I’ve been re-reading a lot of my books on lifting while I’ve had some downtime, and 5/3/1 Forever still has an awesome first section wherein Jim talks about the importance of having training principles of lays out his own. They’re solid principles (the book itself is awesome, even if you have no interest in 5/3/1 you should read it), and it got me thinking about my own, both for training and nutrition. These are the things I’ve settled on after 20 years of throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks, and many fly directly in the face of science. Give 'em a read, agree, disagree, argue, and then post your own.
1: The way the body gets bigger and stronger is by being subjected to a demand to grow.
I’m a fan of Jim Wendler’s work. I understand, intellectually, that submax training works. I’ve seen enough evidence of it working. But for me, the only way I can ACTUALLY understand how to progress is to subject myself to such extreme physical duress in my training that my body is FORCED to grow as a response. It’s an easy guiding principle in turn. When I want to grow, I hammer the hell out of my body. When growth isn’t a goal, I ease off. Hey look: periodization.
2: Balance with training cycles; not IN training cycles.
I never strive to make sure that everything is balanced during a specific period of training. I went about 2 solid years prioritizing my pressing and letting my upper body pulling be put on the back burner. I hit a lifetime press PR that way and my lats got a little smaller. Now I’m prioritizing the back, my lats came out of hiding, I look wider from the front, and I still have a strong press. If you try to balance everything all the time, everything WILL be perfectly balanced: it will all suck.
3: Train MORE when you’re gaining weight, train LESS when you’re losing it.
A lotta folks go the opposite way on this, but my approach is, when I’m eating a lot of calories, that means I’m better able to recover from training, so I train MORE to make use of that. When I’m eating less, recovery is down, so I train less.
4: If you want it to grow (bigger OR stronger), train it directly.
It’s weird this needs to be said, but so many dudes wanna rely on indirect work to make things stronger (typically the arms, neck, abs and grip), but my approach is that direct work (yes, dreaded isolation exercises) is necessary for growth.
5: ALWAYS find a way to progress
Too many folks focus on always adding weight to the bar while keeping everything else the same (or even letting it get worse, by letting rest times get longer, bar speed drop, bodyfat grow, etc). I’ve dropped 30lbs since March, my weights aren’t going up much on the lifts, but I’m STILL progressing every workout. Either I’m doing more reps, more total sets, the bar speed is moving faster, I’m training under heavier fatigue, my rest times are shorter, I’m setting PRs by bodyweight, etc etc. It ties in with principle 1: the body needs to be forced to grow by subjecting it to a demand to do so. Absent progress, there is no demand.
1: Whenever possible, do not mix carbs and fats.
Stuff like this pisses off the labcoat and glasses crowd, but I read the idea one time about a decade ago, tried it out, and things worked great. I don’t know or care if the science behind it works: I like this principle because it keeps me from making bad decisions. Most yummy things are just fat and carbs put together with minimal protein: ice cream, pastries, french fries, everything on the Taco Bell menu, etc. When I made this my guiding nutritional principle, planning what to eat became stupidly easy and kept me on a solid path.
2: Only eat carbs around training.
I grew up in the 90s and my Atkin’s carbophobe roots shine through constantly, but again, I like this principle for the decisions it helps me make, and there’s enough big and strong dudes that abide by this that it seems solid enough. It also makes transitions between weight gain and weight loss pretty easy: during periods of weight loss or maintenance, I eat carbs only pre OR post training. During weight gain, I do both. From there, I can also start adding MORE carbs during weight gain and eating fewer carbs during weight loss.
Let’s get some principles from the community. Let’s not take anyone’s principles personally either: something working or not working for someone else doesn’t invalidate your own experience.