“The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before.” – Samuel Johnson
I find it curious how the popularly accepted “legitimate” emphasis of “weight training” has shifted over the years. In other words, if we were to group together all people who “weight train”, what would be the most popular application (or goal) of the iron game? What methodologies would be considered “best”. And, as a contrast, what aspect or methodology of weight training would be the least desired, parodied, or ridiculed. And maybe more telling: as a business model, what type of gym establishments proliferate?
For instance, when I entered the iron brotherhood back in the mid 70s, bodybuilding was all the rage. How could it *not* be, with Arnold as iron’s popular icon? Those days, the assumption was that if you dabbled in the dark, iron arts, it was simply to get as jacked as possible; a vanity-driven, aesthetic pursuit. You sure as hell weren’t trying to better on-the-field athletic performance. Oh sure you had your fringe yahoos who were training specifically for the barbell sports (Olympic lifting and power lifting), but they were few in number. Fewer still were those using iron as a way to better performance in sports that had nothing at all to do with a barbell. One has to remember that even as late as the mid 70s, weight lifting was still held in high suspicion among the old guard (read heretofore highly successful) coaching establishment.
The tide was beginning to turn, though, thanks to folks like Bill Starr, and seedlings of information on Eastern Bloc track & field training that had begun to take root in US soil. Also, the rapid turn-around from mediocrity to dominance of the Nebraska football program, mostly attributed to the weight training innovations of strength and conditioning coach Boyd Epley (whether by correlation or causation), were beginning to grab some serious attention.
As blind luck would have it, I was surrounded at that time by some very forward and outside-of-the-box thinking coaches. And too, I was green enough not to have had any solidified preconceived notions about weight training’s benefits or supposed downfalls (i.e., “muscle boundedness”). In my mind, using weights to enhance athletic performance just made perfect sense: the eastern bloc track and field athletes were heavy practitioners (and steadily kicking our asses in the Olympics and World Championships), and the Nebraska football team was now synonymous with weight training, and they were steadily kicking everyone’s asses on the gridiron. Having access to the right facilities, equipment and coaching expertise made a huge difference in my perception of what weight training offered as well.
Side note: I distinctly remember, in the Olympic summer of 1976, drooling over a poster-sized black and white photo of Nebraska’s then, brand new, strength and conditioning facility. My AAU Jr Olympic sprints coach unveiled the thing from a cylindrical cardboard poster-protector prior to an afternoon practice/weight training session. He may as well have unveiled a life-sized Playboy centerfold for the way I ogled the thing. It was signed in one corner by a guy named Boyd Epley; I had no clue at the time who that was, and I believe this was the first I recall of hearing the term “S&C coach” as a distinct coaching position. Years later, I was fortunate enough to meet Boyd at the dedication of the Stark Center’s Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture. He got a big kick out of that story as I relayed it to him. Come to find out, he and LeManuel Cooke (my AAU sprints coach) were on the same track and field team together at Phoenix Jr. College. A small world it is, indeed.
Side note #2: LeManuel Cooke also coached San Antonio kid (and Oklahoma Sooner standout) Thomas Lott as a youth AAU sprinter, and handled Thomas’ (along with a number of other San Antonio collegiate returnees) summer S&C workouts. What an atmosphere in which to learn the S&C game!
Unfortunately though, the “training for athletic performance” or basic GPP side of things never really caught on in popular gym culture. And Physical Culture as a whole (at least in the popular mindset) became associated with an unhealthy chase for cartoonish bodily proportions, both male and female, throughout the 80s and 90s. Throw insane amounts of drugs and piss-poor fashion choices to the mix (doo rags and clown pants anyone?), and any sane notion of prescribing “iron as medicine” to the general public was completely lost. Also — and tragically — the value of these “bobybuilding” methodologies as a whole took a severe hit. Something I’ll get to in a minute.
Hell, during those “lost years” you had to really, *really* search for any information on the strength and conditioning side of things. S&C information in popular publications was scant to out-and-out non-existent. And unless you had access to a down-and-gritty gym or a collegiate training facility (luckily I’ve had access to both my entire training life), your training options were largely limited to the pump-and-swole methodologies alone. I remember one instance in the late 80s of being on the road and hitting the local Gold’s with a military friend of mine. Halfway through my hang clean to push-press and weighted chin complex, I realized the whole friggin’ place had paused to gawk as if I had three heads. A sad state of affairs for the iron game, indeed.
Ah, but then along came Greg Glassman, and the budding CrossFit phenomenon.
Now, I’m the first to kick CrossFit square in their collective asses for their less-than-stellar (ok, friggin’ mindless) programming, but I will say this in CrossFit’s defence: thank God they busted the public notion of weight training free of the stale, bodybuilding only, 4-sets-of-10, national-bench-day-on-Monday mindset.
But the problem — as is the case any time the pendulum of a particular endeavor has yet to find the sane middle position — is that bodybuilding methodologies (or assistance work) is now seen as essentially useless; a vanity-driven waste of time. And nothing, my friends, could be further from the truth.
Consider the Westside template as just one example of the proper integration of bodybuilding methodologies within the overall programming schema. Now most people associate the Westside method with a “Max Effort day” and “Speed day” in lifts that approximate the big 3 powerlifting moves. And while that is for the most part true, what these same folks fail to realize is that up to 80% of the Westside workout volume consists of focused “assistance work”; work that is largely comprised of what would be considered “bodybuilding” methodologies, exercises and rep schemes. The intent of that “assistance work” is to build-up the weak-links in a lifter’s chain. Triceps holding back the bench lockout? The prescription would be a heavy dose of repetition method, tricep-specific work. Breakout the EZ curl bar, dumbbells and cable machine; all equipment and methodologies you’ll never see in a “legit” CrossFit box.
And that, my friends, is a cryin’ damn shame. Both for the iron game as a whole, and for the physical and athletic betterment of the individual practitioner.
Now my particular method — wave-and-weave autoregulation — has more similarities to protocols followed in the 50s and 60s (and even earlier? A historian I’m not) than anything around today. I’m probably more aligned with the Westside idea than anything else, though I’m anything but a powerlifter. I do, however, target “weak links” with plenty of bodybuilding-like assistance work.
Let’s just remember that there is much benefit to be had by integrating some bodybuilding-like work into your routine. A little added hypertrophy is never a bad thing. And even in most athletic endeavors, the resultant “bigger engine” seldom comes with a corresponding decrease in speed, quickness, technical prowess, etc., though an eye does need to be maintained on the possibility of this cropping up.
This needn’t be rocket science, either. In American football players for example, simply keeping tabs on a player’s broad, vertical and triple jumps and 40 and pro agility times is a great way to regulate overall body weight vs performance slippage. Essentially, we’re looking for max performance at a max bodyweight with these athletes. Mass does still move mass (shocker!), and extra weight in the form of muscle (preferably, even if predominately sarcoplasmic) and even fat does offer substantial injury protection as well. I’ll take a 200 lb cornerback with all the athletic performance of his 175 lb peer any day of the week; simple physics, injury prevention, and “work output vs investment” prevail.
So, does this mean you need to roll a 6-day bodybuilding split into your already GPP-heavy, CrossFit or HIIRT programming? Of course not; the Five T’s still prevail. However, I would encourage folks to consider shoring-up weak-links with some serious rep-and-pump attention. Also, I’d encourage folks to consider adding rep-and-pump only workouts into the overall programming schema. The essence of wave-and-weave training is to find some middle-intensity training modalities to add to the overall mix. Bodyweight and rep-and-pump modalities fit these need perfectly.
(A1) squat clean — work-up to 235 x 7 singles (lots of 5x sets below 200)
(A2) ARXFit Horizontal press x 2 reps.
10 total rounds of the “A” series, though only 5 for A2. In other words, 2 sets of squat cleans followed by 1 set of ARXFit presses.
(B1) Blast Strap tricep extensions: 3 sets of 15
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –