Friday, August 17, 2007

Creating the Optimal Training Environment

A colleague of mine recently emailed me to ask about how I train football players in the summer. Below is a small portion of our exchange...

I know you will disagree with a few of the exercises used but as I said I am a realist and guys ALWAYS want to do curls so I give them a few sets a week. It makes them happy. I eliminated it for a while and guys were pissed and always asked when we could do arms. I believe in making everyone happy. Guys like to get a good pump too.

I definitely agree with you on making training as safe as possible. Alwyn and I have discussed this endlessly. The main reason I have been successful and have had every guy from 4 surrounding towns in my facility, while even having a multi million dollar TEST facility right down the street is not only because of the results I produce but because of the atmosphere in my gym. Everybody loves coming there because it's so completely different than everywhere else they ever went. The music, the attitude, the camaraderie, competition, etc.

But there's a fine line between creating the perfect competitive, hardcore training environment and doing what is safest and most productive. I don't necessarily have a problem with you using front squats over back squats per se, it's just that most of my guys love to squat and the majority of them get tested on squats with their high school, college or pro teams. For that reason alone, you have to back squat. Also, most people hate doing front squats so I don't torture them. I definitely limit the use of extremely heavy deads to only the most competent guys who can do them with perfect form.

Another example is going to failure or just training too hard in general. Here's the thing with going to failure that most people haven’t figured out yet. Most guys are either on one side or the other of that fence.

If you are just training for hypertrophy/bodybuilding you can go to failure.
Not death set/nervous breakdown failure but you can go til you can’t do another rep. In fact, it may be more productive to go to failure in this case. Even then, nothing is cut and dry and there are certain exceptions but that is generally the rule.

If you are training strictly for performance and strength, you cant go to failure all the time. If you do so on week one, I can guarantee you will be fucked by week three and probably by week two.

However, and here is how this ties into training atmosphere, if no guys ever worked their asses off and pushed it to the limits in the gym I'm not sure that creates the kind of environment that competitive athletes can't wait to get to every day. If you just did jumps and Oly lifts and split squats and never busted your fucking ass (or got a biceps pump once in awhile) I honestly don't think guys would like it as much.

There is also the mental aspect to it. When guys show up at camp in August they are going to get shit on. Coaches are going to put them through hell. I think they need to be mentally ready for that and feel like they outworked everyone on that field. They need that mental edge and chip on their shoulder to be able to say “fuck you, I busted my ass this summer and outworked all you motherfuckers.”

BUT... going to failure and beyond all the time probably slows down your progress. So where do you draw the line? This is what I always try to play with and am always getting closer to what is optimal.

I know for a fact that one of the best ways of training may be to go all out for three weeks and take the fourth week completely off. You won’t lose a thing. But at the end of the year you may actually make more progress and feel better. The body actually needs way less training than most of us realize. You could probably take half the year off and still make great progress.

If you need athletes to go all out in the weight room to prepare them for what they will face on the field maybe that is the best option right there- 3 wks on, 1 wk completely off.

But how do you fit that into a business model? You would have to have them feel like they were doing something that week or they would hate it. Maybe just stretch, foam roller and whatever else you could fill up 3 hours with?

I don’t have all the answers; just lots of thoughts.