- Ada Smith showing that strong is beautiful – no need to be fearful of the barbell, ladies.
Whether teaching someone to surf or kite like I did for years, or helping them incorporate regenerative design strategies in to their life, home, farm or organisation via permaculture (aka Integrative Ecosocial Design), essentially I’m trying to help improve peoples physical circumstances (their environment), and more often than not, the way they the perceive it too. Teaching health and fitness focused around strength training is just getting straight to the root cause, starting at zone o, the self, and in a straightforward way that anyone can relate to, I consider it about as integrative as regenerative education gets. I’m also excited to make fitness a big part of some youth workshops, e.g (S.E.L.F – Surf, Environment, Leadership, Fitness) 🙂 .
Anyways, I decided making a blog post to share some insight that I feel may be of use to the curious.
I recognise that people get in the gym for a diversity of reasons, but it always comes down to self improvement/development, whether it’s to satisfy the ego, or to simply take control of ones health. Whatever the reason may be, I see training to be a perfect way to aid ones physical well being. Even if the reason for starting out may be shallow, jumping on the conscious path to self development is always a productive journey. I’ve said many times that care of the environment is inseparable from care of the self, so even if you do it only for you, you’ll positively impact those around you.
Before I get in to details, I’d like to race over the long obsolete debate about whether strength training will make you too “bulky”. For as long as you remain a natural athlete, the chances of you ever getting too strong looking while staying functionally strong, mobile and at a healthy level of conditioning, is slim to none. In fact I challenge you to prove me wrong. Women too, all of the information on this blog and most fitness advice directed at natural athletes is equally relevant to both sexes, the female body is not an exception to thermodynamics, or does it have some abstract physiological differences. In fact Women’s hormonal differences prevent the musclebound look so the pink dumbbells can go back on the rack, and you too can benefit from the feeling and looking good. Train like a warrior, look like a goddess. Women have approximately 5-10% of the testosterone, preventing even the most hardcore devoted truly natural athlete, from losing femininity. Please don’t take my word for it, do your own research. (If you have any hyper strong women in your mind that are ultra masculine, I would bet are likely at unhealthy low, or unhealthily high body fat %’s for women, or potentially even using performance enhancing drugs; nattyornot.com is a good resource if you are questioning a particular athlete. Unfortunately doping has become common practice in the mainstream sporting world, and in the fitness industry, making some people seeking whats unobtainable naturally, and others put off training all together. Keep it natural, and you can only become an optimal version of yourself.)
The way I see it, humans evolved for an active lifestyle, and now that our lives have become so intertwined with technology, we are inevitably less active. However, with only minor tweaks to our lifestyles we can get the benefit of both worlds, instead of the opposite. Of course there are many ways to get active and fit; The reason I choose strength as a secondary focus (after my main activities of board-sports), is because it’s arguably the most efficient use of time (which is often in high demand in our busy lives), It generally improves everything you do (providing you are doing adequate conditioning and mobility) and it holds the individual 100% accountable; There is no need for; wind, waves, fair weather, daylight, or a team, in fact its an anytime activity, and you can can have immediately measurable success which helps to stay motivated. By strength training independently of team sports (if you do them), even if you have to miss a few practices or even season, you’ll stay fit enough to rejoin the team at a good level of fitness, if that’s where your passion lies. It allows an individual to stay resilient to change. I really do feel that strength training offers a lot for anyone, but especially for people in times of transition, and those living in sometimes complex and chaotic situations. It teaches independence and self discipline. I know most of this from personal experience.
Everybody must experiment, and over time adapt training to suit their individual needs and goals, yet emphasis on this diversity, tweaking programs too early on, generally prolongs progress.
Here I propose a general backbone of an early – intermediate strength training program, one that I would generally set for any beginner to intermediate lifter (providing they don’t have moderate-major imbalances to address first) . I’ve been taking myself back through the the same process recently too, as I was not gifted with such a resource when I began, yet I wanted to take myself through the motions I’m recommending to others.
Where To start
First things first mobility, active stretching and warm up
I like the Agile 8 for warm up before even touching a barbell for the warm up weight. After each workout I recommend some slow and moderately painful foam rolling (this is one of the few times when “no pain, no gain” is good advice. This helps recovery, prevents overcompensation injuries and speeds up progress. See the youtube playlist bellow for advice on foam rolling.
Then you need a program. I’m listing them in order that I recommend.
(Beginners are defined as those that haven’t yet exhausted their linear, work out to workout progression.)
This is the plan on which I recommend you develop your form and learn the movements, not to mention experience all of your “newbie gains”. Follow the link for more info. During this period and all following I highly recommend making the most of technology at hand and filming your last set to view your technique and offer it for critique to more than one person (over the internet, if you are training alone). Having good form/technique not only is to reduce potential of injury and stress on joints, it also puts your in the position to move the most weight, once your become accustomed to it. I also recommend using an app such as Strong lifts 2 to record your strength gains. I have no affiliation, I’m just delighted to have technology legitimately save me time.
Another great article on the starting strength program and author, here. See also the Advanced Novice Program that leads on nicely to intermediate programming.
The Texas Method
The Texas Method is arguably the best intermediate program. You’ll still be squatting 3x per week, but there is a light day on Wednseday allowing for recovery before trying to beat personal records on the Friday. It allows for moderate progression, but on a weekly basis, not workout to workout like with Starting strength.
This has to be one of the most popular strength gaining programs for an advanced lifter, a lifter happy to make monthly gains instead of weekly. You have a day for each of the 4 main lifts. You can vary the types of extra lifts you do for your assistance work. There is no substitute for reading the book. If you choose to add in olympic lifts with this program it’s recommended you do them before your squat and or deadlifts, instead of your assistance work. It has also been critiqued for having low overall volume especially with squats, which works for some people but not for others. Adding Squats as Deadlift Assistance fixes this, but there are many ways to do this. 5/3/1 is for advanced lifters, and the advanced lifter will know by feeling it out what works for them.
Olympic Lifts Variations
These types of explosive movements are definitely useful for athletes when performed correctly. You really need a trainer to help you with these. If you aren’t sure what type of program to do this is a great place to start. http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/Weightlifting_Programs
Diet is a massive part of health and fitness and training, and my recommendation is that you stick as much as possible to whole foods (ethically sourced). It’s no lie that strength training burns a lot of energy and you’ll need a surplus of calories of you are intending to build muscle and grow stronger. If you are trying to loose weight you can follow the same training program just don’t try to cut calories too quickly, and don’t be surprised if you stall on your lifts soon. Slow and steady wind the race with this change in lifestyle. You are in it for life, not for a quick fix and then reverting back to your old ways!
It was long believed that you would have to eat 6 meals a day to progress, and ludicrous amounts of protein would be prescribed. Supplement companies saw a niche here and sell dairy by-products/pig food (whey protein) by the kg. Don’t get me wrong protein is very important, but you can obtain it from whole foods, and if you want to treat yourself with a protein shake, there are healthier alternatives than whey. Martin Berkhan turned up on the scene (among many others) and really started to rip apart the health and fitness industry for what it was becoming. He especially took on the eating 6 meals a day hype. Martin Birkhan became famous for his research in to intermittent fasting (eating in only in an 8 hour window, e.g mid day-8pm). This eating habit is not for everyone, yet definitely shows result for getting/maintaining a lean body, and destroys the whole idea of needing a protein bar every 3 hours, and forcing breakfast down the pie hole if it doesn’t suit you. I definitely recommend having a read of his website, especially his page on training/‘fuckarounditus’ . There are also some interesting statistics on maximum genetic potential of natural athletes there, all together a good read IMO.
I hope this article opens some doors for you to start exploring yourself, and start/continue on a path that guarantees some results. If I could just say one more thing to guide you in the right direction it’s this:
Consider the context from where advice is coming from. The fitness industry is about as corrupt as it gets. The use of drugs by “fitness” athletes is endemic, they’ll swear it’s the latest routine, the new fad diet, the supplements (which you don’t need), but if you search far enough you’ll find the truth out there. An infamous bodybuilder, Bostin Loyd recently opened up about the industry exposing it for what it is, one thing he said was, “I didn’t change my diet or training at all [prior to competition], just the drugs”. If the advice is coming from those people, think twice before excepting it.
For the truly natural person or athlete, the only shortcut is consistency. Whether you choose to get a personal trainer, or go it alone, ultimately one day you’ll find for yourself what works best for you. Until then, I recommend you stick very close to the tried and tested plans that have been written by the experts. As already stated, eat whole foods. Stray away from fitness magazines or their websites.
If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch. I hope you’ve found this useful.
See also my strength and conditioning page where there are some other useful links to good reading and other blog posts.
Me performing Deadlift 405Lbs. x2 – Nothing to brag about, just steady progress on a simple routine
Me at my heaviest about 183 Lbs./ 83 kg