Monday 22 December 2014

How I Made 2014 One of My Best Training Years

The journey to your training goals is anything but a steady upward climb to success. If you have been training for a while, you can no doubt look back and remember good years and bad years. This past year was one of the best years of training I have had in a long time! Despite the fact that I’m 36, was working 3 jobs and trying to start a business while being married with 3 young children, it was a fantastic year from a training perspective. As I reflect on this past year of training, I wanted to share what I did with you in hopes that it will help make 2015 the best training year of your life. 

Limited time
Normally you would think that being pressed for time would be a bad thing. I would never recommend anyone to have 18 hour days combined with non-stop work and parenting action. However, this is what most of this year was like for me – and from a training perspective, it provided a unique advantage. Being this busy, you have to take a laser-like focus with my training. I had to pick the best of the best for me and leave everything else. Today more than ever, there are countless fitness distractions and endless nice-to-do exercises. However, training success (and this becomes ever more true as you advance) depends on saying no to the good things so you have the time and energy to do the best things for your goals. For more info on how to focus  your training, click HERE.

As a trainer, one of the things I’m obsessed with the concept of individualization with my clients and athletes. While there are foundational training principles that everyone needs to follow, training must be adapted to what you need as an individual. Rather than trying to blindly follow someone else’s program, I did what I do for others as a trainer and designed myself an individualized program. I factored in my goals, training experience, previous successes and failures, my body type, my fiber make-up and past joint issues and created a customized training program.  

Focus on strength
When you get stronger, everything gets better! Too many people make the mistake of focusing on their goal of getting bigger, leaner or faster while ignoring strength. However, regardless of your goal, getting stronger will help you get there faster (click HERE for more info). This year I prioritized strength and I’m stronger than ever on many of my lifts. In the process of doing so, I also gained muscle and stayed lean. Strength is an especially good focus for someone who is really busy as it often requires less time and volume than other goals such as hypertrophy.

Just keep adding a little
 bit at a time and it
adds up BIG TIME!
Years of training, coaching and studying have taught me that when it comes to training, simple works! Too many people try to over-complicate training. They may do this in hopes of finding an easier way to their goals or to look cutting edge. However, over-complicating training usually leads to sub-par results. This year, I did the opposite and tried to simplify my training as much as possible. For me it was a necessity, but also an experiment. I used simple, basic multi-joint movements. I used the simple concept of progressive overload. Each week I would simply try to add a little more weight than last week. Of course there were some bad weeks and I did at times have to cycle back and re-build, but it was amazing how well this worked – especially considering that I have been training for over 20 years. 

For example, after stalling on the low reps in the summer, I decided to work on building up my 5 rep deadlift. I started my cycle doing work sets of 5 in the deadlift and for the next 12 weeks that followed, I was able to add 5lbs a week. That resulted in a 60lb improvement! I started the year with barely able to do farmer’s walks with 185lbs per hand. By the end of the year I was able to do 230lbs per hand. Sure I had off weeks, but many weeks, I simply just added 2.5lb to each handle and went for a walk. Of course this simple progressive overload will not work forever, but many people get distracted and move away from this way before they should! 

Error on the side of too little
When things are going well, many people get greedy and start thinking that if some is good, more is better. At times I was tempted to do more. However, I finally wised up and decided to error on the side of doing too little instead of too much. This was huge for making long-term gains.

Another concept I used for myself that I use with clients is to autoregulate. Instead of stopping a program or cycle at a specific time, I followed a simple guideline: if something was continuing to work, I kept doing it. If something was not working, or a particular movement was starting to aggravate a joint, I made a change as necessary. I tried to let results, not boredom dictate my programming decisions.  

While I’m not married to any one particular training system, one I really find helpful for older lifters or those with a lot of training mileage is heavy/light weekly layout. I love heavy barbell training, but too much of a good thing is not a good thing. This year, I did heavy lower body work on Monday, heavy upper body work on Tuesday, took Wednesdays off and then did speed & rep lower body work on Thursday and rep upper body work (with a lot of ring exercises) on Friday. While Monday and Tuesday’s training sessions where rough, I had a lot of time to recover from them. The lighter days helped with hypertrophy and gave my joints the needed break. This layout also allowed me to take less deload weeks and thus spend more time getting stronger.

Get professional help
No one is the one-stop shop for caring for the human body. This past year I involved other professionals as needed. For example, while I wrote my own program, I definitely used information I have learned from other respected colleagues. If I tweaked something, I would see my go-to Chiropractor and Manual Therapist Dr. Jay Rennicks. Also, back in the summer I was having some digestion problems. Rather than go on some extreme diet and cut out a bunch of foods, I went to my doctor and he did a bunch of tests. I turned out I had a weird parasite which was quickly taken care of and my digestion system was back to normal. I also noticed that my front teeth were turning brown. It looked like they were getting clear. I quick look on google revealed that it might be de-mineralization. However, instead of pumping my body full of calcium pills, I went to the dentist. He quickly figured out that they were just stained from all the berries and dark greens I eat. A quick professional polish and I know have my pearly whites back.

Create deadlines
Everyone knows you should set goals, but do you put deadlines on those goals? For several years, I have had a goal of deadlifting 500lbs. However, I had not gone after that goal as aggressively as I should. This past spring one my star interns (who is a very good powerlifter) called me out. He told me he wanted to see my pull 500 before he graduated in April. That deadline provided me the urgency I needed to get after that goal. A few peaking cycles later and I pulled the 500. 

Mind games
While training can seem really exciting for the first few weeks, it can lose its luster over time. This is especially true when you are training to reach a specific goal, not just finding creative ways to get tired and sweaty. While I do love training, there are days I don’t feel like it. On these days, I play a mind game with myself. If when I get out of bed, I don’t feel like training that day, I simply tell myself, if you are too tired, you don’t have to train. Then, at training time, I tell myself, just do your warm-up sets and see how you feel. Most of the time when this happens, the warm-up sets prove to me that I’m okay and I have a good session. This teaches me that I was simply suffering from mental fatigue. If it was truly physical fatigue, the warm-up sets would feel slow and heavy and I would know I needed a break. 

Farmer’s walk
While I have known about, farmer’s walks for years and use them quick often for clients and athletes, I had not trained them consistently myself. However, this past year I made them a staple in my program. They are amazing at hammering your grip, traps, upper back, core and legs. They are very simple to learn and they make you strong everywhere (click HERE for more details on Loaded Carries! Also, while they are brutally hard, they are very easy to progress. I did 3 sets of about 30 yards at the end of my heavy leg day and simply added 2.5-5lbs per handle most weeks. Wow do they work!  

Your Training in 2015
Grab your training journal and
pend some time going over your
2014 training and do some reflection
I’m expecting 2015 to be a good year of training as well. One of the reasons for this is that I have now just done another important thing – reflection.  As this year winds down, I encourage you to think very carefully about how this past year of training went for you. What went well? What didn’t go well? What did you learn about your body and about what you need to do to get your training goals in 2015?

As always I invite you to share your comments and reflections below.

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