Join Date: Feb 2012
First Things First
Recently I have spent much of my time writing about matters that I felt advanced and World Class athletes would find of use. I suppose after almost a decade of competition, I have taken much for granted. I possibly felt that the more rudimentary stuff wouldnít be as interesting. Or that ďeveryone already knows thatĒ. But after looking at some of my work, I find that all of it is heavily steeped in the basics. And after going to some real big meets and seeing some of the ďrookie mistakesĒ Iíve seen, I realize we can all still learn a thing or two. Even some very accomplished lifters will pull a knucklehead move leaving you asking yourself why they didnít know better.
Really, the most advanced and ďfancyĒ stuff still has itsí roots in the elemental aspects. And that is exactly how it should be! In fact, if you read about some super-duper new method or technique and canít identify the basic physiological principle behind it fairly easily, I would venture to say it probably wonít work. (Iím being kind-thereís no way in hell itíll work-there is no such thing as magic in the gym). Stick with the basics and youíll go far!
I realized that Iíve spent a lot of my energy encouraging intermediate and advanced lifters to ďget back to basicsĒ and simplify their training programs. But I havenít addressed the beginning lifter ( You would think that would be a natural). So this article is targeted to the novice lifter in hopes that they continue in the ways of the sometimes- boring but always- effective basics!
Advice I Wish Iíd got as a Beginner
By far the best single piece of advice I can give a beginning bencher is to stop benching so much! Let me explain: while it is true that when you are learning a new exercise it is wise to have a high volume program (lots of sets and plenty of reps)which will afford you greater learning of the new movement. For example, if a new trainee were to embark on a bench program of 3 sets of 3 reps he is limited to only 9 lifts per workout in which to learn and master the exercise. By contrast if a trainee does 5sets of 10 reps he has 50 reps to work on his form and get accustomed to the lift. This is to say that a high volume program is better for ďpracticingĒ technique by virtue of chances to learn.
But it is a very rare occasion that I come across someone who has never done bench presses before! And this kind of absolute beginner is not what weíre talking about here. I have in mind a trainee who has been lifting for about a year or two and really has ďcaught the bugĒ. This trainee really loves the gym and loves what the workouts do to their body. They love looking and feeling better and they love getting stronger. Of course, like most of us, they have seen some great progress in the bench right off the bat and have fallen in love with it (so to speak). They are so enamored with the bench that they begin to train it more often. I have met some over- zealous benchers who train bench press 4 times a week! And I canít blame them. Itís a big movement that lets them use big weight and produces big results. So it is easy to see why they would think ďmore is betterĒ.
But although this will work for a brief time, their strength soon climbs and the workloads get heavier. Before long they are not showing as much progress. But this usually triggers an even greater amount of bench work with the trainee mistakenly thinking they are not working hard enough. Great heart-bad idea. This added workload usually brings them to a plateau where no progress is being made. At this point their body is just barely able to recover from the previous workout but has not been able to produce adaptive growth. They can go for months or years going to the gym, exhausting themselves, going home and recovering just enough to hold their status quo, and then itís off to the gym to drain it out once again in a vicious cycle. Even worse, sometimes the truly determined trainee will see this as the Law of Diminishing Returns and decide that to break this plateau what they need to do is even more work! This is disastrous and leads to classic overtraining. The body is now not even afforded enough recovery to maintain itís strength and performance drops. In a worst-case scenario, an injury finally ends the madness and the trainee is forced to rest.
While I heartily applaud the determination and drive of such individuals, I can recognize the folly (and this is by experience, folks). I have trained myself into the ground ,too. Well, letís see what Iíve learned from it, shall we?
Rule No. 1
More is not better, only better is better.
Instead of increasing the amount of bench work you do, increase the quality of it. This is intensity. Do less, better! Donít allow yourself to perform mindless rep after rep thinking that all you have to do is get to a certain number and youíll improve. One of the most classic failures of beginning trainees is their non-attention to quality. Youíve seen it: the trainee pretends to progress and adds a bit of weight each week or two but instead of performing the exercise in proper form, just cheats more and uses momentum more and more to accommodate the added weight. Soon the exercise is hardly recognizable. The trainee is really no stronger- they just got better at cheating the more weight was on the bar.
Always pressure yourself for true gains! Quality must be maintained! Otherwise your training will become a joke. To get better, perform your reps better. You will find that this in itself will lessen how much work you can do each workout. You simply canít maintain high quality work for long periods of time. Not only does the body fatigue, but the mind cannot hold quality concentration for too long. The answer is to do less, better. Use all of your energies on a very few focused movements. Donít do more exercises! Do one or two exercises with all youíve got! That is a key to real progress. DO LESS, BETTER!
Rule No. Two
There is no substitute for progress.
You need a training journal. Period. If you donít have one, youíre just guessing! Any progressive resistance program is built on the tenet of progression-itís in the name, even! This means that you cannot lift the same weights workout after workout and expect to change! You must progress ! When six is too light you must then progress to seven! You can not stay at six.
Amazingly , I see far too few log books in the gym. The journal is a tool to progress just as the barbell or dumbbells are tools. Without it you are losing information and I will be hard pressed to believe that you have a plan at all! How do you know if you are on schedule? Are you meeting your goals for each workout? Do you know your goals for each workout? (if you donít you need a new coach or mentor).
What the training log can do for you:
First it shows the effectiveness of your training cycle. Are you getting stronger or not? If you have accurate records, youíll know. Remember: there is no substitute for progress! What this means is that getting stronger is what itís all about. I know trainees that push themselves hard, have exhausting workouts, get tremendously sore for days, leave the gym covered in sweat, keep all this up for a year and get absolutely nowhere! They come in to the gym, get tired, and go home. Come in, get tired ,go home. They forget that itís not about getting tired or getting sore or how long they spent in the gym! Itís about getting better! It should be: come in, get better, go home! They try to substitute out for progress! But there is no substitute for progress! And the training diary will tell you that. If your numbers arenít going up it alerts you that something is wrong. It can also give clues as to what to do about it to someone who understands training philosophy.
The training diary can also help prevent overtraining. I remember watching my numbers climbing steadily for about 8 months when all of a sudden they began to trail off very quickly. I was benching every four days and decided to keep the exact same program but to wait an extra day for recovery and bench every 5 days. My numbers began to ascend in regular meter again. This was my own personal break through with doing less better instead of just more and more of the same quality. I was able to maintain a every-5-day schedule for quite a long time. But eventually my workloads got heavier and I needed more recovery. I went to a 7 day program, benching only once a week. This lasted several years and now I find that in my heaviest cycles nearing my peak, I do best if I bench every 10 days! I learned this by watching my journal! It tells me when I need more recovery and I always listen.
If your numbers arenít moving, try the simplest answer first: give yourself more recovery between workouts. Keep accurate records and consult them often. And for Christmasí sake have a plan!! Have goals for every workout! Donít just go in and pump hoping to get stronger. We live in the new millennium and training is a science. Get a program. Write it down and demand progress. There is no substitute.
I guess what all this means is that I see far too many trainees benching far too much. The quality of their work is sacrificed in the vain hope that more work will assure results. They feel that if they spend so many hours at the gym or doing bench presses they will have to get stronger. They act as if progress was waged out on a pay scale of an hourly rate. They punch the clock and sit back and wait. Then frustration hits when they donít get the results they feel theyíve earned. They do hours of half-effort work and never really go all out because they canít finish the rest of their workout if they do. Pity.
Do less work but do it far better. Donít waste your time. When youíre in the gym you should be busting it. Pick a few things and attack them (I suggest no more than 2 exercises per body part) full go. If you can do more than two exercises per body part, I would question your intensity on them. If you want to go do dips after doing flat bench and closegrips, you probably didnít work too hard! Reconsider your effort and concentrate your energy on just two exercises. Spend it all on these, and youíll have nada left for those dips!
Keep an eye on your records and lookout for overtraining. Your numbers should always go up. If they donít somethingís wrong. Try more recovery. If that does not help (often it will), re-work the program. The body does not get stronger during exerciseÖ it gets stronger during recovery from exercise! Give yourself a chance!
If youíve forgotten everything else Iíve ranted about, just keep two things Iíve said in mindÖ more is not better, only better is betterÖand Ö there is no substitute for progress! Youíll never go wrong with these!
Good luck and good lifting,