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Holistic Physical Development

PHYSICAL CONDITIONING

ARTICLE INDEX
TRAIN HARD, REST HARDER
TIME TO STRETCH
BASE TRAINING
PYRAMID TRAINING
IMPROVING YOUR BENCH PRESS
SPINAL LOADING
STRENGTH TRAINING AND MUSCULAR FAILURE



TRAIN HARD, REST HARDER

Those new to training can train at approximately 35-45% of their maximum intensity and see improvements in their physical development.  It is quite probable that they will feel that they are working hard and they may even be very sore or a little worn out for the next couple days, but it is highly, highly unlikely that they have induced any significant fatigue onto their body.  Because of this they will be able to train the same muscle groups or the same energy systems 6 or even 7 days per week without seeing any negative effects.  Those who have been training longer are likely to be working at closer to 75-80% of their maximum intensity to make gains.  Training at this intensity is highly taxing to the central nervous system and places the body under a significant amount of stress.  Because of this these individuals may be able to train 6 or 7 days per week but they will need to work different muscle groups/energy systems each day because they would suffer negative effects by not doing so.  These effects could include muscle weakness, insomnia, paranoia, extreme soreness, cloudy thought patterns, frequent infections, decreased ability to handle stress, and more.  This alone should make it clear that rest is very important to your physical development. 

However, there is another reason that adequate rest should be factored in to your program.  You don't make improvements during your training session.  You make improvements after your training session while your body repairs itself and your nervous system adapts to the demands you have placed on it.  Vladimir Zatsiorsky in his book 'Science and Practice of Strength Training' has pointed out that positive neural adaptations from training (gains) do not occur during periods of activity but during periods of rest.  Training only sets the stage; diet, stress, and other factors contribute to how well your body is able to respond to your training.  

REST IS A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR IN DETERMINING HOW YOU ARE ABLE TO ADAPT.   While this article is intended to point out the importance of rest and not intended to tell you how to rest, here are a few points to keep in mind...You obviously want to rest after each training session.  You want to get adequate sleep and if you feel overworked you want to be sure and rest a little extra before engaging in your next training session.  But you also want to back off the amount of training you engage in every now and then.  Keep the inensity up, but cut back on how much work you do by 30 or 40 percent every 3rd or 4th session.  Following this same practice every 4th or 5th week for the entire week has also shown good benefits.  Many individuals involved in training usually find that 8-12 consecutive weeks every year also leads to beneficial effects.  The main thing is to factor rest into your equation. 

Just don't use rest as an excuse to not work hard!


TIME TO STRETCH

Stretching before physical activity...it's an age old tradition and one that should become a thing of the past.  To begin with there is little to no research suggesting that stretching before activity helps to prevent injury or improve performance.  Stretching relaxes your muscles and decreases strength.  Yes that's right, stretching makes you weaker.  (This is not always a bad thing and 90% of people don't even need to concern themselves with it and its application varies significantly between individuals...However a discussion of this aspect of stretching is beyond the scope of this article.) 

The point here is that stretching before physical activity will make you weaker and you don't want that.  What you want is to be mentally loose and relaxed, but with your body you want to be able to generate as much tension and force as possible and stretching decreases your ability to do this.  So what is the best time to work on flexibility?  After physical activity.  At this point your nervous system is relaxed and not as interested or capable of restricting your flexibility and so you are naturally able to stretch your muslces to a greater degree. 

This raises the question of what exactly is the best way to prepare for physical activity.  A good warm up should do a few things:

1.  Raise your core temperature (Get your blood going, work up a sweat, etc.)
    This can include 5-8 minutes of cardiovascular work, starting out slowly and gradually increasing the intensity.  Some light bodyweight calisthenics (burpees, pushups, squats, etc.) is another good option

2.  Increase your joint mobility/some light flexibility work
    Get the stiffness out of your joints with various mobility drills and get some synovial fluid going to cushion your joints.  Overhead squats, knee circles, arm circles, walking lunges, hanging from a pullup bar, and full range of motion pushups are a few examples.

3.  Get the muscles of your core firing
    Spend a few minutes acitvating your lats, glutes, and the muscles of your abdominal wall.  This will prime your nervous system and increase the amount of tension you can safely generate.

SAMPLE WARM-UP
1/4-1/2 mile run
Walking lunges-3 sets of 30 yards
Overhead squats 2 sets of 5
Pull-ups 2 sets of 3-5
Stiff Leg Deadlift 2 sets of 3-5

This of course is a generic warm-up and is meant only to serve as an example.  Your warm-up should prepare you for what you are about to do.  If you are a swimmer you wouldn't want to run 1/2 a mile before getting into the water.  You would likely be better off swimming a few laps at an easy pace and then doing some light strength work for your shoulders and mobilizing your thoracic spine (upper back).  A power lifter would obviously need a different warm-up.  As would a golfer.  Or a police officer.  The bottom line is that your warm-up should leave you feeling ready to do whatever it is your are planning to do.  Get to know your body and what it needs in order to get going.  Some days you may not even need a warm-up.  Other days you may need to spend some extra time.  Likewise some people may not need to spend as much time warming up as others.  Whatever you do, don't injure yourself because you didn't warm-up properly.  Tailor your warm-up to what it is you are doing and don't be afraid to change things up.  And save the intense stretching for later.
 

BASE TRAINING


Periodization in training refers to devoting specific blocks of time to developing specific qualities.  For those serious about their training utilizing periodization is a must.  This will allow you to continually develop and improve.  Just as it is unrealistic to expect to reach your goals over night it is just as unrealistic to think you can continue improving without allowing yourself time to rest or without giving your body a chance to adapt to what you have trained it to do.  Base training falls into the category of periodization.  This article deals with base training.

Think of a pyramid (NOTE: this article has nothing to do with 'Pyramid Training' described in the article below).  If you want to build a high pyramid you have to start with a solid base.  The same concept applies to your training.  Spend time developing a large, solid base and you will take your development to a new level.  If you want to run a 40 yard dash in 4.45 seconds you have to prepare your body and nervous system to do this...you have to build a base.  In this case your base would be strengthening the muscles involved in hip extension, correcting your posture, mobilizing your ankle joints, stabilizing your knee joint, and strengthening your soft tissue.  Then you could shift your focus to improving agility, reaction time, specific strength qualities, and then finally developing linear speed.  Speed training is just one example but this concept applies to all physical development.  There is a science at work here.  Expecting to reach a peak level over night is completely unrealistic.  You have to put in the dirty work.  You have to prepare your body to handle the stress you intend to place it under.  If you fail to do so you WILL be injured or you WILL come up short.  Get with a trainer, develop a plan, and then STICK TO IT.  Don't leave your results or your physical health to chance.


PYRAMID TRAINING

Pyramid training is a concept that requires building a 'pyramid' with your training.  For example, if you are doing pushups, a 1-10-1 pyramid would require that you perform 1 pushup, rest, perform 2 pushups, rest, 3 pushups, rest...all the way up to 10 and then back down to 1.  1 is the base of the pyramid, 10 is the peak.  See the chart below for a fuller description:

1-10-1 Pushup Pyramid

1 pushup, rest
2 pushups, rest
3 pushups, rest
4 pushups, rest
5 pushups, rest
6 pushups, rest
7 pushups, rest
8 pushups, rest
9 pushups, rest
10 pushups, rest
9 pushups, rest
8 pushups, rest
7 pushups, rest
6 pushups, rest
5 pushups, rest
4 pushups, rest
3 pushups, rest
2 pushups, rest
1 pushup

And there are no set exercises for pyramid training.  You could just as easily use squats, or pullups, or medicine ball throws.  And there are no set numbers for performing a pyramid.  Below are a few more sample workouts incorpating the pyramid concept.

1-2-1 Pull-up Pyramid

1 pull-up, rest
2 pull-ups, rest
1 pull-up

Rest and Repeat 8-12 times

2-20-2 Burpee Pyramid

2 burpees, rest
4 burpees, rest
6 burpees, rest
...
20 burpees, rest
18 burpees, rest
16 burpees, rest
...
2 burpees

1-10-1 Squat Pyramid w/Sprints

1 squat, 20 yard sprint, rest
2 squats, 20 yard sprint, rest
3 squats, 20 yard sprint, rest
...
10 squats, 20 yard sprint, rest
9 squats, 20 yard sprint, rest
...
1 squat, 20 yard sprint

You could use pyramid training as a warm up or as the main body of your workout or both.   Experiment with the concept and find what works for you; the workout in this article are only examples.


IMPROVING YOUR BENCH PRESS

I often work with individuals who want to improve their bench press.  Though I don't even perform the movement, I do know how the human body works and so I have helped many of these individuals (the ones that have listened to me anyway) take their bench press to a level they didn't previously think possible.  Of course if you are wanting to get up in the 600 or 700 pound range you ought to look up Louie Simmons or Dave Tate, but 300, 400, maybe even 500 for some genetically gifted individuals...Anyone with a working knowledge of the human body can do that.  Here are 6 important points to think about for improving your bench press.

*Work Your Triceps
    While the muscles of the chest and shoulders are clearly involved in a bench press, the movement is LARGELY about triceps strength.  Developing the triceps for bench pressing is not about doing endless sets of kickbacks and pulldowns.  Such movements plasce relatively little stress on the triceps when compared to the tremendous stress they are exposed to during a bench press.  In order to develop triceps strength for bench pressing it is important to perform movements that place the triceps under optimal stress levels such as close-grip bench presses, close grip incline bench presses, seated half presses, and triangle pushups with added resistance.

*Train Your Back
    The muscles pushing the weight up during a bench press shorten as they contract.  These muscles are called agonists and this type of contraction is called a concentric contraction (the muscle shortens as it contracts).  The opposing muscles (those on the back side of your upper body) also contract during a bench press.  However they are lengthening as they contract.  They are known as antagonists and this type of contraction (muscle lengthening) is called a concentric contraction.  If there were no such eccentric contraction of these muscles or if the eccentric contraction were not strong enough you would accelerate the bar too fast with your concentric contraction and cause injury to your shoulder.  Your body knows this (it's way smarter than you are) and so when it senses that your opposing muscles are weak it will automatically limit the strength of the muscles pushing the weight upward so that it can protect your joints.  If you have not trained the backside of your body in a while start doing pull-ups, rows, and and climbing movements.

*Use Isometrics
    Isometric exercises involve the contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.  Examples include pushing against an immobile wall or holding a specific position (ex. holding the bench press at the halfway point without letting the bar move).  Because the joint does not move you will need to train several different joint angles to get a strength effect through your full range of motion.  For the bench press, try loading the bar down underneath the saftey bars on the squat rack and then pressing upward at three or four different joint angles (this necessiates you raising or lowering the safety bars). 

*Lift Heavy
    Training with fewer sets and higher repetitions is great for strength endurance and putting on muscle but it does little to activate the central nervous system, which could very well be the single biggest factor in determining strength levels.  Training with fewer repetitions and heavier resistance maximally stimulates the CNS which will get you super strong.  If you have been bench pressing with more sets and fewer repetitions try training with more sets and fewer repetitions (ex. 8-10 sets of 1-2 repetitions) and give yourself 3 to 5 minutes rest between sets.  Also, start squatting and deadlifting...You will be able to handle much heavier loads with these exercises and this will accustom your nervous system to working with heavier loads in other exercises (such as the bench press) as well.

*Lift Fast
    Use 30-60% of your 1RM and move the resistance as fast as possible to improve your rate of force development.   Use low repetitions and a higher number of sets.  The main goal here is speed so when you feel yourself beginning to slow down the set should be ended.  Try this every other workout, alternating with lifting heavy.

Of course this is overkill if you are a beginner.  If you are, just keep things simple...5 sets of 5 repetitions...3 sets of 8 repetitions...KEEP IT SIMPLE.  But if you have been stuck at 225 or 250 lbs for awhile then follow these principles CORRECTLY and your bench press WILL improve.  It won't happen over night but it will happen.


SPINAL LOADING

Spinal loading takes place every day (ex. your spine is compressed each day).  But the most significant spinal loading occurs in those who frequently perform heavy squats, olympic lifts and similar movements during which the spine is under heavy duress.  Assuming these movements are performed correctly and not overdone they will force your body to positively respond like little else.  But before you start messing around with the heavy stuff, GET YOU BODY IN ALIGNMENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Go to your chiropractor (yes, you need to be seeing one on a regular basis), get your spine straightened out (which usually sets the rest of your joints right as well) and then do the right movements to get it stabilized (ex. strengthten your abdominal wall, your gluteals, and your lats) and then start out light on the compound movements that load your spine down.  Get a feel for the movement and learn how your body works with it and then start increasing the resistance.


STRENGTH TRAINING AND MUSCULAR FAILURE

A major error made in strength training is subscribing to the idea that all strength training must be performed to failure (ex. total fatigue).  I used to follow the philosophy that if you weren't going to train to some type of muscular failure then you might as well not train.  Over the last 24 months I have dramatically changed in my views on that some subject and made some of my biggest improvements yet. 

However, many still make the mistake of believing that they must train to failure or they haven't accomplished anything.  You have to ask yourself: 'Do I want my strength training to make me sore or do I want it to make me stronger?'

There are five major reasons why strength training performed to failure is counterproductive.

1.  Optimal development of maximal strength is impossible to obtain by training to failure.  If you want to be stronger you have to progressively use more and more resistance.  Training to failure either requires that you use progressively less resistance or prohibits you from using a heavy enough resistance to benefit.  And if you are using the correct amount of resistance and still training to failure then it won't be long before you start to see negative effects.  Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell has pointed out that more than three weeks of training at 90% or more of your 1-repetition maximum (the amount of resistance you can move one time) on one movement leads to negative effects...and that's without training to failure...imagine how quickly training to failure would cause you to burn out.

2.  Optimal development of speed-strength is impossible to obtain by training to failure.  If you want to be fast then you have to train fast.  If you train to failure it is inevitable that your speed will decline.  At that point your body and nervous system are learning to be slower rather than faster.

3.  Even when training for endurance it is best not to train to failure as this taxes the nervous system to the point that gains and recover will be significantly impaired.

4.  Training to failure often causes your form to suffer which can increase the risk for injury and also teaches muscles improper firing patterns.  Your muscles are there to stabilize your spine and move you from place to place and they have a specific way of doing that.  But some muscles fatigue faster than others and when you keep training past the point of fatigue then other muscles have to pick up the slack for the fatigued muscles.  This throws the whole operating order of your body off and teaches you to to act in a similar manner even when not training.  This is not conducive to anything except injury.

5.  Training to failure is dangerous on certain exercises simply because of the amount of resistance being used and the fact that it may not be well controlled in a state of fatigue.  Pretty self explanatory...you don't want your spine to absorb a quarter of a ton of resistance if your body is incapable of supporting that load.

Training to failure is a thing of the past.  It is not well supported by research, real world results, or common sense.  Train hard.  Train smart.