When To Throw The Textbook Away

Getting knowledge, and knowing YOUR body is a hidden gem to seeing results in the gym.

1383410251_2273You’ll hear it from the best bodybuilders in the game, and I couldn’t agree more.

As you gain experience in the weight room, you’ll come to learn what “works” for you and what doesn’t in each of your training phases.

Last year, I wrote a blog article highlighting the importance of asking questions whenever hearing research studies conducted in the fitness world. In a field of inference and not much else, it’s essential to remember that there’s never going to be an ‘all-encompassing’ research study. Though research has shown that the “top” exercise for chest stimulation comes from, say, a 30 degree smith press based on test subjects, there’s nothing in the textbook or journal that can explain why youmay have been doing it for six months, and your chest development hasn’t budged.

The point is this: There are things that are unexplainable, and that’s because we’re dealing with the human body, whose physiological properties and capabilities are, for the most part, just that. Sure, scientists can make educated theories about what’s going on, but are limited in what they can deem conclusive fact.

Amid this potpourri of inference, conjecture, dogma, and in-the-trenches training experience is you –the trainer or client who’s now got decisions to make.  See, the good thing about training in multiple fashions over time is that it gives a lifter a window into the rate of change he or she will see, based on the phase of training being put to practice, and the goals at hand.  If something works for you, there’s no point in turning to the books – the fact of the matter is it works, keeps you injury free, and moving towards your goals, which is just what you want.

Before I continue, I’d like to interlude with a turn for the exclusionary. I don’t advocate practicing anything with poor technique or bad form. Learning the fundamentals and foundation of exercising the right way is and always will be the baseline of my writings as a strength coach.  With that said, if you happen to add size with less max strength training and more training with submaximal loads for well above 10 reps, go to town. Sure, research suggests that CNS loading is great for testosterone and GH release, and can potentiate plenty of growth. Whether it works in every person’s case is debateable.  Some respond better to getting their muscles regularly destroyed to the point of 3 days of soreness after a workout, and others can only handle that stuff a couple of times per month.  It depends on the person, and learning what gives you personally the best results is a huge step forward in your training lifetime.

I remember getting chirped by a reader in the discussion board on an article I wrote last year for TNATION about supersets. In it, I advocated pairing spinal compressive movements with movements that encourage decompression, so that the lifter’s spine feels fine by the end. An exercise like a deadlift or squat can be followed up with a movement like a hanging leg raise, pulldown or pull up. The reader argued that there was research out there to support the idea that pull ups and pulldowns actually cause compression of the spine too, based on the fact that the surrounding muscles are strongly contracting (or something like that).  Granted, it’s a worthwhile argument to make. But my simple reply is: For just one minute, forget what the studies say – After doing a spinal loading or spinal compressive exercise like a squat or deadlift, do you feel better orworse after doing a few pull ups to follow it up?  Personally, I’ve never had a client complain of any back issues worsening after doing a hanging exercise that followed a compression one.  Even before I knew any sciences of strength training, if I had a knot in my back (say, as a teenager), I’d naturally want to get my arms above my head and hang off of something to get some traction on it – because it felt better when I did.


Arnold used lots of shrugs for big traps, and lots of curls for big arms. Umm, yeah… I’d say that was workin’ out for him.

There’s convincing research floating around on the intrawebs and scholarly journals that advocate that training every day of the week is fine, as long as your nutrition is on point. It doesn’t mean everyone should be doing it. Again to use myself as an example, it never matters what lifting phase I’m in, or even if I’m training for a sport; whether I have had good nutrition or bad nutrition – I’ve always felt a physiological “wall” come up if I train with seriousness more than 5 days out of the week.  It’s been years now, and I’ve come to realize that won’t change. It’s just the way my body is and just how it responds to these demands, and I’m cool with that.  The quasi-sickness and lethargic behavior that comes as a by-product of overtraining is not one I’m up for experiencing.

Here’s another one. Static stretching before and even during sport or exercise has been heavily censured the past few years due to the research that suggests it’s unhelpful for your strength output, and also because its effects are short-lived.  Again, less a few extreme cases, I struggle to find personal examples or examples of clients who don’t feel better after a stretch. Until I feel and hear otherwise, I’ll keep strategically adding it to both my and my clients’ sessions.

You Feel Me?

A true sign of a mature lifter is being able to stimulate the body to see results. That’s something a coach can’t really coach, and something a book can’t really teach. Why? Because it’s completely person-specific. Once we’ve gained a few years of experience and a sufficient knowledge base, we then have to learn to know our bodies well.  Simple things like knowing when to take things back a notch, what exercises or rep schemes to use for a reliable strength or size gain, or what fat loss program to employ for go-to results, are only things that come with time spent in the game, possibly having experienced a few follies along the way to learn from. When we do all this, it’ll put us two steps ahead of the game, and you can bet your bottom dollar your training experience will feel just right.

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