In my experience, training is overcomplicated and nonsensical the large majority of the time. Everything you do in the gym should be logical and easily justified; there should be a reason for every movement, the sequence of the movements, where you schedule muscle groups in your training split, rep ranges, etc. This is, of course, assuming that you want to progress as optimally as possible.
I am going to give my opinions based on my experience over the last 38 years of training and over 20 years of training clients on all levels. Some of you are not going to agree and that’s the nature of this industry. I don’t expect deference because I’m aware that everyone thinks they already know all of the answers. I’m not presenting the following information as answers as much as I’m giving my opinions. If you don’t agree with my opinions, keep doing what you’re doing.
I am referring to my opinions as “not so deep” to emphasize that training shouldn’t be too deep or too complicated. However, it does need to make sense. Here are 5 things to keep in mind that I have found contribute to maximum hypertrophy—either directly or indirectly—over time:
Strength-based training should be a focus in the early years of training.
When I say “early years,” I don’t mean in your teens as much as I mean your early training years—the first handful of years when you start training. Strength training in this phase will help build tendon strength and strength of stabilizing muscles from. This is, of course, assuming that your strength is being built with free weights vs machines.
Machines have a more specific target and stabilizing muscles don’t have to do as much work. Example: A standing overhead press with a barbell or dumbbells will utilize significantly more stabilizer work than a seated overhead machine press. Build more strength in stabilizer muscles with the former and leave the latter for more specific targeting of major muscle groups. This does not mean that you shouldn’t use machines; use machines significantly less than you do free weights for compound movements.
Making up exercises is useless
You aren’t going to come up with an exercise that hasn’t been done before. You might THINK you have or will, but someone equally as innovative *cough* has already dreamed up that new awesome exercise you think you just invented. The truth is that it has already been done long before you came along, and it has been shelved because it was ineffective or stupid. In this day and age, there is a machine somewhere that mimics the movement you think is so great without you having to stand on the seat of a machine to do something the machine wasn’t made to do.
A gym without a lot of machines doesn’t mean the gym sucks
I hear this all of the time from the younger generation. Machines are great, but they have their place. A gym that forces you to use more free-weight movements can be a godsend. Going back to basics, even if you are an advanced trainer (and apparently too many of us think we are when we probably aren’t), can produce progress again if your progress has been slow. No one “needs” fancy machines; we just have ourselves fooled into thinking these machines produce better development than they do.
There are, in fact, dumb exercises
I am piggybacking off of number 2, above. I am going to get into the feels of some of you, but oh well. Here are some exercises that I think are absolutely 100% dumb:
Close-grip dumbbell presses with a neutral grip and the dumbbells pressed against each other
This is predominantly a triceps and front-delt movement that provides a small pump to the chest. Throw it in the trash.
Iso-lateral chest presses where you do one side at a time while sitting sideways
Every now and then, I will even see someone with a great physique doing these and I just shake my head. Can we just stop with the “inner pec” bullshit, please? The angle of every iso-lateral chest press built after 1980 has an inward angle, anyway, if you do them like a normal person. The only thing this movement accomplishes is to make anyone who is waiting to use the same machine you are using, wait even longer because it takes twice as long for you to do your sets.
Iso-lateral lat pulls sitting sideways on the machine doing one arm at a time
See my explanation for “B” above, and it will be the same silliness.
Flinging side laterals
Shoulder training is a multi-joint venture. You need to be careful to keep the focus on the delt head you are training instead of involving other major muscle groups in the movement. If you can’t control the negative portion of a side lateral, you’re going too heavy. This goes for any side lateral whether with cables, a dumbbell, or a machine.
Any stupid movement you have seen on IG
I have been training for almost 40 years, and I have been on IG for about 10 of those years. I have seen ONE unorthodox movement on IG in those 10 years that I had to say, “That is a good idea and improves an already existing movement.” ONE TIME. All other unorthodox movements I have seen on IG were to accomplish one thing—whether they admitted it or not: attention and likes.
Listen to those who came before you
Of anything I could ever tell you, this is the most important thing that will help optimize your training. In fact, NOTHING else comes close. This will also hurt some butts: if you are a trainer, listen to trainers who are smarter and more experienced than you.
Going back to what I stated earlier, yes, most trainers think they know it all and most trainers are wrong. I don’t know it all, and I’ve been doing this longer than the vast majority of trainers out there. I have always listened to what experienced trainers have had to say who came before me. Sometimes, things just don’t work as well for specific individuals. However, that doesn’t make advice “wrong”; it makes that advice not as useful for that individual. Because experienced trainers give advice based on results over a long period of time, that advice may not work as well for everyone. It IS worth trying and evaluating for yourself, though, because you will likely find that the majority of what you are told WILL work. It’s a better option than shooting in the dark when your experience pales in comparison.
Keep your ears open and listen. Evaluate what you hear and that usually means experimenting with the advice you are given. This will save a lot of time even if you consider yourself an advanced trainer or trainee. Remember, no one learns anything by speaking.
Did you really think I was not going to tell you what that one exercise was that I found on IG? It was the banded pullover done by John Meadows. Adding a band to a dumbbell pullover is something that had not been done and, in my opinion, was brilliant. The band keeps constant tension so that you can’t break a sticking point at the top of the movement. It is a pain in the ass to set up and it makes people have to walk around you and your band, but it’s brilliant. Again, ONE THING in 10 years. Just sayin’.
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