By Dan John
Writing for magazines guarantees one thing: your email inbox is going to fill up. I get dozens of emails a week from really hard working people who make very little progress. As I wade through the emails, three principle points seem to missing from most trainees’ “Big Dangerous Book of Lifting Weights for Ultimate Looking Good Nekkid.”
And, like I usually say in these articles, God Bless these guys for trying. I get emails from people who weigh the portions of each meal, count their daily carbs, proteins and fats, and train with stopwatches, calculators and as many charts, journals and printouts that they can fit in a gym bag. When I train, I try to remember to wear some kind of pants and shoes on the correct foot. If there is an overriding point to my advice to my email correspondence it is this: trust your experiences, but also trust the rest of us who made the same mistakes as you and learned to move on.
Principle One: Advanced training methods are for advanced trainers. Yes, I know, we all know that, don’t we? Well, I often note about my years with the world famous Pacifica Barbell Club where Dick Notmeyer took me under his wing and had me do the following workouts:
Three Days a Week: Snatch and Clean and Jerk (Two hours worth)
Two Days a Week: Front Squat and Jerks off the Rack (Two hours worth)
Yes, I was working my legs five days a week and my body responded by packing on forty pounds in four months.
But, what most people miss is that I had workouts like the following:
135 for 3
155 for 3
175 for 3
185 for 3
195 for 3
205 for 3
215 for 3
225 for 3
235 for 2
245 for 1
You see, I was learning the lifts! I was training my body to be more flexible, to learn the positions and to prepare for the loads that I would lift months or years later. A few years later, I would do a total of maybe six to eight total reps in a Front Squat workout with the reps all hovering around 400. I’m not doing ten pound jumps for triples very often after we get over 300. But, “around” 200, early in the learning period, volume is appropriate.
Much of a beginner’s training is with weights that might not beyond much more than bodyweight. And, yet, I will get emails from delightful young people with intense periodization schemes and dozens of curl variations. Here is a little workout I recommended recently for a man my age (just past old) who hadn’t lifted in three decades.
Half Turkish Get Ups
Lawn mowers (One arm rows)
Suitcase Carries (Walk with one dumbbell for fifty yards, turn around and come back using the other hand)
When I explained the reps and Sets, and I quote myself, “Do a couple of reps with the exercise and get a feel for it. Do it again, but make sure you are doing each one right. Try to do a little more each time…either more sets or more reps. In two weeks, try to do this workout six or seven times.” He emails me back to tell me that “this isn’t what they are doing in the magazines.”
Right. And the magazines don’t recommend taking off thirty years first.
Principle Two: Strong Guys forget hypertrophy and Bodybuilders/Look Good Nekkid guys forget strength.
I only know this because I am the greatest sinner about forgetting this principle. Yearly, I come to the end of Highland Games season and try to find the license plate of the bus that hit me. You see, as the season goes on, I rarely get over doubles and triples in the weightroom. I rarely do a lift to keep a balanced physique. My focus is on throwing farther, higher and better. And, every year, I do two or three workouts of three sets of eight or five sets of twelve and my body sings “Yes, that is it!”
It is a lesson I have relearned a dozen or more times. The problem with specificity is that it leads to the highest marks possible with the small issue of crashing almost immediately after the competition. As difficult as it is to plan and recover from both hypertrophy and strength training, I recommend to anyone who will listen that you need to do both. Now, if only I would listen.
For many bodybuilders, the issue of being too strong isn’t an issue. Growing up in the Bay Area, many of the best bodybuilders also competed as powerlifters and Olympic lifters. Franco Columbo deadlifted weights for reps that are still beyond belief and the governor of California snatched 242, Clean and Jerked over 300 and famously won a stone lifting contest. But, many of my email nation seem to think that muscle growth is simply a factor of moving about quite a bit. I like that, the Moving Around Quite a Bit Protocol (MAQABP). I have opened up Excel spreadsheet workouts that would destroy a marathoner, a drill sergeant and an Olympic champion. But, the workouts are for one guy! You see running (from what?), cycling, some variety of marital art, the powerlifts, the O lifts and lots of calisthenics. Okay, I get the pushups, situps and pull-ups, but shouldn’t there come a time where someone who wants to put on muscle should try lifting weights.
C’mon people: to get more muscle mass, the body needs to be put under some stress. Recently, I worked with a young man who “couldn’t put on weight,” but when I quizzed him about his workouts, he didn’t do a single movement with over 200 pounds. You have got to move the big iron to get big muscles. There I said it.
Principle Three: Fat loss is not a long-term process. Sorry, I used to believe that one cut fat by long involved brilliant calorie cutting and cardio, but the evidence from the Velocity Diet can’t be ignored. Fat Loss demands total focus. It can’t be done in conjunction with your county basketball tournament and a Strongman contest. You have to be single focused. And, please, don’t email me that the Velocity Diet is hard. I know that. My single clearest memory is calling my brother and asking him how to survive one more night. He told me to quit the diet the next day, but tonight I would hang in there. I went to bed thinking of roast chicken, but I woke up the next day and was back on track.
Fat loss is a war. There are no little steps. Oh sure, I support a group here on campus that does “baby steps” towards their goals. I appreciate the idea. I appreciate the small life changes they are making. But, if you want fat loss you must take the scorched earth philosophy. When you take the baby step from Twinkies to Low Carb Bagels, your body still acts “fat.” Give fat loss its 28 Days. Then move on to the rest of your goals.
So, next time one our dear readers needs a question answered, think through these three principles and see if these help answer your questions. Remember:
1. Make sure your program fits your level of experience.
2. While you might have specific focused goals, be sure to also check to see what you might be missing. For most people, you need to get stronger!
3. Separate fat loss from the rest of your yearly goals and try to find 28 days to dedicate your life to it. It works better this way.