Random Training Thoughts via UGSS 2010

We haven’t had a Random Post in a while, and it shows.

I think you’re really going to like this one.  This is a collection of quotes and random knowledge bombs I got while hanging around this weekend’s Underground Strength Session (UGSS) at Elite Fitness.

Needless to say, these are some of the strongest guys in the world.  I was only there 24 hours, but I definitely picked up some new stuff along the way.

Regardless, here we go.  Enjoy!

“It boils down to we have two heavy days, and two light days.  That’s it”
– JL Holdsworth

First off, JL is one of the largest human beings I’ve ever seen.  He also appears to be a very introspective guy, and someone that has thought a ton about training.

Over dinner, he was describing the basics of the Westside template, and I couldn’t help but thing – “How simple is this?”

Too often, we want to make things way too difficult. If you’re using a Westside template, keep your heavy days heavy, and make your speed days light(er) and explosive.

This can be taken a step further and applied more broadly over various training programs as well, though.  If you want to get really good at a specific set of lifts, you need to train them in some form or fashion on a more frequent basis.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean training heavy each and every workout.

Bill Starr talked about this years ago, alternating heavy, medium and light days.

Olympic lifting coaches do it as well, perhaps by rotating the number of lifts taken or the average intensity used for a given day.

While it sounds big and bad, at some point in time you need to get smarter about waving your volume and intensity.  Trying to go hard and heavy every single workout is a sure-fire way to plateau or injure yourself.

“Speed work never did sh*t for me.”
– JL Holdsworth

Rather than bashing the Westside system and saying this doesn’t work, this is the perfect example of figuring out what works for you.

I remember when I was powerlifting a while back, I was using the dynamic effort method (DE) myself for my squat and bench, and didn’t feel as though I was getting anything out of it.

The reason? Speed wasn’t my limiting factor!

It all comes down to knowing your body.

What are your limitations?

What are your sticking points?

Why do you miss lifts?

If you’re a super explosive guy, do you think speed work is going to help you?

In his case, JL actually did the opposite – he slowed down all his tempos.  Doing this not only reduces the influence of the stretch-shortening cycle, but it also puts more stress on the muscles themselves (versus the tendons).

Again, when you’re honest with yourself and you’ve figured out where your weaknesses are, you’re going to be that much better at addressing them within your workouts.

“Don’t think of 3 reps in a set – think of 3 singles within your set.”
– Jeremy Frey

AWESOME point.

Think about this – if you’re doing a set of 3 reps, how focused are you on the first rep?

The second none?

Probably not much.  You probably have plenty of strength on the first rep or two, it’s the third one you’re worried about.

But thinking like this allows for that small amount of mental slippage.  All of a sudden, your technique isn’t quite as dialed in as it should be.  You’re not quite as focused.

Instead, think about three singles within your set.  This little shift in mindset could be all the difference between three quality repetitions, and two to three sloppy ones.

“If you do 8 reps in a set and the first three are perfect, that means you used sh*tty technique on the last 5.”
– Dave Tate

This flows seamlessly from my previous point – why are we reinforcing poor technique by doing too many reps?

One of the best things about block periodization is how they tend to invert the set/rep scheme to accumulate more quality volume.  For instance, look at the following two examples:

3 sets of 10 reps = 30 total reps

10 sets of 3 reps = 3o total reps

6 sets of 5 reps = 30 total reps

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to accumulate a total volume of 30 “lifts.” Now I’m not naive – I realize this can make for a HUGE difference in intensity levels, but I’m strictly talking about technique right now.

Assuming you use the same weight of 225 pounds to accumulate your 30 total reps, which set/rep scheme do you think will lend itself to the highest quality of work?

Obviously, when you drop the total reps/set, you can really dial in and focus on quality movement.  This is something I’m going to be doing more in my own training, and I can honestly say I’m really excited to see where this takes me.

A Few More Random Thoughts and Musings…

  • If you’ve never been to Westside, The Compound at Elite, or a similar gym, you owe it to yourself to make the trip.  I think it really opens you mind as to what’s possible when you dedicate yourself to your training.

  • I sincerely hope I can help some of these guys out with my “corrective” stuff.  I evaluated about a half-dozen guys while I was there, and needless to say, they need some work.  If we can just get them feeling a little better, I think there numbers will really skyrocket.

  • Average total shoulder rotation of the guys I evaluated? Approximately 40 degrees.

  • A thought that’s been bouncing around my head, and even more so after chatting with Bill last night…

    We know there’s a trade-off between mobility and stability.  Many of these guys have obviously sacrificed mobility for more stability, allowing them to move heavier weights.

    But at what point in time does this cross threshold? To the point where they go from just benching or squatting ridiculous weights, to the point where they’re constantly beat-up and injured?

    While I’m not sure I can totally answer that question, I do know this – even a little bit of the good stuff is going to make a huge difference in the health of their body and their performance.

This will probably be the only post I get up this week, so I’ll take this time to tell you have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with family and friends.

Stay strong


P.S. – Want to check out all the pics from the UGSS 2010? Just head over to my Flickr account…


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  1. Hey Mike, excellent article! I’d been eyeballing the concept of more abbreviated sets earlier this year (of course, after I’m already injured)- and how short rest clusters (playing with rest periods, but 10-15 seconds for higher total rep sets (cluster reps x clusters per set) ) could be useful to this end. Since I’m still just totally wrecked from an injury standpoint, I haven’t had enough of an opportunity to really get my feet wet with the concept.

    I think shorter sets are an awesome idea on paper (keeping it firmly within the phosphagenic time frame) from a maximal strength and injury prevention standpoint. I feel like you can generate better specificity in maximal total body tension (think postural stability within the lift)- with better application towards those max effort lifts than trying to maintain a similar level of tension across a set that’s 20-30 seconds long. Injury prevention wise, the lack of fatigue in this postural stability would be another thing besides just lack of prime mover fatigue that would keep you locked down tight in good form. I guess I’m explaining it more in regards to maximizing a lift, versus preparation for the rigors of sport (depending on the demands, this might not make the most sense for the latter).

    What I do wonder though- and I know you love the color grey- is how you could apply this to someone with a looser joint structure. In this case, they NEED excellent function of the active restrains- but this also extends in the direction of muscular endurance. If anything I’ve said makes sense- do you think you need to develop a high level of muscular endurance of the active restrains specifically within that movement pattern to safely recommend heavier loading with lower repetitions? I know endurance within these muscle groups would be paramount to maintaining function across a wide spectrum of activities, but assuming excellent stabilization patterns and general muscular endurance would you also have to ensure this same level of fatigue resistant proficiency when the goal, and largely the training to achieve the goal, is just to move something very few times? This is where either I forget McGill’s teachings (if they can be applied in this manner to the shoulder), or are too stupid to make the connection. You have any feelings on this?

    Keep up the awesome work and inspiration!


    • I don’t think muscular endurance is a pre-requisite if your own goal is maximal weights/heavy lifting. If you have a loose joint structure, you might benefit from some slower-tempo training, though. This would force you to really “own” the movement from a muscular strength and connective tissue perspective, without allowing you to get loose or unstable.

      The obvious exception (and what McGill is known for) is developing endurance before strength with regards to lower back health, but that’s a different story.

      Hope that helps. Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Hey Mike! Thanks for the fast response- I appreciate your feedback. I hope you and everyone at IFAST had a great thanksgiving!



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