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by Charles Staley – 10/09/2012 We all want great results from our training efforts. But far too often, we fail to consider the costs of these results – all the time, effort, orthopedic wear and tear, time away from family and professional pursuits, and so forth. I understand that most of us are willing to "pay the price." That's a good thing, because there's always a price to pay for anything worthwhile. What I propose is that you give more thought to your "net" results, as opposed to your "gross" results. Ultimately, managing your body is a lot like managing a business: you invest a certain quantity of resources in the hopes that what you produce will have more value than the resources you initially invested. As an example, let's say that you want to open a coffee shop. For every given month of operation, you'll have costs – rent, supplies, payroll, etc., many of which you can't even anticipate until you actually get underway. But the costs aren't only financial. You'll need to invest time and energy, and other areas of your life – such as family and health, for starters – will be negatively affected along the way by all the resources you invest into your new business. Whether or not these costs are worth the trouble depends entirely on the profits you make, and it's helpful to look at training the same way. Specifically, are the results you're getting truly worth the resources you're expending to get them? This question hints at what the concept of "training economy" is all about: maximizing your efficiency and optimizing your physical "profit and loss" statement. In other words, as the old saying goes, "It's not what you make, it's what you keep." We need to start concerning ourselves with efficiency, which, when applied to the training process, is known as "training economy."
The Case For Training Economy: Two Case Studies
First, let me present a picture of poor resource management. One of my Facebook acquaintances is a Master's bodybuilder who's gotten, by any standard, great results from his training – he's very lean and muscular, and does well in organized bodybuilding competition. His status updates, however, reveal what goes on "under the hood," so to speak – he does several workouts per day, counts every gram of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, takes dozens of
and there's a subtle phenomenon at play here: great athletes. wakes up at 5:30 AM to take cold showers – basically his entire day is consumed with training and nutritional tasks. Challiet is simply an extreme example of the way many of history's greatest lifters trained. No general warm-up. That's it. many of which are unnecessary. Needless to say. Mark. You simply can't be a great bodybuilder. weightlifter. Was Mark using copious amounts of anabolic drugs? I really don't know. According to Gallagher. he squatted and benched to a maximum single for the day. I'm simply showing how at least one World Champion powerlifter made insanely great progress doing much less training than you do. but I assume he was doing pretty much what everyone else was doing. are by definition. more than they should. the 1984 APF World Champion trained only twice a week. I'll now anticipate and respond to your objections proactively: Would Mark have done better with more work? Possibly. Now let's contrast this with a master of training economy: During a recent video interview with Mark Rippetoe. or even flat-out counterproductive. no cool down. a lot of us are like this. no foam rolling. at least temporarily. no core stabilization. unless you love it. Challiet also carried the conspicuous amount of muscle mass you'd expect of someone capable of performing lifts like this. redundant. And guess what? By default. coach Marty Gallagher outlined the ultra-minimalist training routine of 1980's powerlifting icon Mark Challiet. I'm certain that this guy could get 95-98% of the same results with about 60% of the resources he's been investing. In fact. who squatted 952 and deadlifted 852. who served as Challiet's coach for quite some time (and who was unable to persuade him to consider more "updated" training methods). Looking at his updates over the months. look what he did accomplish with so little work. I bet he'd make even better progress with less work.different supplements. once pulled 880 in the gym and narrowly missed 900. was also the first Master's lifter to pull 800 and according to Gallagher. Am I saying you should train like Mark did? Absolutely not. They lifted only 3 days a week . or even a great marathoner. no dynamic activation drills. and on day two. Incidentally. people who love to train. people who love to train tend to train more than they need to – indeed. The point is. I'm hoping that this might open your mind to new possibilities. one of which is that perhaps you can get the same results you're getting now with significantly less work. no assistance lifts. particularly before the rise of anabolic steroids. From my experience. On day one he deadlifted up to a max single for the day.
if you could do just as well.) toward other areas of your life? For example. if applied consistently. how much better would you lift? Bottom line is. etc.e. completely transform the efficiency of your workouts. Unless you're an 85-year old arthritic about to clean and jerk up to a daily max at 6 AM on a cold winter day.. and by extension. you might start with some bodyweight or light goblet squats to wake up your knees. wouldn't that be worth considering? How would things be different if you devoted those resources (time. . Traditionally. and even worse. Optimize Your Warm-Up A good warm-up sets the tone for your whole workout. but a bad one wastes time. training economy is something we all need to pay more attention to. wouldn't that improve your life as a whole. with much less investment. but with an emphasis on great intensity of effort on only a few lifts that really matter. but then put the bar on your back and start rehearsing for the main event. I've "discovered" (which could mean anything from "stumbled upon" to "outright stolen" to occasionally innovated) a number of strategies and methods. Ditch the general warm-up phase. I suggest you skip the general stuff and get right down to business. lighter sets that precede your working weights for the day). the warm-up consists of the general warmup (such as walking the treadmill for 10 minutes before squats) and the specific warm-up (i. impairs the upcoming performance." they don't allow you to rehearse the skills involved in the lift that you're warming up for. or nearly as well. I have 5 "golden rules" for a winning warm-up: 1. if your career and personal relationships improved. Over my 25 years of coaching. your training results? If your lifting sessions weren't distracted by stressful thoughts about money and relationship problems. energy. Here are 10 strategies that will.and their sessions were marked by extreme specificity. money. So with my previous two examples in mind. 1. If you're warming up for squats for example. even if you really love to train. So it's better to kill two birds with one stone. consisting of 3-4 lifts per workout. My 7 Best Efficiency Hacks Let's look at areas where typical lifters can "trim the fat" from their training programs. While general warm-up activities do indeed "warm you up.
followed by deadlifts. 3. Impose Time Limits The smart use of a stopwatch is one of the best tools I know to improve training economy. Your last warm-up set is what I call a "prep set." Its sole purpose is to help bridge the gap between your last warm-up set and your first work set. using this one technique alone. Similarly. My experience is that.2. At the very least. A classic example from the sport of weightlifting would be a workout consisting of cleans. When your warm-up weights are still light. 5. and start his deadlifts at 315. Exercise stacking. Essentially. followed by clean pulls. you pre-determine your time limits and then do whatever you can within that time constraint. but using it does reduce your warm-up time. As an example. don't rest 3-5 minutes between sets like you would with heavy weights – it's just a waste of time and leads to distraction and procrastination. Here's what my warm-up sets looked like during a recent squat workout: 45 x 5 95 x 5 135 x 5 185 x 3 225 x 1 275 x 1 315 x 1 345 x 1 (Prep Set) 385 x 1 (Work Set) 275 x 8 (Back-Off Set) 4. exercise stacking means ordering your exercises in such a way that each exercise becomes a warm-up for the exercise that follows it. previously performed chins can reduce or eliminate warm-up sets for curls. Merge your warm-up sets for the next exercise with your work sets for the current exercise. Then. There are a number of ways you can employ this tool. so that's why I'm including it. This isn't a warm-up tactic in the purest sense. if you're currently deadlifting and your next exercise is weighted chins. A lifter who has a max clean of 250 pounds can start his pulls with 275. 2. but the idea is that instead of taking as much time "as you need" to complete an exercise of a workout. there's absolutely no reason why you can't do a few easy sets of chins between your last few work sets on deads – you're using entirely different muscle groups after all. when you're done pulling. and bench presses can all but eliminate the need for warm-ups on triceps movements. you move straight to your work sets on chins. use the time between these early warm-up sets to stretch or foam roll. . most trainees can easily trim 30% from their workout duration with no loss in performance.
however: according to recent research. the big boys might rest 10 minutes between sets of 850-pound deadlift singles. I'll set the stopwatch for 5 minutes. which will allow you to handle a submaximal weight for more reps than you ordinarily could.5 pounds. on my "baseline" workout. and so on. you'll get a better back-off set after a slightly sub-maximal single than you would with a true all-out effort. So for example. but I assure you.75 minutes. A week after that. which seems heavy. you get a great strength stimulus. but after doing 5 of them in only 2. since the weight used is significantly less than your earlier top set(s). you don't need as much time between sets as you think you do.5 minutes. As an example. and that your heaviest set of the day is a big single. my first workout with 154 pounds might take 2. it'd be a shame to waste the neural priming ("post-activation potentiation" in geek speak) created by that heavy weight. . when performing Olympic lifts. Timing your sets does more than just improve efficiency – they also keep you "on task" and free from distraction. Proper Use of Back-Off Sets Despite it's popularity in some circles. one of my issues with undulating periodization is that (unless I'm missing something) it doesn't allow for the use of back-off sets. immediately followed by a great hypertrophy stimulus. A little experimentation will be required to get the most from this method. This allows a 1-minute rest between each heavy single. but instead I aim to beat my existing rep record for that weight. Another great benefit is that the psychological stress on that back-off set is minimal. it really doesn't seem like a big deal any longer. I don't carry this set to failure per se. I'll often allot 5 minutes for 5 heavy singles on (say) the power snatch. in my own training. Nonetheless. One note of caution. my 5 singles might take 3 minutes to complete. on my first workout I'll pick 154 pounds as my working weight. Going back to my snatch example. I'll try to complete my 5 singles in less than 5 minutes to allow a "margin of confidence" for future sessions with more weight. Assuming you're (primarily) or (momentarily) training for maximum strength. double. Sure. and after my warm-up sets are completed. using 156. In this way. or triple. it "un-mindfucks you" about a given weight. Assuming a 1RM of 176 pounds. And as master coach Mark Rippetoe once suggested to me.5 minutes. I almost always follow any heavy top set of 1-3 reps with one back-off set. 154 pounds is 88% of my current 1RM. A week later. but are you really a big boy? 3.Here's one simple way to make the stopwatch a valuable tool in your training sessions: Set a time limit for all sets to be performed with a specific exercise. However. 159 pounds might take 3.
4. or 205 pounds. In a recent communication. if I bench up to a 260 single. 25. each workout has a constant (unchanging) load so it's very easy to monitor progress. not necessarily how you get them. 4x6. but this should give you an idea. Waterbury next posited that it's the total reps that matter. The goal is to increase the number of reps you can perform in Set 1 from 6 to 8. look up my rep record for that weight. I'll use a larger number of total reps per exercise. say. Proving that great minds think alike. The 25-Rep "Sweet Spot" Chad Waterbury recently pointed out to me that most commonly used set/rep protocols tend to lead to a total of about 25 reps: 5x5. and so on. This way. for this example). Then you increase the load 2-3%. Keep in mind. even if I couldn't beat my 1RM that day. and for those who've used my Escalating Density Training protocols. you'll increase the load 2-3% and try to repeat what you did in Workout 1. I couldn't agree more. 3x8." . "Here's an example of 3 workouts: Workout 1 Set 1: 6 reps Set 2: 5 reps Set 3: 4 reps Set 4: 4 reps Set 5: 3 reps Set 6: 3 reps Workout 2 Set 1: 7 reps Set 2: 5 reps Set 3: 5 reps Set 4: 4 reps Set 5: 3 reps Set 6: 1 rep Workout 3 Set 1: 8 reps Set 2: 6 reps Set 3: 5 reps Set 4: 4 reps Set 5: 3 reps "So for Workout 4.In other words. "There's much more to say. I'll then take between 75-85% of that weight (let's just use about 80%. I still have a chance to break a rep record. and then try to beat it. Chad explained: "If the goal is hypertrophy. I'm sure you've picked up on the similarities of the Waterbury and Staley methods.
few people seem to use it." I love it even more for its low "cost. Bret and I have been training partners for a handful of months now. jogging. As soon as you can get those 25 reps in 5 or less sets. scoot under it. so as you might imagine. Low Set-Up Exercises Although I have about the same affection for resistance machines as I do stretching." It's a very smart way to train. and push (or pull). The benefit of this method is that you're managing fatigue instead of seeking it. 1-3 total sets and you're good to go. machines have very decided down sides as well – which is why I don't use them – but there are exercises that have a lot of value and are also low fuss. it takes 6 sets to hit 25 reps with a constant weight. as are many kettlebell drills – the best choices really depend on your unique physiology and goals. you don't want to "deprive" yourself excessively from hyper-minimal workouts. I admit that machines do have a very important advantage when it comes to efficiency – they're "low fuss. increase the load by 2-3%. while I love what this exercise provides in terms of "profits. yet surprisingly. Of course. or stress. or psyche up (you're not going to get stapled to the floor or launch your lumbar spine into the next room doing a leg extension)." I recommend that you maximize your use of low fuss exercises. . You just load the bar. You're also eliminating "junk sets. 5. You need very little (if any) warm-up. You don't want to overwhelm yourself with pre-written workouts that become daunting over time. jump on.Another way to run this program is to increase loads once the number of sets required to complete 25 reps drops below a certain threshold. but just as important (and more relevant to this discussion). Chin-ups and push-ups are also examples. and deadlifts) is that it's quite safe (yes you could potentially hurt yourself but the risk is minimal) and requires no warm-up and no psyche-up. Bottom line. I'm now drinking the hip thrust Kool Aid. and sit-ups. One case in point is the Bret Contreras barbell hip thrust. and you're off and running. prep." You simply set the pin. Compulsory & Optional Exercise Designations Managing your psychology is extremely important when it comes to program design. So in Chad's workout #1 above. as it were. The great thing about this exercise (aside from it's ability to positively transfer to big "money" lifts like squats. 6. Olympic lifts. movements that require very little set-up.
and they're still dying to do some curls. you'll see my rationale for this idea. but as the old saying goes. Incidentally. and military presses. but if you look closer. Intensity Is King Although the previous 6 strategies are immensely valuable." Remove the forbidden label and you'll be less likely to indulge. As an . "The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. your workout might look like this: Compulsory Bench Press Chins Barbell Hip Thrust Optional Barbell Curls At first glance it seems like this strategy defeats the purpose of my whole training economy argument. On the other hand. which leaves them feeling a bit sullen – so I'll give them 15 minutes of free time. you'll probably feel much less compelled to move to the optional exercise. In powerlifting. The reason Mark Challiet succeeded with such a minimal approach is that he worked so hard on each workout that he literally needed those 5 days of rest each week. while they may seem difficult subjectively. really aren't intense based on their true physiologic potential. 7. Her training isn't intense because she doesn't know how to be intense. I'll often leave out one or more of their favorite exercises. and the most powerful athletes I've trained can only get 3-4. Most likely she can crank out 1215 reps with 80% of 1RM. it doesn't bother me a bit. where they can do whatever they wish. People who either can't or won't train intensely – or don't know how to – can and should train more frequently because their efforts. In most cases. For example." Whenever I program workouts for remote clients. chins. which is intensity. if they've already done quality work on (for example) deadlifts. it's common practice to reduce training frequency on any given lift as you get stronger. as well as in serious recreational strength training. you might occasionally snack from the optional side of the menu. To me. they all depend on a lynchpin strategy. once you've completed the compulsory drills. a tweak on the optional exercise idea is to use that category as "free time. Allow me to provide a few examples of supportive anecdotal evidence for this argument: Think about a novice female just getting started in weight training.A great work-around is to use compulsory and optional exercise categories. I don't know about you but I can typically only get 5-6 reps with 80%.
and so on. you've learned something right? Then. Go hard and go home. Either way. and suggestions in Live Spill – see you there! . Why? Quite simply. It's all about how much you get out of yourself during each workout. If training with low to moderate intensity allows a high training frequency. or 2) it doesn't work. whereas a lifter who pulls 700 will typically train that lift every 3-4 weeks. Now Please Act On What You've Learned! I strongly encourage you to take at least 1 of these 7 strategies – just pick the one that seems most appealing or logical – and apply it to your training for one full month. take another strategy for a month two. a 700-pound pull requires much more physical and psychological recovery than a 300-pound pull. you keep all variables constant except the one you're testing. Similarly. a lifter who squats 405 pounds on a true physiological max of 425 pounds needs more recovery than a lifter who squats 405 on a true max of 480. and in training. training very intensely requires a low training frequency. There's really no risk at all because after 30 days. in business. you'll be rewarded with the knowledge that 1) it works. In this way. comments.example. a lifter who can deadlift 300 pounds will usually do just fine pulling once a week. I look forward to your questions. if your initial experiment paid off (as I believe it will). That's efficiency defined.
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