At first glance, it might seem that the title of this article is a double entendre (you know, like "Kid Rock Rules!"). I assure you, it's not. My linguistic reference of choice is not a music-challenged snowboarder but the Oxford English Dictionary, or for all you acronym lovers: OED.
The OED defines "rule" in many contexts. The definition it gives that's specific to this article is: "A regulation or principle governing conduct or procedure within a particular sphere." The sphere in question, of course, is fitness.
The longer I'm in this field, the more I learn. Now, that's not a profound revelation to anyone since that should be the case with any profession. But I think the fitness industry might be even more mercurial than, say, trading stocks. Unlike the "buy low, sell high" philosophy that drives the stock exchange, the information and principles in the fitness industry are compounding at an alarming rate. As such, my own training principles are going through a metamorphosis at an alarming rate, too.
So that's why I'm starting this series. Whenever I feel like I've accumulated enough new principles, tips, or tricks to fill an article, I'll release another derivation of Waterbury Rules.
This installment is going to cover people, program design, and titles. Here goes!
1. Give Credit
I can say with utmost certainty that no article, program, or principle of mine was devised entirely by me. I figured that was a given, but I don't think I've given enough credit where credit is due.
Testosterone has published articles from scads of professionals over the years, and I'll tell you that every single person who's had more than three articles published on this site has influenced my training philosophy in a positive way. If you're one of them, thanks!
2. Build a Constructive Criticism Team
Some of the most valuable people around me are more than willing to give me constructive criticism, and I like that. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was from one of my most successful clients. He said to me, "Chad, don't surround yourself with 'yes men' or you'll never reach your ultimate potential." I took that tip to heart early in my career and I can tell you that it's been invaluable to my success.
Now, don't misinterpret this advice as saying that you should surround yourself with people who insult or belittle you: that's merely insecurity oozing from a negative person. It's important that the constructive criticism comes from someone who's equally or more successful in the same field that you're in.
For example, I don't care how successful a dentist or taxidermist is, his opinions on my training principles mean nothing to me. The same is true with a 20-year-old Bally's personal trainer who questions what I do with my clients.
Sometimes when I mistakenly respond to one of these insecure dimwits, I'll get an email titled, "Dear Fuckhead... " That's a term of endearment usually used by someone who's part of my constructive criticism team: Alwyn Cosgrove.
3. Understand Internet Forumites
The sooner you understand that no one's mind has ever been changed in a forum battle, the better. Focus your energy on those who're open-minded and receptive to a multitude of ideas. Whether or not they end up following your philosophy isn't the point.
4. Follow Professional Programs if You're Ever Unsure of Your Abilities
The latest trend in the fitness industry is to say that programs suck. You should learn to train yourself, they say. I think that's one of the most dangerous pieces of fitness advice I've ever heard.
Here's an analogy to make my point: Let's say "Bobby" is the heir to a substantial inheritance. He's approaching his 18th birthday, so he knows about as much as every other 17-year-old. Sure, he thinks he's figured life out, but we all know he has much to learn. Now, imagine at his 18th birthday he's given the inheritance of three million dollars.
So, two scenarios arise. The first one is that Bobby is left to his own devices with three million dollars. I don't know about you, but if I got three million dollars on my 18th birthday, within a few years that pile of cash would've been replaced by five, 600 horsepower muscle cars, weekly trips to Vegas, and enough hookers on call to scare Charlie Sheen.
The second scenario is that he hires a financial advisor to lead him through investing and budgeting so he can maximize his three million dollars.
Think of your body and that three million dollars as being the same entity. The difference being that you can always make more money, but you can't get another body.
Don't get me wrong, I understand exactly what the "programs suck" gang is saying. There's simply no way a fitness writer like me could ever intuitively know what a person exactly needs to emphasize or avoid in his workouts. And even if I could design that program, it would only be relevant for that one person. Nothing works for everyone, and the holy grail of training is when you discover what works for you, and what doesn't. Therefore, I think the people who tell you to train yourself have good intentions.
Nevertheless, it's still dangerous advice. A good coach understands the key elements of volume, progressions, motor patterns, and structural balance, just to name a few. So if you're new to training, or if you're unsure of your own training ability, by all means, follow a training program that's designed by a reputable coach. After following those programs you'll have a much better understanding of what works for you and what doesn't. From there, you can slowly merge into training yourself.
My advice is to spend at least one year of continuous training with programs designed by professionals. After that, spend one workout each week doing what you feel you need most. Do that for three months and build from there, but be sure to check in with a professional coach who can assess your joint integrity and structural balance. If your personally-designed workouts are throwing you out of whack, you need to find out as soon as possible.
And yeah, I know what you're thinking. Just because a program is designed by a professional doesn't mean you can't potentially develop imbalances or joint problems. But given the choice between a novice person figuring things out for himself verses following a professional program, I think you'd be wise to choose the latter.
Finally, I've never met anyone who trained himself from day one who didn't permanently fuck up at least one of his joints. Keep that in mind the next time you hear that all programs suck.
5. Train Your Wrist Extensors, External Rotators, and Serratus Muscles
Speaking of people I've never met... I've never met anyone whose wrist extensors, external rotators, and serratus muscles were strong enough for optimal performance and structural integrity. Put simply, I don't care if you're currently doing exercises for the three aforementioned muscle groups, you're not doing enough.
Don't fall into the trap that these muscles must be trained with high reps, either. They'll get bigger and stronger if you train them with 80% of your 1RM with 6 rep sets, just like your other muscle groups will. With that said, I typically don't prescribe less than 6 reps per set for these muscle groups.
So if you're not directly training the wrist extensors, external rotators, and serratus muscles, I want you to start – now. Perform the following exercises first in three of your workouts every week, with at least 48 hours of rest between each. Once you've trained them at the beginning of your workouts for two months straight, you can put them in any part of your workout.
I don't care what type of training system you're on. It doesn't matter; the following recommendations will work. Here's a plan to get you started:
DB (dumbbell) external rotation, push-up plus, and wrist extension
(Note: Use the heaviest load you can handle for all sets.)
DB external rotation
Description: The key with the push-up plus is to push your shoulder blades as far forward as possible in the "up" position. This exercise can be performed on a Swiss ball or on the floor.
There are many variations of the wrist extension exercise that'll work. I'm just showing the above version because it's often overlooked. (It's actually better if you split the dumbbell handle between your middle and ring fingers.) But you could simply rest your forearms on a flat bench with a palms-down hand position. Hold an EZ bar or a dumbbell in each hand, and pull your knuckles up as high as possible. Let your hand flex down into a full stretch, regardless of the version you choose.
If you have any supraspinatus problems, avoid external rotation movements that force you to hold your upper arms in the air. The standing, arms elevated version is a good exercise, though. So if you don't have supraspinatus problems, use it. What I'm talking about is depicted below:
If you do have supraspinatus problems, perform the version where your elbow is resting on your knee (shown in the above plan). If the "rested elbows" version causes pain in your supraspinatus, do the version with your elbow next to your side. Externally rotate a cable with a pulley that's set at the height of your navel.
For a good study on the push-up plus and how it relates to serratus activation, check this out: Ludewig, et al. Am J Sports Med. 32(2): 484-93, 2004.
6. Train Your Hip Abductors and Adductors
The number one and number two weaknesses that I typically see in the lower body are with the hip abductors and hip adductors, respectively. Weak glutes is number three but I'll save that for another installment. Plus, I don't want to overwhelm you with too many new exercises at this point.
So I want you to start training your hip abductors and adductors at the beginning of three of your workouts each week (yes, you can do them after the external rotation, serratus, and wrist extensor exercises, or before those exercises). Use the same parameters that I prescribed for the upper body exercises. Here's how it looks:
Hip abduction and hip adduction
(Note: Use the heaviest load you can handle for all sets.)
I don't care what tool you use to train your abductors and adductors: plate, cable, machine – they'll all work. In fact, it's ideal if you rotate between the plate, cable, and machine versions. Here's how the plate version looks for hip abduction:
Here's how the band, or cable, version looks for hip adduction:
Keep in mind, the above depictions are only intended to show you the basic hip action with regard to abduction or adduction. The pictures aren't meant to show you the versions that I necessarily think are best.
So the next time you're in the gym, kick the fat lady off the hip abductor and hip adduction machines. If you start training those muscle groups with the parameters I prescribe, your lower body strength and performance will skyrocket!
7. Do the Over-Under Everyday
If you can't touch your fingers together with the over-under test (shown below), I want you to immediately stop all upper body training except for the exercises in rule #5. Yes, that's right, all upper body training.
You probably don't want to hear that, right? At the very least, stop all horizontal pressing and vertical pulling until you can pass the over-under test. Trust me, it's important to be able to touch your fingers together. You'll decrease shoulder pain and enhance longevity in your shoulder joints if you try to touch your fingers together after every workout, and throughout the day.
For each side, this is what you should be able to do (the test, not the girl):
How often should you perform the over-under drill? As often as possible, if you can't touch your fingers together. How long should you hold the stretch? Between 10 and 30 seconds. It's really that simple.
Once you can touch your fingers together, be sure to recheck your over-under mobility at least twice each week so you don't lose what you've gained.
8. Define Total Body Training (TBT) and Body Part Splits (BPS) Correctly
No topic in the history of fitness has spawned more hatred, penis-waving, and downright ignorance than the TBT verses body part split debate. I'm happy to say that I'm not here to partake in such nonsense, but I do want to give the flame-throwers some more precise tools to work with.
What in the hell does TBT mean anyway? What does a body part split mean? Those are two questions that many people haven't spent nearly enough time thinking about. So I'm going to define TBT and body part splits right here and now. If you don't completely agree with my definitions I encourage you to still accept them since, at the very least, you'll know what you're arguing for or against. Here are the definitions:
Total Body Training (TBT) – A training system where each workout is comprised of at least one, multi-joint upper body pressing and pulling movement along with one, multi-joint lower body movement.
Body Part Split (BPS) – A training system that emphasizes key muscle groups in each workout that doesn't include one, multi-joint upper body pressing and pulling movement along with one, multi-joint lower body movement in each workout.
So, for the last time, TBT isn't an acronym that's synonymous with a system that's only made up of multi-joint movements, but it must include the three aforementioned movements. BPS isn't an acronym that's synonymous with a system that's only made up of single-joint movements, but it can't include the three aforementioned movements in any single workout.
That's it, eight rules you should immediately apply to your life, training, and discussions. I hope you'll incorporate all eight. If you do, I guarantee it'll improve your life and training.