“My job is to take the best in the world – and make them better.”
Hope you had fun ripping us “earnest fitness types” to shreds in your recent rant against anyone and everyone that uses a commercial training facility. I will admit that I am a “result-free” early morning trainee. Your article was dead on, and pointed out everyone’s flaws. Except for criticizing the glowering gruesome person—you— standing in the corner taking it all in like an East German Stasi secret police agent. But, your article didn’t have any positive advice for anyone. I won’t be doing any ass-on-heels squatting with 365 pounds for 5 reps in the near future, and I won’t be turning myself into a human steamed lobster afterwards. Are you simply the world’s best critic or are you capable of any constructive thoughts or advice?
—A ticked-off result-free cardio gerbil from parts unknown looking for training tips
Greetings! You must have recognized your result-free training approach in the article several times. Theoretically you could be a female oldster cardio gerbil treadmill user and manic resistance machine user and cleaner. Theoretically I could have insulted you a half dozen times within the same article. Indeed, I am that glowering, gruesome, person taking it all in.
I am also a world-class strength coach having coached for five national team powerlifting championships, and I took Team USA to the IPF world championship in 1991. I’ve regularly turned out regional, national and international level lifters. And I work with active duty Tier 1 military spec ops—so to answer to your question, I have plenty of advice and it’s all freaking excellent.
The only question is this, are you ready, willing, and able to use the result-producing advice I’m offering?
The men I work with are the best of the best—modern samurai warriors and the finest strength athletes on the planet. My job is to take the best in the world and make them better. Here are ten tactical training tips that I use on a regularly reoccurring basis with the uber-elite. Put some or all of these ten tips into play and you will rock your gerbil-wheel fitness world to its core—assuming you’re in a position to actually incorporate these battle-tested tips. These concepts are broad and within each, there’s a subtle maze requiring intricate maneuvering. We will delve into the subtleties within subtleties of each tip in future posts…
- Forget everything you think you know about fitness. They say that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing and nowhere is this cliché truer than the world of athletic training. Preconceptions are problematic and should be eradicated. Our mature strength philosophy was handed down through four generations since WWII. Frankly we aren’t interested in your little thoughts and insights about power and strength. Misinformation about strength training abounds. Now, every trainee has a strength theory, a guru, and an opinion. Give me an aggressive, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, empty-headed 12-year old alpha male any day of the week over an opinionated fitness-type. Here’s a news flash—you don’t know jack about physical transformation or how to attain it, if you did, you would have already transformed. We can save time if we don’t have to deprogram you.Our system is an integrated philosophy that needs be implemented in its totality. It’s not an ideological cafeteria where trainees can embrace or reject aspects of our holistic approach based on their likes and dislikes. The component parts of the system amplify each other. The system in a nutshell: combine power training with gourmet power eating and perform cardio to keep the metabolism amped up.
- Not one, or the other—both. The name of the game is utter and complete, radical physical transformation. Our template is pure non-dualistic Zen—we weave together three disparate disciplines: resistance training, cardiovascular training, and nutrition. The skillful blending of these three disciplines builds muscle and strength while melting off body fat. Cardio needs to be manly, sweaty, old-school and mostly outside. We choose old school, real world cardio combined with old school hardcore power free-weight training. Intense cardio and intense resistance exercise are supported by nutrient-dense gourmet peasant food, eaten in ample amounts. This food nourishes and heals.We empower our athletes by teaching them balance. It’s better to have a little of the three core disciplines than a whole lot of one or two, at the expense of the other(s). When all three parts are in place and executed in a balanced holistic fashion, physical synergy takes place and results exceed all realistic expectations.
- Divide available training time between resistance and cardio. We seek a balanced blending of two distinctly different types of exercise. Combining resistance and cardio far exceeds the potential of performing one type to the exclusion of the other. Combining the two triggers transformation—if the training is sufficiently intense, periodized, and synchronized with a nutrient-dense diet strategy. Lifting and cardio are two sides of the same fitness and strength coin.One discipline does not trump the other; we need to practice both. Power training maximizes brute strength and builds functional athletic muscle; cardio burns off body fat and keeps the metabolism revved-up while ensuring internal organ health. We need to strengthen and improve the functionality of our internal organs as much as we need to strengthen our skeletal muscles. To ignite a radical physical transformation, we need to practice “Not one, or the other—both!
- Simplify resistance training. Clear the table of every resistance exercise you’re currently doing and begin anew. Practice a purposefully limited menu of compound multi-joint exercise movements. The irreducible “core four” resistance exercises are squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. A second small tier of assistance exercises complements the core four. Our philosophy is to do fewer things better. Sessions are short, intense, infrequent, and body shattering.We worship at the altar of exercise technique, continually striving to hone and refine our lifting. Unlike bodybuilding, pure strength training values intensity over volume. A bodybuilder will train long and often with moderate weight, while a strength athlete will train in short infrequent sessions with maximum intensity. A strength athlete uses heavy weight for low reps with a full range-of-motion. Pristine exercise technique results in maximum muscle fiber stimulation.
- Sweat during cardio. You’d think this was a given. It’s mind-blowing to see how many cardio machine riders never sweat. Coincidentally, their physiques also never change. When physical exertion generates sweat, progress occurs. We need to breathe hard and continually bump up against our oxygen-debt threshold. Use cardio to burn calories, stimulate the metabolism, and improve internal organ health and functionality.The goal is to trigger an adaptive response to cardio. 90% of the gym goers tool along at 60% of their capacity—a comfortable pace on a comfortable, familiar machine. Why would the body burn fat in response to 60% exertion? Why would we reap outstanding results from easy workouts? Unless we work at and past our capacities, the body will stubbornly stay the same.
- Work at or past your (shifting) limits in every workout. Limits and capacities shift day to day and workout to workout. On a peak day, we might be capable of a 102% effort, while on an off day our 100% capacity might only be 77% of our actual capability. However—and this is critical—we can have a hypertrophy-inducing, strength-increasing, productive workout on an off day if we still work up to or past that day’s actual capacity.In resistance training we record our best weight and rep performances in all our lifts. We know our one-rep max best in a particular lift, and we also record rep/weight records for double rep sets, triples, 5-rep set max, and 8 and 10-rep sets. We know our all-time best lifts in each rep range so we know the capacities to equal or exceed. The elite lifter will also have different rep records at different bodyweights.
- Have a periodized battle plan. Elite athletes think in three-month chunks. Time and experience have shown that the optimal length for a transformational program is 12-weeks. Within the 12-week, three-month timeframe, sets and reps (along with cardio and nutrition) are tweaked every four weeks to drive poundage ever upward. The first step is to establish realistic but motivating strength and muscle goals. The goal in strength training is to continue increasing the amount of weight lifted in the core four lifts. By becoming significantly stronger in the core four lifts, all our athletic attributes are improved. We gain significant muscle as we push and pull our way through the 12-weeks.The main idea is to reverse-engineer small, weekly, mini-goals. We start off light and easy, but three months later we’ve often made it past our goal threshold. Typically, our 12-week power cycle will start at 10% below capacity, with the goal set at 2%- 5% past current lifting capacity. Simultaneously, we’ll experience a proportional increase in functional muscle mass.
- Replenish post-workout. After a body-crushing progressive resistance workout—the only kind worth a damn—a ‘window of opportunity’ opens. During that time, any nutrients ingested are distributed and assimilated at a dramatically accelerated (some say 300% faster) rate. Science and experience dictates that the right nutrients in the right amounts after a high-intensity workout will improve workout results. And workout results are greater if the athlete consumes these nutrients while the window is open.The window of opportunity opens at the end of the workout and remains open for one to three hours. The ideal post-workout meal or drink should consist of 50% high-value protein and 50% non-insulin spiking carbs. Most of the iron elite prefers to drink a fast-acting shake containing 30 to 50 grams of protein and carbs at the conclusion of the workout.
- Invoke workout contrast. Don’t perform the same favorite training routine over and over and expect continual results. Periodically revamp your training to keep your progress on track. After the completion of a full-bore, 12-week power cycle, shift to a contrasting training template. If you’ve just completed a period of three-times-a-week power training, concentrated on back squat, barbell bench, conventional deadlift and barbell overhead press, then why not shift to a volume approach? Try something radically different like performing multiple top static sets (2-5) using higher rep sets (8 to 12 reps per set).After the explosive lifting of the power cycle, why not slash the poundage and shift to grind speed? Why not change up the exercises? How about multiple high-rep top sets for front squats, dumbbell bench presses, sumo deadlifts (or drop deads in favor of power cleans) and seated presses behind the neck. Or you could accelerate the workout pace, or add arm work twice a week. Sync up the new higher volume, less intensity approach with more cardio, and longer more frequent sessions. During this time, cut back the calories and lean out maximally. This will create the lean-out antithesis to the power & muscle 12-week program you just completed.
- Synchronize seasonally appropriate eating with training. Training heavy? Why not eat heavy? Why not look to add power, strength and size in the cold winter months? The 12-weeks of winter is the same length of time as a power cycle. Winter is the perfect time to consume rich foods, delicious soups and thick stews. Heavy cuts of meat taste delicious in cold weather and root vegetables are winter vegetables. Think of fall and winter as optimal times for adding power, strength and muscle mass. Looking to get maximally lean? What better time than during the high heat of summer!Coordinate the heat and added activity of the summer months with a reduction in calories. Cut back on the rich foods, increase cardio frequency and duration, and shift to a high-volume/moderate-intensity weight training strategy. Optimally, nutrition and training are synchronized with each other and are coordinated seasonally. It’s logical, sensible and primal to create a plan appropriate for the season. Train like a berserker and support your savage training with seasonally-appropriate organic peasant food. Sleep like the dead. Hold this course for 90 short days and transform. Details to follow.
How’s that for some expert advice?
Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend. Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world. Read more about Marty here.