There is a common idea throughout many mythologies, ideologies or philosophies that all things have an opposite. Dark and light. Heaven and Hell. Sound and silence. As lifters, we too can apply this idea of duality to our training. In fact, we must. We must strive for balance. This concept spreads throughout training and it’s many different facets; programming, mindset, and recovery being the most glaring.
This balance must be applied to the macro and the micro of programming. Everything from cycle to cycle, to exercise selection to keep balance throughout the body.
When training hard and pushing your progress to new levels, you need to be aware of both sides of the coin. Assuming your recovery measures are on point, as discussed in a previous article, you will be able to push your training for weeks on end. Perhaps even months, but eventually your body will have had enough. This is where the “Recovery Cycle” or “Deload Week” comes in. These cycles are nothing more than a short time at lower volumes, intensities or both to allow your body to recover and adapt from the hard training you’ve done. It’s a nice idea to think you could redline your training for 10 years without backing off a little, and some internet gurus love to make motivational montages and talk about training in this manner, but it’s simply not feasible for most. Tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues take a long time to recover from the barrage of training many of us throw at them and giving them some much needed time off can be extremely beneficial in the long run. These cycles don’t have to be boring either. They are a great time to focus on things like technique, bar speed, mobility or conditioning/work capacity to be ready for the cycles to follow.
In terms of exercise selection, we need to be aware of balance throughout the body, as muscular imbalances are one of the biggest factors in injuries throughout a trainee’s career. The most obvious is the over-done “skipped leg day” we see posted all over social media in an attempt to relate to people who actually train. I’d rather touch on the subtler imbalances we see in trainees. The most common being the dreaded “Douche-bag” shoulders. These are the result of far too many pressing exercises and not nearly enough back work. This can lead to all sorts of shoulder issues down the line, which can spread to issues throughout the body due to compensation. It will also result in a weak lifter. There is a common saying among the strongest men in the world:
“I’ve seen men with big arms, big legs and big chests who were weak, but never have I seen a weak man with a big back.”
Most people have already started digging this hole, as it’s hard to see your back in the mirror, so they don’t train it much. I’d say you want to aim for twice as many reps of rowing variations, specifically, than pressing variations. Most of us do not row as heavy as we bench, so we must make up for it in total volume.
This also applies to the hips, knees, elbows etc. I highly suggest novice trainees become familiar with antagonizing muscle groups so they can be sure to train them in symmetry to keep healthy joints and a strong structure.
Pre-workouts, stimulants, and caffeine in general have become very popular as of late. The reason is simple: It’s fun as hell. But as discussed before, there are two sides to every coin. Tremendous amounts of caffeine drain your body of resources when used chronically, and will leave you tired, uninspired and lethargic. However, I’m not here to tell you to stop using these things, I’m here to say you should use them intelligently. This doesn’t just apply to caffeine but any sort of tool you may use to “psyche up.” Eventually these things will stop working for you and you’ll be caught with your pants down searching for the new thing to focus you again. I personally think there is something to be said for being able to get focused without any help – I believe that every trainee should be able to put themselves into that state on demand, and that these tools, be it caffeine, music, nose tork etc should be reserved for specific lifts or specific cycles to otherwise amplify the intensity, or simply have a bit of fun with it. On the macro-scale this idea stems back to the recovery cycle idea, as it can be a time to get “off” the stimulants, relearn to focus naturally and get your mind straight for the upcoming cycles. In the micro-scale we have the training session. Learning to relax between sets can be very beneficial for some, while others prefer to be revved to 11 the entire session, but that tends to be much harder on the nervous system in my experience and being able to relax between sets, and then ramp back up for your set has been a much better approach for the long haul in my experience.
Let’s face it; nobody reading this article is going to be a world record holder, NHL star, or Olympic Gold Medalist next year, but 5 years? 10 years? If you set up your training properly, train and recover with intensity and plan intelligently, who knows where you may find yourself.
Grind. Evolve. Thrive.