– Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: Are You A Slave To Your Program?

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I have often mentioned that the Iron Game has been blessed with the talents of many great “strength writers” over the years. People who write with such a passion about getting stronger that their love of strength jumps off the page. I’ve mentioned many such people over the years. Dr. Ken Leistner, Bob Whelan, Brooks Kubik, Jan Dellinger to name just a few. My inspiration for this month’s article is a gentleman who I have referred to previously.

I’ve devoted previous articles to Bradley Steiner before so I’ll just jump right in and get to an article that first appeared in the November 1987 edition of Muscular Development magazine. York Barbell may have been in the doldrums during this period of time, but MD was still a great source quality articles geared towards those who hoist the steel. This should come as no surprise since the Editor-in-Chief at that time was Jan Dellinger, and Brad Steiner as well as Dr. Ken were regular contributors.

“How planned should your workouts be?” was the question that was posed at the very beginning of the original article. The basic question seems to center around the debate between approaching a workout with a definitive program in mind and following it no matter what, or having a tentative program in mind and making changes as you go along. In other words, should you rigidly follow your planned workout, or should you train “instinctively?” There are strong arguments for either approach, but Mr. Steiner seems to favor an approach consisting of some sort of structure, particularly for beginners.

“Planning your routine to some extent in advance is just good common sense.” I happen to agree with this statement. This is especially true for those who are just starting out. Structure, consistency, common sense, and progression should be the hallmarks of any weight training program. However, as the saying goes, common sense is not always common. There is a lot of foolish ideas circulating through the world of weight training. Unfortunately, beginners are particularly vulnerable to silly ideas. I’m thinking about the inane training principles put forth by the self-proclaimed “master blaster” years ago, when his muscle comics dominated the scene. I believe there was even a “principle” devoted to instinctive training. I can only guess as to how many young trainees wasted their time with his useless ideas and products, in an effort to emulate the steroid-bloated druggies featured in his magazines.

Getting back to Mr. Steiner and common sense training. If you’re a beginner your workouts should be carefully planned and structured so that you can attain your goals. But there is a point – after six months or a year of training- when Mr. Steiner concedes that a trainee needs to alter the way in which he/she structures their routine or else there will be a point where progress will begin to slow and eventually stop.

“A routine which becomes overly rigid or unrealistic will prove to be an unpleasant grind from time to time.” Once a trainee has been lifting for a while, there is a certain leeway or “wiggle room” in altering one’s sets/reps, and even choice of exercises, to a certain extent. This leeway is based on your energy, drive, and strength levels on a particular day. Specifically, it is the LACK of rigidity which can salvage a bad workout on those days when you may not be feeling your best, for whatever reason.

This is especially true for drug-free lifters. Let’s face it, there are going to be times when you go into the gym with plenty of enthusiasm, ready to attack the weights, then once you begin, the weights feel as if they weigh a ton. Hopefully, these occurrences are few and far between, but we’ve all experienced them. It is during these times that you can alter or “tweak” your workout. Instead of working up to that heavy triple, try lowering the poundage and go for higher reps. Better to live to fight another day than to force yourself through an unproductive workout. Or, even worse, risk injury.

According to Mr. Steiner, there are four steps to determine your training structure. Step one is pretty simple. Decide which days you will be training. Naturally, this will vary with the individual. Work, school, family responsibilities will determine what days you can devote to lifting weights. Step two is the selection of exercises. It should be obvious that the basics- Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses, Presses- should be the staples of any effective strength training program. Beginners should avoid doing too much so that they may recover from their training sessions. “ A good workout should consist of enough exercise, not too much.” Do not overtrain.

Step three is deciding on an effective set/rep scheme which will allow you to reach your goals. Low reps, high reps, medium reps. The choice is up to you, depending on your individual goals. This, of course, can be varied as mentioned before. But if you’re training to achieve a new one-rep max in a particular lift, then the majority of your training should consist of low-reps and heavy weights.

Step four is the training itself. This is where good common sense must apply. “Regardless of the routine you’re following, you simply must let a certain degree of on-the-spot flexibility and variation to take place.” If your workout calls for heavy sets of five for your deadlifts, you might decide that heavy triples would be more effective. If you have been lifting for any appreciable length of time, it is important to listen to your body.

“There is nothing to be gained by browbeating your body into a routine that it might not be prepared to follow on any given training day.” If you’re feeling fatigued or sluggish, learn to adapt to how your body is responding.

Should you plan your workouts? Yes, but do so with the knowledge that nothing is written in stone. Rather than being rigid, be open to the idea that you can alter your training and still make gains. “Benefit from the discipline and balance of of sound structure, but don’t be a slave to it. That’s advanced, effective training.”

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