Thursday, March 01, 2007

"The Best Workout Is..."

"...the one you're not doing."

This seems to be a popular quote these days in the fitness industry. On a base level, it sounds good: "Yeah, I really need to change it up..." But the reality is, it's just a stupid saying. It's a cliche and an overused one at that.

The reality is, the best workout is the one that gets you closer to your goal based upon your background and also keeps you from getting injured. I came to this realization today after talking to my friend Brett Jones, SrRKC. This guy knows his stuff and if you need help designing a training program, you should contact him right away. (

Coming back from this cruise, I planned on changing my training sessions to early in the morning. Well, it sounded good on the cruise but the reality was, I didn't get much sleep on the cruise and I've been making up for it by sleeping in. Not only that, the training program I designed violated my own personal belief system of not using components of the Olympic lifts or the lifts themselves for conditioning, whether strength related or speed related. Kettlebells are for conditioning, especially for athletes with a more advanced training age.

I've always wondered why the longer I trained the less reps I could do with particular weights, even though I could lift more (maximally). Then I read Charles Poliquin's Question of Strength on T-Nation. Here's the question and his response:

A: Yes. What happens is that most hypertrophy gains usually occur between 70 and 85% of max. (That's a gross overgeneralization, but we can use it as a rule of thumb.) Now, an untrained individual will do between 7 and 12 reps in that range, but for an advanced lifter that's only 4-6 reps. If you're experienced and neurologically efficient, the amount of reps you can do at a given percentage of max actually goes down.

Now, there's some evidence in the literature contrary to that, but the majority of it agrees that the number of reps you can perform at a given percentage of max diminishes with training experience, particularly if the athlete has been training properly. This is especially true if levels of maximal strength have increased a lot, as in double bodyweight raw bench press.

This is exactly what I have experienced over the years. Upon closer inspection, it was either Roman or Medvedyev who stated, based on experimentation, that highly qualified athletes (in this case, weightlifters) made improvements in strength by increasing the intensity (% of maximum) of the training sessions, not the volume. (Of course, if the total number of lifts is constant and you increase the load, then volume will go up. But this is different than increasing the total number of lifts and this is what I mean and what the aforementioned authors mean by volume.) Volume is the foundation upon which the lifter builds his strength. I have also personally found this to be true. Therefore, all training programs are not equal and not appropriate for each individual, whether he's got all the necessary equipment or not. In my case, 150 total reps (which is what I had planned) in a training session is just way, way, way too much. I thrive on the lower rep range and the higher intensity end of the spectrum. Whenever I push the volume too high, it's too much for my CNS and I actually lose weight, primarily muscle. I realized this talking to Brett today. (Sometimes I read too much and forget this.) So, I promptly ditched the program I started on Monday and went to a lower volume training program which I designed to fit my highly stressful lifestyle--one that comes with building a new business.

Today's training, Thursday, 3.2.07

Felt rusty--I haven't been on the platform in almost 2 weeks.

A. Power Snatch from Floor:
50kg/3 x2; 60/2; 70/1; 80/1
(85/1, 90/1, 95/1) x 6 with 60 seconds rest
I figured that I only compete with 1 rep so I better start learning to put it all in the first rep. These felt bad until I finally hit the groove I wanted around the fifth series.

B. Back Squat:
(120/5, 140/3, 160/1) x3; 2 minutes rest

These also felt awkard. I think the last time I hit a heavy back squat was almost a month ago. My intention here is to work some hypertrophy, max strength, and limit strength. 160kg felt slower than it should have. Still moved it though.

Tomorrow will be cleans and heavy overhead work.


Blogger Brett Jones said...

Great talking to you - and looks like a good training session!
Talk to you soon.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Franz Snideman said...


glad you survived the cruise. I too would agree with the Poliquin statement on training age and the need to perfrom more "quality" reps as one get older (great training age). I have experienced that in my own training and with sprinting. At 33 years old I no longer can tolerate the sprint volume I used to be able to tolerate. Not only that, I seem to maintain my speed with very intense, short and infrequent speed workouts. That works for me.

Great post Geoff. I think you're right on and sounds like personal experience has taught you the same.

7:00 PM  
Blogger integratedevolution said...


I am not sure if you read the most recent Dan John article over at T-mag but he makes some statements that really relate to your thoughts. His terms are Sorta Max, Max Max, Max Max Max, pretty interesting stuff.

You got me thinking about my own programmin so I added up the reps in my current session. My strength days in which I primarily do squats and O-lift variants are 72 reps, which I considered high volume doing waves of 5/3. My bodybuilding day, which working with pretty low percentage weights or more iso-movemments run at about 144 reps per session.

Interesting topic you raise. I had never given much thought to it, but I remember when 5x5 used to be low rep work now, it just seems very daunting.

Troy M Anderson

8:42 AM  

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