I like reading Testosterone.
The nutrition and training info is top notch and so are the writers. I really enjoy Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Dan John, Alwyn Cosgrove, Charles Staley, Chad Waterbury, and Christian Thibaudeau. I've read much of what they've written.
Like Dan John, I've been in the game for coming up on three decades. I've actually been lifting weights or teaching others to lift weights (in case you've seen me lately) for over thirty years. In fact, I've worked at Boston University in one capacity or another for as long as Eric Cressey has been alive.
In the past month I've been introduced to the T-Nation audience and have succeeded in pissing off a portion of them. No problem. That's the cost of change. My wife and kids still love me even if a few readers don't. Regardless, I'll continue to call 'em as I see them.
This article is a combination of a history lesson and tribute to gray-bearded writers (figuratively) like Ken Leistner and Stuart McRobert. Experience is and always will be a good and sometimes painful teacher. I've lived through Universal Gyms, Nautilus Machines, Hammer Strength, and MedX. By the time Hammer came around I was wise to the fads but, like many of my generation, I thought the Universal Gym and Nautilus would revolutionize training. Many who post and criticize today weren't even alive through these fads.
Heed the wise, old, gray beards of training!
I've also lived through high protein diets, high-carb/ low-fat diets, and a return to protein adequate diets. I know one thing, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As I've often said, the only thing high-carb/ low fat ever did was make us change the name of adult onset diabetes to type 2 diabetes. That's quite an accomplishment for all the nutritionists out there – really something to be proud of. Think about it. We gave an adult disease to kids and our reaction was simple – change the name.
Those who reject experience and history are destined to experience things on their own. This is a slow way to learn. My personal credo is, "Don't believe everything you read and, don't only read what you believe." Of course, the following quote is nice, too:
"In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the experts there are few."
– "Buddha's Little Instruction Book"
With all that said, I'd like to present 20 things I do know. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. No one will ever build a machine that works better than a free weight. Free weights always have been and always will be better than machines. The only machines you need are cable pieces that allow you to perform exercises that you can't do with a bar or dumbbell.
I know, it's old news, but it's amazing to me that people continue to try to build a machine that's better than a weight. The one exception might be the new Keiser pieces that give power outputs. Keiser may revolutionize training with these pieces. If you're a powerlifter, see if you can try the new Keiser Power Rack and try your dynamic effort work (Westside bands and chains) with an air system.
2. Find some old copies of The Steel Tip. Dr. Ken Leistners' writings are both informative and entertaining. Ken was an early HIT proponent but never went over to the dark (machine) side. He believed that less was more and that you should train harder, not longer. He is, was, and always will be right.
3. Read Brawn by Stuart McRobert. Much like Ken Leistner, McRobert advocates a HIT style with free weights. I'm clearly not a HIT guy but, have definitely benefited from the "less is more" message of these writers.
4. Words of wisdom. If you're not getting stronger on your current program, do less. I've had some great conversations with strength coach Jason Ferrugia, a real bright guy, about exactly this point. If you're not getting bigger, eat more. Training is simple. Very few trainees undertrain. Most overtrain. If your effort is good and your nutrition is good but your results are not, you must be overtraining.
5. My friend Chris Doyle, Iowa Football Strength and Conditioning Coach, is fond of saying the best program is the one you are not on. I hear that Charles Staley says the same thing. Variety promotes adaptation. Think about concepts like cluster training or complex training if you're in a rut. I just read an apt quote that said the only difference between a grave and a rut is the depth.
6. No one gets strong doing reps. I almost never let my trainees do more than 8 reps. If size is your goal, that's a different story but, if you want to get strong stay under 8 most of the year.
7. Most trainees would do better to train harder and not longer. In my early days I attempted to "bomb and blitz" my way to larger muscles as the magazines instructed me. I failed miserably. Ken Leistner's thoughts on training made sense to me and allowed me to become a better than average lifter. Often I would come to the gym, warm-up, do one heavy set of squats and leave. In the process, I got very strong. The process was simple. Have a goal for the day. Attain the goal. Go home.
8. The higher your training age, the less frequently you're able to lift heavy. Training age is simply the number of years of serious training you've done. One problem with strength training is that in the early stages you can bench three times a week and get strong. This is why high school kids have so much trouble accepting that less is more.
Dr. Fred Hatfield wrote a great book called Science of Powerlifting. In it he advocated abandoning the idea of a training week in favor of a monthly schedule. He would simply squat heavy every 5-6 days. Based on Dr. Squats' results, I think it worked.
9. The pec is a quadruped muscle. This means that the pectoralis muscles will respond very well to a stimulus like the bench press. If we went back to walking on all fours, we might be less attached to the bench press.
This guy was made to bench
10. Eliminate elasticity from your everyday lifting. Try some slow eccentric sets. Christian Thibaudeau's Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods has great training concepts. It's the best book written on strength and conditioning in the last twenty years. If you don't own it, buy it. The second best book is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. If you teach weight training or strength training, this is your textbook. If you coach or personal training, this is your Bible.
11. In the bullshit category, I've yet to see anyone who can actually lower more weight eccentrically than they can lift concentrically. Research tells us that we should be 10-20 percent stronger in an eccentric contraction than in a concentric contraction, but I don't see it.
This is more crap research done on a gym class at some university. If you would like to injure yourself or one of your trainees, try it. One hundred and ten percent of a 300 bench is 330. One hundred and twenty percent is 360. The best you could hope for is what Thibaudeau calls a yielding isometric, and a fast one at that.
Most of my athletes have difficulty doing a controlled eccentric contraction with 90%. We need more eccentric work, but with sub-max loads. Most lifters use the elasticity of the muscle, not the concentric capability.
12. Try five-second eccentric squats. It's the single best thing I've done in ten years to improve my athletes' technique in the squat. Too many people squat in what the old writers used to call "dive style": a rapid eccentric contraction – bordering on free fall – followed by a bounce off the wraps at the bottom.
After reading Thibeadeau's book, I came to the conclusion that the seconds of eccentric loading corresponds closely to the number of reps you can do with a weight.
In other words, a 5 RM corresponds to 87.5% of the 1 RM. So, if a person's 1 RM in the squat is 100 pounds, we'd use 87.5 pounds as the starting point for singles with a 5 second eccentric.
Note: Have someone count the eccentric out for you or, make a "beep" CD. A beep CD is simply a recorded tone of one beep per second that's copied on a CD. We play it as "background" while lifting. Cheating is obvious when the beep is on.
For most people, the eccentric portion of a squat is nothing more than a free fall.
13. Bad news. People on steroids can use any routine and still get strong. Take advice carefully from athletes or coaches you know or suspect are using steroids, unless you're also on steroids. One of the things that held both my athletes and myself back in the early years was believing what I read, and not considering the additional recovery needs and reduced volume needs of natural lifters.
14. Strength and Conditioning Coach Martin Rooney said in a recent lecture that there's a difference between reading and believing. Because it's in a book or a magazine doesn't mean it's true. In fact, I had a friend in the eighties who used to ghost write articles for a famous muscle magazine.
He'd show me his article with his name on it and then two months later, he'd show me the same article in a famous muscle magazine with the name of a current bodybuilding star listed as author.
I'm sure that doesn't happen anymore. Wink-wink.
15. You should be able to do one chin-up with a weight equal to what you bench press for one rep. The chin-up weight is calculated by adding external load on the dip belt to your bodyweight. Use a supinated grip to spare the shoulders and start from the bottom. It's my sincere belief that those who can do this rarely have shoulder issues. Most people are out of balance and have rotator cuff issues to prove it.
16. This one already got me in trouble. Heavy squats and deadlifts may not be good long term. Remember, I said long-term. People who are able to lift heavy for a long period of time (years) are gifted with a good skeleton and good connective tissue and great technique. Be careful. If you must squat heavy, cycle in some belt squats and one leg squats.
I didn't become a so-called "functional training" guy on purpose. It came from a need to safely train my athletes through the aging and injury process.
17. If you train females, buy a 15, 25 and 35-pound Olympic bar and some 1 1/4 plates. Also, either buy dumbbells in 2.5 pound increments or get a supply of Platemates. A ten-pound jump for most females is immense. Imagine adding ten percent to your bench workout weights and you can see how hard that might be.
18. If you can bench more than you squat, you should be embarrassed, not proud.
You probably also own Zubaz pants and wear very long shorts to the beach. Sadly, most men in gyms look like they're training for a race in which they're going to have to walk on their hands.
Oh, and please don't post and say, "I thought you didn't do squats." We still don't do conventional back squats, but I'm using the term squatin the generic sense.
19. Pushups are good for you. In fact they may be better than bench pressing. Get a set of push-up handles to save your wrists and a weight vest to add resistance.
When you can do twenty with the vest on without looking like a seal, put your feet up on a bench. You'll even train your core muscles (sorry for that word, Dan) and your lats and serratus.
Remember, if you look like a seal, you're doing them wrong. Keep your abs tight and your nose to the floor.
20. Snatches are easier to learn than cleans. No one tries snatches because it looks dangerous. Trust me, they're not. Try a progression of Double Arm Kettlebell Swings to 1-Arm Dumbbell Snatch to Close-Grip Snatch.
I know I may alienate some more folks, but honesty is the best policy. The key is to keep an open mind. Take some time and read the classics of training: Leistner, Hatfield, Bill Starr, and on and on.
There is a lot of old wisdom still very applicable today. One thing I can tell you is that the basics haven't changed much in the 25 years I've been doing this.