If you’re like me, sometimes you like to dig in to a big meal of steak and potatoes. Honestly, when it comes to steak… by “sometimes” I mean “all the times”. With that being said, though, it’s nice on occasion to hit the buffet and get a little something of everything while being threatened by the owner for running them out of business. In the same vein, while it’s great to deep dive into strength, nutrition, and getting jacked and fast, other times it’s a blast to hit on some key points that you can apply to your training and lifestyle right away. This is one of those times. Grab your bib and loosen your belt, because I have a training buffet for you without the hit to your pride.
1. Tuck into your protein and veggies before you hit the starches. When it comes to getting and staying lean, there are a couple of key points that you need to make sure you address: First of all, you need to make sure you’re getting in your quality nutrients. By virtue of the nature of fat loss, you’ll be eating less food. That means that what you do eat needs to be more nutritionally-dense, in that for every calorie you eat you need to make sure you’re getting enough of the good stuff.
The other big point is hunger control and satiety. The bottom line is, if you’re starving all of the time you’ll either eventually lose control and binge, or you’ll be just plain miserable. While losing fat doesn’t come without some hunger and some discipline, being famished and hating your life is not a way to go through life. At Relentless we’re big on not only getting you to your goal but also to have you living a high quality life while doing it. Being a miserable son of a bitch and pissing off everyone from your mailman to your significant other while you’re eating a lonely stick of celery isn’t going to cut it.
So, in order to hit both of those points: Getting the goods and feeling full while keeping your calories under control, target your big nutrient and slow-digesting foods first in your meal. That’s going to be your veggies and your protein. After you eat those (at a normal pace, not with a barn shovel) you’ll find that you won’t be nearly as hungry when it comes to the starches and fats, which is where the extra calories and lower overall nutrients can really stack up.
2. In general, look for weight increases in your Max-Effort lifts and rep or quality increases in your Assistance exercises. One of the things I try to drill into athletes’ heads is that, generally speaking, your max effort exercises, such as your big squat, deadlift, and bench press variations are where you demonstrate strength. By putting a lot of weight on the bar and doing a few heavy reps (correctly) you’re teaching a large amount of your muscles to stabilize, move, and overall coordinate. You’re teaching your body to express strength. As a result, you can really pile up the weight here and normally the more good weight you can do, the better.
When it comes to your assistance exercises, you looking more at your single joint, isolation, bodybuilding-type exercises where you’re trying to build up the size and strength of individual or small groups of muscles… which in turn will help push bigger weight in your ME lifts.
Since these smaller muscle groups overload quickly you’re going to have a hard time adding plates to the bar week after week. While I’m certainly not suggesting that you won’t get heavier with your assistance movements, you’ll often find you get bigger bang for your buck by being able to push the reps higher and/or do higher quality reps (as far as range of motion, control, etc) and really target the areas you’re focusing on. It’s trendy in the strength and conditioning world to make fun of bodybuilders, but they do a lot of things right and building up the assistance work is one of them.
3. Condition by doing just a little more, not necessarily smashing yourself. It’s the cool thing now to beat yourself into the ground with lots of reps, running, etc at a super-fast pace until you puke all over the place and call in “conditioning”.
My question is… conditioning for what?
The usual answer most people give me to that question is because they want better endurance, specifically aerobic endurance. The most efficient way to train the aerobic system is with longer duration, SUB-optimal activity, often at a lower level of intensity than you think… especially if you’re used to the Circuits of Death that are so popular in the fight, fitness, and other sports realms right now. Those Circuits of Death are super-hard, but they’re too intense to build up the physical structure of the aerobic system, which is the vascular network (better blood and thus oxygen flow) and the cellular mitochondria (the power plants of the cells). The also tend to be hard on the joints and as you get more fatigued your technique breaks down… leading to you breaking down.
Not to say that you should never push hard or that doing a hard circuit is bad, but you’re better off viewing them more as the spice in your training dish than the meat and potatoes. Consistent, smooth aerobic work increased slightly in intensity and/or duration over time will result in long-lasting increases in aerobic capacity and endurance without burning you out and making you feel smashed.
4. Stack similar training types. Don’t cross the streams. You know how crossing the streams in Ghostbusters is always a bad plan? So is mixing up your opposite training intensities. This is where a lot of guys screw things up when they want to “get in shape”. They keep their lifting (mostly max effort and some high intensity rep work) the same and then add some long runs in at the end. So now they’ve beaten up their nervous system and also ran their muscles out of energy while causing a bunch of repetitive stress. The next day they come in and try to do it all over again, only this time they sprint (nervous intensive) and combine their high-rep, light lifting (exhaustive), rinsing and repeating until they’re smashed up from both sides.
Some conversations with Alex and his Complete Human Performance Hybrid Cert got me to look at things a little differently, and it’s been way easier to coordinate training for people who want to be both strong AND have some good endurance ever since:
Instead of setting up your training to compete with each other, stack it up. At some point of the week, perform your Max-Effort work and your high-intensity energy system work at around the same time. This is going to be mostly CNS intensive but will leave some muscular energy in the tank. At another point in the week you can stack your longer runs with your muscular work, which will deplete your muscular energy but give your CNS a little time to catch up. You’ll be able to put more work into each and your recovery will be greatly improved.
5. Never forget that calisthenics can be awesome. Learn to do a damn push-up. Then learn to do some other good stuff with your own weight. Bodyweight training has an important part in pretty much anyone’s routine. Other than the obvious of being able to train anywhere, calisthenics allow you to develop control over your bodies movement and keep the reps high (usually) which can allow you to use them for developing mobility, tendon and ligament strength, and overall work capacity. That, and there’s something fun about moving around. Humans are born to move in a wide variety of ways and play. Spending some time on developing your bodyweight training can be a way to shake things up, not take much recovery capacity away from your other training, and help make you more athletic.
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