Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rule 10, in detail.

I posted my original "Ten Rules" on Reddit (I think of them as ten lessons, but I used the word rule in the text, so I suppose they are rules). Reddit's fitness section has collected a lot of solid information about fitness and the community there is generally helpful. The response I got was overwhelming. I re-posted it on the Dan John Q&A deck on Dave Draper's IOL. I was overwhelmed by the response there also. I was not prepared for that much attention.

The two items that received the most dispute were number's seven and ten. Number seven is what it is. Number seven needs no further elaboration in my opinion. If you're over, say, 25 with no previous athletic career and your only motivation to train is the idea that you'll be on a national stage in 24 months, your career will last about that long. It'll be shorter if you try and keep up with your "competition". And once again, for every exception you can find to this, I'm betting that in the beginning, they started small with obtainable goals.  

Number ten can be elaborated on. Why would you gain all that knowledge as suggested in rule nine if not to implement it? For me, just the idea that the people who make the more popular and proven programs know so much more than I do on the subject is enough. I yield to the experts. That's not enough for many people. There are several other good reasons to follow a proven program, all of them too long to go into detail in something as short as my original list.

One, raw novices overthink everything. I would do this constantly. I would try to build a program based around compound movements because those were supposed to be better for me, and I'd get something pretty good written down. Then I'd think, what about the rear deltoid? Or what about pressing at a 27.5 degree angle relative to the angle of the moon over the horizon at three a.m.? And I'd add something. Then I'd add something else. Then I'd add a few more things for glute activation or ankle flexibility or...

Eventually I'd have something that looked like that same old Monday 3 x 10 flat, incline and decline bench split that everyone starts out with as their really bitchin' "custom program". Every program I've made decent progress with has been simple to the point that most people look at it and say, "that's just not enough." Now the term Heavy is relative to your strength and size, so don't ask for specifics. Just trust me, when you really go Heavy with a simpler program, it is enough.

Two, most novice lifters can't let their ego go when it comes time to program. I love to deadlift. I like to squat. I enjoy the Olympic lifts. Now I think it's mostly because I'm better at them than many of my friends. Even my strongest friend and co-worker, Patrick, just matches what I can do on deads and he's 20 pounds heavier than I am. However, Patrick can destroy me on pull ups, bench and overhead press. Three things I have never really enjoyed. Those 20 pounds are packed solidly on this dude's upper body.

I have never, ever, made a program that truly followed the admonishment to work your weak point first. If I have come close, I've always left "Gas in the Tank" for legs or Oly lifting. The only reason I can think for this is simply ego. As long as I can pull harder and squat more, I'm "stronger" than anyone I know. Even though I'm not.

After two years of following one program or another with great success I'm considering breaking Rule 10 at the end of this week. The program I'm looking at creating ? 5 x 5 bench or overhead press, chins or pull ups, and Easy Strength style squats or deadlifts. Or maybe just Swings, Kettlebell snatches and squats. I'm just not sure if the added volume is what I need or not but I know I need to work on upper body strength. The point is that five years later, I may have just now gotten over myself.

Three, it's just easier to do something if an authority figure tells you to. Why did I do SS as written? Rip said so. Why did I do the 40 Day Workout almost to the letter? Coach John said so. Why did I do 5,3,1 correctly? Jim Wendler (the man scares me) said so. This is one thing that contributes to the success of programs that use a "Workout of the Day" like Crossfit*. You go to the gym and you don't have to think, you just do what's on the board, go as hard as you can and go home.

Dan John Talks about people having a finite amount of willpower, "One Cup" (however big that is), and once it's gone you're just kind of done for the day. Studies suggest there is a link between fatigue and blood sugar levels and poor decision making. I like to say that if it becomes a pain in the ass, you'll eventually quit. Doing the program as written means one less decision to make, one less thing to think and worry about and one less thing to add stress to your life.** You go in, do what the program tells you to do and you get the hell on with your life.

The fourth and final issue is that many people modify a program to work around their weak points or injuries. Mostly because they are impatient and will not put in the required work on basics or correctives. You can not, and should not, do Starting Strength with leg pressing as a substitute for squats because you have a list of excuses as to why you can't learn to squat. People do things like this and then blame the program's creator when it doesn't pan out. It drives me crazy because they never did the program they're slandering in the first place.

There is only one appropriate response...

Baring major orthopedic injury or disability, there is no reason I can see why everyone cannot learn to squat. Even if you are injured it can be done. The secret is that you have to follow Rule Two and focus on what you need most. If your knee is jacked, go get it fixed, that is what you need the most. Don't try to make progress until you've dealt with this. Squats are just one example. Thousands of threads litter the internet on this basic theme.

"How do I improve my bench with a bad shoulder?"

"My lower back hurts, what can I do to keep deadlifting?"

"How do I modify Starting Strength around a sprained ankle?"

"I don't like to squat or use barbells, how can I still do SS?"

Fix these problems (not knowing how to squat and being afraid of barbells are problems if you want to do SS) so you can do the program for the other reasons I listed above. Stop the dumbassery. Do what you need to do and pay your dues like everyone else.

One of the best real life demonstrations (beyond my own experiences) that I can give for the whole concept of Rule 10 are the workouts I did with a couple guys (names withheld) who needed some help with their PT test. To keep things interesting I brought in tires and sledge hammers, farmer's bars and a host of other things. The workouts however, mostly consisted of me finding new ways to disguise the Dan Martin Program Minimum every time.

"Okay guys, today we're going to do push ups, goblet squats and swings with some farmer's walks thrown in. Tomorrow we're going to do swings, push ups and goblet squats with sandbag carries...."

It worked. They both passed with flying colors and I was so proud I wanted to jump up and down a scream like an idiot. However, it would have been inappropriate in front of the four or five guys who didn't use a proven program and failed yet again.

*I have a reputation at work for hating Crossfit. I don't hate Crossfit, I hate the attitude some Crossfitters have. I also will never use the program personally as it doesn't match my goals, regardless of what some of the more hardcore xfitters believe. I do implement HIIT into my training on occasion, but not as a cornerstone of my program.

**This is also my strategy for diet.I prepare all my breakfasts and lunches for the week on Sunday and I don't have to worry about what to eat during the stressful work week.

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