Written by Greg Robins
The truth is, I haven’t always been a strength and conditioning coach. Furthermore, I am still not solely responsible for training athletes to this day. I run 15 adult group classes a week, in addition to programming and coaching for athlete’s for 20-25+ hours a week. I have spent time helping people in a ritzy commercial gym setting, running camps on local high school football fields, coaching in one of the premier gyms in the country, to now coaching in one of the premier strength and conditioning facilities in the country. I kind of feel like the Matt Stairs of fitness.
My evolution, both as a coach and lifter, has brought me through many phases of a variety of fitness goals.
I have played baseball at a high level, completed numerous military schools, competed in powerlifting, seen my abs, been the fat kid at school, ran a competitive 9K, and even had a phase consisting of a lot of tight t-shirts and way to many sets on the pec deck.
I don’t know if all that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.
What I do know is that I didn’t tell you all of this so you would like me. I told you this because at this point in my life I feel like the way I go about training is surprisingly well rounded. I have drawn from many places to come up with a system that keeps me happy. I am stronger than I ever have been. I can still jump and sprint. I actually look like I might have spent some time in the gym. I don’t hurt, and my girlfriend says I look good naked.
The following is a collection of 3 lessons each, from the 4 biggest realms of fitness, that I have learned to apply to my training, and the training of others – regardless of where you want to place the emphasis for your training on.
1. Body Building
Lesson 1: Volume Through Frequency Makes Bigger People.
If you want to be a bigger person, start training more. If you want to bring up a lagging body part, train it more. If you want to do this more effectively, don’t just add a metric shit ton of volume to one day. Likewise don’t go from zero to the frequency of The Atherton Twins -spread it out. Want a bigger yoke? Hit the upper back 4 – 5 times a week. Want to put on 20lbs, build up slowly to a point where you can handle 4 – 5 solid training sessions a week.
Lesson 2: Time Under Tension (TUT) Is An Important Concept.
Why are controlled tempos, strip sets, forced reps etc. effective? They keep muscles under tension for a long time. In doing so they fatigue the crap out them. Muscular fatigue is an important step in causing hypertrophy. How else can you fatigue muscles? Try not resting so long, and not always pairing opposites – instead pair similar exercises. There is another way to keep the concept of TUT on your radar. If you want to get bigger, start working to hold heavier weights longer. Abandoning your classic body building set and rep schemes for something more conducive to maximal strength building is fine. If you want to grow maximally too, then use your new strength to hold more weight, longer.
Lesson 3: “Isolation” Exercises Actually DO Work.
Too many people take information way out of context. This readily apparent every time I meet a young kid who tells me that he is having trouble putting on size to any of his / her limbs. I get it, you are weak and you read somewhere that you are spinning your wheels if you spend time doing curls, and extensions. If you’re doing these small movements in place of time spent doing the big ones, then yes, you’re being stupid. If you do them in addition to the big stuff then you will grow more quickly. To go back to the first two points: you are hitting the muscles more often; you are fatiguing the muscles more.
2. Power Lifting
Lesson 1: The Basics Should Form The Foundation Of Your Program
There are many reason power lifters are big and strong. One of them is that they perform 3 basic lifts ALL THE TIME. The basic squat pattern, deadlift pattern, and press pattern are all movements that you need to do. If you can’t do them, you need to do what has to be done to get your body back to a point where it can perform them. Moreover, these straightforward movements should be at the forefront of your attack on improving strength, size, body composition, and performance.
Lesson 2: Learn To Strain
Some people are just never going to be that strong, or that big. They don’t want it bad enough, and they don’t have the mental fortitude to subject themselves to heavy training. Power lifting is an extreme form of weight training. Too often people use it as a measure of what training should be, and that simply isn’t true. That being said, you aren’t going to get very far if you don’t consistently perform sets within training cycles that make you look like your trying to squeeze a baseball sized piece of gravel out your ass (sorry for the visual). You have to strain, and you have to learn how to strain. Be smart, but there is no substitute for practice and experience. Put some weight on the bar and see what you’re made of.
Lesson 3: Become A Technician
With any sport, there is an aspect of skill involved. In strength and conditioning we are quick to separate sport skill from preparation. In power lifting, as is true with Olympic lifting and strong man, moving heavy stuff is both your skill and your means of preparation. If you are going to spend time under the bar, pay attention to how you are doing it. Failing to do so will hinder your progress, get you hurt, and keep you from what I find to be a very rewarding piece to the whole journey. Master the technique of your lifts. Scrutinize your form and continually strive to improve upon it.
3. Strength and Conditioning
Lesson 1: Specificity Is King
When programming athletes adhering to the principle of specificity is paramount. Certain means will have positive, negative, or no transfer to your goal. If you are not aware of the reasoning for what you are doing, or how it is aiding or hurting your efforts, then you are doing yourself a disservice. You get what you train for, and therefore you must know what you are training for and how your training is affecting your end goal.
Lesson 2: Periodization or Organization Is Important
Not everyone needs a fancy scheme to get them from point A to point B, plus, some people are never “peaking” or preparing for any one event or season. However, some semblance of organization will benefit any trainee. Albeit some more than others. Take lesson 1, specificity can be specific to a phase within a larger scheme, not just specific to the end goal. With no organization one may spend too much time at one end of the spectrum and little at the other. Take someone looking mainly to get bigger for example. If they always work in a rep range conducive to hypertrophy they will hit a wall with their progress. They need to have phases where they work to build upon their maximal strength so they can handle heavier weights in the following hypertrophy based phase. While maximal strength may be less specific to their goal, it’s still essential.
Lesson 3: Efficient Movement Is Crucial
Not everyone gets excited about mobility drills, stretching, soft tissue work, or corrective exercise. While it’s less appealing, it is pivotal to you reaching just about any goal in the gym. For starters, you can’t train if you’re hurt. Moreover, the more efficient your body works the better it can deliver the outputs you want from it. If you are serious about your goals you will accept the fact there are things you need to do, not just things you want to do. Correcting your flawed movement is one of them; one that should be on the top of people’s lists.
4. Fat Loss
Lesson 1: Nutrition Matters, A Lot
If you want to lose fat you don’t need to make a big intervention in how you train. Mostly, you just need to make a change in how you eat. The same holds true for weight gain, and performance enhancement. Want to gain weight? Eat more. Want to perform at a high level? Put the proper nutrients in your body. You can show me plenty of examples of people who fill their mouths with junk. They still lift big, and look pretty good too. I don’t give a shit. They could just as easily sack up and do the right things 80% of the time and have even better outputs, even leaner physiques, and even healthier bodies. They are happy with the status quo, when they could get even more. The fact is, the majority aren’t these people. Therefore, you need every advantage you can get. Make nutrition as important as your training.
Lesson 2: What Get’s Measured, Get’s Managed
You can be successful without rigorous attention to detail in your diet. The people who dial in fat loss, and achieve single digit body fat percentages are meticulous about the amounts, and types of food they consume. They might not be that way all the time, but they have done it enough times to know that in order to really manage something, you must crunch the numbers. Measuring can be done on different scales, and applied to different areas. You can measure anything from meal frequency to calories. You can measure total training sessions, or percentages within a given lift. Wherever you decide is the place you need to be, some measurement is crucial to managing your results.
Lesson 3: Discipline Is The Difference Between Setting Goals And Achieving Them
Fat loss is a test of discipline as far as I am concerned. I’m willing to bet you know what needs to be done to lose fat. Your lack of success is likely a direct result of your inability to execute enough self-discipline. In order to reach the goals you have set for yourself you must be able to perform all the necessary steps to get there. Achieving a fat loss goal is an example of discipline, and discipline is a characteristic you will need to do just about anything.Greg Robins is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Greg has worked with clientele ranging from general population to professional athletes. His unique experience in many different aspects of fitness, strength training, and athletic preparation have helped him become an unbiased authority on all things fitness and performance related. Outside of coaching Greg is a former collegiate baseball player, active member of the MA ARMY National Guard, and enjoys power lifting. Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter