Training Methodology Part 2: Periodization

This is the second article in my series on Training Methodology. If you missed the first article on the Specificity of training, you can read that here. In that article I discussed  how good programming over time requires consistent exposure to stresses that result in specific adaptations to training. In this article I will discuss how the exercises are planned over time with a method called Periodization.

Periodization
Periodization is the process of systematically organizing, planning, and executing training to achieve peak performance. In order to program successfully, strength coaches must understand and apply appropriate training stimuli at different points in time throughout a program. This strategic planning puts athletes in the best position possible to see positive results. There are many different ways to periodize a program and I will not begin to suggest that my way is better than another. It is an incredibly complicated process that continues to grow and adapt as we learn more in more about how the human body reacts to different training stimuli. Although there are many ways to periodize a program, there are a few tenets of strength training that cannot be ignored.

Hypertrophy Phase
Hypertrophy is a fancy word used to describe the increase in muscle tissue size. A good strength and conditioning program should spend a considerable amount of time working on hypertrophy. This is because a bigger muscle (especially in terms of cross sectional area) always has the potential to be stronger than a smaller muscle. This does not necessarily mean the bigger muscle is stronger, just that the potential is there (more on this when we get to the strength part). Because of this, most programs spend a good amount of time making the muscle bigger before they focus on making the muscle stronger. We can control how the muscle adapts to training (getting bigger as opposed to stronger) by manipulating intensity, reps, and rest.

During the hypertrophy phase of training we generally want to focus on high reps and lower weight. The rep scheme should be in the 6-12 rep range and the weight should be “lower” compared to the weights we use during strength training (reps of 5-1). I don’t like to use the word “light” when referring to the weight used during hypertrophy training. The weight should not be light, just lower than what we would use for smaller sets. You should be using weights that are challenging in the 6-12 rep range. As a matter of fact, if your doing back squats for sets of 10, the last 3 reps should feel like your head is going to explode and the potential for defecating in your gym shorts is probable. If you just breeze through your last set while explaining to Marcy that your trip to the DMV was less than timely, you won’t be seeing “gainzzz” anytime soon.

In addition to high reps the hypertrophy phase is also characterized by short rest periods. I often see guys at the gym do a tough set of high reps in any given exercise before they sit around and talk for ten minutes between sets. This won’t get those biceps the size you want them to get. Rest should be 1 to 2 minutes between sets or less. In other words, hypertrophy training should be some of the most miserable shit you do all day. That’s why I love it so much. Slobby.

It should be noted that some programs may skip over or shorten the hypertrophy phase if they are worried about getting to large. An example might be weight class sports like MMA or wrestling. Spending more time training strength may be ideal to keep size down and maximize muscle strength.  With this in mind, it does not mean that you will automatically get huge spending time doing hypertrophy training, especially if you are a woman.  A common misconception among women is that they will get huge and look like a dude after weight training. Unless you are a a woman that frequent uses of anabolic steroids, this will not happen. This is primarily because of drastic hormonal differences in men and women.The hypertrophy will happen in all the right places and you will predominantly lose unwanted body fat making you dead sexy in the process.

Strength Phase
Once the muscle gets nice and big we can focus on making it strong. The strength phase should consist of low reps and high weight. It’s the inverse of hypertrophy training. Rep schemes should be in the range of 1-5 reps and the weight should be as heavy as possible for the given set. Rest between sets should be longer than the hypertrophy phase, anywhere from 3 minutes to 10 minutes (although I personally find the higher end a bit excessive). This phase of training is a bit more enjoyable, or boring, depending on who you ask. Either way, intensity should be high due to the increase in weight lifted.

In every phase of training (hypertrophy, strength, and power) coaches must also put a large emphasis on recovery between training sessions as well. A common fault in programming is that the more work you do the better. Without adequate recovery between sessions an athlete will quickly reach a state of overtraining. Overtraining can lead to a decrease in performance, injury, illness, chronic fatigue and issues with the central nervous system. Age, training experience, level of fitness, and training phase are all factors that need to be considered when determining recovery time. For this reason strength coaches must know their athletes and closely monitor performance and intensity on a daily basis.

Power Phase
The final phase of the training program should consist of applying our new size and strength to developing power. We do this by training fast lifts with heavy weight and adequate rest and add a variety of explosive training methods. This is where the olympic lifts, plyometrics, speed training, agility training, and other sport specific exercises come into the program. Being big and strong is great, but it is essentially useless unless we can apply it to make things happen. By training the fast lifts we are teaching our muscles to fire effectively and productively to pick up heavy stuff and do it efficiently. Likewise, we are training our body to move forcefully and efficiently by doing different plyometric, speed, and agility training. Reps should be small for the olympic lifts with a good amount of rest and high attention to form and technique. Plyometrics and other speed or agility drills should also be done as fast as possible while focusing on proper technique. This is not a conditioning session and athletes should be fully recovered before each set. Like the other two phases, strength coaches should monitor performance and volume of training to make sure athletes are recovering and showing consistent progress.

Overall Programming
It is important to understand that although these basic tenets of training are true, there many ways to skin a cat. Some coaches have had success overlapping and training different phases simultaneously throughout a program. You can alter the amount of time spent on each, the time cycled between each phase, or use progressions that are undulating and much less linear. The key here is to understand that there is not one best way to program, but while looking at a program you should be able to identify certain patterns and progressions that follow these basic guidelines. It is also important to understand that a key component to a periodized program is the planning and integration of recovery time, detraining, and different transitions between cycles. The different elements of training can be organized and implemented in an infinite number of ways and still be successful, but the basic principles of training should always be observed.

In the next article I will talk about how we attack conditioning by targeting specific metabolic pathways through interval training.

Stay slobby.

Training Methodology Part 1: Specificity of Training

The difference between a good, knowledgeable, and experienced strength coach and the guy who took a seminar one weekend and opened a gym the next can be ultimately determined by two things: the results of a successfully completed program and an explanation of their training methodology. You could spend 8-12 weeks doing a program to see if it works, but that could leave you weaker, smaller, overtrained, or injured. Taking a look at the programming before you start and getting a rationale explanation is a much better route to take. It’s not too hard to spot a good program from a bad one, you just need to know a few basic things about strength training and conditioning. The following article series should give you a basic idea of how things should be programmed and also give you some insight on the Chamber’s programming philosophy.

Specificity of Training
One of the basic theories of strength and conditioning is the idea that you must train for specific biological adaptations to get specific results. I hear and read a lot these days about training programs that “trick” your body into getting results by keeping it guessing with different workouts and random exercises every day of the month. Although varying your workouts can be a good thing (we do this to some degree), lack of a consistent and repeated training stimulus on some level will drastically limit progression. As an example, CrossFit is known for it’s constantly varied workout prescription, but a broad look at the programming of the best coaches in the community shows a very specific and periodized training model. Coaches like Doug Chapman, CJ Martin, and Ben Bergeron have been programming specific periodized cycles for years. That is why their athletes continue to dominate the CrossFit games each year. The typical CrossFit model taught in the level 1 seminar may work for a 40 year old mother who has not broken a sweat in 20 years, but after a few years or even a few months the results will begin to slow down or stop all together.

If you are training for a sport, to look good, or just to dominate life, there should be some specific things your coach is aiming to get results in. If you want to be fast, you better be doing fast movements. If you’re trying to get stronger, you better be picking up heavy stuff at a low rep scheme. If you want to get huge, you better be doing higher reps with minimal rest. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, you better be doing these things on a regular basis. If your program calls for back squats once a month for a 1RM and then you never squat again, you aren’t going to get any stronger. If you’re trying to get fast and only do sprints, plyometrics, or Olympic lifts once every 3 weeks, you aren’t going to get any faster. The body adapts to repeated exposure to specific stimulus over time. Doing random things every day may burn some calories and help you lose weight, but it will never get you looking a specific way, performing a specific way, or achieving a specific set of results.

At the Torture Chamber we target specific adaptations throughout the training year (I will get more detailed with this in Part 2 of this series, “Periodization”). We will break off chunks of our year (called training cycles) to specifically work muscle growth (hypertrophy) and muscle strength. We will spend a few training cycles working muscular endurance and movement efficiency with our more complicated lifts at lower weights before we attack a few cycles of power and speed development. As we are doing all of this, there is a separate focus on our metabolic pathways and how they fit into each cycle. We train our phosphagen system, our glycolytic system, and our oxidative system with different training modalities to elicit specific adaptations in our conditioning. Although our CrossFitters need all these modalities to some degree, my football players don’t need to run a sub 10 minute 2 mile and my cross country girls don’t need to run a 4.4 forty. We are specific in what we do.

The point here is that when you take a broad look at your training program you should be able to see some level of repeated prescription of exercise and modality over time. This could be a few weeks or a few months. You should be doing some form of similar exercises on a regular basis from week to week as well as training intensity and modality. For example, during our strength phase we consistently do reps of 5 or lower in our core and Olympic lifts (with a little more rest) over the span of several weeks or months. This constantly repeated format of training prescription is what shows us results. If you look at your program and you do not see similar patterns over time (a week to 2 weeks), that should be a major red flag, and you should ask your coach about it. If you’re paying a coach to program for you, he should not be offended about this. As a matter of fact, he should be delighted to talk about it. There is little else in this world I enjoy talking about more than program design and training methodology. Generally when my athlete’s ask I ramble on until they regret asking in the first place.

In part 2 of this series I will be explaining in more detail how specificity of training fits into our overall program through Periodization.

The Torture Chamber Manifesto

This article is a slight rewrite of one I published in 2016 for my old CrossFit gym to explain to members our mentality. Most of our members from that gym still hold these ideals today and still lead the fight against weakness.

Our Purpose is Pain: Why We Have a Scary Name

Most people know that the Torture Chamber name was inherited from my father who originated the Lifting Club in the early 80’s. What you may not know, is what it actually represents.  First of all, the name and the logo are meant as a warning. It is not our intention to scare off people away or give the impression that we enjoy inflicting physical pain for the sake of doing it. We do not. But we do acknowledge, accept, and take pride in the fact that what we do is painful. Anyone who has endured one of our Monday interval sessions understands this. We want people to know from the start that what we do is hard. It is painful. This is because we know what it takes to get results; it takes hard, miserable, painful work. We are called the Torture Chamber because we embrace the fact that anything of value in life is worth suffering for. Your faith, family, health, and happiness are inevitably what define you and all those things require a large amount of hard work and dedication (pain). We also believe that happiness is not found in the absence of pain. This is a key concept to understand about our gym and about life in general. There will always be pain. Life is a series of painful challenges and adversities. Happiness is found in the acceptance of that pain and through overcoming it. At the Torture Chamber we prepare for the pain of life through community and training. You enter our gym to inflict pain upon yourself, with the support of others who are willing to do the same. When the pain of life comes knocking, and it always will, you’ll be ready to overcome it.

Our Mission and the War Against Weakness

Our mission statement is simple: eradicate weakness. To be clear, this has nothing to do with physical strength or athletic ability. For our purposes we define weakness as succumbing to pain and failure. This is drastically different from accepting pain and failure, because pain and failure are not only inevitable, but necessary to achieve our mission. As I stated earlier, there will always be pain. There will also always be failure. Neither should be feared, and both should be accepted and embraced. When we understand that pain and failure are necessary for the development of mental, spiritual, social, and physical strength, we start to overcome it. We are only weak when we succumb to our pain and failure. When we let it defeat us. Feeling sorry for yourself, making excuses, giving up, and blaming others are all forms of weakness. Pain and failure are simply parts of the process. Learn to enjoy them.

Unfortunately, our society is currently plagued with weakness. Current culture embraces the idea that happiness is found in the absence of pain or through acquiring more stuff, money, status, or fame. New technology, social media, and the internet embrace the idea that we can get what we want, when we want it, with little effort or sacrifice. Society craves instant gratification and we glorify the prize more than the process of improvement. We hand out participation trophies in an attempt to dull the pain of failure when it is the pain and failure that makes us strong. The lost souls that embrace this mentality experience a false sense of happiness. They get joy from having more stuff, feeling more popular, or getting more “likes” and “re-tweets”. Unfortunately this feeling quickly fades, they need more and more to feel happy. Eventually the true pain of life comes knocking at the door and their entire world is blown apart.

We are fighting the plague and waging a war against weakness. Our gym’s purpose is to help people overcome pain and suffering, both inside and outside the gym. We aim to fulfill that purpose by providing a community of people that share our ideals and commitment to our cause. You may come to our gym to lose some weight, look good in a bathing suit, be a little more healthy, or bump up that one rep max in the back squat; but that is not our purpose. Although these things are great, they are simply bi-products of the mission: eradicate weakness. Just as we accept pain and failure, we also accept that our mission will never be complete. This is the beauty of our cause. There will always be weakness to fight and pain to overcome. We do not dream of a future without pain, but look forward to another day in the fight. 

The Torture Chamber is not a business or a marketing scheme. To this day I have not profited a single cent from the Club, but put every cent I have ever made back into the cause. I do not even consider the Torture Chamber a gym or a physical place. The Torture Chamber is a mentality, a culture, and a community. When you live these ideas and support the people who share them, you become the Torture Chamber.

Keep fighting the weakness.
Stay slobby.

Stu

Don’t freak out…just making a few changes.

In an attempt to make slob55.com all that it needs to be, I am making a few changes on the site. Although it’s mostly cosmetic, I will also be adding a seperate blog from the training page to post articles on training methodology, exercise technique, mental strategies, and anything else I deem slobby.

From now on you can access workouts and all of your training information at www.training.slob55.com or simply hit the training link in the header.

Stat Slobby.

Stu