The Top 10 Training Basics
Revive your workouts with these elementary training tactics
By Charles Staley, B.Sc., M.S.S.
When I examine the training logs of people who visit my facility in Las Vegas, one fact emerges: Although most people assume they lack knowledge, what they really lack is applied knowledge. In other words, the reason most people never achieve their objectives isn't because they don't know what to do, it's because they don't do what they already know!
I'm not absolutely sure why this phenomenon is so widely prevalent, but I have a theory: We have a tendency to avoid the unpleasantness of "doing what needs to be done" by entertaining ourselves with the endless study of the minutia of exercise-training and nutritional practices. The result? Legions of people who "know" virtually everything there is to know about resistance training, diet and supplementation, but whose bodies fail to reflect this knowledge..
With that in mind, here are my Top 10 "forgotten basics"-things that people (for the most part) already know, but all too often, fail to apply. I'm willing to bet that at least half of this list applies to anyone who reads this article, so pay attention! The information I'm providing here has the power to change your life, if acted upon.
One: Identify your target!
It's been said that if you have a strong enough "why" you'll find the necessary "how's." We all understand the importance of goal-setting, so why is it that so few people actually employ this strategy in their own lives? Probably because it's basic (read: boring). But hey, success isn't boring, so if you want to be successful, you need to spend time on this.
I've written at length on this topic in past issues of Muscle Media, so here's the nitty-gritty: it's not a goal until it's S.M.A.R.T. That is to say, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-referenced (meaning, it must have a deadline).
But let me add a few more requirements to that list: it also needs to be written, and it must be framed around controllable outcomes. In other words, if you're thinking of signing up for a body-transformation challenge (not a bad idea by the way), your goal shouldn't be to win the challenge, because you have no control over a large number of factors which influence that outcome. For example, you can't control how many people enter that contest, you can't control your chances as weighed against the other contestants, etc. However, you can control what you eat, your exercise sessions, your level of consistency, and so forth. And when you frame goals around controllable outcomes like these, your chances of reaching your stated goals are dramatically better.
Two: Find and strengthen the weak link
Here's another one of those concepts that's so widely "understood," yet so rarely practiced. I place quotations around the word "understood" to make a point: When you truly understand the value of a concept, you apply it in your everyday life. If you haven't applied it, then you don't really appreciate its value.
Achieving a super-high level of fitness requires a synergy between a large number of elements-diet, supplementation, exercise, sleep quality, social support, orthopedic health, hormonal balance, equipment/facilities availability and others. And like all complex systems, most of the time it's possible to identify one or more "links" which are underdeveloped as compared to the rest, limiting the effectiveness of the system as a whole.
One of the most useful exercises you can do is to take an evaluation inventory of your own unique situation-create a list of every contributing factor you can think of (you can use the ones I mentioned above, but be thorough and include everything). Next, rate each factor (using a one to 10 scale) and see what you come up with. Finally, select the two or three lowest scoring factors and assign a goal (based on controllable outcomes) for each one.
For example, if social support is one of your lowest scoring factors, you might work on finding a good training partner. Don't make "find a training partner" the goal-it's not something you can control. Instead, you might make a goal to approach five people over the next week, asking each person if they'd like to see if you'd make good training partners. Chances are, when you complete this controllable goal, you'll achieve your objective.
Three: Subjugate wants to needs
In a nutshell, we're talking about discipline here. Contrary to what most people think, the word discipline comes from the word "disciple," or "one who learns." It's not about punishment, but the ability to delay gratification and focus on the long-term objective.
Many of us enjoy hitting the weights for example, but find eating right to be a major chore. Others love to stretch and participate in cardiovascular activities, but dread resistance training. Either way, the point is this: although there will always be aspects of your chosen endeavor that you enjoy, it's usually the less-enjoyable aspects that have the most potential for propelling your closer to your ultimate goal. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it may help to remember that sacrifice doesn't simply mean giving something up, it means giving something up to get something even better in return!
Four: No man (or woman) is an island
I've already discussed how to do this, now let's talk a bit more about why you should do it.
Statistically, when you're in the process of pursuing challenging goals, you become part of a very small minority. In my own case as an example, I don't know a whole lot of people who can relate to my desire to power clean 300 pounds at the age of 43. So as much as you may think you're a force of one, you're really not. Your chances of success rise dramatically when you have strong support systems around you. This usually takes the form of a training partner, but may also involve a coach or trainer. (If you can't find any of the above, you might consider joining my own distance-coaching group, which I created for just this purpose-see www.IntegratedSportSolutions.com/pc.html for more information).
Five: You can't master it until you measure it
An awful lot of people unwittingly limit their progress by failing to document their training and diet. This gets back to the idea of discipline-it's not "fun" to keep records, but the progress you'll make by doing so is most definitely fun.
It doesn't really matter if you use a notebook, a Palm Pilot, specialized tracking software (such as the Training-Nutrition Manager software, available at www.IntegratedSportSolutions.com), or an Etch-A-Sketch! What matters is that you write it down.
Let me give you a example to illustrate the importance of this concept. Three days a week, I run intervals at a park near my home in Las Vegas. Typically, I'll sprint all-out for 20 seconds, then walk for 40 seconds, and repeat for 10 to 15 total bouts. Now, I enter all of this into my tracking software, but one day I started making a mental note of various landmarks-my first sprint took me to the drinking fountain. The second sprint took me to the stop sign, and so on. The next time I went to the park, sure enough, I couldn't help but try and beat my best performances-which I did. And, needless to say, when you improve your performances, you'll also improve your fitness levels (and by extension) your physique.
Another example: Very few of you even have a clue as to how many calories you're taking in each day. If your goal is to become leaner, you need to find out! You couldn't expect to become a millionaire without knowing how much money you make, and nutrition is no different.
Six: "Fit" happens between workouts, not during them
Sometimes the simplest observations are also the most profound aren't they? We all tend to forget the oh-so important relationship between stress and recovery. More isn't necessarily better-it's only better if you can recover from it. There are two kinds of recovery by the way: passive recovery, which basically means resting long enough to allow for recovery, and active recovery, which means the implementation of various methods (such as massage, nutritional supplementation, cryotherapy, etc.) to speed up the recovery process. If you're disciplined, you'll emphasize the latter method.
How can you tell if you're adequately recovered? One effective indirect method is to monitor and record your waking pulse. A morning pulse that is eight or more beats higher than normal indicates that your system (for whatever reason) is struggling to cope with the sum total of the stresses it's under. It's also an indication to postpone training until your waking pulse goes back down to normal.
Aside from your waking pulse, your ability to perform during workouts is the most reliable indicator of your recovery. If you squatted 185 for 5x5 yesterday, you should be able to do slightly more in three to four days. If not, you're probably not recovered (make a note of this in your training log also).
Seven: The best program is the one you're not doing
Human beings are truly creatures of habit, and don't think that somehow you're the exception-you probably aren't.
While consistency is the hallmark of successful training, too much of it isn't a good thing, and here's why: when you expose your body to the same form of stress over and over, two things begin to happen:
1) Your fitness gain will slow down and eventually cease because your body's various homeostatic systems being to "figure out" what you're up to. Initially, your body responds to a particular stressor (say, a hard squat workout) with a massive reaction, but every time the stimulus is repeated, that reaction becomes less and less. This process is called habituation, and it leads to a dead end.
2) At the same time, when you perform the same training routine week after week, month after month, you increase your susceptibility to various overuse injuries, particularly to your joints.
All in all, too little variety has a negative impact on what I call the "risk-to-benefit" profile of your training program. A far better approach is to regularly (every four to eight weeks) change various components of your program, particularly the exercise selection.
Eight: Don't be the king of pain
Most of us are guilty of making some rather dumb decisions when we experience pain during a workout. These decisions range from reducing the weight load, to choosing another exercise that doesn't hurt, to simply working through the pain. Kinda like dumb, dumber, dumbest.
Look, if you simply reduce the weight until it no longer hurts, you're no longer experiencing a benefit from the exercise (because the load is too low to elicit a training effect), and yet you're still irritating the tissues! Of course, it's a step in the rght direction to discontinue the offending exercise, but you need to take it a step further-see a qualified medical professional and find out what's wrong. Now you're armed with important information that will help you choose the best strategy for solving it. If instead you simply switch exercises, you run the risk of eventually turning into one of those guys you always see at the gym who is now reduced to about two or three exercises (usually performed with the aid of various support aids like neoprene knee sleeves, etc.) that he can do without pain.
Nine: Seek performance, not fatigue
For whatever reason, most of us gauge the quality of a workout by how much we hurt during and afterward. Over the years, this phenomenon has led to a number of training techniques whose primary "advantage" is their ability to make you hurt. I can think of all sorts of things that hurt without making you fitter or leaner, but I know of only one thing that can improve your physique: regularly exposing your body to gradually more and more work over time. Focus on what you do, not what it feels like.
Think about it this way: you might decide to bench press the heaviest weight possible for three sets of 10 reps. Those three sets might take you 12 minutes, and you'll be a hurting unit, too.
Now here's another way: Instead of three sets of 10, try 10 sets of three. It will lead to the exact same amount of work, using the same weight on the bar, and you'll complete the workout in the same amount of time. Same work output, same result. The only difference is that you won't be hurting nearly as much because you managed fatigue far more effectively!
Ten: Knowing is not enough, you must do
We've come full circle now, which is appropriate for the theme of this article. Many people fail to fully commit to their training and nutritional programs fearing they don't know enough; others place too much emphasis on knowing it all.
Your job is to apply what you already know-when you do this, success is the unavoidable outcome. Action is the hallmark of mastery-make it the foundation of your program right now.
Charles Staley is known as the "Secret Weapon" by his Olympic and professional athletes for his uncanny ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles has written hundreds of published articles in a number of popular magazines and is in constant demand by the media for his dynamic interviews and unique ability to clearly explain his subject to varied audiences. Subscribe to Charles' FREE mini-course on Escalating Density Training at http://www.EDTSecrets.com.