Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Lift A Day

Dan John wrote his original "One Lift A Day" article a number of years back for TMuscle.com. It obviously created quite a stir, with the typical genius commenters asking "will it help with the peak on my bi's, yo?" or "should I use a 2-3-2 tempo or a 5-1-5 tempo for the toe-pointed calf raises I'm doing on Day Six?" The more intelligent questions, asked by people who have actually lifted and not only argued about it in online forums, were more along the lines of "can something so simple really work?" and "how many days will it be until I can walk again after squat day?" I've just completed Week 1 of this workout, and am loving it so far. For those who didn't actually read the article (it's worth it), the basic idea is, you guessed it: One Lift A Day! This means you pick one lift, a primary, essential lift (read: no isolation, single joint movements), and that is your lift for the day. No ANDs, period. If you're Squatting - you Squat, all day. Ditto for Pullups, Cleans, whatever. No doing your three sets followed by the mental rest of a nice trip to the water fountain, walk across the gym, then three sets on something else, rinse and repeat. I think this mental challenge alone merits doing this program at least once. I always begin my workouts with SMR on foam rollers, tennis balls, etc...followed by an active dynamic warmup. This takes me about 15-20 minutes. I then do specific "build up" sets of the lift I am going to do heavy, to get my body ready for the upcoming work. The first week of OLAD calls for 7 sets of 5 reps of your chosen lift. There's no %'s, no specific rest periods - seven sets of five. Obviously you'll be working at a fairly high intensity % of your 1RM, and rest periods will be on the longer side, but they're not specifically prescribed. Because the point is to get your lift done, heavy, and that's hard enough. For example, my 1st workout on OLAD last week was Squats on Monday. After my warmup, I started my build up sets with Overhead Squats for 3 sets of 5 at 65, 85, 110 lbs. Then Front Squats at 155, 185, 205 for 3 sets of 3. Then one set of 3 at 250 in the Squat. THEN the work sets began. I did: 275x5, 285x5, 295x5, 295x5, 275x5, 255x5, 290x5. My rest periods increased from 2 minutes at first, all the way to 3.5 minutes by the time I was done. Because that's what I needed to finish strong. I followed with Bench Press on Tuesday, Power Clean + Push Jerk (7x3, due to the nature of the lift) on Thursday (see video below), and Pullups on Friday. It was a great workout week, and I look forward to this week's 6 sets of 3, while raising intensity but halving volume.

*UPDATE
See this post for a recap of how the program went, and what happened when I did the Crossfit Total soon after.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How Many Reps?

When setting up a workout program, one of the primary training variables to manipulate is how many repititions (reps) per set will be performed by the trainee. Of course, you can't really talk about reps without also talking about sets, rest interval, and % RM, so we'll get to those too, don't worry. Conventional wisdom, espoused by most fitness publications, is 10-15 reps for 3 sets of work with about a minute rest. Many certifying bodies present a broader picture of rep schemes. The number of reps depends on your goal: for strength, 1-6 (or 8) reps; for hypertrophy, 6 (or 8) to 12 reps; for muscular endurance, 12+ reps. Some even give guidelines for training power/explosively as well.

Then you begin to read articles and books by the predominant names in fitness: Boyle, Santana, Chek, Rippetoe, Glassman, John, Tsatsouline, Simmons, Siff etc... and you get more ideas, thoughts, and possibilities for rep schemes. With all that information out there, who do you follow? Especially when advice from one world-class coach often is at odds with another?

My answer to this question for the general fitness enthusiast has nothing to do with science, research, or peer-review. It's difficult to prove or disprove, and many would scoff at it, but I really think it's the best way to go about this selection process. The simple answer is read and learn and absorb as much as you can. Try out the protocols and ideas that resonate most with you, and see what works best.

Now, obviously there are flaws to this approach. One program may have worked for the 6 weeks you did it because you were getting 8 hours sleep and eating properly, while another, better program flopped because you only slept 5 hours a night and ate crap. Possible. Also possible is that your body is genetically more predisposed to strength than endurance, so Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program gave you amazing gains for 6 months, and then you switched to an endurance based program and were suddenly getting nowhere, slow.

These and other reasons are why this whole process is a journey. You won't find THE best answer in a week, month, or year. Constant learning and experimentation is required to grow, and often this experimentation has to be on yourself.

So learn - and be sure you learn from good sources. Find people who have had success in the field of fitness, strength and conditioning, coaching powerlifting and/or olympic lifting, bodybuilders, and learn as much as you can from them. Be it in person, through books and articles they write, any way you can. Be discerning in who you pick to learn from and challenge their ideas. If someone tells you they do something without any basis, source, or at least LOGIC, and a lot of their training proceeds from this point, they're probably not someone worth learning from.

On the other hand, if someone has sources and/or sound logic to back up what they say, then use them as a resource and try out some of their ideas and programs. This way, you'll ensure you are only trying things that have a good chance of success, and aren't searching for the needle in a haystack. You don't want to waste a year trying 12 different BOSU-Fusion programs with 3lb dumbbells. But if you spend a year trying a few variations of kettlebell programs, olympic lifting programs, sports conditioning programs, and maybe even a legitimate bodybuilding program or two, your training will probably progress and your knowledge and experiential base certainly will.

So how many reps (and sets and what RI's and at what % RM) should you do? Go read something by someone reputable and try it out. If you're first starting out and are injury-free, Rippetoe's linear progression is perfect. If you have some injuries or imbalances that may need attention, try getting scored on an FMS and proceed from there. If you're an advanced trainee, one of JC Santana's hyper-crazy MMA Fighter programs may be just what you need. The point is, learn learn learn from good people, and see what their ideas are about. I promise you won't regret it.