What is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

by Matt Jordan on June 13, 2014 , 4 comments

Article Overview: 811 words on building a training philosophy for for the non-athlete.

My speciality is designing workouts for individuals with specific sport performance goals and helping athletes come back from injury.  I also get lots of requests to design programs for people who are looking to stay fit and lean while minimizing additional wear and tear on their body.

I understand this battle.  On the one hand high intensity training brings results.  On the other hand, half a lifetime of competitive sport or the normal routine of spending 5-8 hours sitting at a desk takes its toll. Keeping your body healthy  eventually becomes more important than hitting a personal best in the gym.

The pendulum in the fitness industry has shifted towards high intensity training of all modalities and types.  The long-term sustainability of this approach is extremely low especially in the absence of high levels of regeneration/recovery – something to which most individuals are unable/unwilling to commit.

It is important to build a training method and a philosophy that minimizes negative or maladaptive stress, and promotes positive training stress.

The key to a training program’s success is creating a meaningful energy flux (i.e. creating a disturbance in energy balance) and stimulating the body’s adaptive response.  The more frequently we cause an energy flux, the better the results.  The better our timing of changing the training stimulus in light of the body’s non-linear change in its adaptive response, the better the results.

Here are some recommendations for building your training philosophy, and striking a balance between positive training stress and negative/maladaptive stress:

  1. Start your workout by prioritizing three areas of MSK deficiency. This could be mobility-related, motor control-related, or synergist-strength related. It is beneficial to get a set of eyes on you in a formal movement evaluation to pinpoint these areas.
  2. Use a combination of whole-body multi-joint movements in each workout. These comprise your indicator or primary lifts. Multi-joint movements are known for providing the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to hypertrophy and strength development.
  3. Even though you may not be a high performance athlete, periodize your training. A good method is to alternate between a mesocycle (i.e. 3-4 weeks) in which you load by volume (extensification or accumulation where time under tension > 30s – reps 8-15) and then a mesocycle in which you load by intensity (intensification – time under tension < 20s – reps < 8)
  4. Start each each mesocycle with an introductory microcycle (a microcycle = 4-7 days). This can be followed by two building or overreaching mesocycles. In the first of the two building microcycles, it is best to increase the number of sets slightly (e.g. add 1-2 sets onto the primary or indicator lifts), and lower the rep bracket by 1-2 reps (e.g. go from 10-12 reps to 9-11 reps). In the second overreaching mesocycle, continue to increase intensity by lowering the repetition scheme and slightly reduce the number of sets. The final microcycle should be an unloading phase in which both the number of sets and the intensity are reduced.
  5. Manipulate rest intervals and tempo to achieve your training effect while reducing the external load requirement. These may be two of the most overlooked training parameters. For example, by reducing the speed of movement in the eccentric phase from 1 second to 4 seconds, there is an increased time under tension and the reduction in speed reduces mechanical advantage necessitating the use of a lower external load. Remember, time under tension and building tension are two keys for eliciting muscle hypertrophy. Conversely, the conscious acceleration and maximal neuromuscular activation while concentrically lifting a submaximal load can elicit substantial gains in muscle strength and power.
  6. Carefully plan the number of sets taken to technical failure. I say technical failure as I don’t mean passing that point of technical breakdown. Poor mechanics are a huge culprit for accelerating MSK dysfunction. Instead, you should plan in advance the number of sets in any given workout that are going to be taken to technical failure. Emerging research suggests that equal or superior gains in explosive strength, maximal strength and hypertrophy may be achieved by keeping a couple of reps in the bank.
  7. Intersperse higher intensity training sessions with some lower intensity sessions. This is not popular in the fitness world but sub-aerobic threshold training volume and restorative sessions (e.g. mobility/flexibility) will go a long way to increase your tissues structural tolerance and your overall work capacity.
  8. Nutrition and sleep are your two biggest assets for optimizing recovery from training and become increasingly important with age.
  9. Lastly, don’t get stuck doing the same program for months on end. While too much variation (think of chaos training – something I do not support) is problematic, too little variation leads to stagnation and is a real killer for overall gains.

These are just a few principles I find effective for establishing a training philosophy when the goals have moved beyond high performance sport although many of the principles apply here too.

Feel free to send me comments or feedback.

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Matt JordanWhat is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

To Be or Not to Be a Moderate

by Matt Jordan on June 11, 2014 , No comments

Article Overview: 784 words and a personal position piece on life long fitness in a world focused way too much on image and status.

How much are you willing to give up for leanness?

For some individuals, the answer is: a lot.  There is no doubt that being lean and having single digit body fat numbers is a big ego boost for many people out there.  For some this comes easier than for others due to factors like good genetics.  For others, single digit body fat is truly a religion and an obsession.

The figure below represents the change in percent body fat over a lifetime for the Athlete, the Obsessed, the Moderate, the Obsessed but Inconsistent, and the Sedentary folk.  What I’m trying to show is the real difference consistency makes versus being obsessed, and where the real problems lie.

In an effort to hit single digit body fat numbers,the Obsessed resort to extreme measures.  Of course many of these measures are effective for getting down to single digit body fat numbers but at what price?  Obviously there are the simple pleasures in life that one must renounce such as a traditional morning coffee with the occasional chocolate croissant.  However, there are undoubtedly many other negative effects associated with extreme nutrition and fitness fads related to health and mental wellbeing.

As we get inundated with advertising and media showing us how we “ought” to look, the Obsessed but Inconsistent individuals really get the raw deal.  Not only must there be a constant feeling of  not measuring up to the industry standard but no doubt there is also a lot of failed attempts to hit an unattainable target.  The perpetual swings between periods of unsustainably high commitment and periods of low commitment add up resulting in a trend over a lifetime towards the slippery slope of increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue.  For the Obsessed but Inconsistent, the periods of extreme deprivation and extreme dieting can only be balanced with periods of extreme indulgence.

Then there are  the Moderates.  They employ simple strategies consistently that allow them to maintain body composition at a reasonable level over a lifetime.  The issue with the Moderate is that their story is nothing new and not overly interesting.  You can’t sell the Moderate approach whether that be in a book, online or in a seminar.  In fact, it seems as though the voice of the Moderate is rarely heard.  While the Moderate’s popularity may have died alongside the popularity of the VCR, the question should be asked whether or not the new iteration is a better alternative.  As far as the VCR goes, I’m going to say Apple TV is a big improvement.  However, I can’t say the same about the theories and beliefs espoused by the Obsessed, which appear to have silenced the Moderates.

The difference between the Moderate and the Obsessed is shown below in the green highlighted area.  This is what a lifetime of commitment to extreme measures will bring you.  As we progress through the lifespan, not a single person can entirely overcome  the forces of nature and aging.  Sadly, while there are few certainties in life, the cycle of birth, aging and death are non-negotiable.  Of course this can be mitigated with exercise/lifestyle, and the natural trend towards increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue can be attenuated.  The question is whether or not the shaded green zone is really worth depriving oneself of ALL the simple pleasures in life.  I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

The green highlighted zone also shows what being a Moderate won’t bring you.  Living your 20’s, 30’s and part of your 40’s with near single digit body fat can’t be attained with occasionally enjoying simple pleasures and indulging.  In order to accomplish this sacrifices must be made.  Extreme results require extreme measures.

The orange zone in the figure below represents what consistency can bring you and what inconsistency can’t bring you.  The ups and downs of the Obsessed but Inconsistent typically leads towards an overall increase in body fat with time.  However,  simple strategies like sweating regularly, eating a lower calorie diet with nutritious food, and still indulging once in a while will generally bring decent results over a lifetime.  The orange zone represents what the basics and staying the course bring to the table.

The red zone  is the real issue for North American society.  This is where the bulk of the scientific research is focused and it is often the ammunition used by the Obsessed to justify extreme fitness and nutrition approaches.  However, let’s be fair in recognizing that this problem is one that requires a complete change in attitudes and beliefs.

I also think the solution to this dilemma is more inline with the Moderate approach than the Obsessed approach.

 

BODY COMP OVER A LIFETIME

 

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Matt JordanTo Be or Not to Be a Moderate

When Does Program Variety Become a Sales Pitch??

by Matt Jordan on May 17, 2012 , No comments

When I first started out in the strength and conditioning field, I was always amazed at how simple the top strength and conditioning coaches made their training programs.  Their training programs covered all the basic movements, and prioritized a couple of key physiological objectives.  Nowhere is this more evident than the training program design for elite weightlifters and powerlifters.  For example, weightlifters for the most part perform cleans, snatches, and squats as the main focus of the training program along with a few assistant movements to work on technical issues or physiological limitations (e.g. maximal strength, hypertrophy etc..).  I also observed this first hand when I would travel to shadow Dan Pfaff, one of the world’s leading track and field coaches, who’s training programs were always very simple and devoid of fancy, “flavour of the month”, exercises.  Instead of injecting pointless and fluffy exercises into his program that lacked effectiveness, Dan chose to focus his attention on programming the basic movements more effectively, and on understanding the complexity of human movement so that he could coach more effectively. 

 

I am fortunate that my mentors along the way instilled a similar philosophy in me.  The fitness industry, however, often seems plagued with flavour of the month trends, exercises, and training programs.  Some of this I chalk up to a sincere attempt to improve observed weaknesses and deficits that are observed in the athlete or client.  On the other hand, I also see a lot of trainers who mindlessly scour the internet for the latest and greatest exercise in an attempt to win over clients and athletes with bells and whistles that ultimately end up doing a disservice to the person’s physical preparation.

 

The frustrating part of this reality is that we are training human beings, and any athlete stands to get bored with a seemingly monotonous training program that lacks creativity but is actually tremendously effective.  To further highlight this reality, I once had a conversation with a muscle physiologist who told me there is no physiological basis for variety or periodization.  In some sense he is absolutely correct.  Theoretically, a muscle fibre needs sufficient mechanical and chemical stress for adaptation so other than progressively increasing the training load over time, there should really be nothing else needed in a training program.  Despite the fundamental truth in this statement, I think most strength and conditioning coaches would agree that despite what the basic science indicates, the right type of variety is an essential part of the training process.  A perfect example of this is the pattern overload that can occur by continually performing maximal effort movements in the same plane or at the same angle. 

 

So, this leads me to the following question: when is variety needed for optimal physiological and biomechanical adaptation, and when is variety counterproductive to training and simply there to appease a client or make a trainer look a heck of lot smarter than he or she really is?  This is a huge question so let’s start with a basic component of most if not all effective training programs.  If you look at most movements in sport and life, a common factor is often the involvement of the legs and hips as key power generating muscle groups.  Simply YouTube Mike Tyson training, watch Federer coming out of a 1/2 squat to complete a forehand, talk to a speed skating coach about the key elements for an effective start, or talk to a researcher studying the effects of aging on muscle power and the incidence of slips, trips and falls, and you will gain an appreciation for how ubiquitous hip and leg power are to life and performance.  

 

There are several extremely effective exercises for developing this quality: the Olympic style lifts (cleans and snatches), the squat, the trap bar dead lift, the jump squat, the single leg squat etc… If you examine the research, there isn’t necessarily one movement that prevails over another.  The common thread for obtaining improvement is that the athlete works hard against heavy loads for the appropriate number of repetitions and sets, and with sufficient regularity over a training cycle.  It’s really quite simple;  as long as an athlete has this basic element, he or she will likely improve.  Performing squats with elastic bands or chains, doing box squats instead of an Olympic style squat, or any other subtle exercise variation are really inconsequential to the overall training adaptation providing the athlete works his or her butt off.  

 

Let’s take this a step further.  I once had an athlete, who will remain nameless, who decided to seek the assistance of a personal trainer, who shall also remain nameless.  In order to appease this particular athlete, who happened to dislike strength training, the trainer gave her a movement that required her to hold onto a pulley with one hand, and perform some sort of awkward twisting squatting motion with light weight and in a rapid fashion.  He sold this as a movement that could help her leg and hip power while connecting the core and challenging her balance.  Guess what happened?  She loved it! She thought it was a novel, creative, and fun exercise.  It was so much better than the program I had given her with power cleans and full squats.  Guess what else happened?  She gained absolutely zero strength and power because that movement was absolutely ineffective and nothing more than a random flavour of the month exercise.  Everyone is entitled to his or her own approach to training program design but in my opinion, this guy was way more concerned with whether or not the athlete was happy and liked his program rather than if he was doing the right thing for her physical preparation.  Incidentally, I am a strong believe in doing what I think is right for an athlete not what I think will make them happy.  If you have conviction in what you are doing and saying, and it’s coming from the right place, you should be able to put it out there to someone and to be at peace whether the other party accepts or rejects what you have said.  It is slippery slope if as a trainer or any other professional working with people, you are more motivated by being liked than doing what is in the best interest of the client. 

 

To summarize, regardless of whether you’re talking about improving body composition, upper body strength, core strength or aerobic endurance the general principles outlined above hold true.  Most effective training programs are usually quite simple and contain a few essential elements.  Work hard with the right intensity and training load, perform the movement with sufficient regularity, and don’t be conned into thinking a subtle variation on an exercise is going to make or break the program.  Ultimately it’s a matter of sifting out what really matters and what is absolutely irrelevant.  Remember, a lot of variation is often there to do nothing more than fend of boredom or worse yet to entice clients into an ineffective program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.jordanstrength.com

 

 

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Matt JordanWhen Does Program Variety Become a Sales Pitch??