I’ve been thinking this past week (a dangerous activity I don’t recommend it) mainly with my own training experience especially as I have become more advanced as a lifter (I say advanced but probably more in the way of training age than ability) my reaction to training is becoming a lot more complex and unpredictable.
Programs that used to get me week to week progress now overtrain me in 2 or 3 sessions and can dig me into a 3-4 week hole. Singles at 85%+ cause me to regress week to week. The only thing that seems to get me moving forward these days is starting light with a large working volume (15-20 working sets per week) and progressing slowly session to session.
This has been something I have noticed with my training as of the past 4 years. I injured myself pretty badly in 2012/2013 trying to push my limits session to session. What was an angry hip flexor or tight hip turned into a glute med tendinopathy that took 7 months of not lifting to get rid of.
When I got back to training I had to take my time and relearn the lifts in such a way where I wasn’t aggravating my hip or lower back it forced me to work on my form. Pretty soon after that, I started to become more interested in the work of big Boris Shikeo, I later attended one of his first UK seminars and bastardized a few of his programs. This seen me leap forward in my lifts and was giving me a reliable and sustainable increase month to month.
As soon as I tried to push with more “intense” or really short term methods of increasing my strength. Namely AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets and increasing the load week to week. I seen a good result for 1 or 2 workouts and then fell off a cliff. Leading me to get worse week to week and then having to deload for a prolonged period because I was overreached.
This has been a repeatable pattern for me for the past 3-4 years. As the only person I know who is 100% natural and been training consistently and hard for the last 15+ years it is leading me to think a bit differently about the training process. I say I am the only person I know who is 100% natty because I am the only person I follow about 24/7 apart from Jura.
Tissues and response rates
Typically I like for my own thinking and planning to split the body into three categories. These categories are based in physiological theory and my understanding of it but they are also my own distinctions and not medical gospel so get off google scholar already you fucking weapon.
- Muscles/Mechanical – this is typically the number one target of people’s training. It relates to the bodies adaptation to training where the response is to increase the size or cross-sectional area of the muscle. This also includes any endocrine response that aids in this process. This typically has a turn over rate measured in days (24-72+ hours). Typically training purely aimed at this outcome is called “hypertrophy training” a term I dislike for a number of reasons that I won’t get into.
- Skill/Neurological – the next part of the bodies response is governed by the brain and the nervous system. It has a whole host of responses better co-ordination (intra and intermuscular), better proprioception in the movement, better firing of the muscles to produce force (rate coding and co-contraction) and improving the contractile properties of the muscle fibers being used (muscle fiber type shift). The response time of this system can be measured in seconds (improvements from rep to rep from deliberate practice) or decades (muscle fiber type changing from Type 1 to Type 2 after years and years of hard deliberate training).
- Connective/Supportive tissue – the forgotten stepchild of the strength training world. Your bones, tendons, and ligaments all respond to strength training too fam. Bones get denser, tendons improve in collagen content and ligaments do ligament stuff. These systems are similar to the “mechanical” aspects of training but they respond much slower. Weeks and months. They receive little blood flow so their tissue turn over rates is glacial compared to muscle tissue.
So if we are talking about certain aspects of training adaptation that takes place over weeks, months and even years then why are we doing programs where the aim is to increase your rep count week to week? Does this not seem a bit short sighted?
How often do strength athletes get hurt and what kind of injuries do we get?
When compared to other sports where there are collisions and unpredictable environments strength sports have vanishingly small injury rates.
In other sports, the likelihood of getting an acute injury (broken arm, torn ligament or muscle, etc) is actually reasonable. As a professional rugby player, you would be very lucky not to snap some kind of shit in a season. If you can avoid injury for a 3-year period you are a very lucky person.
In strength sports, we control every variable at every time. We decide when, where and how we train. Who we train with and what we train with (resources dependent obviously).
Yet the rates of injury are actually anecdotally (and with some evidence in literature) pretty common. Pretty much everyone is going to experience some kind of niggles, spasms or inflammation from training during the year.
Yet if we control the variables and participate in a really low injury sport why is everyone so fucking banged up all of the time?
What the fuck is your rush?
If you look at powerlifting in the light of your whole career you have a lot of time to get better. Like A LOT of time. You can pretty much power lift from a young age as a 12 or 13-year-old right up until they put you in a box. You can make progress as a natural right up until your body starts declining in sex hormone (your late 30s for most people) and you can keep on getting jacked and tanned right into your 40s with some injections.
If you understand compounding interest you will understand the power of slow consistent growth over time. If you could put on 2% to your lifts every training block (say a training block is 6 weeks on average allowing for an introduction and deload).
As an experiment (the table of which is included as a postscript to this article) let’s say you start with an 80kg squat, 50kg bench and 100kg deadlift and spent 5 years getting 2% better every 6 weeks. By the end of year 5, you would have a 193kg squat, 113kg bench and 235kg deadlift. If you were 72kg female you would go from 7456 on open powerlifting (as of 16-7-2019) up to number 2 in 5 years. And you would only be 1-2 training blocks away from beating the GOAT (Kimberly Watford) of female raw powerlifting.
You could go from what would be okay number as a beginner to being the best of all time in 5 years or 44 training cycles. Out of what could be a 20-30 year career at the top flight depending on when you started and how long you intend on competing for.
The person who is hurting you is you stupid.
Now the above is obviously too idealized an example you are probably gonna hurt something during 5 years of training even with the best training habits and a good program. But it shows the power of a different kind of approach sustained and consistent progress.
You can almost guarantee that lifter in your class or gym who is making fucking mad progress is gonna snap at some stage and when they snap they are going to spend time on the sidelines. When they are rehabbing you can be ticking over getting a bit better every workout, every set, and every block.
It is difficult as a frail human who wants it all and tomorrow. Try and think the long game because regardless of how you play the game we are all in the long game.
As a coach, it can be hard not to try and take the gains but by delaying immediate gratification you can prolong the gain train. If you take what is on the table all of the time you are going to knock a leg off the table.
This isn’t the one true training truth and there are merits to quick progress and periods of recovery and development (punctuated progress can be a form of long term progress) but it is a different way of looking at your training. And maybe a better one.