One of the best and worst things to happen in the fitness/athletic performance industry is the Internet. The Internet is great because all of the knowledge on how to build a great body or be a better athlete has never been more accessible. It’s not so great because there has never been more misinformation. It’s often hard to separate fact from fiction. To simplify things a bit, here are the 10 Laws or Commandments of a successful strength and conditioning program:
1. Thou Shall Pick Up Heavy Objects and Put Them Down.
This is the first rule of Strength. Your goal every time you walk into the gym is to get a little bit stronger. This means adding 5 lbs. to the barbell to exceed what you did the previous week, or doing 10 reps of chin ups if you got 9 last week. It can also mean adding an extra couple of sets to your program to increase the total volume of work. The point is to make incremental progress. Over time, these small progressions turn into huge gains. So channel your inner meathead and go heavy – this is fundamental to becoming a great athlete and/or building a great physique.
2. Thou Shall Use Barbells & Dumbbells (most of the time).
Free weight movements involving barbells and dumbbells are the cornerstone of a good strength and conditioning program. Many of the most effective exercises – squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses – use these basic tools. Certain machines (i.e. the cable station) definitely have a place, but when you have limited time to train (which is over 90% of the population) you need to choose exercises that have the biggest return on investment. With barbells and dumbbells you can never go wrong.
3. Thou Shall Squat.
The squat is and always will be the single most important exercise in a complete strength and conditioning program. Regular squatting will build strength and power throughout the lower body, make you a better athlete and will develop your legs like no other exercise. The best part is you don’t have to stick with just one type of squat. We consistently use many variations of the squat with our athletes, including the back squat, front squat, box squat, hack squat, goblet squat and split squat. The split squat is a personal favourite for quad and glute development with the many physique competitors we train. Check out Coach G’s video on split squat technique below:
4. Thou Shall Learn to Lift Thy Own Bodyweight.
One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is neglecting bodyweight training in their programs. Bodyweight exercises can help to build a strong foundation in athletes of all levels. While we love barbells and dumbbells (see the 2nd Commandment), bodyweight training is way underrated. An athlete who has mastery of his or her own bodyweight is stronger, will get hurt less often and will excel at their chosen sport. Regularly performing exercises like chin ups, pull-ups, dips and push-ups will improve strength and muscular endurance. And when performed in circuit fashion, bodyweight exercises are an awesome way to burn fat. Barbells and dumbbells are key, but don’t neglect simple bodyweight exercises either.
5. Thou Shall Sprint to Be a Better Athlete and Look Good Naked.
Sprinting is of the most effective ways to improve conditioning (anaerobic and aerobic) and burn fat. In as little as 5-10 minutes you can complete a sprint workout and elevate your metabolism, increase work capacity and accelerate fat loss. Sprints can be done on a track, up a hill, on a treadmill, with a stationary bike, rowing machine or with the diabolical Air Dyne bike. The training tool is not as important. What is important is the intensity. For an exercise to qualify as a sprint you need to be going all out. We’re talking about a 9/10 in terms of effort. Each sprint should range between 10 – 45 seconds, followed by a short rest period and repeated multiple times. A great example of a short, yet brutally effective sprint workout is the Tabata protocol. A Tabata protocol is a 20-second sprint followed by a 10-second rest, repeated for a total of eight sprints (less than 4 minutes). Doing this and other sprint-based workouts on a regular basis will do wonders for your athletic ability, not to mention your physique.
6. Thou Shall Not Waste the Workout by Skipping Nutrition.
You can follow all of the commandments listed here, but if you ignore this one you’re wasting your time. Post-workout nutrition is absolutely critical. Post-workout nutrition provides the fuel your body needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, restore glycogen levels and speed up recovery so you can train harder. This is the ideal time to consume a protein supplement like New Zealand whey and some carbohydrates like rice cakes and fruit. Be religious with this commandment to reap the rewards of your effort in the gym.
7. Thou Shall Warm Up the Machine Before Driving the Machine.
Before you start any strength and conditioning session, it’s very important to prepare the mind and body for action. Your body is a complex, high-performance machine, much like a Formula 1 racecar, and without a proper warm up you will not be able to perform optimally. Instead of just walking into the gym and picking up the first heavy object you see, take 5-7 minutes to warm up with some dynamic stretching and several lighter sets of the first exercise on your program. This will go a long way to keeping you healthy and preventing injury.
8. Thou Shall Bring the Machine in for Regular Maintenance.
Like any high-performance machine, regular maintenance work is needed to keep you running at peak performance. Performing at your highest level while minimizing the risk of injury is critical to your success as an athlete. You can do a lot of this maintenance on your own by spending 5-7 minutes following your workout doing some mobility work and stretching. It’s also a really good idea to schedule regular visits with a qualified athletic therapist or registered massage therapist. This can add years to your athletic career and ensure a lifetime of relatively pain-free training.
9. Thou Shall Allow the Machine to Recover.
Picking up heavy objects and putting them down repeatedly comes with a cost. It causes fatigue, specifically fatigue of the muscular system and fatigue of the nervous system. If you don’t address the fatigue, sooner or later your body will respond in a number of ways: decreased performance, increased risk of illness, and increased risk of injury. To combat fatigue and recover optimally, the two most important factors here are sleep and nutrition. I would go out on a limb and say this is 80% of the equation. If you consistently get 7-8 hours of quality sleep and fuel your body with the right stuff, you should be able to recover adequately from the most demanding training sessions. There are several other factors (i.e. magnesium supplementation, infrared sauna sessions, minimizing stress) that can also be helpful for recovery. We’ll cover these off in future newsletters.
10. Thou Shall Leave All Worries at the Gym Door.
Stress and anxiety are constant companions in the game of life. We’re always dealing with one issue after another, whether it’s an overbearing boss, family and social obligations, or constant financial pressures. One of the few places where you can leave everything behind (at least for an hour or two) and focus on yourself is the gym. Many a bad day at work has been turned around completely after a great workout. The key is to view the gym as your safe haven and train your mind to not let outside pressures get in the way. Be completely present during your workout by focusing on your breathing and doing each rep with perfect form. Treat the workout like a moving meditation, where you’re oblivious to the outside world. Before long, the stress of the day will be the furthest thing from your mind.
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Team Strong Athlete