“How are you feeling?” one Russian asks another.
“Worse than I used to—but better than I will be.”
That about describes the state of strength today. Recently I had a conversation with a well-known bodybuilder. Not typical of his breed, he trains like a powerlifter. He shook his head and said, “These kids have never experienced the deep soreness you get right in the middle of your workout—when you squat or deadlift heavy.” Then he told me, “You should have seen this gym in the 1990s. Guys were strong.”
You Have One Goal—Get Strong
A leading cause of the weakness epidemic is what Rif derisively calls “random acts of variety.” The fitness establishment is hollering at you to work your rotator cuffs, mobilize your ankles, and not forget the tibialis anterior. Are you kidding me? By the time you are done foam rolling your IT band, an hour is up and it is time to go home. What is your malfunction, son (or daughter)? You are majoring in minors.
If you learn to “pack” your shoulders, any overhead kettlebell lift will strengthen your rotator cuffs. Sitting on your shins in a posture the Japaneze call seiza (feet plantar-flexed, then dorsi-flexed) after your training will mobilize your ankles, and so on. This stuff just does not deserve to take up valuable training time. When you come to the gym, you have only one goal—get strong. The rest is distraction.
Occam’s Razor: I Dare You to Follow this Plan
In this educated age everyone is familiar with Pareto’s Law. The essence of the law is, 80% of all results come from 20% of the efforts—and the ratio can be even more skewed, e.g. 95/5. If most strength gains will come from a few time-tested exercises, why, why waste your time and energy on sumo stance alternating dumbbell curls?
In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss had a great idea—start a “not-to-do list.” I have some suggestions for yours:
- Any exercise or piece of equipment that elite strength athletes do not use. (Can you imagine Shannon Hartnett with a Thigh Master or Ed Coan on a Perfect Push-up?)
- Anything done by people wearing gym gloves.
- Any corrective work that has not been prescribed to you by a professional.
- Any exercise with a vague goal like “making you functional.”
For the next six weeks I dare you to do only four exercises: kettlebell swings, Zercher squats, handstand push-ups, and weighted pull-ups.
On Mondays and Thursdays, loosen up with a couple of minutes of kettlebell get-ups, then ladder wall-supported handstand push-ups and weighted pull-ups for 45 minutes. Go back and forth between the two exercises. Ladder options: (1, 2, 3), (1, 2, 3, 4), (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), (2, 3, 5).
Use the overhand thumbless grip in your pull-ups on Mondays and the parallel grip on Thursdays. Note: If you cannot do handstand push-ups, do double kettlebell presses. If you are not strong enough to do pull-ups, get a partner to assist you by pushing up on your mid-back. Machine assist is not an option.
On Tuesdays, loosen up with a couple of sets of prying goblet squats, then work up to a moderately heavy triple in the Zercher squat. For instance, 135×5, 185×3, 225×3, 245×3. Aim to increase the top set for the next six weeks. Then swing a heavy kettlebell or pair of kettlebells (about 50% bodyweight) for 10 sets of 5 of Rif’s “dead swings.”
On Fridays, work up to a top set of five Zerchers, e.g. 135×5, 185×3, 225×5. Aim to increase the top set for the next six weeks. Then 10×10 maximally explosive swings with a kettlebell around 30% of your bodyweight.
Hang on a pull-up bar, then go home and eat. Do some light stretching at night.
In the 14th century, William of Occam of Occam’s Razor fame gave us the best training advice: “It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.”