Skinny to Strong Part 2: Training
As mentioned in Part 1, the best nutrition plan will get no results if you do not train. Nutrition and training work symbiotically, but without effective training, even good nutrition will have little to no effect. Conversely, good training will still elicit some progress even with poor nutrition, especially for genetically gifted athletes. For the very genetically blessed, they can even have horrendous nutrition, and with hard training, still perform at the elite level. Of course combining good nutrition with good training is ideal, and for the 95% of the population with average to sub par genetics, having both is a must. The fact of the matter though is that intelligent programming is what most lifters lack; and it’s for that reason they never come close to the strength or physique changes they hoped for when they embarked on their lifting journey. Sadly at this point is when many either give up and start either lifting sporadically or halfheartedly; or announce they want to focus on “just being cut” (and then never actually end up even remotely cut); or look to anabolic steroids to give them the progress they should’ve been able to accomplish on their own. This article however will address how to train smart for the drug free ectomorph. As with the nutrition side, the vast majority of content and information on how to set up a program is written by athletes or trainers who are 1) mesomorphic 2) drugged, or 3) mesomorphic and drugged. So if you’re a drug free skinny athlete, training hard but making minimal progress, this is the article you’ve been looking for as to how to go from Skinny to Strong: Training.
The number one factor to any program is consistency. The worst program on earth, done faithfully, will still be more effective than the best program done sporadically. People like to make all kinds of excuses for skipping workouts: they didn’t have time, they felt tired, the list goes on and on. I’ve met a lot of nice, well meaning athletes who I’ve had to cut ties with simply because they didn’t show up consistently, and there’s no way for me to provide a good return on their monetary investment in themselves when they skip workouts. Sadly, in today’s generation, many find it difficult to simply get off their phone, and leave the house. A cavalcade of various experts have opined on why the current generation of American males are so unmotivated, but in my opinion it largely stems from many of them were given STUFF, and not STRUGGLE, growing up, so they assume that applies to everything in life: that much like a toy, if they just want it, it will be handed to them. The reality is that with training, like life, growth comes only through continuous effort and struggle. Becoming strong is a marathon, not a sprint, and every week, month after month, year after year, your foundation of success will be consistency. And while this doesn’t mean for someone who trains hard that it’s wrong to listen to your body and occasionally cut back a little in a week, or add in an extra rest day, many don’t understand the consistency required to get strong, and fail for it. As the great Jim Rohn said, “If something is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.” Be consistent, or whatever goals you’ve established for yourself, no matter how small, will be dust in the wind.
2) Power reigns supreme
Provided there is consistency, the good news is strength increases aren’t especially difficult to achieve at first; everyone regardless of body type will experience *some* increase in strength simply by starting to lift weights. The problem is that after the honeymoon phase progress becomes infinitely harder, and most people get stuck and either give up on their strength quest, or resort to steroid use. In The Science and Practice of Strength Training Zatsiorsky taught that there are 3 main methods to build strength: The Maximal Strength Method, the Dynamic Method, and the Repeated Method. Unfortunately however, The Repeated Method, training with a moderate to light weight for reps typically in the 6-15 range (pump), is what most people’s program consists entirely of. They neglect 2 out of the 3 methods that elicit muscular adaptations, and then wonder why they’ve plateaued in both size and strength. The average lifter sees the pump based routines of his favorite roided lifters, and assumes that’s the best road for him as well: after all, the results are right on the magazine cover. However, he fails to realize that the absurd amount of muscle mass and strength he sees is not from training, but chemicals. It’s the chicken and egg; for drugged lifters, the size comes from the juice, and then the strength follows it. Conversely, for drug free lifters, typically strength must come, THEN the size follows it. And while getting a pump with light to moderate weight has value and has a place, for those chasing strength and size sans drugs, it must be built upon the foundation of power, which comes about by regularly lifting maximal loads (Maximal strength method), and also lifting submaximal loads with the greatest speed possible (Dynamic Method). Even bodybuilders from the pre HGH era such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbo regularly incorporated power methods into their training and saw great results from it. Learn and implement the Maximal Strength Method and the Dynamic Method, and your strength, and your size with it, will increase dramatically.
3) Intensity over Volume
All lifters drugged or drug free require consistency, and an emphasis on power to achieve the strength they’re capable of. However, an important distinction in programming for a drug free athlete is understanding the differences in volume to undertake versus a drugged athlete. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that steroids are a wonder drug that will automatically blow you up. The truth is that steroids are simply a recovery agent; they allow you to train harder and longer, and yet recover. Unfortunately for the drug free athlete, 99% of the information disseminated is by drugged athletes and/or coaches who train drugged athletes, and what worked for their situation frankly doesn’t apply to those missing the recovery tool of steroids. Volume must be significantly lower for drug free athletes, and workout duration as well. One well known athlete was recently bragging how he now spends 30-45 minutes of his 2-3 hour workouts on just his “volume warmup” alone, and how he “moves more weight in his warmup than most people do in their entire workout”. Braggadocia like that only adds to the average lifter’s fears that they’re not doing enough, and even more get trapped in the numbing world of trying to match drugged athlete’s avalanche of volume. In my experience, the average drug free athlete is doing WAY too much volume. Instead of long workouts with endless volume, hit it hard, with high intensity, and get in and get out. The bulk of your training should be completed in 55 minutes or less, and in my experience, lower workouts should be only 3-4 total movements, and upper 4-5 (less CNS demand on upper). Also bear in mind that from the day you start training, to the day you finish, your recovery ability doesn’t change. Therefore a beginner struggling to bench 165 can handle MORE volume than the intermediate lifter benching 275; most folks have it backwards, crushing themselves trying to increase volume long after their strength began to make sizeable increases. As you advance in strength, volume must decrease even further for the drug free athlete. Start erring on the side of less is more, and watch new muscle and strength begin to sprout.
Top bencher Casey Williams once mentioned that he was surprised people were asking him to do online coaching for their bench training. His friend replied that of course they would want that, he has a great bench. Williams replied, “Yes, but I had a great bench in high school”. He explained that because things came easily to him in the press, he wasn’t the ideal coach. “They should find someone who struggled to bench 135 in high school and now benches 315.” This little exchange had a lot of truth in it. Too often drug free lifters peel all their programming info and concepts from gifted lifters and drugged lifters experiences and programs. It doesn’t apply. If you are a drug free athlete you must find what works FOR YOU, or find the rare coach who works with and gets results with ectomorph’s and/or drug free lifters. Apply the concepts in this article, and be careful of who you listen to. Otherwise you will spend the bulk of your training years in frustration, confused as to why you push yourself so hard, and get so little results. I spent many years over-volumized and spending way too much time making the repeated method the crux of my training; in a firm plateau, I assumed I had reached my genetic potential. But filled with frustration that I wasn’t half of what I wanted to be, I thankfully rejected the advice of my training buddies to start juicing, and instead read and read and read, trying to figure out how to get new results. And so instead of resorting to steroids, I used myself as a human programming guinea pig, constantly tweaking, adjusting, trying new methods and throwing out others, and I broke through. I watched my squat increase 130 lbs, my bench 80 lbs, and my deadlift 115 lbs, all as an advanced, drug free lifter. I also gained nearly 30lbs of solid muscle along with it, without changing my diet. Ironically, I now looked bigger and was stronger than many of my friends who had used steroids for years. Our athletes now benefit greatly from the process I went through, and what took me 10 years to accomplish in strength they routinely accomplish in 3. If you’re a consistent lifter and tired of making little to no progress, apply this article, or better yet, come in for a session. One of my greatest enjoyments as a coach is being able to guide skinny, drug free athletes to the results they’ve always been looking for.