Anthony Ditillo on Adaptability
A little more than ten years ago, or thereabouts, I made a change in how I trained. I switched over from heavy, full-body infrequent routines to heavy, full-body, frequent training programs. I’m not going to get into all of the details here as to why this happened – you can read past posts about my success with the powerlifting programs of Boris Sheiko if you desire to know more.
Once I had success with Sheiko’s programs, however, I wanted to try more routines, so I voraciously read everything I could get my hands on from knowledgeable lifters/writers who had espoused such forms of frequent training over the years. Some writer/trainers (whether they were bodybuilders, powerlifters, or Olympic lifters) were better than others.
Bill Starr, of course, was one of the best. (And he still is.) But I had been doing Starr’s routines – or stuff similar – for quite a long time before ever attempting the insane (or so I thought) amount of volume that the Sheiko’s routines had me doing. Starr’s programs are great to use as an intermediary between more traditional bodybuilding-oriented programs (where you train everything once every 5 to 7 days) and the prodigious volume/frequency of Sheiko. (Let me add, here, that I also think Starr’s programs can be used year ‘round, and for years on end, and you can get great results out of them. With Sheiko – and with Ditillo – however, you can take your strength levels to a whole other… well, level – you just have to have the courage, strength, and perseverance to adapt.)
Enter Anthony Ditillo. Ditillo had been around for a long time. I had whole stacks of old Iron Man magazines with his articles in them (he wrote a lot of articles in the ‘70’s), but I had never given him enough credit. His stuff just seemed as if it was too much volume, too frequently, and with too much intensity. (After all, you can’t have all 3 variables high, right?) But I had sold Ditillo short – way short. His programs work great, assuming that (a) you have enough experience lifting, (b) you are consuming enough high-quality calories on a daily basis, and (c) you allow your body to adapt to his programs – and it will adapt assuming the a and b criteria are met.
The following article is a great introduction to his thought when it comes to frequent, heavy, hard training:
Scientists tell us – given enough time and bringing in the law of survival, man will adapt to his outside environmental conditions in an attempt to accept the circumstantial changes of his environment, his aim being survival. I am positive this same law of adaptability can be incorporated into the lifter’s or bodybuilder’s routine with great gains in muscle size, strength, condition and an increase in the trainee’s workload capabilities, plus an ability to handle heavy weights without any waste of nervous energy. You will also be amazed at how easy it is to recuperate overnight from each day’s workout. After a while you will start watching other fellows train in the usual accepted manner and you’ll begin to notice all the wasted energy, the psyching, the pumping, cheating, etc., and it begins to dawn on you how advanced and scientific your training is becoming compared to theirs. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of the story. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
Last July (74) I began training with a good friend of mine who at one time was quite an accomplished Olympic lifter. “Dezi” and I began an intensive six days a week training routine which lasted all summer long. It was during this time that he began sharing his training philosophies, experiences, etc., with me and to say he helped me tremendously is putting it mildly. “Dezi” has lifted over 20 years and when you realize what knowledge such a lifetime of work creates, you learn to listen and watch such a man carefully.
It was during this particular time, through various conversations I learned “Dezi” had used this law of adaptability without ever consciously being aware of it. At least he didn’t make too much out of it and seemed to use it as though EVERYONE knew of its existence! He told me that when he was a competitive lifter he pressed EVERY DAY. Various pulls, squats, lunges, etc. were done every day, day after day, until unrecuperable fatigue set in and then, and only then, three days or so were taken off and the result was you were stronger AFTER the short rest than before, and this enabled you to continue with the everyday training once again until nature would once again step in and literally FORCE you to rest once more.
For the past nine months I have trained using my coach’s advice, for the most part five days a week on the following movements: Bench Presses, High Pulls, Shrugs, and possibly sometimes Power Snatches. I also include whenever I feel like it, full, bar high on the neck, back completely straight, Olympic Squats. Most of these movements are done in sets of three or five repetitions working up to a maximum poundage for the day. It seems that after two weeks work, the limit set is able to be increased and progress is slow but steady and you are psychologically secure as to where you are strength-wise and the need to psych up for a workout or limit lift is no longer necessary. This is because your body is slowly adapting to the workload you are putting on it and it gets to the point where you can recuperate overnight. It seems far more rational to me to condition the body to accept workouts on a DAILY basis than to use the two or three times a week method of operation. Let me try to break this point down some, for easier understanding: most trainees will hit a muscle group most severely once or twice a week. In other words, each muscle group is subjected to many sets and repetitions, using medium heavy and heavy weights twice weekly. The severity of such exercise requires 72 hours rest for recuperation, removal of lactic acid, and finally, growth. Naturally, if you tried to work the same muscle group every day you would lose strength and undergo great physical and emotional trauma (by way of soreness and tiredness) at least through the first three weeks. But I guarantee, if your diet is adequate and you fully supplement your diet with additional nutrients and if you discover CORRECT TRAINING LOAD for each movement each day, you will OVERCOME the trauma and your body will recuperate more rapidly.
For me, the correct training load is as follows: one pressing movement and either one pulling and one squatting movement; or two pulling movements daily. I use five sets per pulling or squatting movement and usually five repetitions for the first three warmup sets (jumping weight each set) and then one medium-heavy set of three repetitions and finally one heavy set of three repetitions. For example, in the Shrug Pull I usually follow the foregoing schedule: 245 x5, 335 x5, 425 x5, 515 x3, and finally 605 or 655 x 3 (depending on strength level for that day). My High Pull workout goes something like this: 205 x5, 255 x3, 295 x3, and finally 315 or 325 x3 (depending on my strength level for that day). To put it simply: if I’m tired I reduce intensity but maintain tonnage as closely as possible and if I’m energetic I go for broke on the heavy set for that day. Usually on the third or fourth training day stress comes into play and that workout would consist of relatively light weights with a low repetition scheme so the next day I am right back on course, however, I NEVER omit a prescribed movement for any reason on any day. As Jim Williams said, “Most guys do more sets and reps, but how many can hit a max weight every workout?”
Using this training theory of every day performing the same movements but with different intensity had really helped me in both muscle growth and strength. I have grown a pair of trapezius muscles the size of a male gorilla, my entire back musculature has dramatically improved, my competition-style bench press has reached an all-time high and my pulling style and strength have also improved. I am more energetic and enthusiastic about my training, and I also never feel dragged out or overtrained and I know I am progressing just about as fast as I can. I am recuperating overnight and muscle soreness is almost a thing of the past. For me, the benefits are well worth the sacrifice of such hard daily training.
 For those who are interested, Ditillo is referring to the old-time Olympic lifter Dezso Ban. Ban was something of a legend – once upon a time – for the sheer amount of volume he used in his workouts.