Friday, 17 June 2011

Wild Physique Unleashed : My Journey Into Strength PT 3

By Coach Cj Swaby

“What lies behind us and what lies before, us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last entry I talked comprehensively about goal setting. More importantly setting the RIGHT goal for you, plus mapping out your strength training as part of your “process goals”. This week I want to strip down training to its raw basics. I believe in keeping it simple, and mastering some fundamental principles, which will guide you through the minefield of trash written about Strength training. So the next step in the process is about the practical aspect of my goal.

Step 3: Strength and HOW To Obtain It

You may know this, some of you may not. For those that do, I’d ask you to bear with me while I go through it (treat it as confirmation of your existing knowledge), for those who are not , you will be surprised by the simplicity. So the purpose of weight training is to induce a Specific Adaptation to and Imposed Demand, this is known and the S.A.I.D principle. Now the “Imposed Demand”, (i.e the training stimulus) will be dependent on the “Specific Adaptation”( i.e your training goal) that you wish to achieve. In this instance the adaptation I wished to occur was an increase in strength. You follow me? Now there is a vast spectrum of repetitions and sets to achieve any given aim, when it comes to resistance training. As a rule lift heavy with less reps and sets for strength, moderately heavy with more reps for muscle mass / strength and lighter weights for high reps for endurance (we'll be releasing an ebook later this year with more specific reps/ sets schemes).

I wanted to achieve was Strength, so I kept it in the lower repetition range, and worked with heavy weights, with sets no more than 15 in total. Simple right? Why? By strength I wanted to induce not only an adaptation in size of muscle fibers, but more a significant neural adaptation. More specifically how the motor units were recruited, and the their synchronicity, so that I could recruit muscles efficiently , plus strengthen tendons and ligaments. A motor unit is simply a muscle and the nerves that innervate (stimulate ) it. Exercise stimulates growth by stimulating your hormones, tearing down the muscle tissue and setting the stage for repair. How well you achieve a positive adaptation depends on your recovery. That is your rest and nutrition. Your nutrition provides the raw materials to replenish your muscles and your body’s systems. Rest provides the space for this repair to take place plus releasing important growth hormones (we’ll go more into rest and different strategies in later posts – but let’s keep it simple for now).

If I had chosen a weight where I could manage greater repetitions and sets (as outlined in the chart) I would have achieved a greater increase in muscle mass and not just the kind of freakish gains in strength I wanted to achieve. Now this is a very simplified version , but sufficient enough for you to understand how I went about things.

Adequate recovery between sets is also an important part of determining whether you have a strict strength adaptation or an increase in mass as well. Now for some men an increase in lean mass and absolute weight is a desired outcome, for those who are in a sport with a designated weight category, or women who wish to improve strength and not increase absolute weight ( i.e “bulk up”), the correct manipulation of the weight used, reps and sets scheme, recovery and your nutrition will play massively on the “adaptation” you will achieve

WHAT Did I do?

So the initially few months training was about experimenting to see which system my body responded to most. As mentioned in the previous blog entry I started off with 5 x 5 system (5 Reps X 5 sets), reducing the warm up sets so that after a cycle of a few weeks I was on 5 working sets of the initial weight. I then progressed on to 5 sets of singles, had a recovery week and started the process over again.

I was about 3 months into my training and I came across an article on Super Squats. I had read about Super Squats before, but had never read the book. My good friend, Jonathan Lewis of Industrial Strength London, and Balance Performance Physiotherapy said that he owned a copy. I collared him for it and he duly submitted it to me. I devoured the book in no time at all, eager to progress my training further. It’s a pretty easy read and a real simple concept. Here’s what it’s all about;

Super Squats:
WHAT They Are And HOW To Do Them

“Back to the squats. Load the bar to your normal ten-rep poundage, wrap a towel around it to give your upper back and shoulders a little padding, step under the bar, lift it off the squat racks, back up one step, force in two or three deep breathes, and knock off the first rep. Nothing fancy here, just a conventional deep knee bend, squatting down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor and then coming back up. By the fifth rep, you should be fully warmed up, squatting smoothly, and the deep breathing should come naturally.

After the tenth rep, your body is done and your mind becomes the vehicle that either moves or stalls in the face of the challenge..”

- Randall J Strossen (Super Squats: 1989: 23)

HOW Did I get on ?

These are brutal. But I enjoyed the challenge. Why are they brutal? Because once the bar is on your shoulders and out of the rack you DON’T put it down. Rest is with the bar crushing down into you as you stand in the rack, veins bulging, gasping for air. There is an important safety aspect I want you to consider if you attempt Super Squats DO THEM IN THE POWER RACK. I have to say, the Power Rack saved me a couple of times when my legs cut out and gave way beneath me (much to the bewilderment of on lookers at South Bank Gym in Vauxhall).

The Super Squats book covers training theory and the IMPORTANCE of breathing to the exercise, which is often over looked (more about that too in future blog posts). Due to the demanding nature of Super Squats, Randall suggests that they form the staple part of your workout session with 2 – 3 other exercises. I played around to see what worked for me. My initial session consisted of Super Squats with 135kg, Bench Press 5 x 5 with 105kg and rowing intervals. When I used Super Squats in a session I would taper the other exrcises.

WHAT Did I Notice?

I gained nmassive increase in strength in a short space of time. However due severity of the demand, even with recovery sessions ,my capacity to walk (and function) was reduced for some days, and it would be well over a full week before I attempted a “leg workout”. I decided to cycle Super Squats every second week with a 2 – 4 day lay off training then back into it. This seemed to work a lot better for me, in terms of sustaining strength, and cardiovascular power. After I became more confident in manipulating Super Squats in my workout, I decided to modify it a bit. My logic was as follows,

“If you can do 20 Squats with your 10 rep max. Why not 10 squats with your 5 rep max?”

And so off I went. Let me tell you, it’s an exquisite experience. The first time I tried it I got to 5 reps and thought, “yeah, I’ve got this” then I tried to push out the sixth rep and almost got stuck in the bottom position. Spotters rushed around to assist me, doing that whole “grab you by your rib cage” nonsense (which personally I think has greater chance of injury to the lifter AND the spotter). I told them to step away from the bar and me. If I collapsed the cage would save me and the bar, and If I needed to, I could dump the bar off my shoulders and it would fall in the cage. I grinded out the sixth rep, and held the top position.

This is where regulating my breathing became even more important, to avoid dizziness and ensure I had the correct pressure within my trunk to support the bar. I took 3 deep breaths, tightened up, held my breath and dropped into the squat, as I hit the bottom I gave it everything I had and drove ferociously upwards exhaling as I did so (with the odd roar here and there). Seven reps down and three more to go, with 165kg on my back, I focused my mind, and repeated the process until I hit those 10 reps. I threw the bar back into the rack and gingerly walked away and sat down for a good five minutes or so to collect my physical and mental faculties.

Approximately a month later after starting the Super Squats, my ten rep max had gone up from 135kg to 160kg! My nutrition and recovery played a massive part in my ability to improve so drastically. While cycling super squats I noticed that my deadlift poundage was also shooting up. Not only that, I felt that my speed off the floor when starting the deadlift was considerably faster and more solid.

HOW This Can Help You

Explore. Again do your research. Usually the most effective RESULTS driven systems, are mind boggling simplistic in their nature. Then once you’ve research it, try it. Test it. Then don’t be afraid to modify it for your own means (based on sound training principles) and see how your body responds. That’s how I came up with the 10 Rep Breathing Squats – and it worked for me.

Tweak your training so that you get adequate recovery so that the adaptations to the imposed demands are the positive ones you want. The greatest thing you can do to help, t is forget training X amount of times per week, and think more in “Cycles” i.e Train 1 day on 2 days off. 2 days off. 1 day on, 4 days off etc” this is just an example, but what this does is that it changes your mind set so that you see the bigger picture and think about how each session relates to the next in terms of recovery and adaptations, without thinking “I have to train x times per week” then forcing when you may not have adequately recovered, or properly considered the effect that weeks training load will have on the following weeks adaptations. Just a thought. Plus take an extra days rest if you need to, if this means the difference between a mediocre session and a Sh*t hot performance in your workout. Listen to your body.

Next blog entry I will be exploring a massive component of training, recovery. More specifically I will be looking at nutrient timing.

Yours in strength

Coach Cj Swaby

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