The following reflects all my years in sports (and life). What is amazing about this list of “truths” is that none of these are exotic, so nobody pays attention! The Summa Liftologica of Daniel John: KISS me, you fool!
Little and Often and Long
Apples and Oranges
Food for what ails you
Don’t worry: there will be more ‘days like this.’
Point, the first: KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Overview: Paredo, the Italian economist, discovered the 80-20 Rule. That is, 20 % of what you do, gives you 80% of the final effort. In application, 80% of a company’s sales comes from 20% of the clients. In athletics, 20% of your training leads to 80% of your competition efforts.
The key is to find the 20% that leads to the “biggest bang for the buck!” Most athletes usually come to the answer that, and this is beyond what mom and dad provided at birth, in the weight room it is the basics: cleans, presses, squats. On the track, it might be stadium steps, hills or sprints. For the endurance athlete, it might be those “hard runs” with friends on Saturdays. Once an athlete knows the techniques, sometimes very great progress is made on the simplest of programs. For example, many, many lifters and throwers used the following program in the Sixties and early Seventies:
Monday: Train Hard (and heavy and go home!)
Wednesday: Train Hard
Saturday: Train very hard; if competing train very hard after competition Keep the exercise number low, the intensity high!
Essentially, the simpler the better. The key is to trust that honest hard training on basic core movements leads to improvement in lean muscle, performance, and measured strength. For me, this means Power Snatches, Clean and Press, and Overhead Squats. These three lifts make the discus go farther and my total in the Olympic Lifts go up. If all I do is Power Snatch on Monday, Clean and Press on Wednesday, and Overhead Squat on Saturday, I am going to be at 80plus percent of my best. Hell, maybe over 100% because …
Point, the second: Little and Often over the Long Haul!
Overview: Success is like the erection of a building. It is one brick laid upon another. So too, with training: it is the ability to squeeze out five pounds here and a rep there that leads to long term success! Programs that promise huge gains in three weeks don’t mention the huge drops the next three. For an example, I offer 1964 Olympic Shot Put Champion Dallas Long’s High School lifting bests:
9th Grade Squat 90 Military Press 90 Bench Press 90
10th Grade Squat 125 Military Press 125 Bench Press 125
11th Grade Squat 200 Military Press 200 Bench Press 200
12th Grade Squat 350 Military Press 275 Bench Press 350
This senior year, he blasted the 16 pound college shot over 61 feet. In 1957!
Prepping for the 64 Olympics, he would bench up to 440 for 3, Incline 370 for 3, and Squat 4 sets of 5 with 400 pounds. These reflect eleven years of training to become Olympic champ. None of his lifts are breathtaking, none of the leaps in improvement unbelievable. A little here, a little there …
Maybe the best book to supplement this idea is Paul Kelso’s Powerlifting Basics, Texas-Style from Iron Mind Enterprises. Simple, basic instruction perhaps, but Kelso’s emphasis on “Showing Up” is brilliant.
Point, the third: Have standards.
Overview: As an Olympic lifter, my squat goes up 200 pounds by adding knee wraps and a supersuit. How does this effect my o lifts? I have no idea. Standards are simply that: what are the units that I measure my improvement with? For health, the guys at the Olympic Training Center made it clear that annual blood tests are your best bet. Cholestrol and triglycerides can be compared to past eating behaviors, prostate problems can be checked, even gout by blood tests. A yearly blood test has a standard to compare itself with, last year’s blood test.
In lifting, it is a little more murky. Olympic lifters have their best competition snatch and clean and jerks. Powerlifters need to be more careful: one federation may ban certain wraps and belts. The deadlift in competition may serve as a good standard. As long as your lifts go up, you are making progress.
Photos have really helped my wife and may be an idea for others. She stands in the same doorway in a bikini (no, you can’t get the proofs) and takes front, side and back. Then she compares and contrasts them with the last batch. She discovered that the scale lies.
Other standards? Well, there are some classic ones: bodyweight military press, bodyweight snatch, and double bodyweight squat are common enough standards that I heard of them in several different settings.
Learn to measure yourself against yourself. But be real: don’t fool yourself into thinking that a fifty pound improvement in the squat really happened if you didn’t go as deep, or, you have put on fifty pounds with the Monday Night Football Beer and Brautwurst Diet. Also, be wary of using workouts to make comparisons. If you did 3 sets of 8 with 205 in something with a one minute rest and two weeks later did the same sets and reps with 225 with a five minute rest, are you stronger? I have no idea, there are just too many factors.
Measure yourself with simple standards. Simple.
Point, the fourth: Eat food.
Overview: an odd point, perhaps, but more questions are usually generated at a lifting forum by supplements than any single lifting point. To recall:
If it works immediately, it is illegal.
If it works quickly, it is banned.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Time and again, I have rediscovered the wisdom of sticking to lots of vegetables, fruits and lean meats. In addition, drinking huge amounts of water helps. What about potassium? Yes, I take that, when I buy it. Flax oil? Great stuff, keeps me regular. Whey protein? I dunno. Creatine? Water gain, I dunno. Super Amino blast? Hmmm. Bee Pollen? B-15? And on and on and on.
If you spend fifty bucks on a product it will work! If you are paid fifty bucks to say it works, you will say it! I still think Bob Hoffman had a clear overview in 1964:
“To summarize: live as normally as possible as the big contest approaches but reduce your sugar and starches to a minimum. Eat lots of protein and use germ oil concentrate as this has a tendency to reduce excess weight. Drink normally until a day or two before the contest. If necessary, take off what weight must be lost the day before and the day of the competition. Bill March took off 12 pounds in two days before the recent Region 1 contest and was still strong enough to make a new American total record of 1040. And finally, don’t reduce too soon or you will be weak. What you want to do is have the strength of the class above and the bodyweight of the class below.”
Although this focuses on weight loss for an O meet, this same advice is being sold in literally hundreds of low carb books today. Food is important for training. Food, I said. Food.
In addition, beware the “Bathtub Model” of nutrition. Basically, it is this: The human body is a bathtub, the spout is calories in, the drain calories out. Add more water, drain stays the same, makes you fat. Water comes in the same, drain increases, makes you lean. Very simple. So simple it is just not correct. There is an old saying about the human brain: “If it was simple enough to understand, you wouldn’t care to understand it.” The same with the body. Why do people lean out on 6,500 calories a day, while their girlfriend gets fatter (less lean, if you will) on one meal a day and six diet drinks? Because the bathtub model is rubbish!
Eat food. Eat multiple meals a day. Eat breakfast. Eat.
Point, the fifth: There is a time to plant and a time to sow.
Overview: John Richardson won the Big West discus championship a few years ago. I worked from high school through college with him and asked him what is the best advice I ever gave. He said: “You always say ‘they can’t all be gems.'” Simply, not every effort in the weightroom will be a new personal record. Trying to do this will only end in misery and frustration, and drug use.
There are times of the year when it is appropriate to kill yourself in the gym. But, sometimes you need to maintain, hold on, and plant the seeds for the next harvest.
Tommy Suggs said it the best:
“Train along without pushing yourself. Train hard and often, but don’t knock yourself out and stay away form the Olympic lifts. Then five weeks before a contest try yourself out on the Olympic Three. Don’t push too hard and don’t worry if you seem a little weak. Then try to add five pounds a week per lift in the press, snatch and clean and jerk. Make up your mind that you are going to make progress no mater what.”
The idea is to lift at your peak at the meet. Every workout over a career can’t be the best of all time. Notice, though, that I didn’t say “sit in the gym and eat bon-bons and tell everyone that you are a “hardgainer” and you natural easy gainers don’t understand my needs.” You need to train heavy and hard, but realize that this doesn’t mean “limit” lifts each workout.
By the way, I have some others, too. Put the weight overhead, unsupported. Lift the bar off the floor. Go deep. After 35 to 45 minutes in the gym are you still working out? But, I trust others will have those points, too.