I’ll be the first to say it: It’s great to set your expectations nice and high, especially when you’re getting into training for the first time, or if you still have youth on your side when it comes to your thresholds, your recovery time, and your gains in general. But the longer I do this job, and the more exposure I get in my field, the more I’ve noticed a pretty significant trend that no one seems to want to address.
Everybody Talks a Big Game
I’m not about to bash people who come to me for help, in search of results. That’s not the point of this. But what I am going to point out is that more often than I can count, clients I end up meeting in person for training sessions, or working with online for video assessments and program design, usually start out thinking a bit more of their abilities in the gym than they deserve credit for.
I don’t mean as far as weight lifted goes, either. Many of my publication articles deal with protocols tailored for intermediate and even advanced lifters, and they can easily give other lifters the false idea that they belong to this category, when in truth, they don’t. I’m always surprised to see deficiencies in the most fundamental patterns, where rest interval or progression variation are eliminated from the equation. When people come to me asking what I think they should add to their 1.5 rep protocol that has force curve facilitation, clusters, and wave loading all rolled into one, I balk once I see that their conventional squat or deadlift technique needs enough work to base an entire training session around on its own. Out of all the people I meet, I have to instruct about half of them to scale things back and simplify – not ramp things up and complicate.
Long story short, hammering away at the basics would work just fine for this stock, and to me, this just speaks to the kind of information the public really needs to be consuming regarding training for big results. I think that we can chalk some of this up to human nature. We see the top gear protocol, and we want to fit the bill and follow it. We want to be part of the elite crowd who can handle the rigors of LeBron James’ training plan, disregarding the fact that we’re more like Bob from Accounting, who spends a grand total of 5 hours per week being athletic, and has possibly forgotten how to move.
The Corrective Exercise Myth
Whereas most reading this may think that the fallback for these guys should actually be fixing weak links by way of the little corrective exercises worth their weight in gold, I’m gonna throw a curveball and say that correctives are actually overrated for this crowd of people. You’re not going to fix a faulty movement pattern through correctives, if you’ve hardly spent time practicing the pattern itself. The pattern is faulty because you won’t give it a chance. It’s an easy rabbit hole for lifters to fall into with the abundance of sophisticated training advice doled out via the internet. It makes novice lifters get in way too far over their heads, and end up spinning their wheels where results are concerned. At the gyms I’ve worked out at over the years, there’s one thing I’ve seen that has remained painfully consistent over the last decade: The most sophisticated training programs that I see being put to use – the guys hurrying to get to the second exercise of their superset, making sure not to rest for longer than 15 seconds, the guys going through the entire theatrical pre-lift performance to draw attention to themselves, the guys who think a full body spandex suit will somehow help their training performance, the guys who have the best, most cutting-edge methods for strength and size training, the guys who are just as equally preoccupied with correcting the function of all of their load bearing joints – almost every single time, these people appear to train very well, but they’re neither that big, nor that strong.
Don’t get me wrong – these types can hold their own in the gym. But few people would base the merits of a full-scale advanced hypertrophy or strength protocol on the amount of 180 pound lifters it produces.
Wanna be a Big Dog? Then Take a Page out of the Big Dogs’ Books
Contrast the behavior above with literally anything you’ve ever seen by way of a ‘sneak peek’ into a world class bodybuilder or powerlifter’s workout routine. From what I’ve been exposed to, there are usually two consistent components: Plenty of volume, and plenty of base movements.
If the biggest, strongest people on the planet are following protocols with rules that can be heeded by a mouth breather, that should serve as a light bulb moment for all the overzealous lifters who think each exercise name in their program should be a full sentence long, ’cause science.
When a serious competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter is training alone at my gym, that lifter is rarely bringing attention to himself, if ever. In fact, most people would never know they’re there. Glaring issues aside, choosing to add volume to good, healthy movements while adding a side serving of the little things can do you well to pack on serious amounts of strength and size.
Be Ready for a Trade-Off
One more thing. Stop viewing your training gains through rose colored lenses. You’re not going to add 50 pounds of muscle or put 150 pounds on your squat or deadlift without making a huge tradeoff to other elements of your health and fitness. Nothing frustrates me more than meeting a guy who wants to be big like a football linebacker, but lean like a physique contest competitor, while agile like an MMA fighter, and able to move numbers like a powerlifter. All at the same time. If you talk to anyone who’s outlandishly strong or imposingly big, they’ll never tell you that nothing is bothering them. It’s not necessarily “natural” for us to push our bodies into attaining these results, and it’s time we get used to that truth. We’ll probably sacrifice mobility and maybe some conditioning and flexibility, and we’ll probably need to get good at managing chronic pain or joint stress – because it’ll surface somewhere, at some point. Becoming besties with a practitioner is a smart move, because getting as big or strong as humanly possible won’t come without hiccups.
I’m no nutrition expert by any means. But steroids aside, there’s a reason why people were able to get big and strong in the 70’s, and some of the most coveted physiques and feats of strength come from this time period, almost 50 years ago. However many strides forward we think we’re making in the training world with all of our research, studies, and new training and eating strategies, we seem to be losing spokespeople who speak up for keeping it simple. Pumping yourself up with an elixir of over-the-counter supplements that you take each evening, each morning, and before, after, and even during your workouts may be legal, but do you honestly and truly still consider yourself “natty”? Doing all of these things can give you a great physique and keep your workouts focused and performance oriented. But all of that isn’t to say that not doing these things won’t. It’s really food for thought, no pun intended.
The things we do outside of our workout are what will really be the make or break factor for the results we see – and before we consider taking a bunch of supplements to bolster our training journeys, we’d better analyze the quality and consistency of our whole meals, our sleep, and of course, the amount of stress we take home with us every day. If any of the above reflect room for improvement, those supplements can turn into a big patch job waiting to let us down.
The Takeaway – a 12 Week Challenge
There’s nothing crazy here – just a proposition.
The truth is this: Most of the people who are intermediate or advanced enough to benefit from articles on graduated training methods, don’t read nearly as many training articles anymore anyway. That’s because they’ve spent their time in the trenches seeing gains, getting stronger the old school way, and learning what works for their bodies and what doesn’t. Chances are, if you’re a product of any of the issues I’ve listed above in this article, then you’re also someone who’s yet to benefit from the gains that sticking with the basics can provide. If that’s true (be honest), and you may be healthy and fit, but neither your physique and lifting numbers don’t have you standing out in the strength and size community, then try going twelve weeks following these rules:
- Train hard, 5 days per week.
- Focus on 1 lift per workout, occupying enough volume on that exercise to fill 40 minutes. Follow that up with 2 to 3 more exercises of your choice that can either assist/complement that lift, or address weak links.
- To make lifts harder, don’t look at pushing your max. Look at manipulating your tempo, and manipulating your range of motion, while hammering good form using the same weight.
- Eat on a regular schedule, focusing on taking in good quality macronutrients, high protein meals, plenty of water, and (given you’ve got no medical issues) no real supplements beyond a multivitamin and maybe fish oil.
- Get 7 hours of sleep per night, minimum. If you’re an early riser or prefer to train at 6AM, that means getting to bed at 9 or 10, Skippy. Deal with it.
If you’re young and need to be relying on preworkout formulas to have the energy or drive to get a solid workout in, it actually telegraphs bigger issues that a supplement won’t fix long term. Assess your lifestyle habits and patterns. You’re 27, not 72. You’ll never really learn your body if you don’t give it a chance to do what it does on its own.
And above all, if you have goals of getting freakishly large, and freakishly strong, but don’t have the time, the discipline, or the mindset to submit to the hard work that’s needed to achieve such goals, then maybe it’s time to choose some new ones.