5 Great Truths That I Keep Coming Back To

by tffitness on August 21, 2016

BW2One of the biggest challenges for people interested in continuous growth is the ability to temper open-mindedness with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you’re too open-minded, you end up falling for all sorts of ridiculous ideas; if you’re too skeptical, you close yourself off to new, potentially useful approaches.

Over my 30-year career in the fitness biz, I’ve experimented with a LOT of things that seemed promising at first, only to end up on the scrap heap in the end. In this article however, I’ll share 5 concepts that have stood the test of time for me over the past 3 decades — things I keep coming back to in other words.

One: Strength Matters (A Lot)

The ironic thing about strength, by the way, is that it’s both the most important thing, and at the same time, the hardest thing to “sell.” It doesn’t require fancy tools or strategies — in fact, some of the strongest men who ever lived became that way by lifting on crappy equipment, using ill-advised training strategies, and eating shitty food. In other words, it’s something you can achieve autonomously no matter what your situation — if you’re willing to work for it.

This first point is far and away the most solid and also the most significant item on my list. You simply can’t go wrong by prioritizing strength development, no matter what your goals are. Examples of this are everywhere: Crossfit Games champion Rich Froning can snatch 300 pounds. Golfing great Gary Player (photo below)  squatted over 300 pounds (at a bodyweight of 150 mind you. I could go on and on, and you know it, so I won’t. The point is, no matter what your athletic goals are, getting stronger will create a faster path to them.

dumbell_press

Hypertrophy? As coach Eric Helms has pointed out, hypertrophy is really a secondary adaptation to strength development. In other words, while it is technically possible to develop hypertrophy without focusing on maximum strength per se, you nevertheless need to enforce continuous progressive overload if you expect to see continued gains in lean muscle mass.

Endurance? As Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield loved to point out, even in the marathon, all else being equal, the winner is the athlete who can (footfall per footfall) apply the most force into the ground, over the course of 26.2 miles.

Injury Prevention? Kettlebell Pioneer Pavel Tsatsouline reminds us that muscle tension (created by being strong obviously) is one of the most important things you can do to ensure joint integrity.

Flexibility? Polish flexibility expert Tom Kurz argues that poor adductor strength is the main thing that prevents martial artists from attaining full splits.

While these examples are intuitively obvious, it’s amazing to see how many people become gradually lured away by the nearly endless array of current fitness strategies and tools that, although intriguing, don’t do anything to directly improve your strength.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, if you’re considering something that doesn’t directly or at least indirectly lead to strength gains, re-think the decision.

Two: We All Need A Coach

When you work in the strength and conditioning biz like I do, there are at least two reasons why you tend to coach yourself. First, you want everyone to think you’re an expert, and if you’re an expert, you don’t need a coach (makes sense, right?) Also, whoever is coaching you, by definition, must know more than you do, and you fear that this will reduce your own expert status in the eye of your peers and/or “fans.” The second reason expert-types tend to coach themselves is that they think they know more than anyone else. This is partly a matter of ego-stroking, but it also has at least a kernel of logic behind it — after all, who know you better than you?

Some time ago I decided to split myself into two distinct personalities when it comes to this issue: I created Charles Staley the expert, and Charles Staley the student. I always had both facets of my personality mind you, it’s just that I finally decided to let the student part of my “out of the closet.” This freedom allowed me to comfortably and enthusiastically seek coaching from my many friends and colleagues who not only know as much or more than me on a number of subjects, they also (and here’s the important part) had more objectivity about my situation and needs than I do.

The result? Continued progress, at a faster pace, and with greater efficiency.

I should point out that coaching doesn’t always need to take the traditional form of personal training that you’re probably envisioning. It can also mean a smart training partner(s), conversations with other athletes or coaches, and/or video form checks with a trusted (but distant) colleague.

Incidentally, if you decide to seek out free advice from a well-known fitness authority, let me give you a tip: don’t simply message them on Facebook and ask “Dude, would you check out my squat form? I know the video is kinda dark, but you should be able to make it out I think.” A better approach would be something like “Hi there, I hope you won’t mind the intrusion, but I just bought your e-book, and I’ve admired your work for a long time, so I wondered if you might be willing to tell me if my low back looks OK on these squats? I’d be very appreciative!” Catch my drift here? Demonstrate gratitude, be polite, ask for something quick and specific.

FullSizeRender-2

Three: Always Prioritize Performance Over Pain

This has been a pet theme of mine for many years, and I still have enormous confidence in the basic premise: you can’t improve performance without some type of change in the structure that accomplishes the performance. Now it’s true that maximal strength can improve through changes in neural adaptation alone, however, the longer you’ve been training, the more your strength improvements come from increases in muscle cross-section rather than improvements in your nervous system.

That’s why I keep coming back to the idea that “numbers don’t lie.” After all, it’s possible to have a workout where you got a wicked pump, puked from the intensity of your effort, and had a case of severe DOMS that lasted for days, yet didn’t get any stronger. But if you simply get stronger (I.e., your numbers improve over time), you also just improved your body.

There’s really no way around it. Know your current 5RM, 3RM, and 1RM records for significant lifts, and always be on the lookout for an opportunity to break them.

Four: Master Training Economy

Just like anyone else, I sometimes find myself taken in by high-volume and/or high-frequency approaches to training (such as the Bulgarian system for example) — I guess it appears to my sense of masculinity. And while I’ll certainly argue for the value of hard work (in fact I’ll do just that a bit later in this article), I’ll argue even harder that ideally, you should strive for maximum results for whatever expenditure of resources you invest. In previous articles, I’ve urged you to think about your training the same way you’d think about running a business — would you rather make $1000 with $300 worth of expenses, or with $200 worth of expenses?

It’s a rhetorical question obviously. Look — being economical isn’t the same thing as being lazy — far from it in fact. It doesn’t mean that you’re trying to get something for nothing, nor does it mean that you’re trying to cut corners. It simply means you’re looking to absolutely maximize the results of your efforts

It really pays to think about the costs of the worm you do, not only the supposed results. As I often say “Whenever you touch a weight, there is always a cost. Whether or not there is a benefit is another thing entirely.”

I urge you to let go of your ego and stop working hard for the sake of working hard — get your results from the least amount of work possible, and then dedicate any remaining energy you have to other areas of your life.

Five: Hard Work Is The Great Equalizer

In training circles, you’ll hear lots of discussions where people debate the relative importance of working hard versus working smart. Obviously, both are important, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with working harder. Over my long career as a coach, I’ve seen many highly successful athletes who made very fundamental, significant mistakes in their training, but succeeded nevertheless. While an argument could be mounted that these athletes would have done even better had they made wiser choices, I still believe that work ethic is what most wanna-be’s are lacking.

A while back I happened upon a video of weightlifting coach John Broz squatting the bar less than 24 hours after knee surgery. For the record, I think this isn’t a very smart thing to do, but watch this and tell me if you think you’ve got a better work ethic than John does:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJdFu6vojh8

In another example, I don’t know much about Russian powerlifter Kirill Sarychev, but here he is benching 600 after being stabbed in the chest, suffering a severe infection, and losing over 60 pounds of bodyweight in the process. When he gets up you can see blood soaking through his singlet. Smart? Probably not. Tough? C’mon man, most of us would cancel a meet if we caught the flu the week before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wz8Ucpq1CCM

I hope these examples get you pondering the value of sheer, brutal, hard work. They sure do for me.

I hope you found value in this week’s post, but if I’ve missed what you consider to be a great truth, please let me know in the comments section below!

This Week’s Training

Highlights:

• Low Bar Squat 315×3

• Deadlift 495×1

• High Bar Squat 315×1

Well I guess the real highlight this week was an unexpected 495 deadlift, which I’ve posted a video of below. It’s been quite a while since I’ve pulled anything heavy, so I went off program a bit to see how my pull was doing, and I guess it’s doing just fine. I also tripled a 315 low bar squat — an exercise I haven’t done since May. So all in all, I’m pretty pleased with my strength levels at the moment, and really, the only thing I’m struggling with right now if my left shoulder. I managed to do a pretty heavy close-grip bench session on Friday with very minimal pain, so I think it’s coming along.

OK thanks as always for following along and I’ll catch back up with you next week.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bodyweight: 195.8 Pounds

Low Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 5

Set 2: 95 lb × 5

Set 3: 135 lb × 5

Set 4: 185 lb × 3

Set 5: 225 lb × 3

Set 6: 275 lb × 2

Set 7: 315 lb × 3

Set 8: 315 lb × 2

Set 9: 315 lb × 1

Set 10: 275 lb × 3

Smith Squat

Set 1: 95 lb × 5

Set 2: 135 lb × 5

Set 3: 185 lb × 5

Set 4: 225 lb × 5

Set 5: 275 lb × 3

4″ Block Pull

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 225 lb × 5

Set 3: 315 lb × 3

Set 4: 365 lb × 3

Set 5: 375 lb × 3

Set 6: 375 lb × 3 (Video Below)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.8 Pounds

Paused Competition Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 8

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 185 lb × 2

Set 5: 205 lb × 1

Set 6: 225 lb × 1

Set 7: 205 lb × 3

Set 8: 205 lb × 3

Seated Row

Set 1: 135 lb × 8

Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension

Set 1: 60 lb × 8

Set 2: 70 lb × 8

Set 3: 80 lb × 8

Set 4: 80 lb × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 60 lb × 8

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bodyweight: 197 Pounds

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 185 lb × 5

Set 3: 225 lb × 5

Set 4: 275 lb × 3

Set 5: 315 lb × 3

Set 6: 365 lb × 2

Set 7: 405 lb × 1

Set 8: 445 lb × 1

Set 9: 495 lb × 1 (Video Below)

Set 10: 405 lb × 5

Set 11: 405 lb × 5

High Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 5

Set 3: 135 lb × 8

Set 4: 185 lb × 3

Set 5: 225 lb × 3

Set 6: 225 lb × 3

Set 7: 275 lb × 3

Set 8: 315 lb × 1

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bodyweight: 196.8 Pounds

Rusin Shoulder Warm Up

Set 1: 1 lb × 10

Set 2: 1 lb × 10

Set 3: 1 lb × 10

Close Grip Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 165 lb × 4

Set 5: 185 lb × 3

Set 6: 185 lb × 3

Set 7: 185 lb × 3

Set 8: 200 lb × 2

Set 9: 205 lb × 2

Set 10: 185 lb × 6

Notes: Minimal left shoulder pain

Chin Up

Set 1: 1 rep

Set 2: 2 reps

Set 3: 3 reps

Set 4: 4 reps

Set 5: 5 reps

Set 6: 6 reps

Set 7: 7 reps

Set 8: 8 reps

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 50 lb × 8

Set 2: 60 lb × 8

Set 3: 70 lb × 8

Set 4: 70 lb × 8

Tricep Pushdowns

Set 1: 140 lb × 8

Set 2: 140 lb × 8

Set 3: 140 lb × 8

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bodyweight: 197 Pounds

Cycling

Set 1: 5.6 mi | 20 min

Workout Notes:

Max pulse: 124

Level: 10

{ 0 comments }

When Good Workouts Go Bad: 5 Damage Control Tactics

by tffitness on August 16, 2016

IMG_3669I often remark that effective training is a lot like the game of golf — a sport where you’re only as good as your worst shot, not your best. Similarly, when it comes to successful resistance training for strength and/or body composition objectives, you’re only as good as your worst workouts.

Look — we all have great workouts here and there, but we also have lots of sessions that end up being complete clusterf**ks (incidentally my friend and colleague Bret Contreras speculates that 1/3 of your workouts will be epic, 1/3 will be standard-issue, unremarkable events, and the final 1/3 will be abject disasters).

So if you accept that opening premise, we need to find ways to make our worst workouts just a little bit better. With that in mind, below are what I consider to be the 5 most common types of workout fails, followed by my proposed work-arounds. Enjoy!

One: You’ll Get To The Gym, But Not Enough Time To Complete Your Planned Session

This is one of the most commonly-experienced problems from my experience. Whether it’s lack of energy, motivation, and/or time, you just can’t complete what you had planned for the day.

In this case, there are two primary tactics that you can employ:

[click to continue…]

{ 2 comments }

3 Nuanced Progression Strategies

August 9, 2016

In the iron game, progressive overload is quite literally job one — without it, your efforts — though well intended — will be in vein. In fact, the whole point of manipulating various training parameters such as frequency, volume, and exercise selection (just to name a few) is to optimally facilitate progressive tension overload. Despite this, [...]

Read the full article →

Become A Successful Fitness Writer TODAY — Here’s How

August 6, 2016

Over the course of my 25+ year career in the fitness industry, I’ve managed to become very successful and respected across the World. The success I’ve enjoyed isn’t due to the fact that I have an amazing physique (I don’t), or because I’m the smartest coach out there (I’m not) or because I have dozens of famous clients in my stable (I don’t). Rather, the [...]

Read the full article →

How To Take Your Pull-ups From Meh To WOW!

August 3, 2016

So you can do pull-ups, and that’s a good thing. But depending on the day, you can only do between 3 and 5 reps, which isn’t all that great. You have a goal to be able to do a set of 10, but the question is, how are you going to get there? That’s the [...]

Read the full article →

5 “First Principles” Of Effective Workouts

July 27, 2016

A lot of my blog posts here at Target Focus Fitness basically come down to me thinking out loud about how I might improve the results of my own training. As I get older, progress is harder and harder to come by, so I’m pretty much always thinking and rethinking my approach in an effort [...]

Read the full article →

How I Grew To Love The Goblet Squat

July 17, 2016

When I first saw someone promoting the goblet squat as the next big thing, I instantly suspected that he was one of those corrective exercise Nazis disguising his evil craft in the form of a squat — a movement that most rational people will readily embrace. And, after watching about 3 reps of this odd-looking [...]

Read the full article →

3 Ideas I’ve Done A Complete 180 On

July 8, 2016

Although I’m somewhat embarrassed about the things I used to take as gospel (but now know to be false), on the other hand, I’m glad to be able to say that at least I’m evolving over time, and that I’m willing to revise my positions according to the best evidence that I have at the [...]

Read the full article →

A Simple Test To Determine Optimal Training Volume

July 5, 2016

Many respected bodybuilding coaches and hypertrophy experts consider training volume (typically measured by total tonnage, or weight x reps) to be the most important training variable to push when the training goal is additional muscle mass. Obviously, volume cannot be considered in the absence of frequency and intensity, but as coach Eric Helms has said, [...]

Read the full article →

My 3 Favorite Ab Exercises

June 29, 2016

Ab training always tends to be a vortex of various training mythologies, so I thought I’d give my brief take on the subject this week, along with my favorite 3 ab (core) exercises as well. The best starting place when it comes to thinking about ab training is this: WHY are you doing it in [...]

Read the full article →