Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bill Starr's Simplified Training

     For those of you who don't know—and most of you who have read my training articles do know—my primary inspiration in training and writing has always been Bill Starr.  Perhaps nowadays people—powerlifters, strength athletes, readers of the major bodybuilding magazines—think that Starr is too "old-school."  Well, old-school, in my book is just fine.  Bill Starr is still, and always will be, one of the best-of-the-best.
     When I grow tired of writing training articles, I return to Bill Starr.  (Who writes damn good, by the way.)
     When I grow tired of my current training program, I return to Bill Starr.
     When I grow weary of all the modern gadgets—stuff like training balls, chains, bands, and one-legged whatever—I return to Bill Starr.
     When I grow weary of all the modern "trainers" and all of their methods (like everyone that writes for T-Muscle, for instance—as much as I like that magazine), I return to Bill Starr.
     And when I just need a reminder of why I love to write and love to lift in the first place, I return to Bill Starr.
     For those of you who don't know who Bill Starr is the following article—from Iron Man magazine—is a great place to start.  His programs—as simple as they may seam (and they are anything but when you delve into them)—are some of the most result-producing you will ever come across.
     (On a side note, if you don't think this kind of training is effective—if you think it's too basic—then go purchase the current copy of Planet Muscle magazine.  PM has a great article about Mike Bridges (easily one of the three greatest powerlifters of all time) and read about his training program.)

     For now, it's time to delve into the wisdom that is Starr:

Bodybuilding Success Blueprint: The Big Three

By: Bill Starr

During the past year I've received a pile of requests from IRON MAN readers and friends to look over their programs. They're all stuck and want some advice on how to move forward again. In every instance I find the same problem—they're trying to do far too much, either for their current strength level, their age or both. I look over a list of exercises that would make top competitive weightlifters and bodybuilders cringe.

Even so, when I suggest that they should eliminate at least half of the exercises, they insist that they need to do them all if they want a complete full-body workout. Well, I reply, if you're preparing for the Mr. Olympia contest or the Olympic lifting Nationals, then perhaps you do need to hit all those groups individually. That is, if you have a couple of hours a day in which to train, have a surplus of funds to buy all the supplements you'll need to aid your recovery and don't have to worry about earning an income. Otherwise, you're doing too much.

When a program includes a dozen or so exercises, you end up spreading your energy too thin to allow you to make substantial gains. You can't recuperate from the long sessions in the gym, and since you're not giving enough attention to any one muscle group, everything stays the same. Or worse. In many cases the numbers start slipping backward.

Keep in mind that I'm referring to beginners and intermediates. Advanced strength athletes can do a great deal more work in the gym and recover from it. That's due to the fact that over an extended period of diligent training they've established a wide, firm foundation of strength. Most trainees who will read this are not in that category.

The notion of simplicity in strength training has gotten lost in recent years. Currently, any program worth its salt must include lots of exercises done on specialized machines, and, of course, there have to be a few gimmicks such as large balls and chains thrown in for good measure. After all, that's what the modern athlete needs to be competitive'which is pure bullshit.

The truth of the matter is, gyms that feature only the most rudimentary equipment'like those found in basements and garages'where the athletes build their routines around a few primary movements, turn out stronger men than the multiexercise programs in la-di-da facilities.

Another primary reason that so many programs have so many exercises in them is the influence of articles that appear in fitness magazines. I look at programs that fill an entire page and shake my head, wondering, What is a beginner to think? Most likely that the authors are experts and know what they're talking about. If they say that I need to do 15 exercises in a session, that's what I'll do. And since the gym is filled with machines, it only makes sense to use all of them.

So, instead of hammering away on full squats, our beginner moves from machine to machine, working his legs in a variety of fashions. It's a good idea on paper, but it doesn't get the results that attacking a primary exercise and using a couple of machines for auxiliary work does. There's also the point that few like to admit: Working on a machine is easier than doing free-weight exercises.

Understand that your body only has so much energy for training, and once you've tapped that supply, you're not going to make any further progress on that day. When you continue to pound away, even on the smaller muscle groups, all you're doing is fatiguing the muscles and attachments, which will adversely affect your next workout. In other words, you're overtraining.

To gain strength, you need to do one primary exercise for each of the three major muscle groups: shoulder girdle, back and hips and legs. Then add a few auxiliary movements for the smaller groups, and leave the gym. 

Whenever a beginner follows that course, gains come consistently'and there's no doubt in my mind that the greatest motivator in the weight room is making regular progress. Nothing'well, almost nothing'feels as great as improving one of your primary lifts. Achieving a personal record makes you eager to get back in the gym for your next session. In contrast, if you're stuck on every lift, you'll be inclined to skip the next workout, flop on the couch and watch TV.

I should mention that using too many exercises in a program is not a new development. I pointed a finger at machines for being partly responsible, but in truth trainees started doing it long before the machines came on the market. In the late 1960s strength training for athletes made a huge leap forward due largely to the articles published in Strength & Health and Iron Man about sports teams and individual athletes using heavy weights to improve their performances.

Football led the way. The San Diego Chargers, under strength coach Alvin Roy, had a tremendous influence on the mind-sets of college and high school coaches. If the pros lifted weights, we should too, was the thinking. Tommy Suggs and I took it upon ourselves to go forth and preach the gospel of strength training to the masses. We were in ideal positions to be considered authorities on the subject: Tommy was the managing editor of Strength & Health, and I was his assistant. We'd both won national titles in Olympia lifting and had represented the York Barbell Club, the national-team champion. That gave us an in, and we began putting on demonstrations and clinics at high schools and colleges in the area. Bob Hoffman understood the financial implications of what we were doing and backed us 100 percent'although, I should add, we never received anything extra in our paychecks for our efforts. Even so, we surged on. We were on a mission.

To read the rest of the article, go here.

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