THE STATE OF TRAINING 2019
I sometimes feel like the Methuselah of weigh training. I have been doing it pretty much daily for the past 31 years of my life. In those years, I have seen a lot of things come and go. The newest and greatest training method that was going to forever revolutionize the way we worked out. It seemed practically every year there was the “new” way to make you fit, jacked, swole, conked, etc. It would get a bunch of people energized and on the bandwagon, and then fade away only to give rise to the next greatest method. I have seen the aerobics revolution, the unstable surface crowd, the functional fitness freaks, the cross fit crew, and everything in between. I never completely dismiss anything as I think most things have some efficacy. So long as the ends justifies the means.
For instance, I don’t like cross fit for football. Football has a specific bioenergetic demand and cross fit isn’t a good match for it. If just being in really good general shape was all one needed for football, it would be a great method of preparation. I know crossfitter’s like to show how they “killed” a NFL player in a workout, and that proves cross fits superiority. It’s akin to saying because a Navy Seal is super fit, he would outperform an NFL player. In a Seal workout, yes, he likely would. In a football game, you would pick up parts of the Seal. The reason each sport has a different training style is the demands of the game. Thats why basketball players look like basketball players and football players look like football players.
So for some strange reason, the fitness industry became obsessed with the specificity of the training and its direct carry over to the sport in question. If I hear one more strength coach say “bench press is useless because it has no direct purpose in a game”. Generally speaking, a player who benches 300 lbs will be manhandled by a player who benches 400 lbs, if size is relatively similar. Yes, more than raw strength goes into it, but there a common generalities that can be drawn from this type of comparison. There is a reason athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant became better players after they got bigger and stronger. They were better able to take a pounding and still keep their form intact after the initial contact. Jordan used to get beat down by the Pistons until he could literally fight back physically.
The point of this convoluted story is that strength training is fairly basic and simple and yet we have an entire industry infighting over what is the best method to train. I have a simple answer, use what ever program helps you be better at whatever you decided to achieve. Being a great bodybuilder doesn’t take an education in Astro-Physics. It is a bit of an oversimplification but put bluntly, “lift weights, have sound nutrition, and rest and sleep 8 hours per night”.
I know I will be attacked for making this statement, but people are confusing complexity for effectiveness. While a complex training program can be highly effective, so can a boring and simple one. Some people need variety every session and I get it. Ronnie Coleman basically did the same workout for years. Like I have always said, more than one road leads to Rome. I suppose my feeling is that you need to find out what works for you. I realized long ago that my chest grew with little effort. I would do about 7 working sets and it would grow like a weed. I have 19″ calves and rarely ever trained them. Most of my parts grow to be honest, but I had to learn how to make them grow. My shoulders were always super strong, but I felt they lagged behind my chest too much. I would do pretty strict 60 lbs dumbell laterals and routinely did 4 plates per side for 6-8 reps on the front military press in the smith machine. I wasn’t happy with the size or shape of my shoulders until I started doing 3 exercises for side delts, 2 for front delts, 2 for rear delts, then shrugs. So my volume went up from 12 sets heavy to 28 sets lighter and higher reps. My delts caught up. I do heavy weight and low reps on hamstrings, rarely going over 10 reps. They were hanging off the back of my leg in a year. My back got better when I used multiple angles and used tempo in my movements. So, in a nutshell, it takes a lot of experimenting to get optimum knowledge of your body.
At Troponin Nutrition, we have a philosophy of power-bodybuilding. What exactly does that mean? Well to answer that, it takes a bit of understanding of the types of adaption that a muscle will undertake. Untrained individuals make rapid gains initially because they become more neurologically efficient. So they bench press more weight because they become more skilled and their nervous system is honed in to that specific skill. After some rapid improvement, gains tend to level off and now the body must become stronger by encountering increasing levels of stress. This is known as accommodation. The body is stressed, it breaks down under that stress, and rebuilds itself to a higher level that can withstand the prior level of stress. So now, expose the body to more stress, and it results in stronger muscle able to withstand the new level of stress it encounters.
By progressively overloading the muscle, one could conceivably continue growing forever. This is highly unlikely because at some point, the tensile strength of bone and tendon will fail. It much easier to tear a muscle under a high load than a low load. In powerlifting, the goal is maximum force production. In physics, F=MA(force= mass x acceleration). Mass is the weight lifted and acceleration is the bar speed. Obviously acceleration is the variable with the least amount of potential. That leaves mass as what I consider the more important variable in muscle growth.
Look around any gym and generally speaking, the biggest guys are the strongest guys.
Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but in general, it holds true. A 20 inch bicep has potential to be stronger than a 16 inch bicep. I once heard that it took 20 lbs of solid weight gain to put an inch on an arm.
I believe thats fairly accurate in my experience. You don’t see too many 180 lbs guys with 20 inch arms. I am sure there are exceptions, but again its the outlier, not the norm. So what in my experience is the key to hypertrophy? I believe its the ability to handle heavier weight and having a higher work capacity. That doesn’t mean I said be a powerlifter. To be a Troponin Power-bodybuilder, we kind of have a formula for that success. We choose a movement to be our base power movement for that given workout. Lets use chest as an example. In the beginning, we use an extensive warm-up and pyramid up in weight until we move a goal weight for a given number of reps on a compound movement like barbell or dumbbell bench variations. We don’t generally like going below 6 reps because the adaptation at that range is mostly neural. What you do however accomplish is taxing the hell out of your Type 2B fibers. These are the high threshold fibers that have the most ability to grow thicker(myofibrils thicken). This portion of the lift has mainly longer rest periods between sets to accomplish the heavy reps. Once we get past that, we go about doing our best to decimate the remaining fibers through a variety of methods.
I don’t really believe there are just shaping exercises. All exercises have the ability to create growth, depending on the load. Say the first exercise was barbell bench, the next exercise would likely be an incline press variation. Same thing, hammer the rep range that is your goal. Maybe 8-12 that day. You use the max load in the rep range. This ensures that work capacity and volume are being respected. The next movement would possible be a fly. Again, maximum weight with respect to the rep range and safe, controlled movement. At this point, rest between sets is fairly short and the goal is to hit a variety of angles. We believe that muscle responds best to multiple planes of stress. Perhaps to really take the muscle to the limit, do a widow maker set in DC fashion of just do a nasty triple drop to beat those last fibers into submission.
This same method holds true in general for almost every body part you can imagine. The idea is to force the muscle into growth. Of course, you can go overboard, but in my experience, very few people are ever in danger of overtraining. Most people have never been to the edge of the abyss. When you train so hard you are left on the floor in a heap, gasping for air and unable to walk, thats the abyss! I have heard it said that there is no such thing as overtraining, just undereating and under sleeping. While I think that may be a bit of an overstatement, I don’t wholly disagree. It behooves the trainee to follow a philosophy, to follow a system. To be systemized, one needs to be aware of their current and historical progress.
Dorian Yates was a meticulous record keeper because he felt if you didn’t know where you were, its hard to predict where you were going. It makes it much easier to track progress than to simply try to remember prior workouts from memory. Even the so called “instinctive” crowd would be better served tracking weights.
So to define Troponin Power-bodybuilding, it is basically a systemized method of tissue stress to maximize muscle hypertrophy. In order to do this we choose our base power exercise and hammer heavy weights very hard in the 6-10 rep range for 4-5 working sets, perhaps resting a bit longer between sets. This would be followed by a bodybuilding movement done in a 10-15 rep range for 3-4 work sets. This is where movement is controlled and deliberate, to feel each rep, to stretch and squeeze every rep. The next movement is a blood/volume movement done for 16-20 reps and 3-4 sets. This is meant to elicit a massive pump. We are talking about skin splitting pumps. You push as much blood into that muscle as humanly possible. Not only does this aid in increased micro-vasculature, it can also aid in fascial stretching which in theory could lead to further muscular growth potential. Then last you would do a muscle combination movement. This would be a movement that is done for 10-20 reps and 2-3 working sets. It should encompass a synchronous involvement of all the muscles worked. It would be a movement like walking lunges that involves quads, hams, and gluteus after working those all prior in your workout.
This is an example of a simple, systemized, progressive training style. It has become chic to use a lot of different styles meshed into one system. I have absolutely nothing against anyone or any system, I just think training is becoming increasingly complex. I know for many people, they have a limited amount of time to workout. I have roughly an hour per day to lift and I am in the gym with clients all day. I don’t really have time to use bands, chains, or complex methods. I tend to train fast and intense. If I had more time to lift, perhaps I would feel differently. I am quite happy to be able to train effectively in my forties using simple, yet proven methods. Nothing drives me crazier than seeing young kids following the latest youtube internet sensation. Yeah those workouts in the park are really cool and the guy is a beast. Likely he didn’t get that way from just doing some dips, chins and planks on the kids playground. Most of that serious muscle was put on doing heavy compound movements. When you see the pro bodybuilder train, you cannot compare yourself to them. I have heard many young guys say “I saw Jay Cutler train and he does really light weight and doesn’t train hard”! Im thinking seriously kid, this guy can step under the bar and still rep 495 for 10 on the squat when he wants. He doesn’t train as hard because the amount of force he produces can easily cause an injury. People need to understand physiology and ask questions of people who have been on the path they intend to follow and have done so successfully.
To succeed in any endeavor, one needs to have goals. You have to assess where you’re at and where you want to end up. Then you have to plan to achieve that destination. My advice is to understand where you want to go and use a style of training that takes you to the goal as quickly and safely as possible. Be open minded and flexible and just understand that it takes time, dedication and discipline to be the best version of you. Stop talking and go out and just do it.