore weight training, etc.
But being a young guy who's filled with Testosterone, he wanted more.
So I was happy to oblige with a simple, High Frequency Training (HFT) supplement to his program.
Here's what I had him do:
- Reps: as many as possible
- Rest: 1 minute between each exercise
- Load: body weight
This entire sequence takes him less than 5 minutes, it requires no trip to the gym, and best of all, it works! He gained 3/4" on his upper arms and his chest measurement grew by 1.5" after one month of this protocol. His agent even accused him of getting on the juice.
You can design a similar protocol for any lagging body part. Just keep it simple. Use exercises that require no equipment and focus on adding reps over time. Do that for 3-4 weeks before taking a break and you'll like what you see.
7. Lift Strong
Another question that I often get asked is, "What's a good book to learn about training?"
I used to always hesitate for a second when that question was posed to me. The things is, there are good science-based training books, there are in-the-trenches training books, and there are books that focus on the psychological and motivational aspects of training. Each element is important, but there hasn't been a book that's covered all of it.
Now there is, thanks to Alwyn Cosgrove.
He put together, Lift Strong, an 800-page book on CD with articles from more than 50 of the best in the fitness business. And best of all, every penny of the $24.99 purchase price goes directly to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Most of these rules could use an entire article to fully explain. So if there's one that really piques your interest, let me know and I'll add that to my list.
In the meantime, apply these rules to your life and training and you'll reap big benefits!