Let's KILL some confusion here.
If you love variety in your training, go for it and DO it.
If you love just attacking the basics, go for it and DO it.
Let me Explain .....
Your results in training come down to a select few things that must be executed VERY well.
There is a BIG difference in the mindset of a sport athlete towards lifting (Football, Wrestling, Baseball, etc) compared to the mindset of a seasoned Coach or Lifter.
Sport Athletes are often very eccentric and their mindset actually thrives on variety.
For example: I did pause squats with athletes 3 weeks in a row. On the 2nd week, an athlete said, "I just did these last week".
The fact of the matter is if you want to get STRONG & Maximize muscle & strength gains, you MUST repeat exercises and practice them often. Squatting differently every single week is NOT good unless you are a highly advanced lifter.
Sport athletes are NOT advanced lifters.
Sport athletes love variety. It fires them up. But, sometimes, you have to keep the exercise selection less frequent in order to maximize their gains.
Without the variety in their workouts, athletes often get bored and in turn their intensity drops. There is less of a "buy in" from the athletes when they are not excited.
The lack of excitement, the lack of "buy in" and the lack of intensity leads to less results. No such thing as half assing a workout and becoming a BEAST.
I've found a way to work around these multiple personalities and organize a training system allowing the athletes to thrive, i.e. - Get Bigger, Stronger, Faster & Tougher.
If you are highly disciplined (and you should be), then stick to a few basics as Arnold did in his early days all the way through the end of his winning streak of The Mr. Olympia title.
Arnold began by following the workouts of his mentor, Reg Park.
5 - 10 sets per exercise of the basics:
- Barbell Rows
- Chins and Dips
- Clean and Press
High volume, High Intensity and Progressive Resistance.
Reading old stories of Arnold, you see he would do things like 20 + sets of chin ups until he could no longer hold onto the chinning bar (No Straps).
- 50 sets of squats out in the woods followed by eating steak and chicken, drinking wine and good times with his lady friends (use your imagination on that one!!).
Now, the above style of training will crush a sports athlete & take away from their sports performance. Some athletes, like Wrestlers, well, they thrive on crazy challenges such as 20 sets of chins or high volume squats.
I would say "normal" athletes get scared when they push the limits. Wrestlers are used to pushing THROUGH their limits.
Most Sport athletes don't have the same discipline as weightlifters, powerlifters and Coaches.
"I just did the box squat last week" they'll say.
"I already benched this week."
My response, "Yes, have you ever practiced foul shots (insert any skill in place of foul shots) 2 days in a row?"
They don't understand the commitment level behind mastering technique in the gym with the basic lifts. Lifting weights is a skill, especially the basic barbell lifts. Hand placement, foot placement, breathing, walk out, unrack, etc - ALL of these skills with a barbell lift must be dialed in.
Look at Kirk Karwoski lifting in the videos below. Note how dialed in his set up is for every exercise.
When I watch videos of Kirk it makes me feel like an amateur even though I've been training since 1989! Kirk had Marty Gallagher coaching him and trained among other giants. He had NO choice but to be great or he would have been kicked out of the gym.
Experienced lifters like myself are always trying to get 1% better even with decades of iron history. It's amazing how much you can learn when you get to hang out with guys like Marty Gallagher, Kirk Karwoski, Jim Steel, John Welbourn....
How do we get athletes to buy in to the basics and still satisfying their desire to have variety.
Here are 4 Ways To Maximize Muscle & Strength Gains While Minimizing Variety in the basic barbell lifts:
I prefer to do this for my sport athletes to keep theme excited and constantly improving their lifting skills and of course, getting them Bigger, Stronger, Faster & Tougher.
Tip 1: Use Mini Training Cycles of 2 - 4 weeks. Jim Wendler does 3 weeks and then a deload on the 4th week. You can follow a 5, 3, 1 model and then the 4th week stick to the same lifts but hit reps in the 6 - 15 range.
Tip 2: Change the main lift with a different variation. For example, A squat has MANY variations, here are just a few of them:
- Pause Squat (Vary The Pause)
- Box Squat Wide Stance / Box Squat Athletic Stance
- Sandbag Zercher Squat
- Front Squat (Pause or No Pause)
- Safety Bar Squat
- Double Kettlebell Squat
Tip 3: Simply changing the rep patterns and the effect works great as well. Heavy weights for strength, lighter weights & explosiveness for power, high reps for muscle building, isometric holds for static strength.
Tip 4: Pre fatigue the big lifts. I do this in MANY ways with our athletes.
For example, we might have Squats on the agenda.... Sometimes we'll hit training at the playground by partnering up and doing Farmer Walks to the playground. Then, playing 10 minutes of Football interspersed with jumps, plyometrics and some Kettlebell skill work.
By the time we hit Squats, the athletes are a bit fatigued and I challenge them mentally and physically to be laser focused and STILL break a record.
Other ways to pre fatigue the Big Barbell Lifts might be......
- Hit a few sets of plyo push ups and rope climbs, THEN hit the Bench Press
- Hit a few heavy sets of sleds and THEN hit the heavy squats or deadlifts
- Various Sprint Drills Prior to Squats and Deadlifts
The reason behind this style of training is ALSO to tell the athletes, You MUST be Strong, Tough & Explosive not just when you're fresh and early in the workout / game. Be Strong, Tough & Fast from start to finish. Period. Make it Happen.
At the end of the day, here is my truth to you.
The Experts do NOT need fads, gimmicks, variety, etc.
The amateur always seeks out the flash, the buzz, the fads and gimmicks.
Give me nothing but a barbell and I can build a BadAss. Period.
Marty Gallagher trains Special Ops Military from his backyard shed. There is a barbell, a squat rack and few dumbbells. Simple Training builds Savages when you Know what to do.
The basics always win. The critical factor is having the discipline and intelligence to stray from the fads and gimmicks. For well over 100 years, it has been documented that the strongest men and women in the world trained with the basics.
Basics for the WIN.
Dedication and Intensity for LIFE.
Live The Code 365,