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Finding Your 10’s Part 2: The Long Journey Begins

Last week I hoped to get the juices flowing in your brain about how one can achieve personal mastery in the area of lifting weights for whatever goal you have. Body building, Power Lifting, Oly Style, Crossfit... It doesn't matter, to reach the heights you are capable of you have to have a way to make sure your methods are actually working.


This week is all about the method. The how of actually accomplishing that. As I mentioned last week this isn't for the casual lifter who just goes in and lifts as there is some tracking and evaluating involved, and its definitely going to be a long road to travel... This is something you will likely be doing your whole life.


The good news is that it works, and not just with weight lifting. If you apply these principles to any area of like you can use them to excel. Lets get to it.


Method To The Madness


First, we have to pick a starting point. I’m going to assume that you are not a coach and not a program design expert, so we are going to have to pick a program. It really, truly does not matter which one you pick so long as it is generally accepted that it’s geared towards your primary goal.


The next step is the easiest and the most fun... Go to the damn gym and bust your ass! Follow your program, log your workouts, pick your spleen up off the gym room floor, and then fire up the grill and take advantage of our position atop top food chain. After several weeks of doing this it’s time to reevaluate.


If we are going to venture into the world of individualized training, we have to have a method that allows us to know if our changes are working. It isn't as simple as “walk into the gym and do whatever” (at least not yet). This is where I have taken a page from Dan John and applied my knowledge in one area (nursing) to the pursuit of weight lifting. In nursing and medicine we deal with patients in a systematic way, known as the Nursing Process, which looks like this:


  • Assess (what data is collected?)
  • Diagnose (what is the problem?)
  • Plan (how to manage the problem?)
  • Implement (putting plan into action)
  • Evaluate (did the plan work?)


It should be quite easy to see how we can use this simple process to our advantage. As an example, if it’s a bigger squat we’re after we have to:


  • Assess (Stuck at 405 Max Squat)
  • Diagnose the Problem (Falling forward on the way up)
  • Plan (Add in Good Mornings 2x weekly)
  • Implement (Perform Good Mornings for 8 weeks)
  • Evaluate (Retest Max Squat)


If your Squat went up, you know you are on the right track. If not, we have to go back to and implement a new Plan.


Other suggestions could be to experiment with other progression models like Frequency, Volume, Intensity, Exercise Selection, etc... Maybe you will thrive off of Squatting 2 times a week, one heavy and one Dynamic day. Maybe you desire growth and so you throw in a 20-rep Squat day once every 2-4 weeks. You might do better if you add in Front Squats instead of Back Squats one day. Do you blitz yourself Mountain Dog style, or do you Squat to Max Every Day like John Broz? Only you can figure this out for yourself.


Of course this doesn’t just apply to Squat numbers. It can literally apply to any problem you have on any lift, or if it’s hypertrophy you are after you could try new exercises or change what sequence you perform them in; For fat loss you could see what adding in 2-3 sessions of morning cardio does. You could potentially be running one of these assessment plans at all times during your training career.


All of this experimentation, documentation, and evaluation will not only be helping you on your way to your goals, it will also be helping you to build your Intuitive Training Muscle.


After enough of these cycles of trial and error, you will soon figure out your body to the point where you just know you are not doing enough Good Mornings, or you just know that your weak link is your abs. This takes time, lots of time, but after a while it truly does become second nature, and your body will let you know what you need to work on and what you need to back away from.


Tips For Customizing Your Own Training

A Good Start

A Good Start



Here are some tips and observations I have had success with in customizing my own program:


- Change only one variable at a time: If you attempt to increase your Bench Press and add in 2 more Bench days, Wide Grip Incline Presses, and Ballistic Smith Machine Throws... Which one of these helped or hurt? It’s impossible to tell. Stick with your baseline program, change one detail, and give it at least 4-6 weeks for a proper eval.


- The more advanced you get the longer you will have to monitor and the smaller, more specific your changes become: Newbie’s can make gains on a weekly and monthly basis, but a power lifter who has already added 500-600 pounds to his total will likely have to plan 12-16 weeks at a time to see if he can beat his previous meet numbers, often by only a few pounds. Many times power lifters are so close to their genetic ceiling of strength that what makes or breaks their total is a small change in foot position or grip width, not necessarily getting 10% stronger.


- Listen to your body (sometimes): Have a “normal,” “easy,” and “extended” workout plan ready to account for days where you feel run down or like you could rip the gym off the foundations. Take advantage of the days you feel like Superman by lifting more weight or doing more sets. On days when your nose is stuffed up, you got 3 hours of sleep, and your dog had to go the vet, it might be a good day to just go and hit the main exercise that day then hit the door. However, there are days where you feel run down, but end up hitting a PR out of nowhere... Be on the lookout for those by gauging how you feel when you actually start your warm ups.

On a day where you feel great you might also consider just SMASHING the weights you had planned and NOT adding in extra work. The more work you do, the more you have to recover from, and going nuts on one day may come back to haunt you days later in the form of decreased performance.


The Best Is Yet To Come


As I said in the beginning, all of us are looking for the Perfect Program. The one with all “Tens” and no “Zeros.” Nothing is more frustrating than going to the gym week after week, month after month and looking the same or not getting any stronger.


Because of that potential frustration, many of us are afraid to veer off course from our battle-tested, tried-and-true program to try something new and risk failing.


But it is only through this experimentation and tracking that we develop our Intuitive Training Muscle. There simply is no other way. I know how scary it can be to experiment. To toss aside our “proven” program and venture into the unknown, coming out the other side possibly empty-handed.


Fear not, because the reality is that just because there are "Tens" out there, it doesn't mean anything in weight lifting is a “Zero.” If you are picking up heavy shit and busting your ass, results are going to happen. I don’t care if you are doing 1-3 reps, 6-8 reps, or 12-15 reps. Barbell, dumbbell, kettle bell... It’s all good as long as you are working hard, so do not be afraid to experiment as you can be assured you will not regress.


Having said that, you do have to consider your specific goals and try to find and implement as many "Tens" as you can. This will take lots of experimentation and TIME. Lots and lots of time. Maybe your whole life.


Bottom line is do NOT get discouraged because results are not quick to show up, or because you think there is some other thing you could be doing that’s better. Did you just bust your ass in the gym? Then you did your job and you should be proud. But, also never stop looking to improve. Never stop developing your most important training quality: Your Mind. Your Intuitive Training Muscle.


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