Questions? Answers! Strength & Conditining for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Stephen Hawking

What follows is a question from the mail bin.  I’ve reached the point now where I’m forced to choose representative questions in lieu of answering all the inquiries that I receive.  I wish that I could field each individually, but that’s just not possible with my available time.  Certain themes do emerge, though, and I’ll try to address these “themes” as they arise.  I’ll also tackle novel questions as well – something that forces all of us to stretch our understanding of health, fitness and the Paleo way beyond any bounds or borders that might begin to solidify.  The last thing we ever want is for this journey to become some kind of dogma.  I feel quite confident in saying that no one has all of the answers, least of all me.  I’m simply an n=1, m=1, “practitioner”, chronicling my own journey, reporting and advising on where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what has (and hasn’t) worked for me.   That being said, feel free to drop me a line at – your ideas, comments and questions will help me to determine what this community wants to see discussed.On to the question:

Dear Keith,

Firstly, the website and your knowledge of training and the Paleo lifestyle is both impressive and inspirational. With that said, my question revolves around incorporating jiu jitsu into my training regimen. My weight training has revolved around a speed/strength emphasis and my workouts deteriorate when I spend more time training BJJ. I would like to continue to improve upon my strength/speed emphasis while training BJJ.
Not sure if you have ever trained BJJ before however, live rolling can be taxing. How would would you recommend setting up a training week given these goals. Would you recommend completing a speed/strength workout on BJJ training days ( 45 min-2hrs roughly 3 days per week)? This would allow for more days off from exercise. Or would you suggest alternating the two? i.e. lift weights one day train BJJ the next. Which do you think would help me avoid over-training?
Thank You,


In a nutshell, this is a classic dose/recovery issue, and my first question would be not how much time do you have to workout, but how much time can you devote to full recovery?  Now, I’m going to assume here that BJJ is your primary focus, with weight training being an augmentation to your BJJ performance.  To better make my point, consider that, under ideal conditions, you could (using sensible auto-regulation techniques) train BJJ and the strength/conditioning aspect every day. The rest of your day, however, would need to be occupied by sleep, massage, feeding, recovery…you get the picture.  If you think this sounds like the lifestyle of a professional athlete, you’d be correct.  More than likely though, you’re holding down a full-time job, shop for and cook your own food and probably have family obligations to juggle as well.  This being the case, you can still train BJJ 3-times per week and weight train and/or condition 3 (even 4, if you prefer) times per week if you limit that weight room/conditioning training to only working on your weakness.  BJJ is all about (technique/skills aside, of course) maximizing the power to bodyweight ratio (P2BWR), so the first thing you’ll want to do is to asses what it is that is limiting your power output – and this must be measured, of course, against whatever time requirement (energy system) that is most important to you.  I’m sure instantaneous power is important, but you’ll also require a certain degree of “bout-length” stamina.  Are you weak compared to your cns ability (the Allyson Felix example) or the other way around?  Keep careful weightroom notes so that you can correlate per-exercise drop-off ratios ( a ballpark measure of dosing) as related to your recovery  unique abilities and BJJ performance.  I think what you’ll find is, is that your per-session time in the weight room – if you’re hitting on the proper high intensity cylinders and employing proper auto-regulation techniques – will be minimal, but extremely beneficial.

One other note – I wouldn’t train BJJ and strength/conditioning on the same day – unless you have the luxury of all-day, devoted recovery between the two sessions as described above.  Of course, the real-world being as it is, you might not have the luxury of splitting up your workouts perfectly.  My advice in this case is to monitor your sleep quality (subjective, but helpful), and, if possible your morning pulse rate and/or temperature.  I wouldn’t force a difficult training session following a night of poor or inadequate sleep.  Also, if you notice your AM pulse and/or temperature beginning to creep up, it’s a sure sign (as is continued poor-quality sleep) that you’re edging into the overtraining zone.  Remember, there’s a time and a place for “pushing through pain and discomfort” and I’m all for that notion in relatively untrained individuals.  The problem becomes carrying this mindset over into more highly trained individuals, as these athletes are able to pummel their bodies with an incredibly high exercise dose before the “cease and desist” signal ever appears.  The greater the training maturity, the more the old “train smarter, not harder” adage applies.

Also, remember not to skimp on your high quality fat intake.  Very, very important.  And if quick recovery between workout sessions is necessitated – i.e., you’re training multiple times per day, say – then be sure to ingest the greater portion of your days carbohydrate intake during the approximate 2-hr, post-workout window.  If you have at least 24 hours or so to recover between workouts, the post-workout refueling window becomes irrelevant, as this is a speed of recovery issue, and has nothing to do with the magnitude of recovery, which, at roughly the 24 hour point, equalizes.

In health,


More on the “How Strong is Strong Enough” Theme

“Where there is great love there are always miracles.”

Willa Cather

I keep an eye out this time of year as the college football coaching community goes through the initial phase of its annual “shaking out” pangs; I’m not much for the Biggest Looser, or Survivor, but the college coaching merry-go-’round does hold a certain interest for me.  Odd, I know.  Now, unless you happen to be a die-hard Florida State fan, this hire, I’m sure, went completely unnoticed by you.  I’ll just say two quick things about this – watch out for FSU in the next few years.   And SMU, how could y’all let this guy get away?

In keeping with the How Strong is Strong Enough theme that we covered here and here, check out this post on FSU’s hiring away of S & C coach Vic Viloria from SMU.   Coach Vic is definitely a believer in the notion that sports (in this case, football) is all about the transfer and absorption of power.   He’s my kind of guy – a Gayle Hatch disciple.   Check out the post and watch the short video clip near the bottom.  Try not to wince at the “weight room footage” though, 95% of which is decidedly not Hatch (or Vic)-like.  I’m sure coach Vic blew a gasket when he saw the footage his interview was pasted over.  Anyway, two thumbs-up here for coach Vic’s methods and the Hatch system in general.  Good stuff.

In health,


1/7/10, Strength-Endurance

Here’s a slightly different variation on the 21-rep, rest-pause, extended set theme today with the floor presses.  I combined a wide-grip floor press, followed immediately with a narrow-grip floor press, while still maintaining the 21-rep theme.  In other words, the individual reps looked something like this: unrack with a wide grip, perform 1 wide-grip floor press, rack, immediately adjust hands to a narrow grip, unrack and perform 1 narrow-grip floor press rep.  Repeat for the Rx number of reps.  I took pauses as necessary with no regard as to whether the pauses were uniform (i.e., I didn’t worry about whether the pause followed a wide-grip rep or a narrow-grip rep).  Notice I pulled the plug at 20 reps on the narrow-grip part of the combo (I didn’t attempt the 21st narrow-grip rep), as I struggled with rep 20.

But Why? Why?  Why?…you hate the bench press, right?

While I’m personally not a big fan of the conventional bench press, I do believe that some variations of the movement are beneficial.  Of course, the bench press is like any other exercise in its usefulness being totally relevant to the individual;  for some trainees (especially those with short arms relative to torso length),  the bench press can be an excellent pectoral and upper-body power development movement.  For most people, though, there just (in my opinion) is not much carry-over value to be derived from the classic, flat bench movement.  Power lifting, of course, is a different animal altogether that requires specific bench press acumen – that’s a sport-specific topic, and not what I’m discussing here, or trying to achieve with this movement.  There are no sacred cows in my exercise toolbox, and I’ll unabashedly tweak any movement to fit my needs.  I modify the floor press to support my needs and goals by, among other things (1) performing dumbbell and barbell versions of the floor press, and (2) bracing myself in a glute-bridge which places me in a more natural, “flat” pressing position.  Notice I said “natural” and not “competition legal”.  Again, two different animals.

In this specific instance, I chose to alternate between both extreme hand positions of the movement, with the wide-grip (index finger a thumb’s width outside the bar’s outer smooth ring) version emphasizing the pectorals/shoulders, and the narrow-grip (index fingers approximately 6″ apart) emphasizing the triceps.  The obvious follow-up question is, why not just perform a regular grip floor press and be done with it? And true enough, I could have.  However, by going to extreme hand positions, I was able to really “isolate”/emphasize the pectorals (wide grip) and triceps (narrow grip); in other words, I am a natural “tricep” bench presser – my chest being the weak link in the movement.  Alternating the hand grips in this way allows me to push my pectorals and triceps both sufficiently and concurrently.  Note: notice the amount of work being performed in each part of the movement.  The bar travel on the wide-grip press is approximately 1/3 that of the narrow-grip press, with the same loading in each portion.  This translates to a significant power differential as well.  Note as well that if I were attempting to increase my bench press overall, I would be more concerned with bettering my weakness (chest), and this would necessitate a totally different angle of attack.  Know your goals, and plan accordingly.

Today’s workout: approximately 15 minutes of rigorous, ballistics and dynamic stretching, then –

  1. wide-grip/narrow-grip floor press combo: 135 x 3, 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 225 x 11 (wide) & 10 (narrow)
  2. GHR: bw x 5, 5 (ballistic sets), 30 x 3; 40 x 3; 45 x 21 rest-pause – mostly grouped in 3s and 2s

1/5/10, Strength-Endurance

Went purposely heavier on the push-presses today (i.e., more of a strength bias, a little less endurance) while extending the total time to completion of the 21 reps.  I actually went a bit heavier than I’d initially shot for, as I’d intended to clock-in at an approximate 12-minute time to completion.  Reps 20 and 21 ended up being a bit slower in execution than I’d otherwise accept, but being that I’d skewed this “set” toward more of a pure strength emphasis anyway, I was ok with that.  Anything slower, though, and I would have pulled the plug on the set early.  Today’s workout:

  1. Behind-the-neck push-press: 135 x 3, 3; 165 x 2; 185 x 2; 190 x 21 (rest-pause) ==> 2s until rep 6, then singles thereafter. 14:15 time to completion.
  2. weighted, reverse-grip pull-ups: bw (ballistic) x 3, 3; 45 x 3; 70 x 21 (rest-pause) ==> 3s and 2s until 15, then singles thereafter.  Straps after rep 12.  4:50 time to completion (compare to same weight at 5:30 last time out).  Increase weight to 75 next time out.

My initial intent was to perform a 21 rep rest-pause round of GHRs.  I think I got plenty of hip work with the heavy push-presses, though.  I also performed tire flips on Sunday and plan to perform low pulls on Thursday.  Don’t want to overdose on hip extension/PC work.

The loading, time-to-completion, and execution of these two exercises today are good, practical examples of the two extremes of the strength-endurance modality, at least in the way I define that particular division of the modality continuum.  Note that in the BTN push-press, the nod was given more toward the expression of strength via a heavier loading, and more rest between reps.  The opposite was true of the round of reverse grip pull-ups, where the emphasis was hedged toward endurance (lighter loading, less between-rep rest).  The actual per-rep execution, in both cases, however (except for the last 2 in the push-press), was fast and crisp.  Not quite as fast as I am capable of in a power-emphasis modality, but still pretty damn fast.  In fact, it would take a fairly astute eye to notice the difference in repetition speed.  The difference in feel is much more noticeable, though.

What I mean by 3s, 2s, and singles is how I managed rep execution within the 21 rep, rest-pause, extended set.  For example, I might hit this frequency within my 21-rep, extended “set”: rep, rep, rep, pause….rep, rep, pause…rep, rep, pause…rep, pause…

Now, the next obvious question here would be what’s the damn difference between a “pause” and in what defines anyone else’s “set”? And that’s a legitimate question for which I really don’t have a definitive answer, other that to say a pause, to me, is “breaking just long enough to enable nailing the next rep”.  A “set” would define a group of reps off-set by a noticeably longer rest period – long enough to ensure nailing the next group of reps.  Or, alternately, breaking to move to another movement.  It’s just one of those things you have to experience in order to understand.  Far off in the distance of my mind’s eye resides the goal of 21, quick-succession, rest-pause reps – and a little further out yet is the time-to-completion goal.  My immediate hurdle, though, while performing the 21 rep rest-pause scheme, is The Next Rep, and only the next rep.  What follows that next rep is anyone’s guess, as far as I’m concerned – I might nail it, miss quit, bottom-out, pull the plug on the exercise, whatever; I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  And once there, the process begins anew.  Sisyphean in nature.  Mini “Ground Hog Days” is how one of my old training partners aptly put it.

…and speaking of strength…

…check out this post on sprinting speed being the result of net forces acting upon the ground (as apposed to, say, stride length, and other issues).  A nice summary of the “Allyson Felix” topic I covered in this recent post, and some good commentary – as well as a couple of interesting video clips.  Power-to-bodyweight ratio, folks, is what it’s all about.  Interesting stuff to geek-out on – after you’ve done your work in the gym and/or on the track, of course.  First things first 😉

Piston, Spring, or Steam Engine?

“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”

Henry Miller

photo: cloneofsnake

"Piston" and "Spring" represented cred: cloneofsnake

Just a little food for thought here; something to keep in mind when planing your future workouts.  Is a squat just a squat, a jump just a jump?  Well, yes…and no.  Let’s consider for just a moment, three different aspects of the same, basic “front squat” movement; first up, the pure strength end of the spectrum (i.e., the “steam engine”):

Next up, a photo sequenced example of the speed-strength (piston) version of this movement:

photo cred: CrossFit
Photo cred: CrossFit

And finally, yours truly with a demonstration of the RFD (rate of force development, spring) side of the spectrum:

Three aspects of the same movement, with lots of overlapping, gray zones, in between.  But once again, we come back full circle to the notion of power development — and, more specifically, the power-to-body weight ratio.  Each aspect of the movement profile must be optimized in order to enhance this ratio.  And there must be a proper synergy, as well; too much “steam engine” for example, at the expense of  “spring”, and the trainee’s overall power output has just been compromised.  Know your goals and know your needs relative to power output.  Train accordingly.

Vern Gambetta recently alluded to the same notion in this blog post for Elite Track, and I couldn’t agree with him more.  Effective training is not solely about pushing massive loads slowly — ultimately, it boils down to training the body to produce maximum power over a defined time period (or, more specifically, within a defined energy system), consistent with your goals.  Is raw strength a component in power development and athletic achievement?  You bet it is.  But, it’s only a single component of the overall power equation.  And so I’ve got to side with Vern on this one — I find it hard to believe that (quarter squatting, at best?) this load is lending much enhancement to this kid’s instantaneous power output.  He’s a hammer thrower, not a strongman competitor.  I’ll be a little more forgiving than Vern though, as you can’t decipher an entire training program from a single picture.  I’ll will hold this up as a metaphor, though, for what seems to be a bias (in males, anyway) toward the raw strength end of the training spectrum.  Moving big loads in the gym does turn heads, and it’s certainly an ego trip to feel the bar across your shoulders undulating due to a heavy load, and your driving of that load up through another rep.  But is grinding out slow, heavy reps helping you achieve your goal?  Would you be better served spending time developing speed, speed-strength or strength-speed aspects of the same basic movement?  I would have to say that in my experience it’s the speed of movement that is the limiting factor in a trainee’s power output in a particular movement pattern.  Not always, of course, but usually.

Oh, and one quick thing I’d like to point out from the box jump photo sequence (by the way, thanks, CrossFit, for the shot) — look at the jumper’s toe-off angle in the third frame.  See the slight forward trajectory?  That forward trajectory signals a greater degree of quad engagement in that movement than what would be the case if this guy were to be engaged in a true vertical jump, or in a (properly performed) clean or snatch (or one of their variations).   In the vertical or “jump back” version of this basic movement, the posterior chain is engaged to a greater degree.  The box jump and vertical jump, therefore, are not the same beast.  Close, perhaps — think, zebra is to horse as box jump is to vert — but not quite.  The posterior chain is the most explosive and powerful — or potentially most powerful (if not yet properly developed) — engine your body possesses.  To fully develop the posterior chain — and then to learn to fully engage that chain — is to push your jumping ability ever higher.  Squat variations are no doubt a great foundation for an explosive vert; but the pulls and Oly lift variations (think explosive triple extension) will truly put the umph in your “ups”.

In health,


11/10/09 Birthday Bash

I can’t think of a better way to kick-off my 45th year than a fast and furious romp with brother iron.  Age is a societal tag that means nothing to me.

Sleep: 6 hours, like a rock.  Rise-and-shine 4:30AM, Gym 6:30 – 7:15.  Fasted + coffee.  Steak salad for last night’s dinner, 7:30 PM.

Warm up: bounds and 50 meter sprints, push-ups and pull-ups to break sweat.  Ballistic stretching.

Strength-speed emphasis on all:

RDLs: worked up to 3 sets of 3 @275 (explosive out of the hole, 5-count eccentric).

Weighted Dips: 70lbs (3 mini-sets rest-pause x 2 reps ea. mini set, i.e., 6 total reps per set) x 5 total “sets”.  2 reps, pause; 2 reps, pause…

RDL + Snatch grip high pulls: 175 x 5 reps x 3 sets.  Explosive RDL to high hang, pause, snatch grip high pull out of RDL foot base.

RDLs super-setted w/ dips, then RDL + high pulls supper setted with dips.  B/T set cns prime: drop squat + reflex vert x 3, ballistic dips x 3.

More MetCon Musings

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Scribblings of a madman

A little insight into how I develop some of my ideas; tease the few, substantial and practical take-away messages out of the bombardment of daily information.  Metaphorically, I think of it as panning for gold.  Anyway, I have a small “office” in my home where I do the majority of my reading and writing, and in that office is the whiteboard seen here.  Now I’d prefer to be surrounded by an old-school blackboard and chalk (for tactile reasons — and sentimentality as well, I suppose), and I’d prefer that every wall of the room be covered likewise.  Not a good decorating decision, (or so I’m told), so for the time being I’ll have to muddle through with my one little whiteboard.

What I’d sketched-up a few days ago is an encapsulation of my thoughts on the intersection of Power Production/Bodyweight Ratio, MetCon Modality, and Exercise Selection.  From that 3-way intersection, then, we can tease-out the comparison graph of Relative Power Production as it relates to Exercise Duration (in seconds, logarithmic scale).  You see here that an Olympic lift requires about 1 second to complete, and produces the most  power output/duration of any exercise.  Then on to the 100 meter sprint, a 2km row, and an 80km bike race (these are just examples within a wide-ranging spectrum, of course).  What you don’t see here (you would, if I had another board — hint, hint, Mrs. TTP 😉  are the relative percentage contributions from each of the bodies three (or four, if you really want to split hairs) energy systems to support each endeavor.  This template, if super-imposed upon the Relative Power Production/Duration graph, would depict an almost exclusively Phosphagen energy system contribution to the far left of the duration scale (the Oly lift end), phasing into a mostly glycolytic contribution at roughly the 100 meter sprint point, then ever-increasingly aerobic at about the 2km row point.  The 80 km bike ride would be almost 100% aerobic.  And remember, this overlay wouldn’t be depicted as a hard shift, but rather a gradual phasing, such as would be seen in a gradually darkening color wheel, for example.

What this sketch really depicts, though, is the fact that the exercise itself is only a means to an end, if our workout focus is is centered upon a MetCon modality. What should truly be the emphasis of any MetCon-oriented workout, is a directed attempt to push the work capacity limits of the targeted energy system.  Having to grapple with exercise technique as one fatigues ought to be the least of concerns, unless of course, maintaining proper technique under fatigue is an inherent (and adjusted for) part of the equation.  One example of this would be training a starting pitcher; another might be conditioning an American football quarterback for efficient 2-minute drill play.  For the vast majority of trainees, though, the desire is to increase broadly defined work capacity under particular energy systems.  It is my opinion, then, that (for instance) a session of appropriately weighted farmer’s walk repeats is a much more efficient exercise selection option for building work capacity of the glycolytic energy system that an equal amount of time spent on power clean repeats.  And as well, one can push themselves to the brink fatigue-wise with a farmer’s walk repeat session as not have to be concerned with the potential of technique-related injury.

In health,


The Sensible Merging of MetCon, Power Generation and Exercise Selection

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

William Shakespeare

A while back, the site Straight to the Bar featured this clip of Scott Jackson bustin’ off some phenomenal, Parkour-inspired moves.  Seeing this clip again recently got me to thinking about a few of things.  First, I wonder if each individual is limited by some inherent power/bodyweight ratio?  Actually, I know a mechanical limit exists — structurally, our bones, ligaments, tendons and musculature can only handle so much stress — I’m referring here to practical limits.  And how would one go about figuring that limitation?  Would we even want, in a psychological sense, to know that limitation?  And second, this got me to thinking about the intersection of power generation and MetCon work; specifically, exercise selection.  And not just exercise selection alone, but exercise selection with an eye toward targeting an identified energy system.  Most sporting endeavors require a highly tuned and efficient combination of energy systems to “fuel” the participant through the event.  Identifying and training these systems properly is, or should be, the lone goal of MetCon work.  You might want to read this post first, if you haven’t already.  Then come back here and check out some of Scott’s unreal moves.  As you watch, ask yourself (1) what energy systems does Scott rely on mostly, and (2) how would you go about training him without diminishing, in any way, his form, technique and skill?  Just a few things to ponder while you watch:

Another thought that bubbled-up in my mind while watching this clip is just how “springy” Scott is.  What do I mean by that?  Well, there’s a subtle, but huge, difference between the body’s levers acting as a spring, as those same levers acting in the manner of a piston.  Good sprinters quickly transition from the “piston” action of the start, to the “spring” action of the stride; good jumpers come off the floor like a spring, jumpers who need work “piston” themselves up and airborne.  But more on that in a later post.

In health,


Deconstructing the Rep

“Well I’d drive down Sunset Boulevard

My hair blowin’ in the wind

I’d stop at fancy places

And they’d finally let me in…”

Charlie Robison, Sunset Boulevard

nice tripple extension /  photo: jontunn

nice tripple extension / photo: jontunn

In previous posts, I’ve touched on the importance of rep speed (here and here are just a couple of examples) and auto-regulation (here) as they pertain, or should pertain, to one’s overall training plan. And now, in one of the better articles that TMuscle has run, Christian Thibaudeau dishes on his version of rep speed manipulation, auto-regulation and “activation ramp” (or what I refer to as simply CNS priming).  It’s good stuff, and if you’re serious about getting the most out of your time in the gym, I’d highly recommend finding a way to incorporate these ideas into each and every training session.  Check out Thib’s article, here, then c’mon back for a few of my additional thoughts on the subject.

For starters, I couldn’t agree more with Thib’s idea that to go into a workout with a pre-determined set/rep scheme is just flat out wrong minded.  That’s not to say, though, that you shouldn’t have a framework from which to begin.  In other words, I go into a session knowing what modality and movements I plan on working; specific sets, reps and weights, though, I feel as I go along.  It’s not that I have no idea here — I do — it’s just that my overriding goal is to improve over the long haul rather that to hit some pre-determined, daily goal.  Remember, sets, reps, TUL — these are all constructs of the mind that the body could give a rat’s narrow ass about.  Thibs puts it this way:

You have to stop looking at the wrong variables. Numbers, sets, reps, and rest periods are only tools. The real question is, what is your physiology telling you?

These variables are all important signposts, yes — but the body’s only real concern is with what to do with the biological cue it’s been given.  And that “cue”, to be effective, has to fall within the narrow sweet-spot between adequate stimulus and overtraining.  In other words, I can go into the gym knowing that I want to work, say a deadlift and dip combination movement pattern in a 5 (sets) x 3 (reps) modality.  That’s my framework from which to begin.  I also have a ball park feel for the weights I’ll be handling — but I am in no way, shape or form married to matching or exceeding those weights.  Now, at the end of the workout, will my end numbers wind up looking like a linear progression from the last time I performed this workout?  9 times out of 10, no.  But if I’ve manipulated these variables with any amount of acumen, and if I’ve sufficiently squelched an ego that constantly yells for more of the tangible or “show” evidence of progress (especially weight on the bar), I can effectively hit that biological cue “sweet spot” every outing.  And what is it that makes this sweet spot a constantly moving target?  Quite simply, it’s all those variables (i.e., “stressors”) outside of the gym that one has very little control over.  Old school periodization then, and/or cookie-cutter programs will only be successful (and I use this term loosely here) insofar as one is able to adequately control these stressors.  And unless you’re an athlete who’s life revolves around training, recuperation and competition, I’d say you’re out of luck in attempting to nullify these variables.  Minimize?  Yes, quite possibly.  Sufficiently nullify so as to make a pre-written periodization schedule work?  Well, good luck with that.  I liken this to virus prevention — you can wash your hands all you want (analogous to stressor control), but if your immune system is not up to the challenge, the virus (lack of progress) will eventually hand you your ass.   I agree with Thibs when he says:

“…I choose to look at periodization for what it is: a general guideline of splitting your training into specific periods where you work on one goal…”

It’s not that periodization is wrong, it’s just that it’s a tool of limited use/value.

The Force Spectrum

Note: when I post my workouts on Twitter (which I do following every training session), what I am posting is the session’s framework.  The actual individual movement’s sets, reps, rep speed, weights used, recovery periods, etc. are not, because of time constraints for the most part, listed.  And although I keep track of this information, its usefulness to me in planing future workouts is limited.  Remember, each training session occurs in a space that is unique to that point in time, and that particular confluence of variables will not happen again.  My training session relative to a particular point in time, then, must be mailable enough to adjust to these unique variables (which can never be fully predicted), and still deliver the correct stimulus relative to that unique point in time.  This is where competence in auto-regulation and manipulating the force spectrum come into play.  Don’t worry — it’s not nearly as complicated as it seems.

First, remember our old friend, the power equation:

Power = (mass x acceleration) x distance/time

And power, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is the key not only to athleticism (obvious), but also (arguably, granted) to muscle hypertrophy.  What Thibs is describing in his 5 x 3 bench press example mirrors what I actually do in the gym.  What you’re aiming for is a perfect melding of power output in a particular movement, auto-regulated to a particular and unique set of point-in-time circumstances.  Now, how do we get the body primed for its greatest power output in a particular movement at a unique point-in-time?  (1) adequate warm-up, and (2) what Thibs calls “feel sets” and what I call “CNS priming” — differing terms for the same phenomena.

The secret to weight training is that there is no secret.  But like any art, it requires practice, diligence, intelligence, and a narrowly-defined goal.  Pick and rotate through a wide variety of basic, functional movements with these principles as a guide (from Thibs):

  • execute each rep with the aim to produce the maximum amount of power possible
  • become skillful in the art of auto-regulation
  • learn to properly manipulate the CNS to achieve the first bullet point

Strive to reach that point where, as Bruce Lee says, “…a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick…”

In health,


The 5/3/1 Routine for Strength (and Power, Too!)

“Once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”

– Marlene Dietrich

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs... recently posted an interesting article by former big-time power lifter and current strength and conditioning coach (and Elite Fitness staff member) Jim Wendler, discussing Jim’s 5/3/1 routine for strength.  There’s a great amount of, no-nonsense, straight-forward information here.

What’s refreshing about this piece is (1) the program’s simplicity and (2) Jim’s honesty.  I mean, really, getting big, strong and powerful is not rocket science, much as some of the hucksters out there would have you believe.  Intense effort, proper diet, adequate recovery — really, the rest is mere commentary, hair splitting, as it were; the stuff of interesting conversation, but really, nothing more than that.  Of course the further one progresses, or if an athlete needs to pin-point training, well, that’s a different story and a more nuanced approach is definitely called for.   But for the vast majority — myself included, at this stage in my life — the iron game can be simplified to this: short-duration, intermittent, hard-assed work; eat properly, get plenty of rest (nightly, and between workouts), repeat.  Now I’ve just let you in on the secret to muscle gain and fat loss — a secret that holds true for 99% of the population.  Now, if you want to compete athletically, we’ll need to talk a bit more.  Otherwise, you can use the Dalai Lama’s approach to religion — pick a pony (religion) saddle it up, and ride the thing — and apply that theory in the weight room.  As long as you’ve got some intense TUL (time under load) goin’ on, hell, you’re way ahead of the crowd.  Couple that with a good diet and sensible recovery and you’re light years ahead.

Anyway, back to Jim’s program.  What he’s served up here is a basic, nuts-and-bolts strength (or, if you work it right, power) template — a version of which I’ve used many times in the past — and, in fact, one that I’m currently following (interspersed with versions of my favorite — 25 for a Bigger Engine).  Jim has tweeked the lift percentages a bit here in this particular program (which forces a sensible weight selection), but the guts program remain founded in ages-old, proven methods.  Jim prescribes hitting the core lifts (always multi-joint, complex movements) hard and progressively over a three or four week period.  Take a deload week so as to give your body a chance to recoup.  If the three-week “ramp-up”, one week “idle” methodology seems all-pervasive within the strength and conditioning community, there’s a simple reason — it’s been proven empirically to work.  This is where the science “rubber” meets the real world “road”.  It may be physiological or psychological or some combination thereof, but it seems as though one can push hard for about 3 weeks before the wheels begin to come off.  Now, you can either be smart and anticipate this happening and program some “deload time” in your macrocycle planning, or you can keep pushing and suffer some form of injury-induced set-back; one way or the other, though, you will be taking that deload week.

One thing Jim really didn’t cover in the article was rep speed or tempo.  The nice thing about this program, or the 25 Reps program for that matter, is that you can really snap-off the early, lighter sets and emphasize the power aspect, then, in the final reps of the final set, use a slower, consistent tempo and go on to failure — even some negative failure or forced reps, if you like.  And a quick word about failure: pick your exercises wisely.  I’m good with going to failure on complex movements where momentum is not a key factor (and the skill/technique component is low).  Squats?  Yeah, go to failure.  Jump squats?  No.  Military press?  Sure, knock yourself out.  Push press or push jerk?  Nope, simply not effective.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some structure in your next strength block, you can do a hell of a lot worse than to follow Jim’s 5/3/1 program, as he has, in my opinion, put together a good, solid and sensible program here.  And a quick word about tweeking the prescribed (or any prescribed) program:  I agree with Jim that you can’t manipulate what he’s laid-out here, and then bitch about the 5/3/1 not working for you.  On the other hand, I don’t ever follow a prescribed program to the letter; I’ve to too many variables to juggle in my life and I have a narrowly defined and very clear set of goals I aim to achieve.  Couple that with the fact that I’ve been in the game for 30+ years, and so I have base knowledge to allow a sifting-through of a program for the gems that I want.  You gotta know the rules to know when to effectively break ’em, right?

Here’s a recent example of my utilization of Jim’s 5/3/1 routine.  This is week one, and the compound exercise of choice is reverse-grip pull-ups (or chin-ups, for you purists out there).  This picks up, of course, subsequent to a thorough warm-up.

Reverse Grip Pull-Ups

Set 1: 60# x 5 reps

Set 2: 67.5# x 5 reps

Set 3: 72.5# x 7 reps, failed midway through the 8th.

Lots of pop on the reps of the first two sets — more along the lines of classic power reps.  The reps of the last set, especially as I made my way toward failure, were ground-out — classic, heavy, “strength” reps.  I took about 2 minutes rest between sets.  Then:

Bodyweight dips, 5 sets of 15 reps.  About 1 minute rest between sets with the last few reps of the last two sets done in rest-pause fashion.

Bodyweight GHR, 5 sets of 10.  1 minute between sets.  A lot tougher than it sounds.

Now, my next time in the gym, I may hit a 5/3/1 routine with front squats as the primary exercise, or I my opt for a 25 FBE routine; it all depends on how I feel and what kind of time I have.  But for this particular primary exercise, though (the reverse grip pull-up), I’ll follow the 5/3/1 schedule (3 weeks ramping, 1 deload week) on through.

This was a fantastic workout.  Nothing fancy — but then again, it doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.

In health,