Just finished reading Serious Strength Training by Tudor Bompa et al, and have concluded that I’m not a serious strength trainer. 😉 That’s not too surprising since they are targeting serious (for which read “competition”) bodybuilders, so it’s very detailed advice targeted specifically at building the largest possible muscles while keeping body fat down to 10% or less. This really does not describe me.
The principles of their method appear to be fairly straightforward, though, and involve the same periodized training that you also see in cycling manuals. There are two basic principles to it:
(1) do three weeks of progressively more intense training, then cut back to about 40% intensity for one week–the rest week allows your body time to recover and rebuild;
(2) don’t just focus on doing one thing over and over, but vary your focus–have periods where you focus on building big muscles, building strong muscles, reducing bodyfat and building endurance–with different workloads for each, so you’re not doing the same thing all the time. Have rest periods in between.
Cycling training is just like that too, and I suspect it’s a good general principle for all physical training–(1) progressively higher loads, (2) rest periods, (3) varied training schedule.
At any rate, for what I’m doing, there are three basic phases:
(1) anatomical adaptation (“easing into it”)–building muscle and tendon strength. I was going to skip this since I’ve been lifting for awhile, but then I realized that I’m also easing myself into a six-day-a-week exercise schedule from a 2-3 day/week exercise schedule, so easing back on the weights for awhile, to let the body get used to the new exercise schedule, makes sense. If you push your body to do/change too much at once, you get injuries, not improvement.
In this phase, you’re doing about 15 reps per set and about 3 sets, with relatively light weights, and “circuit training” (doing one set on each machine, then moving on to the next) so your muscles get extra time between sets.
(2) hypertrophy, aka building big muscles. Slightly heavier weights, slightly fewer sets, work the muscles to exhaustion in almost every set, and EAT A LOT–putting on fat as well as muscle. Workouts can get pretty long, 1-2 hours of lifting.
(3) muscle definition, aka eliminating body fat. They’re recommending lots of repetitions at very light weights (to focus on burning subcutaneous fat), but (a) I’m not convinced that actually takes off subcutaneous fat any better than any other kind of exercise, since fat conversion happens in the liver no matter where the fat happens to be located, and (b) since the key is lots of endurance exercise, this seems like a great excuse to go cycling. 🙂
There are two other phases, maximizing strength and mixed training, but those are more for advanced bodybuilders, so I’m going to leave them out for the moment.
Given my reading thus far, I do like the idea of periodized training, and of focusing on different things in different phases. I think I will likely substitute cycling for their exercises during the muscle definition phase–I need more time on the bike, and since I’m not a competition bodybuilder, I don’t need the extra 3% muscle I’d get from endurance weightlifting instead. I’m currently reading other texts on weightlifting and also on cycling, to see how I can get the most out of my time in the gym/on the bike.
But fundamentally, the main focus of my life right now is not bodybuilding, it’s jobhunting and working on the book, so I’m not going to get too serious about it. I’ll put together a training program and do workouts 6x/week, but I’m not going to be in the gym 3 hours a day just to get those bulging biceps. Good fitness and lower bodyfat is enough for me, at least for now.
I forgot my main objection to following the book strictly–as part of their periodized nutrition, they want to stick me on the Atkins Diet (they call it something else), and that’s a major problem for me. All other concerns aside (and I have a lot of them), I was raised on a typical Chinese diet–low-protein, low-fat, high-carbohydrate. Eating that much meat/fat would gross me out completely; I wouldn’t last a day on Atkins.
So I’m continuing to look through bodybuilding texts, and note down the bits that make sense with what I already know about exercise/training. I’m also starting to read books on cycling training, so I can make the most of the time I do get in on the bike. I’ll get much more serious about cycling training come spring, probably sometime in February.