I’ve always thought of myself as being not so much open-minded, but rather “active-minded,” and this especially pertains to my exploration of training and nutrition. While it’s important to have a certain level of stability in your habits and practices, it’s equally vital to have the flexibility to alter your trajectory in the face of new or better evidence.
Such is the case with my own training. It might surprise you that after decades of training, I’m still looking for uncovered “secrets” to better training, but if I’m being honest, I have more questions (and less certainty) about training now than at any previous point in my career. So it’s always an evolving journey, and these are 5 paths that I’m exploring currently:
I’m Increasing My Frequency
Given my strength levels and training age, my SRA curves (or “anabolic windows”) are likely fairly short. In other words, the time-span between stimulus and completed adaptation is probably about 2 days for most of my workouts, even though I’m using relatively heavy weights in some of them. Additional evidence for this presumption lies in the fact that I rarely ever get sore, even after hard workouts.
So with that premise in mind (combined with some insights from science, including the so-called “Norwegian frequency experiment” ) I’ve decided it’s probably in my best interest to train each bodypart more frequently than I have in the past. In my current training cycle, I’m training triceps, quads, and hams 4 times a week, lats and biceps 3-4 times a week, and delts and calves twice a week.
Despite this increased frequency, I’m only increasing total training volume just a bit — in other words, my workouts are a bit shorter than they were previously. And one surprising benefit to these shorter sessions is that I seem to be able to apply a higher level of energy than I normally can during longer workouts. This means I’m not only training more often, I’m also training with greater intensity.
I’m using Slower Eccentric Tempos
When I recently discovered Dr. Joel Seedman’s “eccentric-isometric” protocol, it struck me that I’ve pretty much never used slow eccentric tempos or pauses in my training. Not that my reps are sloppy by any means, but habitually, I tend to use the “easiest” possible tempo in an effort to move as much weight as possible for the scheduled sets and reps.
With Seedman’s EI method, you use an accelerative concentric, then a slow (about 3 second) eccentric, followed by a pause in the stretched and/or contracted positions. What tempted me to try this is the fact that novelty is an essential aspect of continued adaptations to training. For me, having been training for about 30 years now, there aren’t many sources of novelty still available to me (I’ve done most exercises and rep brackets over the years), and adjusting lifting tempo is in fact something that I’ve never really experienced.
I started using this protocol for most of my exercises a few weeks ago, and so far, I’m really liking it. The slower movements allow for improved kinesthetic awareness, better mind-muscle connections, and overall “cleaner” technique, which is my next point below.
I’m Cleaning Things Up
Interestingly enough, when you move more slowly, your technical awareness improves (and Dr. Seedman lists this as a benefit of EI in fact). I suddenly became aware of the fact that I wasn’t allowing my head to come fully forward during chins and military presses for example. I also noticed that I wasn’t really achieving a fully-stretched position during bicep curls. These initial observations caused me to proactively seek out other form errors as well. Bottom line, I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t lifting as cleanly as I should be.
Finally, with this new realization, I find myself in danger of becoming a technique snob as I suddenly notice all the ugly reps people do at my gym — I’m finding that I’m taking newfound pride in my cleaner technique. And that’s not entirely a bad thing.
I’m Doing More Walking
Yeah, I used to make fun of walking, and now I’m kinda “into” it — go figure. These are two benefits that I’ve discovered thus far:
1) Walking is an easy way to increase “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), and by extension, metabolism. This means I can eat more without consequence.
2) Walking is a “yin” or parasympathetic activity. As such, it plays a key role in stress reduction and, by extension, ability to recover from hard workouts.
My walks (and bike rides) aren’t particularly goal-oriented — I walk to Starbucks most mornings (15 minutes each way) and also take the bike to the gym where I train clients (similar duration) a few times a week — that’s about it. Still, these easy aerobic sessions really seem to be helping my recovery, decreasing my stress online casinos levels, and improving my sleep as well. And I should finally note that walking doesn’t have much of a cost, aside from time. So when you approach walking from a Bayesian point of view, anything that has even speculative benefits at little to no cost ought to be investigated.
I’m Saying No To Pain
Like most lifters, I’m always worried that if I miss even a single workout, I’ll start to lose ground. Thing is, at least for me, the bulk of the scientific evidence doesn’t agree: experienced lifts have stabilized adaptations that will maintain themselves for long periods of time, even without any training stimuli at all. This is why it’s common to see older experienced lifters who are still totally yoked, despite not being able to train hard any longer due to injuries.
And in addition to that, you’ve gotta weigh two competing possibilities:
1) How much ground will you lose by continually aggravating an existing injury, VS:
2) How much ground will you lose by letting the injury recover as soon as it crops up?
In most cases, you’ll lose less ground with the second approach, and here’s a big reason why: your most troublesome joints are always closely associated with your most well-developed muscles — that’s why bench press specialists in powerlifting always have problematic shoulders but rarely have Achilles tendon issues. Now here’s the thing about your most well-developed muscles — these are the bodyparts that are least likely to atrophy when you stop training them for an extended period of time.
Another consideration: when you rest your best muscles (to let their associated joints heal) you’ve now got an opportunity to bring up your weaker bodyparts, which you should have been doing all along! And this opportunity comes at little cost, because again, when you’ve been training chest like a maniac for 15 years, you’re not gonna lose your pecs when you stop benching for a month or two. Cool right?
Mastery Is A Journey…
…not a destination. None of us really have all the answers — the only question that remains is, are you aware that you don’t yet know it all, or not? I hope this article has inspired some of you to explore new directions in your own training. As I like to remind my clients from time to time, when you lose your keys, they’re always somewhere you haven’t looked yet. And that’s exactly where you’re going to find new approaches and methods that will take you to the next level in your training efforts.