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Weakest Link Applied to Training

By Tim Lochhead

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” ∞ Socrates

In terms of your health you are only as strong as your weakest link; the main components are training, nutrition, and lifestyle/recovery.

Our first article in the weakest link series takes a look at training.  Why start with training and exercise?  You might think I am biased being a trainer and fitness model, but it is the other way around – I became a trainer when I realized how important exercise is and began my own path.

We begin with training because it probably has the biggest impact.  Exercise and you are more likely to eat and sleep better.  Otherwise, you will feel it when you hit the gym.  If you start focusing on the other categories first, like sleeping or eating, they do not necessarily move you to improve in the other areas.

Represent

This is a very important concept to understand.  If you do you will be well on your way to feeling unstoppable and will enjoy hard-earned meals much more.

Shop

Not very challenging. Calories not earned.

Ask yourself – what does training and exercise represent? Before the age of grocery stores you could not spend 150 calories sitting your butt in a car and then pushing around a dorky cart, only to buy 30,000 calories or more of junk.  If you wanted to eat, you had to move.  We have to earn our calories!  When your life is on the line you will be very motivated not only to move, but to take care of yourself (eating and sleeping) so that you can stay on top.  Lifters know very well that if you want to eat you train.  Train harder, train more, and eat more.

I often get asked “how many days a week do you train?”

And reply “Only on days when I want to eat!”

The good news is that you can get results from just 3-4 days a week.  The main thing to understand is why it is such a priority, so that you will learn to make the time.

Hunt

Calories earned. Also good for social status.

A lot of people say that your training is just an option, it’s ‘your choice’.  First look at them – how healthy are they?  Then ask if they think eating is an option.  Yes you have a choice in what you eat, but do you still need to eat?

In terms of options yes resistance training is one choice, and it’s a great bang for your buck in terms of body shaping and overall health.  Of course you can also get exercise by playing sports like basketball, hockey etc.  But is not exercising at all really an option?  And what if you have a sedentary job or sit all day?  Now what do you think your real options are after understanding this connection?

It’s like Money

After millions of years our genetics have evolved to spend energy to get energy.  It is like making money.  Any good businessman will tell you that you have to spend money to earn money.  And if you do, you’ll be ‘money’.

OK – by now we understand the real importance of training.   So what are some key points to consider?

Venn Timing

“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”

Timing

This can mean what time of the day you train, and with our busy work schedules any time is a good time.  Obviously you want to train when it is daylight out; when we are programmed to be alert and active.  However, your body will adapt to training at the times you can, so don’t fret if you can only get to the gym after work.

In terms of the science of training what this really refers to is frequency.  The following chart by Zatsiorsky and Kramer (2006) illustrates some key points:

Zatsiorsky and Kramer frequency chart

Training is a stressor and by following a good plan your goal is to adapt to training stress.  The result is a leaner, stronger you – referred to as supercompensation.  Train too frequently and you do not recovery from your prior session leading to maladaptation.  Train just right and you improve.  Train too infrequently and your prior gains are lost (involution).

Quantity

For simplicity sake we will call the next category quantity, although it encompasses much more.  This is the overall volume of your training.  It also factors in the above frequency.

To determine the overall volume of your training, add up all your sets and reps.  (A set is a series of repetitions, one repetition is one lift).

You must also consider your time under tension, which is the length of time a muscle is under the load.

Charles Poliquin devised a four digit system like 4210.  With bench press as an example:

  • The first digit is the lowering or eccentric portion of the lift (not necessarily the first phase of the life, like in a pull-up).  With the bench press example you lower the bar for a count of 4 seconds.
  • The second digit is the pause between the lowering and lifting, so hold the bar for 2 seconds on the chest.
  • The third digit is the lifting or concentric portion of the lift.  Lift the bar with a good speed – only 1 second.
  • The last digit is the pause between the lifting and lowering, so there is no pause as you perform the next rep without stopping.

The rep rules all.  How many reps you are performing determines many variables like the weight used, sets and rest intervals.

How do you determine your rep range?  That depends on your training goal: fat-loss, strength endurance, muscle growth, functional strength, relative strength or power.

Getting into the details of all of these factors is a book unto itself!  For now we will look at our final link.

Quality

If you are training a few times a week and are using good loading parameters, you won’t get very far if you aren’t doing things properly.

Squats

Squats are in.

Leg extensions

Leg extensions... not so much.

Quality here refers to proper exercise technique and good exercise selection.

Having proper exercise technique allows you to execute your workouts in a safe and effective manner.  All sets should be completed with full range of motion to use all of your muscles ability.  Otherwise, you only get partial results.  If you train a muscle to be short it will shorten.  The old saying goes that “a long muscle is a strong muscle.”

By good exercise selection I not only mean selecting exercises that will achieve your goals but also getting the most bang for your buck in terms of time and effectiveness.  With our busy schedules we can only make so much time for the gym, so make the most of it.  Compound exercises (where two or more joints move) like squats or presses are the first priority.  Free weights like barbells or dumbbells compromise the majority of training over machines.  Free weights require you to train all the small muscles, not just the big movers.  That is one potential reason why you can lift a million pounds on a machine and then get an injury doing something silly like picking up groceries – there are strength imbalances between your big movers and assistance-type muscles.  Sitting at machines also burns less calories than performing the free weight counterpart and trains the muscles through an unnatural (fixed) point of movement.  Machines can have their place, but too much and you’ll be wasting your time and working on an injury.

I am sure you can appreciate why strength training is both a science and an art.  The art is the application of the science.  Cheers to happy and healthy training and getting to the top of your game!

tim@yourmissinglink.ca
Your Game-Changer