Q & A with one of the world’s premier strength coaches.
Q: Coach, your nutritional approach leans toward lower carbs and lower grains for most of the population. But what about low carbs for endurance athletes? Don’t they need the energy from carbs?
Here’s the thing: If these athletes have the genotype – the genetic constitution – to be endurance athletes, then they’ll naturally be carb-tolerant anyway.
They’re not “made” to be power athletes, and that goes for their nutritional tolerances as well as their physical structure. Their diet should be 65 to 70 percent carbohydrates. And remember, only 25 percent of the population is genetically carb-tolerant.
I’ve worked with endurance-type athletes in the past – swimming, biathlon, cross-country skiing – and it’s not uncommon for a cross-country skier to consume as much as 6,000 calories per day, with 70 percent of those from carbohydrate. These types of athletes used to not consume enough protein, but that’s mostly a thing of the past among those who perform well.
You can’t take 1970s research and apply it to athletes of this century. Their training volume wasn’t anything like it is today, when it’s not uncommon for some athletes to train three times per day. Some national teams may have their athletes consume as much as 10,000 calories per day. Unless they use carbohydrate liquids, they’re never going to make it.
So, carbs for hard-training, genetically inclined endurance athletes? Sure.
Q: What do you think of that CrossFit stuff?
I have no clue what the hell that is. Is that one of those systems that’s a mish-mash of everything?
Wait, I saw on article on that in Muscle & Fatness. Looked like a bunch of cachexic fitness-model wannabes searching for their souls in the weight room.
It reminds me of a Hungarian proverb: “If you only have one ass, you can’t sit on two horses.” If you try to do everything in your workout, you get nothing.
Another way to look at it is to think of Tim Ferris’s example of wearing your underwear over your pants. It’s different, and maybe even fun for some people, but it’s not very effective.
No athlete has ever gotten good training like that.
Q: Got any general tips for training two times a day for hypertrophy?
Twice-per-day training is the fastest way to gain strength and size, if you can afford the time. Typically, you’d do heavy, or “neural” training in the morning, and more time-under-tension training in the evening.
Now, these are relative values. For example, an Olympic lifter may do doubles and singles in the morning and sets of six in the afternoon. A bodybuilder may do six reps in the morning and 20 at night. So, you have to decide what’s neural for that lifter.
So, as a rule of thumb, you want to recruit higher-threshold motor units in the morning, and lower-threshold motor units in the afternoon. Or, you can do regular training in the morning and eccentric (negative-only) training at night.
In most cases, the same body part should be trained in both sessions – heavy in the A.M., lighter in the P.M. One example would be 4 to 6 reps in the morning, 12 to 15 reps in the afternoon.
If strength is your main concern, you’d want to do the same exercises for both sessions. If you’re focused on hypertrophy, you may want to use different variations of the exercises. So, powerlifters will do back squats twice per day; bodybuilders would do bench presses in the morning and incline dumbbell presses in the afternoon.
Also, you must leave four to six hours between workouts. This time spread is critical. If you use a shorter time spread – just two to three hours between sessions, say – you’ll be too fatigued.
As for each session’s length, you could start with 20 minutes in the morning and 20 more at night. From there, you’d work up to an hour each session. You have to take about 11 weeks to get to two full-hour sessions per day.
Two key points: First, for every 10 days of two-a-day training, you’ve got to do five days of once-per-day training to give your body a break. I recommend training for about 40 minutes in the morning on those days. After five days, you can go back to lifting twice per day.
Second, without a proper post-workout drink after each session, it’s impossible to recover from this type of training. And make sure to take BCAA during each workout.
Q: I’ve read that many coaches are now recommending two post-workout drinks: one right after lifting, another an hour or so after that. What do you think?
I tried it four years ago and saw no advantage of a post-post workout drink. I’d rather go with one post-workout drink, then have a solid meal an hour later.
Q: What do you think of cryotherapy, that post-workout ice-massage stuff?
The latest research shows it has no effect at all on post-workout recovery. It does zippo!
The only thing it does is increase cortisol post-workout, which is a stressor. In my opinion, it delaysrecovery – as does anything that increases cortisol – and is actually counterproductive. And the newest research shows it does nothing for DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). I’ve just never seen it work. Waste of time.
A lot of soccer teams in the U.K. invested money in cryo-suits, basically a suit that literally freezes you. They stopped using these suits because they actually increased the number of injuries – $150,000 down the toilet.
Listen, some things may sound good in a couple of initial studies, but they just don’t stand the test of time. Cryotherapy was a hot topic a few years ago, but today you don’t hear much about it. Why? It just doesn’t work.
On the other side, look at post-workout drinks. I was using them in 1982, back when many of today’s gurus were playing with their G.I. Joes. These drinks are still around today and people keep using them. Why? They work.
It’s like squatting: always worked, always will. But look at all the “superior” machines than have come and gone. Things that work stick around. Cryotherapy didn’t stick around; post-workout drinks did.
Q: I’m confused about proper rest intervals for strength gains. Some of the strong guys in my gym barely seem to rest; others take forever between sets. What’s the scoop?
Both systems are good, but for different reasons. Long rest intervals allow the nervous system to recover. Short rest intervals help to increase work capacity.
In physiology, you have two variables when you look at an energy system: the power of the system, and the capacity of the system. Power is analogous to your car’s drive train. It determines how fast it goes from 0 to 60. If you rest a lot between sets, you improve the power of the system.
Capacity is like the gas tank of your car. If I cut my rest intervals and force myself to repeat efforts without as much recovery as I want, I’m expanding the size of my gas tank.
Which is better? You should use a blend. In the sport of weightlifting, with the new rules, you may have to repeat the lift after only a brief moment. If you don’t have that work capacity, you’re up the proverbial creek with no paddles. So you’ll find that the best coaches use a mixture of short and long rest intervals.
Q: Assuming a person has a choice, is there a best time of day to weight train?
Actually, there are two, based on circadian rhythms: three hours and 11 hours after you wake up.
However, your body will adjust its cycle to fit your pattern. For example, if you always wake up at 6 A.M. and train at 7 A.M., that doesn’t fit the circadian rhythms. But if you’re consistent and you always train at that time, your body will adjust.
In 1982, I was part of a study group that went to Russia. I asked a former world-champion Greco-Roman wrester, who was also an M.D., what one thing Westerners should change about their training.
He didn’t even hesitate: we need to be more methodical, he told me. Sometimes we train in the morning, sometimes at three in the afternoon. We need a more established rhythm.
In my experience, having a regular training time is very important. So for the average guy with a job, he’ll see better results if he picks a training time and sticks with it, instead of training before work sometimes, at lunch sometimes, or after work sometimes.
When you screw around with your times, you screw around with your results.
Q: With a split training program, what’s better: back with biceps and chest with triceps? Or back with triceps and chest with biceps? Is the pre-fatigue from training biceps with back a good thing or a bad thing? The biceps would be “fresh” if you trained them with chest, right?
I like to work chest as the primary mover, then use biceps work to recover in between sets of chest. This way the biceps are fresh. So you can do a set of dumbbell bench presses, followed by a set of curls.
Then, on back day, you can train triceps in between sets of back work.
I first learned this from a world-champion powerlifter when I was maybe 18 years old. It worked really well. Over the years I’ve found this to be one of the best splits to do.
Q: Is the lateral raise for delts an underrated exercise or a sissy exercise?
If there’s one area of the deltoids that need specialized work, it would be the area hit by the lateral raise. So you should include lateral raises in your program.
Lateral raises are also good for any athlete that plays in a sport where there’s a lot of pushing and shoving, like when you’re on defense in hockey.
Q: As a strength coach, what would you say is the best lesson you’ve ever learned?
Adopt what is useful and reject what is not. It’s the Bruce Lee principal.
In some systems, only one part is effective and good. Those who follow the system are successful because of the effective part, and succeed despite the other shit in the system. I’ve never seen a perfect training system, but there are always parts that can be used.
I think Louie Simmons has some great ideas, but I wouldn’t use 100 percent of what he does. The Russians have some great ideas, but again, I wouldn’t use 100 percent of their ideas.
Think of fighting. Boxing is a great system when it comes to bobbing and weaving around, but if you get taken to the ground, you feel like the rookie in the showers at Riker’s Island. The best mixed martial artists were the grapplers who learned how to strike.
Good coaching and training has become sort of like MMA. The best coaches are less dogmatic; they learn from many different systems.
Q: I really value your opinion on this: Who was the best athlete at the Olympics this year?
There have always been questions about who’s the better of two athletes. Could Muhammad Ali beat Mike Tyson? Was Bo Jackson a better two-sport athlete than Deion Sanders? Whose accomplishments in his chosen sport are more significant: Tiger Woods’ or Lance Armstrong’s? And, most recently, who was the better athlete at the Beijing Olympics: Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt?
I’ll give you my opinion: Usain Bolt.
Bolt’s performance in the 100 meters was freakish. First, consider that Bolt is 6 feet 5 inches tall, which isn’t considered ideal for the 100, as it’s often difficult for someone so tall to accelerate out of the starting blocks.
Considered primarily a 200-meter runner, Bolt had only started focusing on the 100 13 months before the Olympics. Despite these obstacles, and the fact he was running into a headwind, he ran a world-record 9.69, breaking his previous record set in May by 0.03 seconds.
Even more impressive, he was clearly slowing down at the 80-meter mark, extending his arms out to his sides and even throwing in a chest slap before the finish line. According to track statisticians who calculate these factors, Bolt was capable of running 9.60 had he pushed himself to the finish.
Bolt’s performance in the 200 meters was equally amazing, perhaps even more so than in the 100. Michael Johnson set the world record in the Atlanta Olympics at 19.32 seconds. Prior to this Olympics, no one else had ever run faster than 19.62 seconds. Bolt’s pre-Olympic personal best was 19.67. A lot of experts thought Johnson’s world record was untouchable.
They were wrong.
This time, pushing himself throughout the entire race, Bolt crossed the finish line in 19.30 seconds, becoming the first man to win the sprint double since Carl Lewis did it in 1988, and the only one ever to set world records in both events at the same Olympics.
Further, the last person to hold both the 100 and 200 world records simultaneously was Donald Quarrie, another Jamaican, upon whom Bolt said he modeled his running style.
Oh, but Bolt wasn’t finished with his Olympic experience – there was still the 4 x 100 relay.
Running the third leg in the relay, Bolt added another gold medal to his trophy case when his team finished in 37.10 seconds, breaking the 16-year-old world record by 0.3 seconds. Only three other individuals – Jesse Owens in 1936, Bobby Joe Morrow in 1956, and Carl Lewis in 1984 – won gold at the same Olympics in the 100, 200, and 4 x 100. But none of them set world records in the 100 or 200.
Finally, factor in that all of Bolt’s races were considered blowouts. He won the 100 by 0.2 seconds, the 200 by 0.66 seconds, and the 4 x 100 by 0.96 seconds. The last one was the largest margin of victory in that event since the 1936 Games. Three gold medals, three world records, three blowouts, and Bolt made it look easy!
All right, before I get loads of hate mail from Michael Phelps “phans” who believe he’s the greatest Olympian of all time, I need to explain my position.
Phelps’ performance is certainly remarkable and unprecedented, but I contend that Phelps can’t qualify as a better athlete than Bolt.
Here’s why: Swimming is still underdeveloped as a sport, especially when compared to track and field. If track and field athletes trained under the same methodology as swimming, you could time people in the 100 meters with a calendar!
Think about it. How is Dara Torres able to perform so well at 41, when she’s more than twice as old as some of her competitors? Because Torres is training smarter than her younger colleagues! Could a 41-year-old athlete do as well in track? No way.
Torres has basically applied what’s called a “George Costanza approach” to swimming: She does the opposite of what’s currently done by her competitors. Just look at Torres’ physique, which she obviously built with proper weight training, and compare it to those of her younger competitors.
She has the strength of a man and the hydrodynamics of a woman – an ideal combination for a champion swimmer. She’s an innovative athlete. As soon as her competitors follow her lead, she and other older athletes like her will no longer be competitive.
Great as Michael Phelps is, I sincerely believe that he hasn’t yet scratched the surface of his true athletic potential. But he has tremendous spirit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he competes and wins more gold in 2012.
Further, Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, was trained by the best, Paul Bergen. I worked with Paul in training Alison Higson to break the world record in the breaststroke in 1988. My best advice to Phelps would be to chat with Torres and see what he can learn from her.
I’d also advise Phelps to stop eating shit all day. Those trans-fats he’s consuming now are going to take their toll later on.
Michael Phelps is great, but Usain Bolt is better.