"My job is to take the best in the world – and make them better."
I hope you had fun ripping to shreds us "earnest fitness types" in your recent rant against anyone and everyone that uses a commercial training facility. I will admit that I am a "result-free" early morning trainee, and while your article was dead on, and while the article was perfect at pointing out everyone's flaws and foibles, (except perhaps that glowering gruesome personage ((you)) standing in the corner taking it all in, like an East German Stassi secret police agent) the article was devoid of any positive advice for anyone. I am not personally going to be doing any ass-on-heels squatting with 365 pounds for 5 reps in the near future, nor will I be turning myself into a human steamed lobster afterwards – so are you simply the world's best critic or are you capable of any constructive thoughts or advice?
Signed...A pissed-off result-free cardio gerbil from parts unknown
Greetings! You must have recognized yourself and your result-free training approach in the article, perhaps several times; theoretically you could be a female oldster cardio gerbil treadmill user and manic machine cleaner that also uses resistance machines and kettlebells, so theoretically I could have insulted you a half dozen times within the same article. Indeed I am that glowering, gruesome, lurking personage and surreptitious chronicler of inanities. I am also a world level strength coach: five national team powerlifting championships; I coached Team USA to the IPF world championship in 1991. I turn out regional, national and international level lifters with yawning regularity. I work with active duty Tier 1 military spec ops – so in answer to your question, I have plenty of advice and its all freaking excellent.
The only question is this: is the reader (you) ready, willing, able and capable of instituting and utilizing the result-producing advice I offer up?
The men I work with are the best of the best: modern samurai warriors and the finest strength athletes on the planet. My job is to take the best in the world and make them better. Here are ten tactical training tips that I use on a regularly reoccurring basis with the uber-elite: put some or all of these ten tips into play and you will rock your gerbil-wheel fitness world to its core, assuming you are in a position to actually incorporate and institute any or all of these battle-tested technical and tactical tips. These concepts are broad and there exists a maze of subtle subdivisions and intricate maneuvering to be done within each of the large check-squares. We will delve into the minutia and ‘subtleties within subtleties' that lie deeper below the surface of each of the ten tips in future postings...
- Forget everything you think you know about fitness: They say that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing and nowhere is this cliché truer than in the world of athletic training. Preconceptions are problematic and need eradicating. Ours is a mature strength philosophy handed down over four generations since WWII. Frankly we are not interested in your little thoughts and insights about power and strength. Misinformation about strength training abounds and nowadays every trainee has a strength theory, a guru and an opinion. Give me an aggressive, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, empty-headed 12-year old alpha male any day of the week over an opinionated fitness-type, stuffed full of grandiose ideas and big thoughts. Here is a news flash: you don't know jack about physical transformation or how to attain it; if you did it would be done! We can save much time if we don't have to deprogram your inflated, inflamed and misinformed brain. Ours is a system, an integrated philosophy that need be implemented in its totality: ours is not an ideological cafeteria where trainees embrace or reject aspects of our holistic approach, depending on their likes and dislikes. The component parts amplify one another. In a nutshell: combine power training with gourmet power eating and please perform cardio to keep the metabolism amped.
- Not one, not the other, both: The name of the game is utter and complete, radical physical transformation. Our template is pure non-dualistic Zen; we weave together three disparate disciplines; resistance training, cardiovascular training and nutrition. The skillful blending of these three interrelated disciplines builds muscle and strength while melting off body fat. Cardio need be manly and sweaty and mostly outside; we favor old school real world cardio combined with old school hardcore power free-weight training. The intense cardio and the intense resistance exercise are under-pinned with nutrient-dense gourmet peasant food, eaten in ample amounts. This is food that nourishes and heals. We empower our athletes by teaching them balance: better a little of each of the three core disciplines than a whole lot of one, or two, at the expense or exclusion of the other(s.) When all three parts are in place and executed in a balanced holistic fashion, physical synergy takes ahold and results exceed all realistic expectations.
- Divide available training time between resistance and cardio: we engage in, and seek a balanced blending of two distinctly different types of exercise. The combining of resistance and cardio far exceeds the potential of performing one type to the exclusion of the other. Combining the two triggers transformation – assuming that the training is sufficiently intense, periodized and synchronized with a nutrient-dense diet strategy. Lifting and cardio are two sides of the same fitness and strength coin. One discipline does not trump or preclude the other; we need to practice both. Power training maximizes brute strength and builds functional athletic muscle; cardio burns off body fat and keeps the metabolism jacked-up while ensuring internal organ health. We need to strengthen and improve the functionality of our internal organs as surely as we need exercise and strengthen the muscles of the external exoskeleton. To ignite a radical physical transformation, we need to practice in non-dualistic fashion, "not one, not the other – both!"
- Simplify resistance training: Sweep the table clean of every single resistance exercise you currently do and begin anew. Practice a purposefully limited menu of compound multi-joint exercise movements that require groups of muscle to act together in a coordinated fashion to complete the assigned muscular task. The irreducible "core four" resistance exercises are: squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press. A second small tier of "assistance exercises" compliments the core four. Our template philosophy is to do fewer things better. Sessions are short, intense, infrequent and body shattering. We worship at the altar of exercise technique, continually striving to hone and refine our lifting techniques. Unlike bodybuilding, in pure strength training intensity trumps volume. A bodybuilder will train long and often, using moderate poundage, whereas a strength athlete will train in short sessions infrequently, but with maximum intensity, expressed as heavy poundage using low reps and maximal range-of-motion. Pristine "signature" exercise techniques are used resulting in maximum muscle fiber stimulation.
- Sweat during cardio: One would think that this would be a given; it is mind-blowing to observe the number of cardio machine riders that never sweat, and not coincidentally, their physiques never change. Progress occurs when the level of physical exertion generates sweat; we need to breath hard and continually bump up against our oxygen-debt threshold. Seek to use cardio to burn calories, stimulate the metabolism and improve internal organ health and functionality. The goal is to trigger a cardio ‘adaptive response.' 90% of the fitness public tool along at 60% of capacity, a comfortable pace on a comfortable machine exercising in a comfortable and familiar way. Why on earth would the body burn its own body fat in response to 60% exertions? Why would we reap outstanding results from easy workouts? Unless we push up to and past our limits and capacities, in some manner or fashion, the body stubbornly stays the same.
- Look to equal or exceed (shifting) limits in every workout: Limits and capacities shift day-to-day and workout-to-workout. On a peak day we might be capable of a 102% effort, while on an off day our 100% capacity might only be 77% of what it is on a peak day. However (and this is critical) we can have a hypertrophy-inducing, strength-increasing, completely productive workout if we work up to, or past, our 77% off-day capacity. In resistance training we log and maintain poundage and rep best in all our lifts; not only will we know our one-rep max best in a particular lift, we'll also have a rep/poundage records for double rep sets, triples, 5 rep set max, 8 and 10 rep sets, we will know our all-time best lifts in each rep range because that is how we know the capacities we need to equal or exceed. The elite lifter will also have differing rep records for different bodyweights.
- Have a periodized battle plan: Elite athletes think in three-month chunks. Time and empiricism have shown that the optimal length for a transformational template is 12-weeks. Within the 12-week, three-month timeframe, sets and reps (along with cardio and nutrition) are tweaked every four weeks to drive poundage ever upward. The first step is to establish strength and muscle goals that are realistic, yet motivating. The goal in strength training is always and forever to increase poundage-handling ability in the core four lifts. By becoming significantly stronger in the core four lifts, all other athletic attributes are acquired: we muscle-up significantly as we push and pull our way through the 12-weeks. The idea is to reverse-engineer small, weekly, mini-goals; start off light and easy and eventually (three months later) the diligent adherent are deposited past the goal threshold. Typically we start off a 12-week power cycle 10% below capacity and seek to end up 2% to 5% past current lift capacity. We simultaneously experience a concurrent and proportional increase in functional muscle mass.
- Replenish post-workout: After a body-crushing progressive resistance workout, (the only kind of workout worth a damn) a ‘window of opportunity' opens. While the window is open, any nutrients ingested are distributed and assimilated at a dramatically accelerated (300% faster, according to some) rate. What science and empiricism tells us is profound: take the right nutrients in the right amounts after a high-intensity workout and improve workout results. Workout results are greater if the athlete intakes nourishing nutrients while the window is open. The window of opportunity begins at the end of the workout and lasts for one to three hours. The ideal post-workout meal or drink should consist of 50% high biologic-value protein and 50% non-insulin spiking carbs. Most of the iron elite prefers to drink a fast-acting protein/carb shake containing 30 to 50 grams of protein and carbs at the conclusion of the workout.
- Invoke workout contrast: Do not perform the same favored training routine over and over and expect continual results. Periodically revamp training in order to keep things fresh and to keep progress on track. After the completion of a full-bore, 12-week power cycle, look to shift to a contrasting training template. If the athlete is coming off a period of thrice-weekly power training, concentrating on barbell back squats, barbell bench presses, conventional deadlifts and barbell overhead presses – why not shift to a volume approach? Why not do something radically different such as performing multiple top static sets (2-5) using higher rep sets (8 to 12 reps per set.) Since you've been lifting explosively during your power cycle, why not slash the poundage and shift to grind speed? Why not change the actual exercises? How about high rep multiple top sets in the front barbell squat, dumbbell benches, sumo deadlifts (or drop deads in favor of power cleans) and seated press behind the neck. Accelerate the workout pace. Add some arm work twice a week. Sync up the new approach (higher volume, less intensity) with more cardio, more sessions, longer sessions; let's cut back the calories and lean out maximally. Seek to successfully create the lean-out antithesis to the just-completed power & muscle 12-week thesis.
- Synchronize seasonally appropriate eating with training: Training heavy? Why not eat heavy? Why not look to add power, strength and size in the cold winter months? Is winter not 12-weeks long, the same length of time as a power cycle? Is not wintertime the perfect time for consuming rich foods, delicious soups and thick stews? The heavy cuts of meat taste delicious in cold weather and root vegetables are winter vegetables. Think of fall and winter as optimal times for adding power, strength and muscle mass. Looking to get maximally lean? What better time than during the high heat of summer? Why not coordinate the heat and added activity of the summer months with a reduction in caloric volume: cut back on the rich foods, go lean and light…increase cardio frequency and duration, shift to a high-volume/moderate-intensity weight training strategy. Optimally nutrition and training are synchronized and coordinated, not only with one another but cross-coordinated seasonally. How logical, sensible and primal: create a plan appropriate for the season; next, train like a berserker, now underpin the savage training with seasonally-appropriate organic peasant food. Sleep like a narcoleptic. Hold this course for 90 short days. Do so and transform. Period. Details to follow.
How's that for some expert advice?
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.