“I don’t want to get too comfortable; I’d rather stay hungry.”
Arnold, back in the day
Back when I was a kid, about the time that I became completely enamored with the phenomena of physical culture, and fell in with the heady realization that I could affect — and, in fact, dramatically improve — my inherent athletic ability via weight training, my goals were twofold: (1) to look every bit like Arnold Schwarenegger, and (2) to play my (American) football position with the all skill, intensity and ferocity of my football heroes at the time — Ronnie Lott and Jack Tatum.
At that time, and with no one around to tell me otherwise (remember, this was the age of the Weider Empire’s, information “totalitarianism”), I set out to achieve my goals. And I think if you’d ask anyone who knew me during that period of my life, they’d tell you that I was a young man who couldn’t be told “you can’t” or “it’s not possible”.
Come to think of it, though, not much has changed with me in that respect. But I digress…
In any event, by the time I was ready to pack my bags and head off for collegiate sporting “fame and fortune”, I had figured a couple of things out via simple trial and error. The first was that sheer size and raw strength had little to do with athletic success in disciplines that required speed and finesse, and the second was that training slow (as in rep speed) in the weight room — either in pursuit of hypertrophy or raw strength — had the effect of making one slow(er) on the field of play. At the time, I had neither the knowledge nor the vocabulary to express what it was that I saw lacking in this model; what I’d realized, of course, is that without the ability to express power — and more precisely, instantaneous power, coupled with a high power-to-bodyweight ratio — all is for naught, in the sporting world at least.
Well, thanks so much for the funky little trip down memory lane, you say, but just what the hell does this have to do with Dr. McGuff’s book, Body By Science?
Hmm, well, first up we’ve got the issue of goal setting. Then, as a subset of that, we’ve got the issue of matching effective training protocols to one’s stated goals. Now, you can re-make all of the mistakes that I made in my youthful exuberance (and complete and utter ignorance) by attempting to serve two “masters”, or you can choose to listen to the older, and I hope, somewhat wiser me. What the older, wiser me would have told the younger, ignorant and headstrong me (not that I would have listened — but that’s another story), is that what I was attempting was, in the most simple of terms, a damned fool’s errand. My two goals were, quite simply, physiological, polar opposites.
But before we travel any further down this road, though, and even prior to delving into the issue of goal setting, we need to first define a term that, on the outset, might not sound like it even needs defining. “Fitness”, it seems — within the general populace, at least — is akin to the term “love” in that the two terms transcend definition; they just are. Like art, we know it when we see it. Well, maybe so for love; fitness, though, must be properly defined so that we can then speak using a common language.
I’d like to compare and contrast a couple of definitions for fitness from a pair of guys whose knowledge of the issue I respect. First up is Dr. Doug McGuff, as stated in Body By Science:
Fitness: The bodily state of being physiologically capable of handling challenges above a resting threshold of activity.
Next up is Greg Glassman (of CrossFit), and his definition of the term (as paraphrased by yours truly):
Fitness: Work capacity expressed over broad times and modal domains.
Now, both of these definitions essentially cover the same ground, though I tend to use Glassman’s definition because it seems to lend itself more towards fitness in an athletic realm or expression. But that’s my personal preference. What each and every trainee really needs to do is to first define a goal within the realm of the definition of “fitness” (which ever definition you’re most comfortable with), with the realization held firmly in mind that goals — and therefore the proper path toward those goals — is a totally individual matter. For instance, my personal, overriding goal, since the time I had my pre-collegiate “ah-hah” moment, has been to become more athletic — more powerful, and with a higher power-to-bodyweight ratio — and worry less about physical aesthetics. As I get older, I’m quite sure I’ll modify this goal more toward aesthetics and overall health. But for now, I’m all about chasing a higher power-to-bodyweight ratio (and to be more specific, power as expressed in the anaerobic realm), at the expense of, say, joint health. This is not to say that I ignore joint health, but that I don’t mind pushing the envelop via the Olympic lifts, plyometrics, sprinting and such. Of course, the downside of this is that I expose myself to an increased possibility of both acute and chronic (via repetitive trauma) injury. This is the kind of give-and-take, the Yin-and-Yang, if you will, of settling on a goal; it’s absolutely imperative, though, that each trainee do so (along with constant re-assessment) to prevent the dreaded “spinning wheels” syndrome all too frequently witnessed in gyms throughout the world. And don’t even get me going on goals vis-a-vis diet 🙂
In my mind, goal-setting is of the utmost importance vis-a-vis the Body By Science protocol, precisely because your stated goal will determine where, when, and how often you might employ the protocol. And let me state here that I unequivocally agree with Dr. McGuff’s premise as revealed throughout his work in Body By Science. Where Dr. McGuff and I may not see eye-to-eye is in the application of that protocol. And that has everything to do with goals. Let me explain.
Let’s, for the sake of argument, examine two trainees with very different goals. Let’s say trainee #1 is a middle-aged office worker (male or female, doesn’t matter) who is a few pounds, or even good bit, overweight (“over fat”, I feel, is a better term), and who would like to get “in shape”. Note that trainee #1 describes about 95% of all potential trainees. Let’s say trainee #2 is a competitive rugby player. The level of competition, for the purposes of this discussion, is irrelevant. Two trainees, two totally different goals. Now, will the Body By Science protocol work for both? Yes, no doubt it will. And for trainee #1, I’d dare say it’s probably all he (or she) will ever need. Buy the book, read, heed, and apply the concepts and, coupled with an all-around Paleo lifestyle, this “95-percentile” trainee will be well on his or her way to a long, disease-free and productive life. All of trainee #1’s goals can realistically be achieved by following this protocol (with, of course, some added “play” thrown in), and with the added bonus of having invested very little time in the acquisition of those goals. For trainee #2, however, it’s a much different story.
Both Dr. McGuff and I agree that specific skills must be practiced at game speed and with game-weight implements. In other words (and for instance), practicing a batting swing, or golf swing, say, with some sort of weighted resistance is not only useless, it’s detrimental. Practicing these same movements with a lighter implement, however, (overspeed training) does have useful applications, though that protocol is not particularly germane to this discussion (though I do now have an idea for a new post). Where Dr. McGuff and I might not see eye to eye is this: Dr. McGuff believes (from what I gather from reading BBS), that strength gains made via the BBS protocol can then be directly translated to measurable “on the field” performance increases by way of specific skills practice. My thinking is that any strength increase realized (no matter the protocol) must first be “bridged” via appropriate strength-speed and speed-strength (power) work in order to produce a more effective (and, to a much greater degree of) “on the field” improvement. At first glace, this might not seem such a wide gulf of opinion — and depending upon the stated goal of the trainee, it’s not. However, the more one’s goals shift toward the “application” or “athletic” realms, the gulf widens, as I would contend that the BBS protocol(s), if used at all within an overall training scheme of this nature, would become only a marginalized addition to the overall scheme; relegated, you might say, to the outside fringes of the overall training maco-cycle. Still a useful application, no doubt; another valuable tool in the trainee’s (and smart trainer’s) toolbox. In keeping with this analogy, though, one must remember that the handle of a crecsent wrench makes for a poor hammer substitute. It’s the skilled mechanic who utilizes the correct tool for the job at hand.
Hypertrophy is another matter entire, a matter into which I’ll delve in the next installment of this series.