Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Being Flexible

As I get older (although I'm only 38, I have been a dedicated lifter for 20 years), certain things remain important to me, and—to be honest—many things do not.  For instance, I no longer want to have 20 inch arms, or be the biggest bloke alive (that's the kind of stuff I wanted 20 years ago), or be the strongest dude walking the planet at my bodyweight (that's what I wanted 10 years ago).  But I do want to be strong, and I don't mind being fairly big, and most of all I want to be healthy.

And I want to keep learning.

And I just love to train.  Period.

So... as I get older, and as I learn more, the most important lessons are the ones that I have learned about myself.  It dawned on me—not that long ago, to tell the truth—that I train just to train.  I love the feel of a tough, two-hour workout where I squat something, put something heavy over my head, pull something heavy off the floor, and tote something heavy across my lawn.  When you train just to train, when you train because you enjoy spending time with the weights and yourself, you also learn more—more about yourself and more about what it takes to see results.

You see, training is an art, not a science.  It never was a science.  It never will be a science.  (I know I've said this in the past in previous posts, and maybe even said it better, but it bears repeating.)  When you train because you enjoy it, and when you train not just for the results, something odd tends to happen: you get better and quicker results than before.

I think one of the reasons for this is because of flexibility.  I'm not talking about flexibility as in the ability to do the splits (although joint and muscle flexibility is important, no doubt), but I'm talking about the art of being flexible about your workouts.  It's important to be flexible about the kind of workouts you're doing, but I think it's even more important to be flexible within the workout itself.

With this in mind, here are a couple of tips on ways you can be more flexible during your workout sessions:

Stop following a prescribed number of sets and reps.  I like to train heavy.  I also like to do a fairly high number of sets per exercise.  But these days those are really the only two guidelines that I follow when performing a lift.  (And I don't always follow that protocol.  One thing that I enjoy doing on a fairly regular basis is bodyweight training.  And when I perform bodyweight exercises—or sometimes kettlebell training for that matter—I typically do a moderate to high number of sets with a high number of reps.  But once again, that's just a guideline.)  You want to get big and strong?  Perform several sets at approximately 5 to 8 reps.   Just want to get strong as an ox?  Then perform multiple sets of 1-5 reps.  Other than that, just train.  And if you're at all confused of what I'm talking about, then here's an example of an overhead pressing workout that I did recently:

I began by warming up with a set of 8 to 10 reps with 135 pounds.  I rested a few minutes, and then did another set.  After that, I put 185 on the bar and figured I would do somewhere between 5 to 8 sets.  The first set felt kind of heavy.  I did 3 reps.  The next set felt about the same.  I did 4 reps.  After resting several minutes, the next set felt easy; I did 8 reps.  After resting a few more minutes, I did 5 reps.  I rested.  Another set with 3 reps.  Rested a little more.  And another set of 8 reps.  I rested some more.  Then finished with a set of 3 reps.  I knew the last set was enough.  My muscles felt full, and the 3 reps weren't done with a lot of speed.  (I generally like to stop a set when my reps start to move slow.)

Keep in mind, that was just the overhead pressing portion of my workout.  I also squatted, and did some farmer's walks.  And I did those two exercises in a similar fashion.

Stop following a prescribed training split. I prefer to follow a guideline split (or a guideline number of days per week if you're training full body).  I must caution here, that at first this is not something that you want to do if you just began training.  If you're a beginner, then you have no business doing anything other than a full-body workout three days per week—and you want to be regimented about the days you train.  With that being said, as you get more advanced, you may want to throw the regimented schedule out the window.

If I'm performing full-body workouts, here's one of the things I do: I go to the gym (in my case, this means my garage) and do some heavy squats, a couple of heavy pressing movements (one of these is always an overhead movement), a heavy pull, and then some kind of strongman exercise.  If I feel good after all this, then I add in some arm work and an abdominal movement, or maybe even a high-rep kettlebell exercise as a finisher.  The next day, if I feel good, then guess what?  I do another full-body workout, but this time with exercises that force me to use light weights: power snatches, good mornings, dumbbell work, etc.  I will then take a day off, maybe even two days, go for another hard session.  Sometimes, I may train three days in a row.  Sometimes, I may train every other day for a couple weeks straight.  And sometimes I may train every third day for a week or so.

A lot of times, I don't do full-body workouts such as this.  In fact, about half of the year, I perform what I refer to as full-body split workouts.  For instance, day one may be a squatting movement paired with an overhead movement.  Day two may be a heavy pulling movement (deadlift or clean varieties) coupled with some form of bench press.  And day three may be strongman training coupled with two or three arm exercises.  In this case, I usually train a couple of days, then take a day off, train a couple of days, take a day off, and repeat until I begin to feel tired or burned out.  Then I'll take two or three days off.  And if I need to take off any night for anything, then I don't sweat it.  I take that day off too.

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