Thursday, May 30, 2013

Epictetus Pumps Iron, Part 3

     “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to contemplate, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

     The Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, of Seneca, of Musonius Rufus, and – yes – of Epictetus is a philosophy of life.  As William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives.”  How many people do you know who waste their lives on things that have no purpose?  The truth is this: the vast majority of the people of this world waste their lives on trivial matters, on concerns with “fun”, on things outside of their own lives.  Let us not do this – let us return to Epictetus so that we may learn how to live, and how to imbue our training with philosophy itself, let our training be a place where we can apply philosophy so that it carries over into all of our life outside of training.
Epictetus on the Importance of Training Our Minds:
     When walking, you are careful not to step on a nail or turn your foot; so likewise be careful not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And, if we were to guard against this in every action, we should undertake the action with the greater safety.[1]
My Commentary:
     Wherever our minds go, there will the rest of our lives be.  With our thoughts, we create our world.  I don’t mean this in some airy, narcissistic, new-age sort of way – sorry, Oprah, but our minds do not create our reality – we cannot magically think ourselves rich or married to a Playboy bunny.  But our thoughts do create the way in which we handle our world.  If our thoughts are full of joy, peace, tranquility, thinking no harm to ourselves or to others around us, then this is how our lives will be.
     Do not spend your time daydreaming about the past or worrying about the future.  Learn to live in the present, giving your mind – and therefore your body and the rest of your senses – to whatever current task you are occupied with.
     Do you need to gain as much muscle as possible in the shortest period of time?  Then spend your time, and your thoughts, occupied with doing just this.  Eat the foods that are conducive to building as much bulk as possible.  Do not think about how in the past you have neglected proper eating.  And do not fantasize about the junk food you will eat in the future once you have acquired the body you desire.
     Do the same thing with your training.  Follow the proper workout for building bulk – you can find plenty of good training programs here on my blog.  Whenever you find a training program, then give yourself over to just that style of training.  Do not waste thoughts on the training you did in the past, or the sort of training you will do in the future to “cut up” (whatever the hell that means) once you have acquired enough muscle.  And do not waste thoughts on how other people are training.
     In short, only concern your thoughts with what is under your control.  This will not be easy at first.  It will take some time to train your mind.  But the time spent will be worth it.
Epictetus on Not Letting our Accomplishments Lead to Arrogance:
    These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.[2]
My Commentary:
     Our “accomplishments” in training should never make us arrogant.  If you have 20 inch arms, this does not make you better than the pencil-neck with 10 inch arms; it simply means that your arms are larger.  If you can bench 400 pounds, this does not make you better than the grown man who can only bench press 135.  It simply means you are capable of benching 400 pounds.
     Keep in mind that even though you may have 20-inch arms, even though you may bench press 400 pounds, there are men who have 21-inch arms, and there are men that bench press 700 pounds.  Neither are they “better” than you, but they are larger, they are stronger, and therefore you have some training that still needs to be done.
     You can always get stronger and bigger.
     You can always acquire more virtue.
     This is another area where we can apply proper thinking.  Think about your own training, your own results, and your own goals.  Do not concern yourself with the accomplishments or the goals of others.  Envy, jealousy, pride – these things must be removed from our character if we are to ever attain tranquility and peace, if we are to ever become beings worthy of being called men.
Epictetus on Not Talking About Philosophy (or Training):
     Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don’t talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and- recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should hap-pen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don’t throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.[3]
My Commentary:
     I enjoy philosophy.  I enjoy reading about philosophy.  I enjoy practicing philosophy. 
     I enjoy strength training and bodybuilding.  I enjoy reading about strength training and bodybuilding.  I enjoy the actual training itself.
     But I have come to the conclusion – and it’s an easy conclusion to come to if you spend much time among the average person – that the majority of people could care less about training, and even less about philosophy.  (For that matter, some of the “men” into strength training are some of the least philosophical you will find – they are as shallow and materialistic as the rest of the world.)
     What other people care about, however, is theirs to care about – or not care about, in this case.  We should never try to impose our beliefs or opinions on other people.  If others are interested in training, or interested in knowing more about the philosophy we practice, then that is another matter entirely – in this instance, we should willingly help others, even go out of our way to do so.  Caring about others, having compassion and concern for others (whether it’s their bodies or their minds) is different from trying to impose our beliefs on others.
     Be at ease among people.  This will do more to “evangelize” others than all the talk in the world.  When they see that we are at peace, that our minds and our bodies are tranquil and healthy, they will naturally want to know more about it.  They will ask about our training, or ask about how we have acquired such a sense of ease.  In fact, because we seem at ease, they will not be intimidated to ask about our training, how it is that we build our bodies.
     I hope you the reader have enjoyed this brief series on Epictetus, and I hope that it will have ignited a spark (at least in some of you) to enquire more about living a philosophical life.  I will do some more articles on applying Stoic philosophy to modern life.  Until then, let me leave you with this final section of The Enchiridion[4], where Epictetus quotes from some of the great philosophers that predated him:
Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:
“Conduct me, Jove, and you, O Destiny, Wherever your decrees have fixed my station.” (Cleanthes)

“I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.”
(Euripides, Frag. 965)

And this third:
“O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.” (Plato’s Crito and Apology)

[1] The Enchiridion, section 38
[2] The Enchiridion, section 44
[3] The Enchiridion, section 46
[4] The Enchiridion, section 52

Friday, May 24, 2013

The 30 Rep Workout

The 30 Rep Workout

     A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch watching television.  (I don’t usually sit on the couch and watch television.  Typically, I sit on the couch and either read a book or write in one of my notebooks—or if I have enough free time, I spend it in meditation, prayer, or a bit of lectio divina.  But my workout partner, Jason, was about to show up for a workout, and so I wanted something trivial to pass the time.)  Anyway, I turned it to ESPN, only to see that the Women’s Crossfit World Championships (did I even say that right?; not a big Crossfit fan, so anyone feel free to correct me if I need correcting) was on the tube.  The women were engaging in a competition that involved nothing more than doing 30 snatches—apparently they can either do power snatches or full snatches; whatever it takes to get the bar up—as fast as possible.  I think they were using 90 pounds, maybe 110, I can’t really remember.  The first competitor to reach 30 reps wins.  Simple enough.  Not easy, but simple.
     This got me to thinking.
     If the fittest women in the world were using 90 pounds, then surely I could do the same thing with 135 pounds.  (My best power snatch is close to my bodyweight; around 190 pounds.)  I seldom do heavy snatches, but such a workout couldn’t be that tough.
     Jason showed up in another ten minutes or so.  I walked out into my garage gym as he ambled up the driveway.  “I got something different for the first part of our workout,” I said.
     “What’s that?” he answered.  He may have been surprised.  Typically we just train with the basics.  Heavy power cleans, overhead presses, squats, deadlifts, barbell curls, etc. are the usual suspects—5 sets of 5 reps, 6 sets of 4 reps, occasionally a lot of heavy doubles or triples; that sort of thing.
     “Well, we’re going to start with 30 power snatches with 135 pounds.”
     He looked at me, and I couldn’t tell if the stare was annoyance or bemusement.  “I don’t like high reps,” was all he said.
     “I’m not sure if I would call this high reps.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  If you can do 30 reps straight with 135, then knock yourself out.  But I thought we would do 3, 4, or 5 reps—whatever we feel like doing—on each set.  As soon as you do a set, I do a set, and back and forth until we get 30 reps.”
     He shrugged.  “I’ll give it a shot.”
     We were finished with all 30 reps of the power snatches in about 10 minutes.  Most of our “sets” were done for 3 reps.  I did the last 2 sets with 5 reps, just to get finished a little quicker.  And we did a few sets for either 4 or 2 reps apiece.
     When we finished all 30 reps, we were both a little fatigued, but nothing too bad, and I decided that it was a pretty good way to do a lot of work in a short period of time.  It was similar—obviously enough—to performing a 10 sets of 3 reps workout, but I enjoyed the fact that it was slightly less confining.  You just count total number of reps, which gives it a kind of “zennish” lose yourself in the moment quality to the workout.
     We decided to do the same thing with chins, although we ended up doing more reps—40 total—in about the same period of time.  When that was over, we also did 10 sets of squats, working up to some fairly heavy doubles with around 450.
     A pretty good workout—or so I thought.
     The next day, my back was so sore that it made just walking around uncomfortable.  My legs and butt were hardly sore at all, which meant the twin culprits were the snatches and chins.
     Since that day, about half of the workouts Jason and I perform are “30 rep sessions.”  It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to train.
     If you want to incorporate these into your training program, or if you want to use solely “30-reps” for a while, here are some “techniques” and “pointers” that I find make it work the best:
  • Stick with “bang for your buck” exercises.  In other words, use a lot of compound movements.
  • It’s probably best—at least at first—to utilize it with every-other-day, full-body workouts.  You can’t go wrong with a workout of chins, dips, and deadlifts, for instance, followed a couple of days later with overhead presses, squats, and barbell curls.
  • When selecting the weight to use, start off with something that would be very difficult for a set of 6 to 8 reps.
  • Stop the sets whenever your reps begin to slow down.  This will prevent you from making the mistake of doing too much too soon.  You want to do less early so that you can do more later on.  (If you don’t understand what that means, then you obviously do too much high-rep training.)
  • If you are going to combine it with other forms of “heavier” training, then save the 30-reps portion for the end of the workout.  In other words, my first “run” with this workout from the example above probably wasn’t the best way to do it.  I should have done the heavy squats first, which would have actually “primed” my nervous system for the 30-reps part of the workout.
  • And, as always, have fun!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Epictetus Pumps Iron, Part Two

     In the beginning of the original “Conan the Barbarian” movie, the title character’s father is discussing what you can trust and what you can’t trust in life.  In one of my favorite lines in movie history, he quips, “You must learn its discipline.  For no one, no one in this world can you trust.  Not men, not women, not beasts” – and then he points to the sword he has just forged – “this you can trust.”
     I agree with Conan’s father in that I feel the same way about philosophy (and I feel the same way about lifting weights – the iron is always the same; it never lies).  To follow Epictetus’s way – and the way of the other Stoics – is to follow a path that can be trusted.  The ways of the world are folly, but the way of philosophy is a sure path – not to success, or power, or many of the other things that humankind too often puts its faith in – but to peace of mind.
     Let us return again to Epictetus’ Enchiridion, and see what other wisdom we can gain from its pages.
Epictetus on Maintaining Equanimity and Accepting Life as It is:
     Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called, divine.
     Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the char-actor assigned you; to choose it is another’s.
     You may be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own control to conquer. When, there-fore, you see anyone eminent in honors, or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be hurried away with the appearance, and to pronounce him happy; for, if the essence of good consists in things in our own control, there will be no room for envy or emulation. But, for your part, don’t wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control.[1]
My Commentary:
     We spend too much of our lives wishing it was different than it is.  Many people seem to live in their minds, worrying about the future, or wallowing in the past.  They wish that their lives were different, that they could be other people, or live in an entirely different matter than they do.  But the truth is that if they had those lives, they would not be content either.  The true secret to peace and tranquility is to accept your life as it is and detach from the need for it to be different.  This is true with working out the same as it is with other aspects of life.  You have been given the body that you have – you cannot change your genetic structure (which often determines just how big and strong you get).  So stop worrying about things outside of your control.
     You are “an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it.”  The author is God – he gives us our role to play.  We should not complain about what role we are given – the same way that an actor in a play doesn’t complain if he is given the lead role or a minor character.  Whatever role he is given, he simply performs it to the best of his ability.
     What God decides to give to me or take away from me, what He decides to do to others whether they are my family or whether they are strangers, that is His business, not mine.  Mine is simply to live my life to the best of my ability.
Epictetus on Death and That Which We View to be Terrible:
     With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.
     Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.[2]
My Commentary:
     A few years ago I decided to focus all of my meditation – over the course of a few months – to death meditation.  It is considered a venerable practice within the Buddhist tradition.  You generally meditate on all the different ways that people get ill, or the different ways in which people die.  You meditate on the fact that everyone in the world will die.  (Of course, it’s much more in depth than this, but that’s enough of the gist of it for this article.)
     Something odd happened while I was practicing these meditations.  While my most people find these things to be morbid subjects – we live in a very death-denying culture, after all – I found that I was happier and in better spirits than I have just about ever been in my life.  Keeping death always before me, and constantly in my mind, it no longer held any kind of “grip” on me.  It ceased to be an issue, but rather just a natural process that happens to all people.
     Now, what does this have to do with lifting weights?  On the surface, not much, I admit, but I find that keeping death, illness, and aging “daily before your eyes” actually makes lifting weights more enjoyable too.  You realize that one day you will not be able to lift weights, one day you may get sick or injured, and you may not be capable of lifting weights.  And this makes training all the more enjoyable because you recognize it is (ultimately) fleeting, temporal, and impermanent.
Epictetus on Behaving as if You Know More Than You Do:
     If you have assumed any character above your strength, you have both made an ill figure in that and quitted one which you might have supported.[3]
My Commentary:
     Many people, when they first start training, or after they have been training for a brief period of time, behave as if they know more about training than they actually do.  Or, perhaps even worse, they think they actually know more about training than they do.  But the truth is that it takes years to acquire knowledge of training.  And you don’t gain this knowledge by just acquiring information.  You gain this knowledge by training, and using different programs for extended periods of time.  If you just acquire “knowledge” through reading or talking about training, then it could be that you will also decide that certain forms of training aren’t any good.  But this could be one of the worst mistakes you could ever make with your training.  What doesn’t work for others might be just the thing you need to grow larger and stronger than ever before.
In Summary
     Part Three – which I hope to post next week – will include our final discussions of Epictetus.  Until then, I would like to close our second part with this passage from The Enchiridion which I think will stand better without my commentary:
    “Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them as existing and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them as neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by with-drawing yourself from things not in our own control, and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in our own control to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors. For every animal is naturally formed to fly and abhor things that appear hurtful, and the causes of them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and the causes of them. It is impractical, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should be happy about the person who, he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to be happy about the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by a son, when he does not impart to him the things which he takes to be good; and the supposing empire to be a good made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies. On this account the husbandman, the sailor, the merchant, on this account those who lose wives and children, revile the gods. For where interest is, there too is piety placed. So that, whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought, is, by the very same means, careful of piety likewise. But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.”[4]

[1] The Enchiridion, sections 15, 17, and 19
[2] The Enchiridion, sections 3 and 21
[3] The Enchiridion, section 37
[4] The Enchiridion, section 31

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Epictetus Pumps Iron, Part 1

Epictetus Pumps Iron, Part One

Note:  This article series is – in many ways – a continuation of my earlier post “Life Lessons Learned from Lifting.”  If you haven’t already, you may want to read that entry first before beginning this series.

     One of my loves – outside of lifting weights – is philosophy.  When you hear/read the word philosophy, there is a good chance that another word – “boring” – springs to mind.  But I’m not talking about the dull, dry, armchair/academic variety of philosophy that is prevalent in modern Western society.  I’m talking about philosophy as it was originally intended to be: a way of life, a way of being.
     In recent years, philosophy as life-practice is on more of an upswing, probably because of the rise in popularity – or at least the growing interest among Westerners – of Eastern philosophy: Buddhism and Taoism respectively.
     But Western philosophy, once upon a time, was also a viable way of practicing life.  In fact, I would even offer that at one time it was not just equal to the Asian philosophies that are now popular in our culture, it surpassed them in many ways.
     Ancient Greek philosophy – at least as it developed in the few centuries before and after Christ – wasn’t focused so much on abstract concepts as it was on the attainment of virtue.  Philosophy was meant to be the vehicle to attain tranquility, control one’s emotions, live in peace with your fellow human being, and attain a virtuous life.  Although the philosophies – be it Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism, Cynicism, or Skepticism – differed on their approaches, they all agreed that tranquility, peace of mind, and virtue were the goals.
     Of these philosophies, the one that has influenced me the most – and the one that I think offers the most benefits for the modern world – is Stoicism.  The Stoic sages par excellence include Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius.  All four of these sages are wise teachers for anyone wishing to follow the Stoic path.  Aurelius is the loftiest, the most poetic, and the most admirable of the four – his Meditations is a must read for any aspiring philosopher.  But I believe that Epictetus is the most direct, straightforward, and practical of the group.  And his work “The Enchiridion” – also known as “The Manual” – is both a great introduction to his Stoic thought, and a readily-available handbook of Stoicism.
painting of Epictetus
     It is to The Enchiridion and Epictetus – and their applications in the realm of building muscle and strength through the art of training – that the rest of this series will focus upon.  What follows are passages from The Enchiridion that have relevance in the world of muscle-building, followed by my commentaries of each passage.
Epictetus on That which is in Our Control:
     Some things are in our control and others are not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, public office, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
     The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, un-hindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, re-strained, in the power of others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that which belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose those things to be your own which are your own, and what belongs to others to be theirs, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed.
     Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.
     Work, therefore, to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first and chiefly by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.[1]
My Commentary:
     If you want to build a lot of muscle, strength, and power; if you want to look good, feel good, and be healthy; worry only about those things that are within your control.  Things within your control: how hard and diligent you are during your training session; how consistently you train; how consistent and diligent you are with your nutrition regimen; the knowledge that you acquire in order to be stronger, more muscled, healthier, and more fit.  Things not within your control: how quickly your body responds to the training and eating regimen; your genetic potential with regards to building strength and muscle; what other people do in the gym; the results of lifters other than you; what others say and think about your training, your goals, and your lifestyle.
     Spend your time and energy – both valuable commodities that determine your quality of life – on the variables of your training lifestyle that are within your control.  Why waste time worrying about what others are doing?  If others need help or ask for help, that is one thing.  By all means, you should help others as much as possible.  I enjoy very much helping others with their training dilemmas; one of the reasons for this blog.  But I can only offer and provide the help and the advice – it is up to others how they use it.  And I worry not one second about those people that neither care nor wish to use my training advice.  Nor do I worry about others who may disparage my training philosophy.
     We live in a society where many people are concerned about the lives of celebrities.  Many people – through the advent of social media and through crap like reality television – live vicariously through what others do, say, and how they live.  Unfortunately, it’s also the same way in the bodybuilding and strength training communities.  Many young, aspiring lifters and bodybuilders spend too much time reading “profiles” of popular bodybuilders, powerlifters, or other strength athletes.  They concern themselves with gossip and the going-ons of these lifters.  But the time spent doing this is largely a waste.  Read about popular, well-respected lifters in order to get sound advice on training.[2]  But don't concern yourself with other things.
Epictetus on Not Being Disturbed by Things that Happen to Us:
     Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Someone who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.[3]
My Commentary:
     Our own life principles are what obscure us from seeing things as they are.  During the course of your training career – especially if you take strength training seriously – you will have many things that happen to you that are not conducive to gaining muscle and strength.  You will get sick during training even when you are at your peak (maybe especially during that time).  Even worse: you will acquire injuries that force you to take time off from serious lifting.  These things, in and of themselves, are not bad.  They are just the way things are.  It is our minds that make more of them than what they are – our minds tell us that these things “are bad,” that they will prevent us from growing the amount of muscle we want, or prevent us from getting really strong.  Yes, it is true that these things will cause our gains to slow – or even come to a halt for a certain period of time – but there is no reason that this should prevent our minds from continuing to reside in tranquility.  And when things such as this happen to us, we can spend the time training bodyparts that aren’t injured, or we can spend the time acquiring more knowledge so that we will be better prepared for training when we are capable.
     Here is another quote that Epictetus offers that relates to this same thing: “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”[4]

In Part 2 of this series we will cover more of Epictetus’ sound advice for modern training.

[1] The Enchiridion, section 1.
[2] I assure you: you will never get good advice from reading the “workouts” of top bodybuilders printed in magazines such as “Flex” each and every month.
[3] The Enchiridion, section 5.
[4] The Enchiridion, section 8.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bulk Building Brutality

 Bulk-Building Brutality
H.I.T. Training Using the Big 5 System

Mike Mentzer, the most well-known H.I.T. proponent
     I'll admit it: I’m not a big fan of high-intensity training.[1]  While a few people are neutral on the subject, most people either love or loathe high-intensity training principles.  I have, for the most part, been in the “loathe” category.  However, I do think it has its place, and I also think it’s been effective for a lot of lifters—when used properly, at least.
     In the past, I have been critical of it for several reasons:  I think it breeds laziness.  I think that it doesn’t allow the lifter to build enough power and strength when performed for high repetitions.  I don’t think that it’s effective at increasing work capacity.  I think it’s for “whiners” and “complainers” who claim to be “hard-gainers”, but who in fact want an excuse to not train frequently.  (The “hardgainer” is one of those categories of lifters and bodybuilders that you hear a lot about, but you never actually see, and you never actually meet one.  In this case, I think it was Dan John who said that they are “sort of like Bigfoot”—not an exact quote.  When a lifter tells me that he’s a “hardgainer”, all I have to do is take a look at his training and his diet to see where the problem lies: he doesn’t eat enough, he doesn’t train frequently enough, and he sure as hell doesn’t train heavy enough.)  Oh, and did I mention that I think it breeds laziness?
Kevin Tolbert - adopted son of Ken Leistner
     But then I got to thinking: what if a balls-to-the-wall, hardcore powerlifter, bodybuilder, or strength athlete decided that he had to use H.I.T.[2]?  What if I had to use H.I.T. when training myself or my lifters?  What would H.I.T. look like if designed by lifters or coaches who actually knew how to train?  The answer is that I think it would look a lot like the training routines presented here.
     First things first: These principles—and the programs that follow—are for people who want to gain a lot of muscle, and muscle is their primary goal, not necessarily strength.  This training is also for guys—gals, too, I suppose—who do want to be really strong, not just big.  However, this is not for guys whose main focus is just to get stronger.  Pure strength—the kind craved by elite powerlifters and Olympic lifters—will never be acquired through H.I.T.  Having said that, you definitely can get really big and really strong while following these workouts, and ones similar—in fact, this training will give you a good combination of both size and strength.
     Here are the “rules”, if you will, of my Brutal Bulk Building program:
  1. Train with full-body workouts.  This doesn’t mean that you need to train your entire body in one session, but it does mean that you need to do at least one upper body exercise, one lower body exercise, and one total body exercise in the same workout.
  2. Focus on power.  One of the things that I always disdained about typical H.I.T. training was its constant use of slow and controlled repetitions.  These things have their place on occasion, but the majority of the reps should be performed by moving the weight as fast as possible.
  3. Begin each workout with a pure strength movement, working up to one maximum set of 5, 3, 2, or 1 repetition(s).  I know that this is technically not H.I.T., but I think that it’s good for a couple of reasons that make the rest of the workout really “click” (for lack of a better word).  This exercise allows you to increase your workload without adding extra H.I.T. sets, and it “enhances” your nervous system, thus making the rest of the workout more effective.
  4. “Wave” your training frequency.  H.I.T. is hard on your recovery system.   This doesn’t mean that you need to always wait until you are “fully recovered” before training again, but it does mean that if you consistently do so, you will start to lose strength and power.  To counteract this, you want to train 4 or 3 days per week for a few weeks, and then have a “down” week where you only perform 2 weekly sessions.
  5. And last but certainly not least: Incorporate my “Big 5” system[3] throughout the training session and the weeks of training.
     After reading over the rules, you may be thinking, “Okay, but what the hell does that actually look like during a workout?”  Here are some example workouts using these principles.  Keep in mind that these are just examples.  Ultimately, you always need to find what’s best for you, and you also need to adjust workload based on your work capacity.
Workout One: Basic Total Body Session
  1. Squats: Work up over progressively heavier 3s until you reach a max triple.  (This is your only “neural-enhancing” power movement of the workout.)
  2. Clean and Presses: 1 to 2 “work” sets of 10 reps to failure.  Be sure and warm up with 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets before attempting your work sets.
  3. Rest-Pause Deadlifts: 1 set of 20 reps (after 1 or 2 warm-up sets).  For these, pick a weight where you would typically reach failure around the 10th rep.  When you are doing the set and approaching failure, rest and pause your set for 20 to 30 seconds before continuing.  Do not stop until you reach the 20th rep.
  4. Sled Drags: 2 sets for distance.  Each set should be “all out.”
Workout Two: Basic Total Body Session
  1. Deadlifts: Work up over progressively heavier 3s until you reach a max triple.
  2. Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 2 “work” sets of 5 reps to failure. Be sure and warm up with 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets before attempting your work sets.
  3. Chins: 3 “work” sets to failure.
  4. Farmer’s Walks: 2 “all out” sets for distance.
  5. Rest-Pause Power Snatches: 1 set of 30 reps.   Use a similar approach as with the rest-pause deadlifts from the first workout.
Workout Three: Example Chest-Specialization Program
     Occasionally, you may want to “specialize” on a certain bodypart during a session in order to bring it up to par with the rest of your physique, or in order to “shock” it into new growth.  Here is an example “chest specialization” workout, but this technique applies to all other bodyparts, too.
  1. Squats: Work up over progressively heavier 2s until you reach a max double.
  2. Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: Work up over progressively heavier 5s until you reach a max set of 5 reps.
  3. Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 2 “work” sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  4. Wide-Grip Dips: 2 “work” sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  5. Rest-Pause Power Cleans: 1 set of 20 reps.
  6. Walking Lunges: 1 “work” set of 20 to 30 reps to failure.
     Begin by training 3 days per week.  Do this until you start to feel as if you’re having a hard time recovering from your workout.  At this point—probably every 2 to 3 weeks—reduce your training volume to twice per week for a week or two.
     Be sure that you don’t neglect the “5th pillar” of the Big 5 Program; after all, you need to eat big to get big.

[1] This article works under the proposition that the reader already understands high-intensity training.  If you are not familiar with high-intensity training—commonly referred to as H.I.T.—it’s a “system” of training where you perform only a few exercises, train to the point of momentary muscular failure on each exercise, and train infrequently.  If you are not familiar with H.I.T., search my site for older posts.  You should find enough information.
[2] Before I get questioned on the subject, the truth is that I do think there have been occasional lifters—typically bodybuilders—who did fit into this category of “serious” H.I.T. athletes.  There was a very good powerlifter who trained in the mid ‘90s that comes to mind—but his name eludes me.   There’s Dr. Ken Leistner and his son in particular.  And, of course, there is young Mike and Ray Mentzer.  For more on where Mentzer’s training went Ayn Rand-crazy and derailed, see my previous post entitled “Real High Intensity Training.”
[3] There’s no reason to mention details of the “Big 5.”  If you aren’t familiar with it, read my previous post entitled “Mass Made Easy” or my earlier post entitled “The Big 5 Program.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mass Made Easy (or at Least Simple)

Mass Made Easy (or at Least Simple)

     I have been lifting weights hard now for over 20 years—the “training bug” hit me big right out of high school, back in ’92.  (I had been lifting even before that, during my last few years of high school, but that training was just to help my martial arts; I more or less just played around with weights during those years.)  I devoured every single article that I could come across during my first few years of training.  There was no such thing as the Internet at the time—yeah, I know, that’s hard for some of you young ‘uns to believe—so this meant reading every single bodybuilding and fitness magazine that hit the newsstands.  And it also meant reading every damn article in each one of those rags.  (Luckily I also had an uncle who had a lot of old Iron Man and Strength and Health magazines from the ‘70s and before—I devoured the hell out of those magazines too, and later much of that stuff would form many of my training theories and ideas.)
     A couple of years later—once I was pretty sure I was an expert on building muscle (tongue planted firmly in cheek)—I wrote my first article for Iron Man magazine.  I don’t know how many articles I’ve written since then, but it’s in the hundreds—I have several hundred articles right now on the hard drive of the computer I’m currently staring at, and that’s just for the past 8 or 9 years.  But one of the first few articles that I wrote was a little something called “Mass Made Easy.”  It was an attempt to put together all of the best methods, keys, and techniques (that were available at the time) for building the most muscle possible in the shortest amount of time.  I can’t recall what exactly was in that article—I can only ever so faintly remember writing it—but I’m pretty sure that if I had to re-write the article, it wouldn’t look anything like it did back then.
     Which brings us around to what you are now staring at on your computer screen.  What follows—briefly—are the best methods, keys, techniques, etc. for building (yep, you guessed it) the most muscle in the shortest possible time.  Here goes:
Follow the “Big 5”
My "Big 5" program appeared in the July/August issue of PM
     No matter what kind of set/rep scheme that you use, no matter whether you train with full-body workouts or with 6-way split routines, no matter whether you train your muscles frequently or infrequently, you should never deviate from the “Big 5.”[1]  Here is the Big 5 in brief:
  1. Squat something heavy
  2. Press/put something heavy over your head
  3. Pick heavy stuff off the ground
  4. Carry/drag heavy stuff for distance
  5. Eat a lot of good calories
Train as Frequently as Possible While Being as Fresh as Possible
     If you have read a lot of my articles or posts, then, yes, I once again uttered that famous, oft-quoted (at least by me) phrase of strength coach/researcher Vladmir Zatsiorsky.  Basically, it means that the more often that you can train, the better.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that the more often you do train the better off you’ll be.  (You still have to recover between workouts.)
     It’s been my experience that the majority of guys (and gals) working out, make the cardinal sin of both overtraining and undertraining at the same time.  (This is especially true if they read a lot of American bodybuilding magazines.)  Many of them do way too much at each workout (overtraining), which means they then have to take way too many days off between workouts for muscle groups/lifts (undertraining).
     Train just hard enough so that you can train the muscle/lift (or a lift similar to it) in another 48 to 72 hours.  And then build up your work capacity slowly over the course of many months until you can train both hard/long and frequently.  At that point, you will be very big and very strong.
Perform a Lot of Full Body Workouts
Freddy Ortiz and Larry Scott - 2 "old timers" who used full body workouts
     You don’t have to always train with full body workouts—in fact, I have a feeling you would get bored as hell if you did it all the time—but at least half of your training career should be spent doing them.  (That means 50% of your workouts for those of you who are incapable of doing the math.  I say that because I’ve talked and/or corresponded with plenty of guys who claim they do a lot of full body workouts, but their training careers—if you could even call it that—proves otherwise.)
     If you use a micro-periodization scheme (my preference), this means that you should be doing both full-body and split workouts in the course of a week or two of training.  If you are more of a macro-periodization lifter, then this means you should do this within the course of a year of training.
     Also, this doesn’t mean that you have to train your entire body in the same workout.  One of my favorite tactics is the full body split workout.  One workout might be squats, bench presses, and barbell curls.  The next workout might be deadlifts, overhead presses, and chins.  A third workout might be power cleans, one-arm dumbbell overhead presses, and farmer’s walks.  Split workouts?  Yep.  Full body workouts?  You bet.
Utilize a Lot of High Set/Low Rep Workout Schemes
     I think—if you want to get great results in the shortest amount of time—the best thing you can do is combine heavy weight, high set, low rep schemes with full body split workouts.  I’m talking about stuff such as 10 sets of 3 reps, 15 sets of 2 reps, 5 sets of 5 reps, 6 sets of 4 reps, 20 sets of singles.  Workouts where—for the most part, with the exception of 5 sets of 5—the sets are always higher than the reps.  These set/rep schemes allow you to train heavy, to recover fast, to generate a lot of force during the entire session, to take minimum rest between sets, and to get a good full body workout within a short period of time.
Utilize the Two-Barbell Rule
     Even though this is something that I just recently “stumbled across”—if “stumbled” is even the right word since I’d inadvertently been doing it for a long time—I think it should be adhered to for the majority of your workouts.  The two-barbell rule is easy and simple.   Basically, every time that you lift, make sure that you do two barbell exercises before you do anything else.  (See my post below for a little more info on the efficacy of this tactic.)
     I guess I could come up with more “keys” and “tips” than this brief handful, but we’ll save that for another article.  Besides, I have a high-set, low-rep, full-body workout that I need to perform—just the kind of full-body split workout I do all the time.

[1] For a more in-depth look at the “Big 5” see my previous article/post on this subject.  Also, see my Planet Muscle article of the same name from a few issues past.  You can probably read that on the brand spankin’ new Planet Muscle website—its pretty awesome looking.  (And, yes, I am engaging in a little shameless self-promotion.)