Tracking work in your program

Training is all about applying stress to your body to make you better. You can apply too little stress and not cause your body to super compensate (improve) from the training. You can also apply too much stress and your body can’t recover from that stress to even get back to your baseline. One way we can figure out how much stress we are applying is through simply tracking your program. There are a number of ways to do this and this post will break down a few basic ways of how to track the amount of training you are doing.

Volume

This is the total amount of weight you have lifted over the sets and reps in a training session. Each muscle group and movement pattern will have its own total per week. For example if you do 5 sets of 10 reps with 100lbs you have effectively did 5,000lbs of total volume in that exercise. For something like total volume on your quads you can do 5 sets of 10 on squats with 100lbs. and then 5 sets of 10 on lunges with 50lbs. and now you have done 10,000 total lbs. of volume. This volume is important for things like muscle gain. Volume can also be how much you run, swim, etc. The total distance you do each session added over an entire week. This is an easy data point to track especially if you wear a fitness tracking device.

Intensity

This is how hard you are working compared to your maximum output. For example 50% of your 1RM on an exercise is not very intense, but 95% of your 1RM is very intense. The same can be tracked with cardiovascular training with how close you are to your heart rate max. You can track how long you work out at these intensities by measuring the mileage or total reps done at these percentages and then see how your body reacts to this intensity level.

Effort

Finally we have the actual effort you are putting in. This is using a rating session between 1-10 typically. So a workout that was incredibly easy and you could almost fall asleep during would be a 1 or a 2, whereas a workout where you are vomiting or near death by the end of it could be a 10. Tracking how much time you spend at that effort level and how it relates to your performance is important, since maximal efforts all the time can lead to overreaching and potential injury. Once you learn how your body reacts to training this can be a good way to go about intuitively tracking your own training and session difficulty.

Tracking the work

In general it seems that when you increase the total amount of work you are doing each week by 50% or more you drastically increase your risk of injury. A good goal of where to start is to simply add in 10-20% at most per week and then slowly have your monthly average increase over time. While you are tracking all of the work you are doing with whatever method, compare that to the progress you are making and the rate of that progress. At some point you will find an optimal amount of work to make as much progress as possible and then when you do more work beyond that you will often find progress slows, halts, or you end up getting injured. Track yourself over time and from there figure out how effective your training is. Thanks as always for reading.

Advertisements

The Revenge Body: The first step on the journey (I hope)

A few weeks ago a female athlete I coach was interested to come train with me sometime. I welcomed her to come join and she has the ability to be a great strength/power athlete if she wants it. However, with talking more about training the only thing she was interested in was getting abs and having a better aesthetic. This isn’t the worst reason to train, most people want to look better who work out in some capacity, however, the term “revenge body” came out. I first thought this meant to train yourself in to being a weapon to physically dismantle and destroy your enemies, which I can get behind. Instead this is about getting in better condition to show an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend how much more attractive you are now.

Well that is one way to start

I want folks that train (at least train with me) to do this as an investment in themselves. As a means to increase their health, wellbeing, or performance. Everyone starts their training for different reasons. Some folks because they were bullied, others for an outlet of their emotions, some do it for the social component. Everyone has their own reasons for starting and lord knows I started due to being bullied and wanting to have a positive outlet for emotions. The hope is that with time folks can change those reasons for training. To be in the gym to see what their body is capable of and how much they can enhance their quality of life through improving their fitness.

Maybe this is how it starts though?

Maybe on this quest for vengeance you can find a deeper reason to train and eventually train for yourself. Because you want to be the best version of yourself. I don’t know. Either way I want to help this athlete and maybe I can convince them to train hard and compete one day in the strength sports.

Summary

Train for you. Train to be the best version of yourself. Train to test yourself and see what you are capable of. I hope you enjoyed this post and I hope that it makes sense. Thanks as always for reading and have a great day.

Cable squats are a waste of time – mini rant

Recently I keep seeing students in the rec center doing a low cable pulley with a rope attachment squat/deadlift. Here is a video of someone doing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPrz-nyFKgU

Don’t do this.

This exercise does train your muscles, it can make you tired, but it is far from being as effective as possible. You might use this with someone who is very weak or injured, but if they are able to do barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell squats and deadlifts through a large range of motion (with a large load), skip them. Muscle reacts to essentially three things (after hormonal effects); mechanical tension, damage to the sarcomeres (contractile units), and metabolic byproduct accumulation. Movements where you can use heavier loads naturally can use a greater amount of mechanical tension and muscular damage. The metabolic byproducts will accumulate from doing moderate to high reps under load (and this exercise doesn’t really cause advantageous metabolic byproduct accumulation that squats, lunges, or deadlifts can’t also do).

When in doubt pick the exercises that are hard, use a large range of motion, and don’t hurt your joints. The ones you can progress nearly inifintely with load will give you greater progress, but always pay attention to your technique and how beat up or healthy your joints feel after doing the exercises. This exercise might have as use in a small subset of people, but for the most part don’t waste your time on it.

Primer on Blood Flow Restriction training

Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a method where you apply a tourniquet to your limb and then exercise as a means to increase the amount of metabolic byproducts produced by the muscle which then helps signal for an increase in muscle mass. You tourniquet your limb by either using a machine that autoregulates the pressure or wraps that are applied tight enough so it is high enough to stop diastolic return, but to allow systolic flow, aka blood can be pumped to the limb but it can’t easily be returned to the heart. This causes an accumulation of metabolic byproducts (lactate, CO2, NO, and others) which then causes a positive signal in the muscles for growth along with the release of hormones that increase muscle size and help with general total body recovery (in theory).

Now this tourniquet should be applied (if done with wraps) tight enough that on a scale of 1 (no pressure) to 10 (highest possible pressure) it is rated at a seven. Once applied high on the limb (right below the shoulder or on the hip) you can start exercising. With resistance training the basic goal is sets of 30 reps with a 30-60 rest between sets for 4 sets. A standard protocol you frequently see is: x30,15,15,15. The load for each set is between 20 and 50 percent of the heaviest load you can lift. You can take the wraps off between exercises, but not between sets of that exercise. You can also use this for cardiovascular training like walking or biking to help increase performance. In this case we are talking about 5-10 minutes of work.

Method Resistance Training Aerobic Training
Reps/Duration X30,15,15,15 5-10 minutes
Exercises per workout 1-3 1-2
Times per week 1-7x 2-3x

 

This can be added in to your training on occasion as a means to help increase muscle mass, but should be cycled in and out on occasion. This is very useful for folks working their way back from injury where they can’t deal with heavy loads. You want to do this training two times per week up to even once a day in certain cases. Try rotating it in on occasion and be prepared to be uncomfortable and see what happens. Thanks again for reading and have a great day.

Give yourself a nudge

Not all lifestyle changes need to be massive interventions to enhance your life by starting a new training program or diet that massively overhauls your life. We are looking for slow consistent changes with time that are feasible to maintain over the long haul. These small changes are “nudges” (read more on the nudge unit to give ideas of other areas of your life to move in the right direction) that help push us in the right direction. Here are a few simple decisions you can make to nudge yourself in the right direction in no particular order that folks can easily overlook, or under appreciate:

 

  • Park in the back of the parking lot
  • Take the stairs
  • Drink water, not flavored beverages
  • Lay out your gym clothes the night before
  • Never use the drive through, park and walk in
  • If you only need a few small items try to walk or bike to the store
  • Put the junk food up on a high shelf that is hard to get to
  • Put healthy food out front and in easy locations to see
  • Buy healthy food with a long shelf life like frozen fruits and vegetables, canned fruits and vegetables, and dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Go to the grocery store after you have eaten a meal, not when you are hungry
  • Don’t buy unhealthy food in the first place
  • Start each meal by eating your vegetables
  • Don’t put desert out with the meal
  • Don’t eat while watching TV or other media
  • Find a training partner
  • At first buy healthy foods that are simple to make (frozen vegetables and otherwise)
  • If you buy unhealthy foods, make sure that you have to make them manually (buy ingredients for cookies, not already made up cookies)
  • Simplify your meals when you know you won’t have time so you can eat something healthy (mixed nuts, protein bar, premade meals)

This is a basic list and there are a number of other good ideas to help move in the right direction. If you have any simple pieces of advice that have worked well for you please comment on it.

Power training for Rugby

After you have enhanced your strength and conditioning it is time to build up your top end power. This can be done through a variety of methods. Personally I’m a big fan of box jumps and throws, but there are some interesting high quality ideas out there. Figure the real key is to focus on being as explosive as possible for brief periods of time with long recoveries between each set. You can put this programming before your resistance training or between sets of your main movement are the best way to run this. Overall you want each set to be done with maximal effort and soon as your output is declining stop the set. This also means taking 2 minutes or more between each set of rest. For your total volume you can think in terms of total contacts (each jump is one contact for example) and for low intensity work I would suggest with high intensity work only doing 25 contacts or less per session. Start on the low end with your volume here and then increase it over time.

So here is a three day a week programming to do:

Day 1 2 3
Exercise Box Jumps (80-90% effort) Bounding forward (repeated broad jumps) Lateral Box Jumps
Sets x Reps 8×3 5×5 5×3
Exercise Lateral hurdle hops (for speed) Skater Hops (for speed) Pogo Jumps
Sets x Reps 3×20 4×12 3×25

 

Now these are simple movements that you can swap out and try more intense plyometric exercises, which I would suggest starting off with learning about the programming that Franz Bosch uses and try this on the pitch. Still keep in mind that we want to program accordingly in that you only want to do about 5 sets of each exercise and keep the reps each set to 5 or less (or 5 seconds or less of movement). Here is a good video reference to take a look at: https://twitter.com/SiNainby/status/677396476776079360

Summary

Power training is all about fine tuning your transmission and handling to be able to perform maximally for short periods of time. This should be started about a month before the season and maintained for a large amount of the season. Remember the goal here is quality over quantity and be sure to take long breaks between each set. Thanks as always for reading and have a great day.

Testing Strength or Building Strength?

The other day a student of mine trained with me and talked about having hit a plateau in his training. We talked for a few and he told me he keep trying to break through and he just can’t seem to increase the number on his deadlift to get it over 400lbs. After talking some more he had been essentially trying to max out every week. This is not a good long term strategy to enhance your performance, so I introduced him to the idea of building strength not just testing it.

When you go to the gym and you do that one heavy set of an exercise to try to lift as heavy for one rep you are testing yourself. You are getting a good idea of where you are at and how you are (or aren’t) progressing. This is a good thing to do on occasion, but this isn’t getting you stronger. This can also be building up to one heavy set where you take that set to failure for repetitions.

Strength is built by doing multiple sets of weights that are challenging and heavy (for you). This can be up to ten total work sets after warming up. For a beginner this might only be three work sets after warming up. An intermediate and advanced trainee could be doing 3 to 10 sets of an exercise. The Prilipen chart is a good starting point for figuring out the sets and reps for optimizing strength and power. The sets should be for sets of less than 10 reps with the sweet spot being around 3-5 reps unless you are truly peaking and then you do sets of 1-3.

Each workout where you do those multiple sets of hard training you are building your strength. Each workout where you just build up to one heavy set and then move on you are testing your strength. The vast majority of your training should be devoted to building your strength with the occasional test of it. Ask yourself with your programming, do I spend most of my time building strength or just testing it? This will hopefully help you direct yourself toward more productive training.

Rugby Training program: No Whitty title here

So here is a general program towards building some muscle mass and some strength. The goal is to lift total body 3 days per week preferably with a rest day between each training day. Take 2 minutes or more of rest between sets on your first exercise and the sets and reps are only the work sets, this does not include the warm ups.

Supplemental exercise A and B are meant to be done as a super set alternating one set of the one exercise and then doing one set on the other. The same concept for the assistance exercises only now it is a tri set (A to B to C then back to A).  Always feel free to add in neck work between your warm up sets on your main exercise and do any extra prehab exercises you need to due to your own injury history and weak points. When performing the exercises do the concentric explosively on the main movements but controlled on all the other movements. On the supplemental and assistance exercises be sure to control the eccentric of the movement (lowering) so that it takes about 3 seconds to do.

 

Day 1 2 3
Main Exercise Sumo Deadlift Hang Power Snatch Back Squat (moderate to wide stance)
Sets X Reps 3×10 3×5 12/15/17/20
Supplemental Exercise A Bench Press Military Press Close Grip Push ups
Sets X Reps Top set of 10 then drop 10% for 2 more sets of 10. 3×8 3 sets of burn out
Supplemental Exercise B Body Weight Low Row Pull ups DB Rows w/ shrug
Sets X Reps 3 sets of burn out Burn out 1 set then do 75% of that number of reps for the next 2 sets 3×10 each side
Assistance Exercise A Hanging Leg Raises Ab Wheel Ab Choice
Sets X Reps 3 sets of burn out 3 sets of burn out Choice
Assistance Exercise B Bulgarian Split Squats Cossack Squats Back Extensions
Sets X Reps 3×12 each leg 3×10 each side 3×20
Assistance Exercise C Curls/triceps work (choice) Reverse Hypers Grip Work
Sets X Reps 3-4×8-12rep each 3×10-20 3 sets of time, or max reps

 

Progressions

Each week try to add weight to each exercise. If you aren’t able to get all of the reps then stay at that weight until you can. After 4-6 weeks take one week easy where you only do 2/3 of the normal number of sets you would do and do them with lighter weights than you would normally do. On the squats you do your first week for three sets of 12 and then the next week you do the same weights for sets of 15 and then bump up to 17 on week three and finish with sets of 20 on week for (this is going to be very brutal).

After following this workout for 2-3 months change up your assistance exercises and decrease the reps per set on the main movement by 2 reps to help yourself start making progress again. If any of the exercises hurt your joints and don’t feel “right” switch them out for something that you think will be a better for your body type and your mobility.

Summary

This is simply the strength training side of things, where we are making sure the athlete can have strength in every direction and improve their stability. The power training will come after this and I will start working on that program now. Make sure you are practicing and conditioning outside of these workouts, but this will help improve your overall strength specifically for someone more in the front of the pack that will have to tackle and be tackled.

Conditioning for Rugby (or really just to be able to have a good aerobic base for a strength/power athlete)

In order to be a successful athlete you need to be able to not only produce the force (and power) required to be successful, but you need to be able to produce the energy in your muscles to maintain the force production over decent periods of time. This requires development of your bodies’ energy systems which is made up of a number of enzymes, cellular structures, and the use of different macronutrients as fuel. To keep this post simple we will break this down in to your aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) systems which you will focus on one then the other.

We want to develop our aerobic performance first due to it being the base of which our anaerobic system sits on top of. This doesn’t mean we need to become a cross country athlete, but we will need to do some consistent aerobic work to enhance this system.

Aerobic base building

This requires constant work to be performed at a moderate intensity. You should be able to hold a conversation while you are doing this, but it should be borderline getting hard to maintain this. Figure each of these sessions should last at least 20 minutes and feel free to go as long as you want, but really going over an hour to an hour and a half aren’t going to give you much more improvements. Pick any form of aerobic exercise you want, but the more specific you stay to your sport the better. Doing things like touch rugby at a fast tempo is a good start. Outside of this list a few options that we have are:

Fartlek training (walk, jog, run alternating for time)

Tempo training (run 70 yards, walk 30 yards and repeat for time)

Trail running

Running in general

Any aerobic exercise equipment in a gym (bike, treadmill, elliptical, versa climber, etc.)

Swimming

Hiking

Pick one or more of those options and in the months before season do this training three times per week for 20 minutes to an hour. Also try to go on moderate intensity walks every change you can to help improve that aerobic capacity. During the preseason and the season try to get in this form of training once per week.

Anaerobic work

Once you are getting about one month or less from season it is time to help enhance our anaerobic performance. This means pushing it hard for a minute or less and then giving ourselves a brief recovery and then repeat. Figure we are looking for a 1:2 work/rest ratio. Do this for a total of 3-5 reps (or think of it in distance and only 1200-1600 yards of work (quarter of that distance for sled work)) and only do this once or twice per week. Often the sport training and scrimmages will help take care of this, but outside of this training here are some options:

300 yard shuttle

Suicides (also prowler suicides if you want to really suffer)

400m sprint/run

Bike sprints 30-60 seconds in length

Hill sprints (longer hill and walk back down)

This type of training should leave you out of breathe with burning in your legs and lungs. This will be hard work, but it will help with enhancing your ability to tolerate the hard sprint intervals of your sport and help you recover from them faster. You can also base this training off of your heart rate, in that you can set yourself to do another set only when you heart rate gets down to a certain level (150-120 beats per minute is a good cut off for someone in their 20s).

Summary

Here is a basic set up for training your energy systems. You can do this training after your resistance training, or you can do them on their own training days. Try to do the hard anaerobic days after your hard lifting days and not the other way around. Progress this program by adding in more distance or covering the same distance in a shorter period of time. Thanks as always for reading and have a great day.

When to switch up your program

Hard training tends to be a system of diminishing returns. The longer you do a concentrated block of training focused at developing muscle size, strength, or power the less progress you will make in that area. This is a harsh reality of training, but with this in mind, you need to switch up your program from time to time to keep improving. This unfortunately often this leads to training ADD where people are changing their exercises and programming each week. The goal is to change up different exercises or rep ranges over different periods of time, here are some basic ideas to follow with your programming to get the most out of it

Changing your main movements – once every 2-6 months (maybe never).

When you change your main movements the goal is to only pick a different variant. An example would be to spend three months high bar squatting and then rotate to three months of low bar squatting and then go back to high bar squatting or maybe changing your stance width. This will allow you to challenge your body in different ways without beating yourself up by constantly having to do the same movement with no variation.

Programming for your main movements – every 2-3 months (maybe never)

Spend a few months focusing on strength in your main movements and then spend a few months focusing on hypertrophy. This means shifting from sets of 10 for part of the year and then sets of 5 for another part. Giving yourself some variation here will allow you to make more consistent progress and help decrease training monotony. You can also try different programs like the 5/3/1, VIII, juggernaut, cube method, etc. where each gives you some variety in your programming with time to keep you progressing without your training getting stale.

Programming for your supplemental exercise and changing exercises – every 1-3 months

Putting in a solid month should help fix your weak points a bit and if you can’t solve it in three months it is time to approach it from a different direction. Aim for this programming to stay more towards the hypertrophy programming and don’t be afraid to get comical on how high the reps are (like sets of 20). These movements should overload your weakest part of the motion or muscle group in a way that doesn’t hurt your joints, but helps enhance your performance.

Programming for your assistance exercises and changing the exercises – every 2 weeks to 2 months

This is focused work on single joint exercises or isolating individual muscle groups. Take and push them hard, but rotate them frequently so you aren’t just beating up your joints and muscles in the same way over and over again. This work is about building muscle and stability most of the time so a bit more variation here to challenge the muscles in different ways might help you progress a bit more.

Adding in training days – maybe after 3 months or years of training

After enough training for a long enough period of time you might literally need to stress your body more often due to the volumes of training you have to do in each session. Some folks have to spend 20 hours in the gym each week to make progress, so doing this over two days per week will be absurd. When your sessions are taking too long for your lifestyle then it is time to break them up over more days in a week. Don’t just add in extra training days because you can, but because you need to make this work for your schedule and your recovery. Some folks might not ever need to train more times in a week, but if you are pushing the envelope be prepared to train more times per week as you get more experienced. How you are recovering from those sessions is the key on making progress.

Summary

In order to get better you need to focus your work in one way or another. Having random training with no constants will get you random results (in the best case scenario). Do tinker with your program and modify it slowly over time, but notice the use of the word “tinker”. This means you make small changes and see if that helps your progress, we are not talking about a program overhaul where we are changing up the foundations here. When in doubt your body is always right, give it progressive overload with a dash of variation to keep your training from being to monotonous.