Tidy Up Your Strength Training (& Have More Time For Fun)
It’s easy to get carried away with overwhelm when it comes to developing your strength training program. Everybody under the sun has an opinion, and the technical details can be confusing. And let’s face it, realistically you don’t NEED to understand all of the ins & outs of the physiology behind it. Save that for the nerds in the ivory tower. What we’re concerned with is practical results without an all-consuming focus. After all we need to keep in mind: what is strength for?
Personally I want to be strong enough to do the fun things that pop up day to day. I want the strength to climb a tree, roughhouse with a buddy, or run through the woods. I don’t need to set any records. And I don’t have much need to validate my gains with social media likes. I want to be strong enough. Nothing more, nothing less.
Of course if you’re a competitive athlete you’ll need to develop sport-specific skill & strength, but for most of us, we just need a few basics to meet day-to-day strength requirements. With this in mind I’d like to expand on the model of “intuitive programming” and pare it down even further.
As a recap, intuitive programming uses your internal awareness to determine training load each session, using a small number of skills as your primary foci. We can structure a session as follows:
- Joint prep
- General warm up
- Block A (timed)
- Block B (timed)
- Accessory work
- Cool down
To perform you simply set a timer and go through your training sets with a focus on quality over quantity. When it comes to strength development, training to failure or pushing ahead with crappy form is counterproductive. I’ve been using variations on this theme for a couple of years now with quite a bit of success. I’d like to include a caveat here: I’m not setting world records. But I’m consistently improving my strength & skill without injuring myself, leaving me better equipped to play harder. That’s what I’m most concerned with at this point in my life. #fungainz
So if you’re ready to jumpstart your progress and improve your fun capacity, let’s break down what skills go where, giving you the best bang for your buck program for strength training.
As you know I’m a big fan of joint prep as a first step for a movement practice. Our joints are the constraints we move within after all. I keep it simple & go through the Controlled Articular Rotations of Andreo Spina’s Functional Range Conditioning. You can get an overview here.
When it comes to warm ups, nothing beats getting our bodies down on the ground. Not only does this add stability, granting our joints more mobility, it also challenges our body awareness. I typically spend 5-10 minutes on ground-based movements as a general warm up. I make sure to incorporate things like crawling, rolling, sit throughs, and the like. This increases fluidity of the soft tissues and gives your nervous system a boost as it navigates unfamiliar positions.
If you’re looking to develop usable strength without beating the crap out of your body, there are three main movements to focus on:
- The deadlift
- The muscle up (or push/pull progressions leading up to it)
- The front squat (specifically the shrimp squat)
Yes, I know there are other movements that you could focus on. If you absolutely HAVE to have another, choose the handstand pushup. You’ll look cool & develop tremendous pressing power & coordination. But for the time being let’s focus on these three.
When structuring your program, think time blocks, not arbitrary set & rep targets. Some days you'll be feeling hot and can do more, others you'll want to reduce intensity. The beauty of the intuitive programming framework is in its fluidity. You can scale the intensity as needed. The time blocks give you a window to work within, and you can focus on the quality of the reps.
You’ll go through your target repetitions of each exercise, giving yourself as much time to rest in between sets as needed. This will mainly be determined by the intensity you choose for the day. 2 reps of a weight you can lift only 2 times will require significantly more rest than 5 reps of something you can lift 5 times. When in doubt, leave some in the tank...you’ll perform more work in the long run without overly fatiguing your nervous system.
As you can see the strength blocks are fairly straightforward. Do the movements well, rest, repeat. When time is up, move on to the next block.
When it comes to your accessory work, you have a bit more flexibility. You may choose to focus on mobility work, or conditioning & capacity work. That will largely depend on your goals & your starting point.
Personally I’m a fan of heavy loaded carries. Locomotion never goes out of style. Keep it simple here.
You’re not done yet!
Show of hands: who here has skipped a cool down? I know I’ve been guilty of it. But think of a cool down as a gift to your movement quality, posture & alignment.
See, we’re a thixotropic system, like silly putty. The more we move, the more malleable our tissues get, and when we stop moving, they cool within a new configuration. Don’t make your configuration chair-shaped.
The simplest cool down I can think of is revisiting your ground based movements. You might spend 5-10 minutes going through your floor sitting positions for example. Your tissues will get the hint that they need to stay supple, giving you a bit of free fascial work.
Putting It All Together
A sample training day might look like this:
- Controlled articular rotations
Warm Up (5 minutes):
- Crawling & rolling
Block A (10-15 minutes):
- Deadlift x 5
- Rest as needed
Block B (10-15 minutes):
- Shrimp squat x 5/5
- Muscle up x 5
- Rest as needed
- Heavy carries x 4 rounds
Cooldown (5 minutes):
- Floor sitting
That’s all. Don’t complicate it for the sake of complicating it. Of course this shouldn't be the only movement you should ever do (remember: there are trees to climb, and cartwheels to do), but it will give you a tremendous base of strength to do all of those other things without draining your time & mental energy. Strength is an integral component of intelligent training, but it isn’t the ONLY component. Mobility, coordination, and awareness play equally important roles. Want to learn how to develop them? Click here to learn more.