With youth, better-than-average genetics for muscle and might, and a burning desire to get very strong, here's what abbreviated training can do, without drugs: Chuck, age 35, at his biggest.
Here's Chuck bench pressing 380 pounds
at age 43 and 220 pounds.
Chuck's "Master Class in Vintage Strength Training," in HARDGAINER 2.0 magazine, teaches you how to train yourself. It will help you regardless of your genetics or age.
THE MASTER CLASS IN VINTAGE STRENGTH TRAINING
by Chuck Miller (Part 17)
Introducing 10/6/2: Twice as Good as that Other Program!
Programming Demystified, Part 1
Paralyzed by self-doubt, lifters labor over training minutia in their quest for programming perfection. I've been plagued with this affliction myself.
Would three sets be better than two? Would I gain more muscle training with 70% of my one-rep max in the 6-8 range or with 80% in the 3-5 rep range? Should I train my shoulders with my chest or with my back? How long should my training cycles last? Is it better to take a planned week off at the end or move right into the next block?
To me, "demystified" seemed a good word choice in the subtitle because strength-training programming truly seems to have some sort of mystical aura built around an endless search for answers to those mostly pointless questions. We're about to cut through all of that.
When I finally figured out how little most of that mattered, I made up the joke referenced in the title about taking a well-known program, slightly repackaging the rep range, and selling it as something new and better. It got a few laughs, perhaps out of pity for my inability to be be funny.
Another coach once told me about a program he wrote for an aspiring powerlifter that called for a staggering 10 sets of 3 reps. I'm guessing the weight was to be be light because the poor fellow misread the instructions and did 3 sets of 10. But he kept grinding away with 10's for the entire cycle, went to his meet, and crushed all his personal bests.
"So much for my great programming," lamented my friend.
"10/6/2 is where it's at!" I exclaimed as my way of agreeing.
He laughed that uncomfortable, forced laugh that happens when an attempted joke falls flat, and moved on quickly to get past the awkward moment. No matter, I might not be able to make up a decent joke, but I know a salient point about training when it hits me upside the head.
It wasn't always that way, though. My jokes have always been bad. I'm referring to my perception of the importance of programming.
In my teens and early twenties, I thought programming was the most important variable to weight training success, and frantically flipped through the latest issue of whatever muscle rag I was reading to find my monthly hit of new training routine euphoria. As I've relayed many times, Stuart McRobert got into my head with his prescient introduction to Chapter 10 of BRAWN, admonishing me to go back and reread the preceding chapters before jumping straight into training routines without the proper context to understand them.
I didn't learn my lesson that day, but in time I finally did, realizing that perfecting my form and being consistent with training, nutrition, rest, and mindset would take me much further than worrying about the merits of 5x5 versus 3x8, or whether a full-body or split routine would lead to better gains.
A respected colleague recently asked me what training insights I've had over the last several years. I responded that nothing I've learned is likely all that new and that I mostly find myself relearning old truths and reaffirming the basics rather than uncovering anything new.
One insight I like to revisit, because it's such an easy one to forget, is just how far down the list of important variables to training success programming falls. Too many different programs, from one set to failure at one end of the spectrum, to somewhat higher volume at the other end, have worked for people throughout history for programming to be all that important.
I wrote 11 installments of this column, including covering lifting technique in meticulous detail, before getting to programming. That was by deliberate design.
Here's what Stuart had to say on the matter when asked if any of his views on training had changed in recent years:
Nothing of substance comes to mind, but I have an ever-greater strengthening of fundamental matters I've stressed since the 1980s, which most trainees today don't apply properly. They keep looking for "new" training information but never FULLY apply the fundamental matters properly.
They persist with some exercises that may not be suited to them, include too many exercises in each routine, take liberties with exercise form, don't set goals properly, don't keep workout records, don't manage stress well, don't sleep enough, and cut corners with their nutrition. So they don't have a hope of making good progress, if any progress.
But rather than fix those fundamental matters, they keep focusing on their programming. Their programming may well need fixing, but even if it's good, they still won't get good results because some or all of the other matters aren't in good order.
Based on that quote, I think he'd agree with me that, within the broad format of abbreviated training, it can all work -- well, almost all of it. I was reluctant to tell my friend I didn't think that the 10-sets-of-3 program he wrote would work very well and that his trainee's inadvertent switch was actually an improvement.
If you keep showing up and putting forth real effort, almost any program can work provided you can recover from the workload in time for your next session. As I've heard many times, old too soon and wise too late.
Nevertheless, programming remains a much-bantered-about topic for both beginning and experienced trainees, and I'd be remiss in not covering it. Just know that as I do so I also want to pass on my hard-earned knowledge that it's not nearly the critical training consideration you might think it is.
So is there anything that won't work, regardless of how dialed in you may be with all of those other, more important variables? Yes, there are some programming ideas that are just bad from the get-go.
At the top of my list are high-frequency and/or high-volume bodybuilding routines. They're unlikely to work for the genetically typical trainee who isn't using steroids because the workload doesn't allow for adequate recovery.
If you try one of those routines, you'll overtrain doing the program as intended or you'll train so light to get through it all that you don't stimulate your muscles enough to force adaptation and increases in strength and muscle mass.
We'll get into volume (sets and reps) in the next issue, but anything over three days a week falls into the "too often" category. Four-to-six day splits are sub-optimal regardless of how cleverly you divide your exercises. Two or three training days a week is your sweet spot reflected in all the schedules to follow.
None of them are new, by the way. I may have had a few original thoughts to share about exercise form that you hadn't read elsewhere when I covered that topic, but you can bet that if there's a good way to organize the training week, someone has already thought of it and shared it. It's all been done before, but at least now you'll have some of the best arrangements here in one place for easy reference.
the second section of this excerpt, which has the first two of the best set-ups for a training routine.
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Enjoy Your Lifting!