“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.”
– Marcel Pagnol
To address a common theme that germinated from the What, Exactly, Constitutes “Strong Enough” post, let’s consider how best to go about acquiring adequate strength. This note was representative of the questions I received on this subject:
“…How would you suggest attaining these minimums? 5×5, 5/3/1, De Vany’s alactic workout, negatives, or something else?…”
The truth of the matter is, all of these schemes can (and do) work. As the Dali Lama says of religion, though, you can only ride one pony at a time, so just pick the one favorable to your inclinations and ride it. The implication here being, of course, that all paths lead to the same “destination” (for lack of a better term). In my experience, the set/rep framework is not nearly as important as is the execution of the individual repetitions therein (discussed in this post).
And remember, too, that there are some subtle differences between acquiring a base level of strength and maintaining that strength once you’ve moved beyond baseline needs. I’m currently emphasizing the strength end of the modality continuum in my weight room workouts, utilizing a 21-rep, extended-set, rest-pause framework. That framework, though, is not nearly as important to my goals as is the execution of each individual repetition; just look back over the last week’s worth of strength-endurance emphasis work for an idea of how I go about this. I choose to add an element of endurance (via the reduction of recovery time between reps) to my strength work, which is consistent with my goals (I’ve little need to increase raw-end strength at this point in my career). Would this same organization work for someone just starting out? No doubt it would; pick a pony and ride. Really, building a baseline level of strength is the easiest part of the iron game. Don’t try to over-think it. Pick 5 or so compound movements covering the entire spectrum of movement patterns (push, pull, squat, pick up from the ground…) and pick a set-rep scheme that feels comfortable – a 5 x 5 scheme is as good as any a place to start – just remember to apply the proper rep execution to your chosen framework. Use a simple push-pull split over a three or four-day per week schedule. Now, as one progresses, the n=1 questioning/reassessing must ensue. This becomes the deal breaker, one’s ability to progress beyond the basics. What better suits the trainee? Raw-end strength? Strength-endurance? Is the trainee better suited (built) for squats, say, or deadlifts?
Pick a pony and ride, reassess, adjust, and carry on. Want to emphasize raw-end strength? Drop the reps to the 1 – 3 range, and increase the between-set recovery time – push it all the way out to the 3-minute range. Want to work-in more endurance? Follow the template I’m currently using, that is to say, decrease the between “set” recovery time. And remember, there is no cure-all permeation of this theme – there is only a better-fit, right now, for a particular trainee. Bust ass, and let n=1 rule the day.
And I’d be remiss, of course, if I didn’t plug the Paleo diet/lifestyle here. There simply is no better diet for building strength and muscle, and shedding fat.
Oh, and by the way, here’s a very good article on the importance of the pull variations of the Olympic lifts in the building of overall power output. The benefits of these movements are obvious for the more athletically inclined out there. This is just as important, though, for the bodybuilder-minded – hypertrophy being built upon a foundation of strength and power. Thanks to Mike Young, of Athletic Lab, for the heads-up on this one.