Back to Simplicity

TAGS: simplicity, repition method, conrad, general physical preparedness, force development, exercise, dynamic effort, max effort, training

Can structure exist without rules? If you have a penchant for a more Apollonian protocol, you would answer with a passionate “no.” In the iron culture, structure takes shape in the form of principles and laws that are vehemently applied to training, sometimes dogmatically, despite the fact that such orthodoxy might actually limit progress or at least possibilities.

On the other hand, the Dionysian lifter might not even keep track of workouts, eschewing a workout log as a structure in itself. The workouts may be a bit random. In fact, goal setting in general may exist no further than the concept of “someday I’ll get there,” with only a vague idea of where “there” is.

Nietzsche would probably say a balanced lifter is one who could embrace the progressive nature of both sides, not the destructive dogma of either. As an ode to balance, let’s create a relatively rule free structure, which I believe is not only possible but also preferable to rigidity or chaos. An argument can be made that only through simplicity can this be achieved.

Thanks to a vast array of “principles” from every iron guru—not to mention all the programs from every book about the iron game and of course all 900 hours of iron ideas and instruction on YouTube—there’s a small chance you’ll come away a little confused. Is there really that much to learn? And after that, are there still secrets that won’t be revealed to you unless you fork out your hard earned ducats for every specialized certification you can get your hands on?

Back to simplicity! No matter how you slice it, analyze it, dress it up, or complicate it, there is one basic fact that is actually as simple as can be—exercise = force development.

That’s it. Exercise is simply force development. Whether your goals are workload, power, speed, endurance, or whatever word you want to insert here, they are all adaptations of force development.

VO2 max? Adaptation of force development. Metabolic pathways? Adaptations of force development. Muscle fiber types? Adaptations of force development. Hypertrophy? Speed? Agility? You get the idea. Heck, even the fancy formulas we throw around in this industry all have force as a common denominator. From Newton’s Laws to formulas for work and power, force is always a key player.

The definition of physical strength is always something similar to “the muscle’s ability to generate force,” not maximum force or super force, just force. So to define physical strength would be to use a spectrum of force development because, according to the definition, all force development is strength. That’s a big spectrum from long distance running to Olympic weightlifting and everything in between. Sure, powerlifters will hate to hear that a tri-athlete is actually quite strong, but on one part of this vast spectrum of strength, it is true.

So here at Bodytribe we use the spectrum of strength (or spectrum of force development if you prefer) as the basis of program design. We aren’t specialty athletes. We are healthy athletes, and there is a big difference. We’ve found that a great template for incorporating many portions of this spectrum of strength into our training is using the methods from Westside Barbell Club (WSB), which works on these basic methods (like this is going to be news to anyone reading this):

·        Max effort (ME)

·        Dynamic effort (DE)

·        Repetition method

·        General physical preparedness (GPP)

These methods beautifully represent different levels of force development and can add structure to a program without laying down despotic laws. This malleable structure is deeply ingrained into the basic Bodytribe program design model. But a Westside purist might watch one of our workouts and scratch his bald, beanied head wondering how on earth anything we do could be compared to WSB. Remember, it is all force development, but the tools and movements may differ despite a similar template. That’s the beauty of rule free structure.

First, let’s simplify it a bit by combining ME and DE into the general category of maximum force development (MFD). Here’s the basics….

Max force development: To describe it simply, either go really heavy or really fast. There is benefit in separating speed and heavy days like Westside does, but no matter what, we’re starting a day off by creating maximum force development—training the body on the far end of the spectrum of strength.

Repetition method: Use non-maximal weight to failure (or close to it), not unlike classic bodybuilding hypertrophy training. Most folks think that we at Bodytribe eschew any of this and just work with either heavy weight or strange combos. But there is a place for the repetition method—for recovery, to assist max force development, and to train movement patterns that are complimentary to our main lift of the day.

GPP: Do a bunch of stuff a bunch of different ways. The physics formula for power could apply here (P=work/time) unlike the mechanical formula for power (P=F x v), which is more about explosiveness (closer to the MFD side of the spectrum).

Let’s present some ideas that might be either eye-opening revelations or blasphemy to the iron gods:

1)      Your MFD lift doesn’t have to be a power lift variation or even a barbell lift. Ever try a max effort Turkish get up? It’s quite possibly the most arduous 1RM lift on the planet!

2)      The repetition method could mean super sets, odd lifts, or sets that are anywhere from 5–20 or more reps. It isn’t just the standard bodybuilding protocol of a few sets of 6–10 reps.

3)      GPP can be a broad and exciting creative category involving the tweaking of any or all manipulatable factors of a workout—speed, time, duration, distance, volume, and rest.

According to the simple idea that strength equals force development, there really is no difference between “strength” and “conditioning” because any type of “conditioning” is simply force development (perhaps along different parts of the spectrum). If your workouts tend to be dominated by moving really heavy stuff for low reps, then your body, although quite adept at MFD, is very limited at anything else. Even for a specialty athlete, this can be a problem.

GPP (and the repetition method to a point) is an opportunity to incorporate elements of circulation, mobility, and rotation that might be lacking from the main lift of the day, ultimately aiding in recovery and injury prevention, not just getting the heart and lungs to crank up a bit. If that was our goal, we could just hop on a treadmill.

Toying with different points along the spectrum could turn GPP into an unfamiliar workout even for folks who do GPP or “WODs,” “metcon,” or other workload specific protocols regularly. In other words, just because we might be busting out the stopwatches, don’t write this off as a high repetition “circuit training” burnout fest. There seems to be a trend among workload protocols to keep adding reps. Twenty repetition workouts have become 50 or even 100 repetition workouts. At that point, we may as well just hop on a treadmill (yawn). What about the other options so that my A.D.D. is satisfied?

How about a medley that features a near max single or double that has to be cycled back through several times during the duration of the medley? Ever pick up a sandbag that weighs your body weight and carry it 200 feet? How about after doing 10 burpees? And before the burpees, crank out a small handful of one-arm snatches with a kettlebell or barbell that frightens you a bit. And then do it all again. And again. That’s quite a buffet of force development options wrapped up in one nifty GPP package. The Bodytribe website ( has a giant list of these combos that we’ve used over the years.

An entire workout might look like this:

ME Turkish get up: Follow a similar protocol that a WSB lifter might with a more traditional lift. Perform many low repetition sets, leading up to several sets of singles and working up to a Turkish get up max (both sides, eh?).

Repetition method: Perform good mornings from pins, 3 sets X 6–8 reps. Nothing too far out of the ordinary here.

GPP: Let’s go with what we were building above…perform the deadlift for 2 reps at 80–90 percent of your max, do 10 burpees, a fairly heavy one-hand barbell snatch (three per arm), and sandbag carries (body weight bag weight) for 100 feet. Repeat three times and time it!

This is an example of cramming all methods into one workout, but because we’re trying to dwell in structured anarchy, this is simply a guideline, not an obdurate canon. Separating MFD and GPP workouts is not uncommon.

Now, periodizing this template would take more words than you’d probably care to read right now. To cliffnote it, we’ll start with a several week cycle combining all these methods into each workout maybe with MFD on an “every other workout” protocol. As cycles progress, you might find us backing off from the GPP as the emphasis slowly switches more toward supporting the MFD. But anyone who has played with various forms of periodization can take this where it needs to go.

And, yes, we do use this template with both competitors and non-competitors. Our weightlifters and powerlifters will customize this template depending on where they are in relation to their next meet and what lifts need the most emphasis, but all of our lifters work at competency along many points on the spectrum at some point in their training.

With rule free structure and a little bit of good ol’ fashioned learning, we can now build a balanced training program that is adaptable, progressive, and dare I say it, downright fun.


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