Confused about how to train? Are cardio machines evil? Should I just do ‘functional’ training (a highly bastardised term today) and forget about all machine and isolated strength exercises? Are Kettlebells the only piece of equipment I will ever need? Or a squat rack and barbell? Maybe just some matted floor to do calisthenics? Now forget about the type of exercise.. now how many reps should I do? How much rest should I have before doing another set for the greatest muscle gain or fat loss? Do I complete the set or superset or do a circuit? If you’re lucky, you’ll consider how all this fits into a periodised program which is fairly rare to see with standard gym junkies. Even the high profile strength and conditioning coaches and sports medicine professionals debate over the best methods for training athletes.
Muscle size doesn’t necessarily equate with strength. Look at a gymnast – they have a lean, compact frame and yet can display a huge amount of specific relative strength. Compare this to the strength of a bodybuilder – huge muscle mass and an impressive physique, yet ask him to replicate a gymnastics routine and is destined to struggle at best. A bodybuilding program may have the sole intention of body shaping and increasing muscle size, not developing any of the specialised strengths (such as absolute/maximal strength, relative strength, endurance strength, reversal/reactive strength, explosive/speed strength or accelerating strength.
People typically generally believe in the linear progressive overload system, where often the same exercises are chosen each week in the hopes of bumping up the weight each time as the body gets stronger. The problem with this approach is that there comes a point where the body accommodates and no further gains can be made. If you are a typical gym junkie, ask yourself honestly how long have you been pressing or lifting the same weight? Or how long have you been using the same exercises every week because they are your favourites? Which exercises do you avoid because you don’t feel you are good at them? And is your body looking the way it should with all the hours you put into the gym?
Applying the progressive overload principle in a periodised program, athletes beginning a conditioning program must develop a fitness base with longer, less intense workouts and progress to more sport specific, shorter, intense activities. This overload will take place over the course of many weeks.
A typical periodisation system looks like this;
Base Corrective and Strength Endurance Work
Absolute / Max Strength
Deload week / Off season
OR, even worse, and more commonly adopted, people stay with the same 8-12 rep range (which is considered a hypertrophy rep range) and just hope to bump up the weight each week – often leading to fatigue and injury. The problems with this linear periodisation system include;
1When you neglect a certain type of strength for 2 weeks or more, something called detraining occurs and your gains in that specific strength phase start to decline.
2You may not reach the weight you were hoping to reach in a given time period (usually 2-3 week period), yet then have to change to a new phase, forfeiting the potential you possibly could have reached.
3This linear system can also be a problem if you are, for example, an MMA fighter and receive only 3 weeks notice before a fight. If you are only halfway through a linear periodisation system, you will be underprepared. The other issue is that you may have already peaked. This can be true also for Surfing athletes who are required to compete several times throughout the year.
The answer is, via wisdom of Louie Simmons, training via the Congugate Method. The Congugate Method avoids the law of accommodation due to variety of exercise stimulus and allows you to train maximally throughout the year.
The 3 basic methods to achieve strength gains are;
- Max Effort Method – where when using the Congugate Method the core lift is changed every 1-2 weeks.
- Dynamic Method –where the core lift is changed every 3 weeks
- Repetition Method –where the exercises are changed each week
There are loads of ways to mix up your exercise program. Here are some of the many ways you can utilise the Congugate Method;
a) change the bar (eg. Straight bar, cambered bar, safety squat bar or yoke bar, buffalo bar, bow bar, zercher squat bar, trap bar)
b) add weight
c) add bands
d) add chains
e) combine bands + chains
f) change the starting position (eg. Starting the deadlift from the floor, pins or from a hanging position.
g) change the nature of the contractions (focus on concentric, eccentric, isometric)
h) change the speed of the movement by altering the weight (always pull/push with max speed if you want to get strong! Moving slow will only lead to greater DOMS and hypertrophy, not necessarily strength. You also lose the stretch reflex which is beneficial in producing a more powerful concentric contraction).
i) change from bilateral to unilateral movement
j) change rest periods to alter the metabolic effect (eg. Short rest periods <45sec are effective in increasing blood lactate levels which serve to increase growth hormone levels, increase the ability to increase muscle size and reduce fat).
k) change the number of reps and sets (eg. Very high reps with low load serves to increase tendon and ligament strength which may be beneficial for increasing their capacity to store kinetic energy for explosive strength and reversal strength).
l) change the angle that your body pulls/pushes to change the leverage and hit different muscle groups.
AND .. Get a qualified coach to teach you these before you go out these blindly hoping to master these techniques without professional instruction!