Want to render an S&C (Strength and Conditioning) coach speechless? Just throw that question out to him. It’s like asking a carpenter, “hey bud, what’s the best woodworking tool?” Any answer you do get — if you get any at all — with either (1) be packed with lewd innuendo or, (2) laced with obscenities. My guess is that’ll you’ll get the bonus two-for-one. Lucky you! Let’s see if I can save you from all that.
Whenever I’m asked something along these lines (and I’m asked it frequently. If I had a nickel for every…), I first hit them with the lewd innuendo. No, not really; I’m too nice a guy for that. The first thing I do is assess, either visually or by direct questioning, the person’s training history; namely, is there or ain’t there any?
Now, for those with a limited training history — or for those just getting in the game — I’ve got a little secret for you. Just about any training method within reason will work. Just keep the workouts brief (half an hour or so) and as intense as possible, and your body will respond favorably. Progress past a mastery of basic bodyweight exercises — the pushup, pull-up, bodyweight squat (I prefer the lunge, though that’s a topic for another time) and the “praying man” plank hold (left & right sides and front) — and into something a tad more advanced. Deadlifts, dips, overhead pressing, squat and lunge variations are some of my favorites for those new to the gym scene. Oh, and add some sprints into the mix as well. Art DeVany has a fantastic basic workout scheme mapped out on his subscription site. And, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s no need for me to reiterate the work that he’s already so masterfully done. I don’t wholeheartedly endorse many things — Art’s site, though, is an exception to that rule. It’s well worth the money.
Now, for those with some degree of training experience (let’s say, at least a year and a half, two years or so), my answer is, “the training method you’re not doing right now.” That may sound flippant as all hell, but it’s not. Not only that, it’s true. And the reason for that is that the body, the miraculous mechanism that it is, adapts to a said stimulus quickly. And the longer you’ve been in the game, the more quickly it adapts.
First and foremost, someone with a decent training base and who’s looking for a “best training method” must assess his or her goals. Without this knowledge it’s pretty damn tough to make any progress Whatsoever. Take a good look around your gym and you’ll see what I mean. How many have of your fellow gym members have shown any true progress in the last year? They’re few and far between I’m willing to bet.
But let’s get back to goals themselves. Now, some will say that their goal is simply to be healthy (or healthier) — and there’s nothing at all wrong with that — it’s a fine and admirable goal. It’s just obviously a different goal than, say, someone who wants to powerlift, play high school, collegiate or professional (fill in the blank), enter a strongman competition, bodybuild or be a better firefighter, policeman or Marine. Different tasks require different skills that require an emphasis on different training methods and modalities. About the only thing I can say that is universal across all disciplines is this: the most powerful athlete/competitor is, with all else equal (techniques, skill sets, etc.) the better, more successful athlete. And although I can’t prove it scientifically, I know it in my heart of hearts — empirically and in my gut — that the pound-for-pound most powerful of specimens within the general population are also, by and large, the healthiest.
Now, my personal goals, and the goals I will devote most time to in this blog, are (1) to be as healthy as possible while, (2)excelling at what I would call a “Crossfit” prototype of athleticism; that is, the ability to display a high degree of power development across a wide range of motions and functions displayed primarily over a limited duration. That is to say, my goals are more to go fast — and to go fast repeatedly — than to go slow, steady and long. In the weight room, my goals are to emphasis improvements in power development rather than placing an emphasis on strength and/or hypertrophy. With full knowledge that — and this is very important — that the three — strength, power and hypertrophy — are inextricably linked.
And this is where the black art of advanced training comes into play, and why I find training at this level so damn fascinating. Training here, at this level, is akin to thoroughbred training; it’s part science and part intuition, part future and part here-and-now. It’s a balance of gut, heart and brain — which, most times, will be clamoring for, outright arguing over, which direction to take. It’s the ability to accurately assess your (or your athlete’s) needs, strengths and weaknesses and possessing the knowledge of how to go about fixing them — both in the immediate and in the long term. It’s knowing when to red-line and knowing when to idle. It’s knowing whose advice to take, whose program to follow, because — and here’s the second secret for today — everybody’s program works. With the caveat being — hey, you knew there had to be a caveat, right? — well, with the caveat being that every program “works” for its intended purpose and for those who happen to exhibit the particular weakness for which the program was designed to fix. The problem is — ironically — that the better (more effective) the program is, the shorter a period of time the weakness will, in fact, remain a weakness, thereby rendering the program’s shelf-life that much shorter. And now we’ve come full circle. So, what’s the best training method for the advanced trainee? The short answer is, “the training program you’re not currently on.” Any answer beyond that must be conjured from the highly individualized, black-art caldron. The caldron I love to stir!
A Word About Power
My goal, in each and every rep of each and every set of each and every exercise, is to produce as much power as possible. In practical terms, at a given weight and with a given distance, that means I try to move the weight a fast as possible in each repetition.
Remember that, in the simplest of terms:
Power = Work/Time. And that Work = Force x Distance
We’ll negate, for our purposes, the angle between the force and the resultant movement as it will remain constant (or near enough) throughout the given exercise. Distance, too,will remain constant — unless we’re talking about throwing objects — in which case we will assume time to be the constant. But for now let’s use the barbell squat as an example. We’ll also assume your basic, everyday movement, say, a simple squat — not a jump squat or some other variant thereof.
Now, what we want to find is the “sweet spot” between a heavy enough weight and adequate speed. Too much speed and we’ve crossed into jump-squat territory — not enough weight for our purposes. Too much weight and our power will plummet as speed decreases. Something else we want to manage is the rep range (to get nit-picky, what we really want to manage is the total set time). Sets of 3 is a good starting point, though. From here, we can then nudge the weight up or down, or reps up or down as needed.
And now, class, anyone remember why we’re so interested in maximizing power production over a limited duration? That’s right! Because fast twitch fibers (both a and b types) are most responsible for producing this manner of power. And what’s to love about fast twitch muscle fiber? Right again! Because plain and simply, they are inefficient, energy hogs. The four-barrel, 454’s of human engines. Which of course means, so long as our eating patterns remain Paleo-esk, we’ll be cooking away body fat, 24-7.
Really, the more I write on this subject, the more I find I can write on this subject. Books could be written on each of these topics. My hope is that, throughout the course of this blog, I can expound fully on each of these areas. Again, feel free to drop me a line if there’s a particular area you’d like me to cover in more depth. I’d be glad to. But for now, suffice it to say, our goal in the gym is to improve upon our power production. This is the heart and soul of the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness style workout.