by Jim Wendler T-Nation
The year 2013 is here and it's time to shed the old, dead skin and move forward.
Resolutions is a much-used word in this industry, but I once thought it was silly to make New Year's resolutions because "if it's important enough to make a resolution, you should already be doing it."
Blah, blah, blah. Do me a favor, quit the tough guy act and recognize the New Year as being a perfect time to write down your goals and reflect on what you've learned and accomplished.
Looking back, much of what I learned in 2012 was merely a reminder of things I already knew, such as "squats build the legs" and "it's important to have hip mobility" – good things to be reminded of from time to time, but hardly groundbreaking.
So to that end, the following may not be revolutionary to the training world, but they were all things that really helped shape me as a lifter and a teacher.
High Rep Assistance
A few months ago I wrote an article for T Nation called The 100-Rep Challenge. As most challenges should be, this was a serious ball-breaker but well worth it for those that stuck it out. Not only did people feel better, bigger, and stronger, the new wrinkle in their training gave them another weapon in their arsenal – high rep assistance work.
Now the running joke amongst those that are horribly out-of-shape or narrow-minded is that anything over 5 reps is considered "cardio." This is a good litmus test to determine whom you should listen to and who should stick to finger fighting on message boards. What's even worse is that these people are proud of being awful. I just don't get it.
While the 100-Rep Challenge is great, what's most important are the principles of the challenges, namely that assistance work doesn't have to be the standard "3 sets of 10 reps." While that can surely be effective, it can also be boring.
One of the challenges of training the main lifts (squat, bench, etc.) with heavier loads is being able to maintain some sort of joint health with the assistance lifts. In other words, at some point in a lifting career you'll need to choose assistance work that won't beat the hell out of you and take away from the main lifts.
The high-rep work is easy on your joints (less bar weight), great for tendon strength, and for those that have never done it, amazing for hypertrophy work. Couple this with low-rep/heavy weight main exercises and you have the best of both worlds – strength and size. More importantly, your muscles might be sore but your joints don't feel like crap.
Here's a way to incorporate some high-rep assistance work into your training without having to do the 100-Rep Challenge:
Main lift: Squat, bench, deadlift, clean, press
Supplemental lift (heavy work): This would be a compound movement like incline bench, deficit deads, rack pulls, and safety squat bar squats done heavy to supplement your main movement.
Assistance work: Single-joint movements such as back extensions, one-leg work, curls, lat/upper back work, triceps; in general, do 1-3 movements for 3-5 sets of 25-100 reps.
For example, here's a squat workout:
Main Lift: Squat – Work up to 90% of training max for 3 reps
Supplemental Lift: Deficit deadlifts – 5 sets of 5 reps, working up to 5 reps at 85% of your training max
High-Rep Assistance work:
One-leg Squats (back leg supported by TRX strap or sled strap) – 3 sets of 20 reps/leg
Reverse Hypers – 3 sets of 25 reps with hold at top for 2 seconds
Ab Wheel – 3 sets of 30 reps
The great thing about training is that you don't have to commit to something forever. I get a million emails and Facebook messages from people sending me templates and asking for approval.
I can understand the need to do so but your training template can and should change every 6 weeks or so, and you can do this without ever sacrificing the main work or principles. The high-rep assistance work is just another 6-week template that you can use...which brings me to the second point.
The 6-Week Training Cycle
I'm lucky enough to have a fairly large group of people that I help with their training and in turn get to experiment on. I also have a small group of friends that are great lifters who I can use to bounce ideas off.
Finally, I love experimenting on myself with training ideas I come up with, and 100% of my training ideas come from three places: the toilet, riding a motorcycle, and taking showers. Unfortunately, I usually end up with my legs asleep, being hit by a car, or having an insane water bill. Anything in the name of strength!
What we've done in the past year is break up every 5/3/1 cycle into two 3-week training cycles (no deload). In these 6 weeks, we focus on one or two goals and follow a somewhat structured template, depending on the individual. The more advanced the person, the looser the template and vice versa.
I have a cheat sheet that I give out and it makes people accountable for 7 things for the next 6-week training cycle:
Core lift training (sets and reps/structure)
Assistance work (exercises, sets/reps and structure)
We have a large "database" of different variations of each of these training phases and the lifter will mix/match those things that:
Fit his goals.
He has access to.
He wants to do.
He needs to do.
Of course, it's not as easy as just picking **** and plugging it in – things have to complement one another, along with the lifter's level of fitness.
The best part about this is that anyone with a modicum of discipline can stick with any training program for 6 weeks – if you can't, find another hobby or go dig some ditches for a year to work on your commitment and work ethic.
Each 6 week phase, depending on the lifter/goals, can help build on the other – they just don't exist independently.
For example, let's say Sammy Slowtwich needs to work on his explosiveness in his squat. We all agree that doing one day of light squats isn't going to cut it, so we set the first 6-week phase to be 70% work on the squat while introducing some low level (beginner) jumps and full body throws to his training. Also, his core training is increased, as is recovery work.
In the second 6-week phase the squat volume is increased, the percentages stay the same (or can be raised slightly while maintaining integrity of the speed), jumps are increased, and special attention is placed on core and recovery again.
The final 6-week phase is broken into two phases and ends with near maximal attempts in the squat.
The point of all this is that we can now easily break up the training into manageable training blocks and not get overwhelmed. In order to go from Point A to Point Z, you have to hit B, C, D, etc.
The planning sheets are great because the lifter gets ownership of his own program and I refuse to deal personally with people that need to be spoon-fed everything – knowledge must be earned and experienced. Also, the sheets make the lifter accountable for other aspects of training that are usually overlooked, especially mobility and recovery.
Now this is probably way too detailed for someone that doesn't compete in a sport or on a platform, but by breaking your own training into small, workable blocks, you can use several different kinds of templates and address your own goals, all while keeping training fun and not being bound to any one template.
Epsom Salt Baths
As I get older, recovery becomes much more important than training. Training is pretty easy – do some squats, press some barbells, tug on a few things, and try to do a little more next time.
But success in the weight room is dependent on how well you recover from session to session. You can't just wait around until you aren't sore – remember that line of bull**** that was fed to you about not training if you're sore? No one would ever train then!
John Meadows gave me one of the best lines about recovery and training I've ever heard: "Training is like digging a ditch. Recovery is about filling that ditch, and adding a little bit more." So the deeper you dig that ditch (the harder you train), the more attention you have to give to your recovery.
Recovery seems like a huge pain in the ass to me. I'd rather lift than do some pansy recovery work, but it must be done if you want to succeed.
Like training methods, I'm always on the lookout for easy and simple ways to recover; you don't need to be a millionaire or a full-time lifter to effectively use recovery methods.
(One of my favorite excuses from the Mediocre Army when defending their ****ty numbers when compared to strong lifters is, "If I didn't have a job and lifting was my job, I'd be that strong too!" No you wouldn't. You'd be playing Xbox all day, engrossed in reality TV, and sleeping until noon. You're weak because you're weak.)
So in the quest for a simple recovery protocol, I tried Epsom salt baths. Epsom salt baths have been around forever and have been touted for years for their recovery benefits.
And they work. The two-step process is complicated for some:
Fill bath with hot water and add 3 cups of Epson salt.
Sit in bathtub for 20 minutes.
I train in the early evening and sit in the bath about an hour after I lift. Whether this is the optimal time, I don't know. On the days I don't train, I do the bath whenever it's most convenient during my day or night, but when you live a normal life, optimal becomes "whenever you have the time."
The two main things that I noticed is that muscle soreness was greatly alleviated and my knee and hip pain went away. I've also read that these baths help relax the CNS, but I have nothing to verify this claim.
However, I do know that my mind and body felt tremendous about a week after I started the baths; instead of feeling slightly worn out and sore in the morning, I awoke feeling ready to train again.
So, Epsom salt baths. I was skeptical and begrudgingly gave them a try. Now after a few months, I'm a believer.
I've always been a little skeptical of supplements. However, I can honestly say that Biotest and its CEO Tim Patterson have never asked me to endorse or talk about any product that I didn't believe in.
This is one of the reasons why I'm impressed with Biotest and Tim Patterson: they simply ask me to provide them with good quality (I hope they're quality) training articles. That's it. You may not believe this but I'm okay with it, as I know I'm telling the truth.
Because of my association with Biotest I can try any supplement I want, so recently I decided to try a few. The following supplements are great: ZMA®, Z-12™, Brain Candy™, Power Drive®, and Flameout™.
But without a doubt, the best supplement I have ever taken is Mag-10®. No question.
I've played around with Mag-10® using the following protocols:
2-4 servings before training, 2-4 servings after training
4 servings during the day (along with some small meals), train, then eat 2 huge dinners
2 servings, 30 minutes before any meal (usually 4 meals/day)
In my experience, the one that seemed to work the best is the first. I'm someone who hates to eat food and has zero appetite, which could be why Mag-10® works so well for me.
I generally try to eat 4 meals/day, each consisting of some kind of protein (usually eggs, steak, or dark chicken), some kind of vegetable, and some kind of carbohydrate.
The Mag-10® prior and post training pretty much allows me to eat however I want, and as little (or as much) as I want. My workout recovery is much better, I can train at a higher level longer, I'm leaner, and most important, I don't feel the protein-shake bloat all day. Mag-10® also tastes great, is easy to prepare, and doesn't take 30 minutes to drink.
Is Mag-10® expensive? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Is Mag-10® worth the money? Honestly yes, which is why I now purchase it just like everyone else.
I'm not afraid to divulge this – hopefully Tim doesn't mind – but because my arrangement recently changed with Biotest, I now pay for supplements out of my own pocket. And I will be re-upping my Mag-10® supply this week.
Biotest continues to show support of my work and my writings and I feel it only necessary to give credit where it's due. This **** works.
Okay, that's some of the stuff I learned. Hopefully, you'll find a few of the items worthy enough to add to your list of resolutions.