Thursday, October 16, 2014

Total Tonnage - Jon Smoker

The author at 66 years of age in 2013.


Total Tonnage: The Secret of Progress
Jon Smoker (1985)

A few years ago when information first began leaking out about Eastern bloc training systems, one of the more significant items to emerge was that the athletes engage in a preparatory phase prior to cycling for competition, in which the main concern is an increase in the total tonnage over the previous preparatory stage. The research done by the scientists in those countries had proven rather conclusively that this type of training is paramount to increased performances on the platform later on. The physiological reason as to why this is the case is complex and even open to debate on the theoretical level. 

Suffice it to say that, in a very abstract sense, the body is an electromagnetic force field whose parameters expand as a response to increased gravitational demands. In other words, the more total weight that the body is subjected to endure, the more it will grow as a result. The bottom line, all theories aside, is that it works.

The next thing I am going to say will not be so free from controversy: Namely, that apart from the actual exercises selected, which will depend on which branch of the iron game the individual is in, the actual method used to increase one's total tonnage is irrelevant. Or, in other words, if one wants to subject the body to C tons of work, there is no easy way to do it. No matter how the sets and reps are broken down, it is going to hurt, the body is going to feel blitzed or beyond. And with proper rest and nutrition, there will be growth as a result.

Now, I am sure that the first people to recoil with horror at my suggestion would be the Eastern bloc scientists. But then, politics has a way of infiltrating everything and so the regimentation of their societies has found its way into the locker room. One of the things that I have always found most beautiful about the iron game in the West is the freedom to experiment. And when one begins to look through the training systems of the great iron me in our country, one does find the total tonnage system popping up everywhere, mostly implicitly, but in different guises - all of which seems to work. which lends evidence to my theory. And the fact that there is no uniformity has definitely not hurt our results. Our country is far superior in two out of the three branches of the iron game - powerlifting and bodybuilding.

And now, if I may be permitted to to digress for a minute, since it is germane to my argument, I would like to say that although we are not very competitive in Olympic weightlifting, I have always felt it to be an unfair criticism that Eastern bloc writers have leveled at the United States, that we have somehow failed because we are not superior in that branch of the iron game, too. Ask yourself, what kind of attributes does a top Olympic lifter need? Speed, strength, timing, quick reflexes, balance and explosive power and flexibility. And now ask yourself where these qualities are most often manifested in American sports. Why, in football of course. There is no doubt in my mind that Walter Payton would make a phenomenal Olympic lifter, and yet why would he want to do that when he can get rich toting a pigskin around?

Even the smaller guys with these athletic attributes go into wrestling since there is no high school weightlifting, although most are good enough to play high school football and intramural college football anyway. So, by the time they leave college and size does become a factor, it is really too late for them to start Olympic lifting. And, to further blunt the Eastern bloc critics, most all football players pump a lot of iron, including some total tonnage work (though it is not labeled as such), such as the very popular circuit training now used by many teams for part of the year. It is a nebulous comment indeed to say that there is more iron pumping going on in communist countries and, even more so, that regimentation is the only way to get results. Look at some of the behemoths we have on the football field to go along with our superior bodybuilders and powerlifters. And yet countless different systems have been used, based on a few key concepts, one of which is total tonnage. To criticize the United States for having inferior Olympic lifters is tantamount to criticizing communist countries for having no decent football players. Now, that is not to say that the regimented tonnage systems used in communist countries will not work; obviously they do. But, to get back to my original point, they only work because any system will work as long as the correct exercises are employed and the total tonnage is increased. And, the bottom line here is that the superstars in communist countries like Alexeev, are allowed freedom in training anyway.

To further prove that high tonnage training works, let us look at two of the very best people in the West. Paul Anderson is still the all-time unofficial leader in the squat, and, at various times in his training, the amount of total tonnage he used was incredible. In fact, he sometimes did hundreds of squats with no weight at all. Tom Platz, on the other hand, is almost unanimously credited with having the best developed legs ever and, although he varies his workouts frequently, he also includes some total tonnage in his work using 30 to 50 or even 70 repetitions per set.

Of course, these are not the only methods. Other ways of working on one's total tonnage would be Johnny Fuller's 10 sets of 32 reps on all exercises; the rest-pause system whereby a weight is used that can be handled for 15 repetitions, and with very little rest between sets, seeing how many reps can be performed in 15 minutes, or doing one rep with a certain weight every minute until 100 sets have been completed.

My own system is based on the principle of getting something painful over with as fast as possible, so i just use on set of mega-reps. This idea was originally suggested to me a number of years ago when I was reading about a female marathon runner who used 100x100 in the squat as part of her training.

Liking a challenge, I worked at if off and on between heavy cycles until I could perform this feat. Along the way I realized that this was another method of increasing my total tonnage prior to cycling for heavy lifts. So now when I am in this preparatory phase of my training I can increase my total tonnage by a 1/2-ton by increasing the weight and repetitions by five. So the next time around I did 105x105 and then 110x110 and so on. But it has worked, you might ask? Have my individual lifts increased?

Of course this is only one phase of my training, but it certainly hasn't hurt. My squat goes up every year, starting with a 235 at 123 ten years ago, to my latest effort of 656 at 179 (adolescent growth was not a factor either as I was 25 at my first meet). Because I am more of a scientist interested in discovering the immutable laws of weightlifting, rather than being strictly an athlete, I experiment on myself with the one event that I happen to enjoy. However, this type of training can and should be used for any muscle group or weightlifting event. Almost all other successful powerlifters use some type of total tonnage training at various points in their training. The Finnish deadlift routine that is being widely used currently employs this type of training in the early phase with 10 sets of 10 reps in the stiff-legged deadlift off blocks. Lamar Gant, the world's top deadlifter pound for pound, has been known to work many sets of 20 reps in the deadlift until he was ready to drop. And Don Blue, a light-weight champion of the mid-seventies, used 10x10 in all three powerlifts.

Now remember, I never said that the exercises used in this type of training is irrelevant. Thus, Olympic lifters working on their total tonnage training phase would surely want to use squats and various pulling and pressing movements, which ones exactly would be open to a certain amount of debate. This is how the Eastern bloc athletes handle this phase of their training. They have no jobs, aside from their event, so what they are doing in actuality is stimulating hard work, but in a methodical fashion. Basically, that is all I am talking about - hard work.

Take any human being, have him work very hard, give him all the rest and nutrition he wants, and if he has the proper heredity for growth he will get bigger and stronger. It is exactly what goes on in Eastern bloc training centers. It is just that the exercises are selected to stimulate growth in the most important muscle groups for the specific sport involved. The same thing goes on in football training camps; plenty of hard work, all the food they can eat and curfew hours. And this is the same kind of regimen that has produced, in a haphazard way, all the countless asymmetric muscular giants that one sees walking around who have never touched a barbell, but who work long hours on a construction crew or loading dock, etc. In fact, a few years ago Dr. Terry Todd did an informal experiment in which he took kids from the city and had them do hard work on a camp, like chopping wood. After a certain amount of time, they all showed increases in their measurements and strength. Boxers are doing the same thing to improve their upper body strength and endurance when they chop down trees before a fight; and the bigger the fight, the more trees they cut. It is the same principle - total tonnage. I even experienced the same thing when I was in the Army. I did not lift weights those days and the basic training was especially physically grueling. We were required to run everywhere, even back to the barracks after mess-hall with a full stomach. And when I got home, a pair of pants I had bought just before I went in was much too tight in the legs and hips to wear anymore. The same principle was involved; good hard work, total tonnage. And actually, I do believe that most strength athletes do employ a certain amount of this type of training without calling it such nor computing their total tonnage. The latter is a mistake for how does the athlete know for sure that he is forcing himself to work harder without the empirical evidence of the total tons involved.

Now, it is not only important to do this type of training; it is equally important to choose a system that can be done twice or three times per year and not vary it. Only by repeating a certain system and computing the tons involved will the athlete be sure that he is forcing his body to work harder. Or, in other words, doing a bunch of haphazard exercises and computing the total tonnage would be as bad as not computing the tonnage at all. As I said, the original scheme of sets and reps chosen for the specific exercises is not all that important, but once a scheme is chosen, it should be adhered to in preparatory training cycles. Only in this fashion will the athlete have a benchmark to go by.

Apart from the fact that this type of training gets results, why is it beneficial? First of all, we strength athletes are always being cautioned that lifting heavy all the time will 'burn you out'. So, concentrating on total tonnage training now and then gives one a break from heavy lifting without just taking a non-working break. But, even more importantly, if is also a natural compliment to heavy training. One 'burns out' doing heavy lifts because 1) it is hard on connective tissues, 2) it is not really conducive to muscular gains and 3) it becomes a chore psychologically to deal with heavy weight all the time. Total tonnage training on the other hand places more of a strain on the muscles, producing a tremendous overload on them, so that at first when one goes back to heavy training, the freshly strengthened muscles take some of the strain off the connective tissues, giving them a chance to get stronger. This is why I have found that when I go from total tonnage training to heavy lifting, it takes only a two-month cycle to surpass what I was previously hitting for singles. And conversely, when I go from heavy lifting to total tonnage training the connective tissue is stronger and so it only takes a few weeks and I can increase my tonnage. The two definitely compliment each other.

On another level, total tonnage training will help one make gains because increases are basically a matter of will, whereas with heavy lifting, there comes a point where the body rebels and no matter how badly one wants another five pounds on a lift the body will not respond, or worse yet winds up injured. Total tonnage, on the other hand, requires a mindset or will to punish one's body a little more than last time and pick up the extra ton or whatever the goal is. However, this type of training is also not without risk. Because there is such a tremendous overload on the muscles, the chance of cramping is ever present. Stretching before and after a workout is should be employed, and an adequate supply of vitamins, minerals and water should be used.

Another facet of this training is that it obviously taxes the cardiovascular system more than heavy training. This is one more reason that this type of training is important. One only has to lift in one contest or pump all day in one physique competition to know how important endurance is. And, along with this being excellent cardiovascular work, it is an excellent way to expand the rib cage. I can guarantee that you can hang more meat on a larger rib cage, so it most definitely helps the athlete in the pursuit of muscular gains later on when he goes back to heavy training again. The question of whether or not muscular gains will be realized while on this type of program is an individual matter, depending on one's metabolism. Almost everyone will experience an increase in appetite on this type of routine because of the calories being burned and the muscle tissue being torn down, which must be replenished. But, if a person's rate of metabolism is high enough, there will be no increase in weight - some guys get very big from heavy construction and others just get wiry strong. The bottom line here is that at least this type of training does not allow fat to set in and, for the aforementioned reasons, it will give one a base to realize the muscular potential that any given individual's heredity will allow.

There is one last criticism that I can anticipate against this type of training - that it stimulates slow twitch muscle fibers instead of fast twitch. Of course this is no criticism for a bodybuilder; muscle is muscle as far as he is concerned. But what about a strength athlete? I am convinced t hat slow twitch muscle fiber can be used in a strength movement. In a chicken, for example, the wings are mostly fast twitch, and yet their wings could be use, theoretically at least, to lift things. From my personal experience, I cannot be convinced otherwise, since although I was at my heaviest for my last meet (179), I made my best squat pound for pound (3.7). So, if I have added slow twitch muscle fibers, it certainly has not hurt. Or, as Pacifico has put it when discussing bodybuilding for powerlifters, "One needs a cushion of muscle to go down with 6, 7 or 800 pounds in the squat." And that cushion of muscle could include slow twitch muscle fiber. I rest my case.

In conclusion, I believe that the periodic, systematic employment of total tonnage training is one of the immutable laws of the iron game. To not employ this type of training is to invite stagnation to set into your lifting career. In fact, I am so convinced that this type of training is essential that I think even the fast gaining naturals can prolong their careers and avoid training injuries by doing this type of training, even if they do not seem to need it over the first few years of their careers in order to make gains.

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