“It’s tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that’s right on time
it’s tricky…it’s tricky (tricky) tricky (tricky)” – Run DMC
No disrespect, fellas — but if y’all think rockin’ a rhyme that’s right on time is tricky (tricky) tricky (tricky), try integrating a good and sensible workout program into a hectic, modern life; something that can be followed over the long haul. The latter takes NASA-like navigation skills, steely focus and determination, and the ability to shun all else (responsibilities, relationships) that isn’t tied directly to the desired training outcome.
Or does it really have to be that convoluted?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked how I periodize or otherwise map my workouts, and how far in advance do I have this “plan” laid out.
You know the drill: on Tuesday I will squat 8 total sets consisting of 28 total reps (strict control of volume is important!) with intensities ranging from 70% in the initial sets up to 95% in the final few sets. Everything -and I do mean everything – is drawn out ahead of time. Load, intensity, sets, reps, volume…nothing is left to chance, because I don’t f’ing play.
And these programs do work, no doubt. Just look at what Westside has done over the years. Look at the programs of successful Olympic teams — especially those teams of the old eastern bloc. Precise training, mapped out (sometimes) years in advance (years!), coupled with athletes who have fully bought-in to the system.
But it ain’t gonna work for you, my friend. Not unless training is your life. Not unless you retreat into an insulated bubble that ensures that training is the only thing of importance in your life. Unless this is the case, you will fail — and miserably so — at attempting to follow these types of strict regimens. It’s true — Olympic champions are honed with these programs and this all-or-nothing mindset. Along with a bazillion failed diets, lifestyle changeovers, and exercise implementation attempts.
Oh sure, if you have only a few worldly commitments you can for sure make these programs work. At least in the short term. And if you have a set goal toward which to direct your energies, you can make some hella progress. Hell, I did when I was younger, and my only concern was being the best damn strong safety college football had ever seen. All else be damned. Bury my broken body under the national championship trophy, was my mindset. And I friggin” got’er done.
Needless to say, that run was short-lived. And I missed out on a crap ton of potentially life-enhancing (and life changing) opportunities because they didn’t fit within the tight confines of “the plan”. High school senior trip? Hell no, I’ve got an AAU national qualifying meet to train for. Chillin’ with the family at the river? Nope — 7-on-7 camp, Jack.
That all changed though, and fast. Seemingly overnight I had a wife, two kids, and a job that (quite literally) owned me. Map out a training program? Hell, I couldn’t even tell you what continent I would be on in three days time. And for much of the nine years I served in Uncle Sam’s military, my “free time” choices revolved around two options — sleep or eat. So much for the paradox of choice 😉
I’m not bitching, mind you — that’s just the way it was. And since I loved training, and was lucky enough at this point to be surrounded by like mindsets, I found a way to evolve out of what Art DeVany would later term soviet-like “command and control”, and into more of a freelance or “flow” type of training. I’d like to say there was genius of insight involved here, but it was anything but. If I was going to train, and mapping wasn’t an option, there was only going to be one way to do that effectively. If you’re only other choice is death, you figure out the work-around pretty damn fast.
Of course this didn’t just happen overnight; hell, I’m still “evolving” the method to this day. And it didn’t come without a profound and dire sense of loss for “what was”. I had willfully — enthusiastically, even — thrown myself into the “command and control” methodologies since the time I was 12. Hell, it worked, and magically so; what can I say? This was the reason I’d ditched martial arts training at the time; it didn’t fit into the track&field/football “plan”. A stupid move I realize now — one can never fully recover. But hey, you live and you (hopefully) learn; you evolve and mature.
So what’s the difference between effective “freelancing” and, well…bumbling and stumbling through the process like a 4 AM, Burbon Street wino? Well, I tend to look at it as the difference between naturally occurring fractal patterns and the attempt to intervene, guide or second-guess that same pattern. Square pegs, round holes and busy hammers. All force and no flow; no art.
I keep logs on what I have done, and none on what I will do. The “will do” is determined in the moment, and within the context of that moment. Does the opportunity for a workout arise in the gym or on the field? In familiar settings or on the road? What equipment (if any) do I have access to? What has my last few days looked like in terms of cumulative stress (workout related, business, sleep, relationships, etc.). What movements and modalities have I done in the last few workouts? Am I repeating things out of habit? Married to things I’m good at? Avoiding the things at which I totally suck? The last time I did Linda (heh….the “3 bars of death” Linda), I had an empty gym, a wild hair, and 30 free minutes before a meeting. Load up the bars, and 3,2,1, GO!
Autoregulation is a key component, here. I have rep-range-defined “maxes” for just about any movement you can think of — though I have absolutely no notes on the conditions under which those “maxes” were set. Why stress over trying to recreate an exactly perfect set of conditions under which to hit a max? That’s command and control mindset. And again, “command and control” does work…but at a HUGE cost in the way of life expense, and not an expense that I am willing, at this point in my life, to incur.
I also glance back over my past few workouts, and filter this through my “seven planes of movement” idea — vertical push, vertical pull; horizontal push, horizontal pull; squat, hinge, “brace”. Just a check to ensure that no movement plane gets shortchanged over time. And, I filter movement patterns through the force-velocity curve, so as to ensure that each movement pattern gets to fully “surf the curve” — again, over time. I don’t try to squeeze everything into each workout, but look toward patterns over time, and fleshing things out over the long-haul. Workout intensity has to vary as well. This is very, very important to ensure not running off over the burnout/over-reaching cliff.
And everything is filtered, of course, through my Five Ts and personal goals. I gotta know where I’m trying to go, the construct and condition of my “transport vessel”, and the climate and topography in which I’m attempting to navigate. This is all vitally important.
Sound too “woo”, too “right brained” to afford any real-world value? I assure you, it’s not. Working with (and not against) the natural rhythm is the way of all healthy, organic things. Why would you, or should your training, be any different? Ahhh, you’re a performance athlete — I get it, I truly do. But here’s the thing: I said that working within natural rhythms is the way of all healthy things. And athletic prowess, we know, does not imply health. Your ass can only ride one pony at a time. Pick yours, and own it. If you’re going to be an athlete, do it. Just know that when your competitive career is done, there is another way. The iron game isn’t an all-or-nothing affair.
Ok, so how about a quick example? Here’s a workout I did last week. I found myself with a free hour, at my home base; the Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio. This was on the heels of a an hour’s worth of impromptu fixie hucking — broken, of course, by an espresso-laden pit-stop 😉
A1 low box squats (speed): 135/5, 225/5,5,5,5,5
B1 BTN jerks: 135/3; 185/3; BTN push-press: 225/2; 255/miss; 235/1, 1
C1 reverse hyper: 200/20, 250/20, 20
Although I’d had a pretty tough sprint session the day before, my last lower-body weight session was “squat” vs hinge dominant. The way I perform box squats is with more of a sit-way (way!)-back, hinge/hamstring emphasis vs a traditional “squat” motion. Also (outside of sprints and jumps), I hadn’t hit any “speed” hinge movements in a while (surfing the force-velocity curve, here).
Also, I hadn’t gone overhead in a while — and for sure hadn’t jerked from the BTN position in a while. But the combination of the prior day’s sprints, the days fixie ride, and the speed squats killed my jerk speed. I felt strong (thus the jump to 255 once I shifted to the push-press), just not “fast”. I could tell from the lead-in weights that I ought to go ahead and shift to a push-press due to my speed and “pop” just not being there; it was as if I were knee-deep in a pool. Looking back at my notes, I saw a moderate leg drive 245 x 2 BTN push-press (tempo = x122). Under what conditions? Who friggin’ knows. But odds are pretty damn good, though, that it wasn’t under today’s conditions. Also, when was the last time (if ever?) that I’d done BTN push-presses (or jerks, for that matter) following low box speed squats…preceded by a tough fixie ride? Not in any near past that I could recall. And probably not ever.
And that’s all of zero matter, of course, because that combination made sense TODAY, given the cumulative context of that hour and what lead up to that hour. Autoregulation got me in the ballpark, and gave me something to shoot for, and I wound up with one hell of an unplanned, impromptu workout. No PRs, but that will happen some other time, when the conditions that will allow it happen to align.
This “freelance” methodology also forms the basis of how I program for my Efficient Exercise clients. We account for each individual’s goals and Five Ts, then integrate that with covering the 7 planes of motion, surfing the force-velocity curve (along with developing proprietary equipment that allows us to hit the high force-low velocity portion of the curve that would otherwise go untapped for most), and effective use of Autoregulation. And all within the context of that client’s cumulative life situation.
Is it perfect? No. But because we naturally morph to fit each client’s ever-changing life situation, we produce spectacular results that can be maintained, without sacrificing quality of life, over a lifetime.
I’ve proven over the years that this method is successful in an n=1 sense, and now at Efficient Exercise, we’re proving that it can be implemented over a wide swath of the general population. It works because it flows, quite naturally, in a fractal sense. It works precisely because it is not “command and control”.
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –