Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Train Long, Not Hard

The following is an article that I wrote a few years ago for T-Nation (now "T-Muscle"—I always thought T-Nation had a better ring to it). If you're into full-body workouts—and if you're not, then you NEED to get into them—the training program presented herein is one of the best.

Train Long, Not Hard

You hear it all the time. It's one of the favorite sayings from high-intensity pundits and other "briefer is better" trainees. It goes something like this:

You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both.

You know what? It's a pretty damn good quote, one I wouldn't mind using myself when I talk to different lifters seeking advice. The problem is that everyone seems to assume that the answer is to train harder. I don't exactly agree. In fact, I think the better option is to train longer, not harder.

If you've been reading Testosterone for any lengthy period of time, then it's possible that you've come to the same conclusion. It's unfortunate the majority of trainees in the good ol' U.S. of A. just haven't figured it out. Bodybuilders, however, haven't always thought this way. In fact, old-time lifters knew the benefits of training long and not hard. Bill Pearl, for instance, always advised taking all sets one or two reps shy of failure. Why? So he could train longer, of course!

There have been many good writers in the field of strength training and muscle building over the years, but I think one of the greatest would have to be Anthony Ditillo. Unfortunately, the name has been forgotten by many. I have a feeling, however, that if Ditillo were still writing he'd be contributing to Testosterone. And I know one thing: he'd agree whole-heartedly with strength coaches like Chad Waterbury, Charles Staley, and Christian Thibaudeau.

Ditillo believed in training each body part three times per week, performing multiple sets at each session for a low number of reps, never to failure. He also stuck with the basics — squats, benches, deadlifts, barbell curls, behind-the-neck presses. There's something else you should know about him, too: he was freaky big and strong!

When I first tell bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other strength athletes my belief that you should train longer and not harder, they look at me like I'm some type of weird blowfish at the local aquarium. "Ya' gotta be jokin'," they might say. "I've gotten much better results since I started trainin' just an hour each session instead of two." But longer doesn't necessarily have to refer to the length of the workouts, but rather the amount of sets versus the amount of reps.

Most lifters use set/rep schemes like three sets of ten (why the hell is this always the favorite?), two sets of fifteen, four sets of eight, etc, etc. However, I think everyone would get much better results if they flip-flopped their set/rep sequence. In other words, perform ten sets of three, fifteen sets of two, eight sets of four, etc. You get the point. And the point is: the first method (the common one) is theharder method, the second is the longer one.

Even though the workload is the same with both methods, longer is better for a number of reasons:

1) You get the most out of every rep and your form doesn't degrade.

2) Each rep is much more accelerative. Let's say you can bench 225 for ten reps. How much force do you think you're producing on your last few reps? I can guarantee you it's not much. Now, how much force would you be producing on each rep if you did two sets of five? What about five sets of two? The bottom line is, the "longer" method is much better for producing power and maximum strength, not to mention the muscle that goes along with it.

Okay, hopefully, by this point, I've convinced some of you to train longer, not harder. Now, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty, the good stuff: the workouts.

Startin' Out

If you've been performing brief, infrequent, hard workouts, then this first workout is going to be a good introduction to longer training and it'll get you ready for the more advanced sessions I've got in store. Even if you've been training longer (like my Frequent and Furious workout), you still might want to perform this one before moving on to the advanced stuff. It should be a change of pace from almost anything you've been doing.

The workout is very similar to the type of training Anthony Ditillo used to recommend. It's a three-days-a-week program, so I've listed the days as Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, though any three non-consecutive days will work. (Most of the exercises are pretty basic, but if you're not familiar with one of them, just look it up with the T-mag search engine.)




Repeat Monday's workout, using the same set/rep sequence. The next week, you'd switch up the workouts. On Monday and Friday, perform the Wednesday workout. On Wednesday, perform the Monday and Friday workout.

Additional Tips

Remember, don't take anything to failure. On your progressive sets you should work up to a final set where you come one to two reps shy of failure. On an exercise where you use the same weight throughout your sets, stick with a poundage that allows you to make all your reps. Only the last couple of sets should approach failure.

Stick with this workout for four to six weeks, then move to the advanced program below.

Advanced Program

This program is also performed three days per week. This time, however, you're going to follow a heavy/light/medium system. Anyone who tried my "Frequent And Furious" program or has tried any of Bill Starr's routines will be familiar with this. The difference with this program is going to be the volume. This is a high volume, fairly low-intensity workout, though if you've been following a typical bodybuilding regimen it might not feel that way — and it'll kick the ass of other hypertrophy programs!

I'm going to present a three week training block. After three weeks on the program, you should understand the parameters and be able to make the changes needed on your own.

Week 1




Additional Considerations

Do some type of ab work each session in this advanced program. There are plenty of good ab exercises illustrated here at T-mag. Just use the search engine and pick a few. You may want to perform exercises that hit mainly the "upper" abs in one workout, then choose those that train mainly the "lower" abs in the next.

Also, don't be afraid to add some extra calf work and/or high-rep sets on the leg extension and/or leg curl machine. Don't add this extra work, however, if you feel at all drained.

Week 2




Additional Considerations

As with the first week, do some type of ab work at each session. Don't be afraid to include some extra work for your calves and legs if you feel up to it. None of these sets should be taxing, however.

Another option to consider is adding some type of accommodating resistance on your squat and bench work via bands and/or chains. Be careful with the bands, though. They offer better results than the chains, but take more of a toll on your recovery system.

Week 3




Additional Considerations

By the third week of this program, you should understand what you can (and can't) handle in terms of extra ab, calf, and leg work. Also, spend some time stretching after each session or on days off. You could also try adding some very light extra workouts on your off days (see Chad Waterbury's 100 Reps To Bigger Muscles).

Wrapping It Up

After following the above program for three weeks, you should comprehend how this type of system works. Once the three weeks are up, you have a couple of options. You can go back to week one and try to beat your poundages from that week, or you can try a different set/rep scheme altogether, combined with some different exercises.

Some other good set/rep combinations include fifteen sets of two, six sets of four, eight sets of eight, etc. What you choose should be a matter of your training experience. If you've been training for less than a year, then repeat the three week training block at least two more times. If you've been training (properly) for longer than that, add a couple more weeks using different combinations of sets/reps before repeating anything.

For years, I toiled with "hard" and brief workouts, wondering why I wasn't making the type of progress I read about in the muscle rags each month. Surely, Arthur Jones knew what he was talking about when he said, "You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both." Too bad it took me so long to discover the answer. You don't have to go through years of trial and error like so many lifters. Give the above workouts a try and you'll discover the answer for yourself.

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1 comment:

  1. This is the most intelligent reply to HIT I have ever found. In addition the stress on the joints is reduced. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am an older lifter. This is pure gold.


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