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Demystifying Training

We all get caught up in thinking that the next new training system will be the one that brings it all together. Part of our constitution as humans is that we seek change and ultimately to make oneself better, so it's not surprising we want something new. No doubt my own ATS fills this role for some and for those who try it, it is effective and unique. But, it is not for everyone because it doesn't meet their needs and this is to be expected. We all have been on training systems that don't click with us given our past experiences in the gym and in the books. Below I want to explain a few things that can help every single person plan a training system that is effective and unique for that person.

There are six basic elements to any training system.

1. Number of Sets
2. Number of Reps per Set
3. Weight Used
4. Time of Overall Session and Frequency
5. Length of Rest Periods
6. Exercises

The first three when combined (sets * reps * weight in 'x' amount of time ) give you an overall volume for the session. Overall volume should be increased ever so slightly and only when needed, thus you should always know what your overall volume is session to session. Overall volume though is not the whole story on volume. The weight being used can drastically effect the intensity level of a session although the volume may be much less. As the weight goes up, the intensity increases and the volume will accordingly decrease. For instance, let's say your max was 500lbs. in the squat. If you did 10 sets of 3 reps at 250 lbs. or 50% of your max, your overall volume would be 7500lbs. for the day. Contrast that with 5 sets of 3 reps at 475lbs. or 95% of your max, where your volume for the day would be 7125lbs. Which one is going to be harder? Clearly most cannot even complete the second, yet it has an overall volume that is much less than the other day's session. So, overall volume is important as a guide to keeping within a range but only if your intensity is roughly the same and in the same amount of overall time. When then intensity varies, the volume should naturally drop somewhat and then you should take a baseline for the higher intensity/lower volume work and use that in the same way. It seems to me that ideally a trainee would want to have baselines of overall volume set at 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90 percent of a max so that overtraining never becomes an issue regardless of the intensity.

Sets and reps should be varied based upon the previous relationship between overall volume and intensity. But, we add a new dimension of intensity being increased by adding reps instead of weight. Most trainees opt to add SETS instead of just reps and that is a mistake. It doesn't take much to increase the volume for a week, often just the addition of a rep or two on your major exercises. In general you want to find a number of sets that is effective for you, stay with that, and progressively add reps. When progress stops, cut back the sets by one or so, and see if that solves the problem. Eventually cutting back on the sets doesn't work, so now you must increase the number of sets but decrease the intensity. If you have been doing the previous weeks correctly, you are pretty much fried from doing near limit rep work, so three or four weeks of higher reps at about 60% of your max is just is what needed to keep progressing. When I train people I rarely do anything drastic to their training on my program when progress slows, it's simple modifications of a rep here or there, along with looking at patterns of what works and what doesn't. For example, if I stay in the 9 rep range for shoulders, and I do 2-3 sets at about 77% of my max, I can add a rep every week for about 5 weeks. Then I hit a wall and I can resort to what I mentioned above or something different like rest period variation.

I think that the MOST important element of any training system that is consistently overlooked are rest period variations. Staying with the same example from above, if I were doing 3 sets with two minutes between sets and I started decreasing that time, I may only get the SAME number of reps; however, I have increased my volume due to the work being done in an overall shorter period of time. Rest periods then add a third dimension of intensity by effecting the overall time that the session is accomplished in. If you have never done sets with 1 minute between them, keep your total number the same and give it a shot. You will undoubtedly lose reps which will decrease your overall volume, yet your intensity will be much greater given that the session was accomplished in much less time. Overall time guidelines are no more than 50 minutes on any given day. After that your test levels decline and you start going catabolic. By shortening rest periods you shouldn't need more than 30 minutes for ANY session. If you are training properly, you should never train more than two days in a row (and only then on a particular split), and for many you should always have a rest day after a training day.

So, you have five basic elements that all need to be considered along with the various ways intensity is factored in when the elements are combined. Once again this is not rocket science. You can't do a high number of sets or reps at a high percentage without beating yourself into the ground nor can you grow much from no percentage and endless sets. You have to find the medium that works for you and then vary ever so slightly your reps, sets, weight and rest periods. Trust me, if you learn to do this, you will be able to design your own program and it will be very effective. If you don't learn to recognize the relationships between these five elements, you will either be undertrained or overtrained, and in either case, you won't be obtaining the results that you desire.

As far as exercise choice goes, I think every session should begin with a multi-joint movement: squats, deadlifts, bench press, dips, leg press, military press, rows and the like. I prefer barbells to dumbells. 3-5 sets of these exercises, and 5-6 more sets of one to three other exercises should constitute your session. Total sets then should be about 12-15 for the day at most.

For instance, I like grouping lower back/upper back/biceps together.

Deadlift - warmups (not counted)
3 sets of 7 reps with 2 minutes between sets
Rest three minutes

Barbell Row - 3 sets of 12 reps, one wide grip, two narrow grip, one minute between sets
Rest two minutes

Close Grip Pullups - 1 set to failure
Rest three minutes

Barbell Curls - warmup, 2 sets of 15 reps, one wide grip, one narrow grip
1 minute between sets
Rest three minutes

Crunches abs- Leg Raises, 20 each way

When I can complete ALL of my sets getting the required number of reps, I can then add weight to ONE exercise OR add a few reps. Until I get all of my sets with the required reps nothing is increased. I always increase the first exercise as it will be most beneficial to one's overall progress. Or, if your goal is to drop some body fat and have more hypertrophy start decreasing the rest time between exercises and then sets. Do it gradually and you'll be able to keep your strength while getting leaner.

Hopefully then, you can see how to incorporate all of this into an effective training system for yourself. What is above is more or less the basic principles that I use when I train someone on my ATS. If you are sensitive to your body and a good record keeper, you can run this all on your own rather easily. I don't do anything special other than recognize patterns that you may not see and then utilize them to keep you progressive. My clients usually need me for about six months and then they can run my complete system. Educate yourself about yourself by using the principles above and you'll end up where you want to be.

SB (the original Sliverback)

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