Over the past month, Anders and I have installed a once-weekly bodybuilding-based program on Saturday mornings at Cass. This was a test to gauge the level of interest from our athletes, and it was successful beyond our wildest dreams. The class has been filled to capacity, with a wait-list, each week. We now find ourselves with an opportunity to expand on this and implement it into the daily Cass schedule. Starting Monday November 3rd, Bodybuilding class will run every weekday except Thursday at 6:30am, 12pm, 5pm, and 7pm. Saturdays will continue to be 9am. Thursdays and Sundays are mandatory rest days.
The purpose of this blog is to supply you all with a better understanding of the structure of this program so that you can decide whether it will play a role in the future of your fitness goals.
First off, I’d like to backtrack a number of years – about 15 years to be exact. Seventeen year-old Bryan was sort of obsessed with this lifting thing. I would get home from basketball practice at about 6:30pm and spend the next four hours reading every bit of material I could find on every methodology associated with weightlifting. There were so many different theories out there – so many different ways one could get strong and look really good walking down the beach in the summer. I quickly ascertained that following the “program of the pros” from any of the muscle magazines was a really bad idea. It doesn’t take an intelligent person to realize that these monsters were on all sorts of drugs to aid their training, and that doing 25 sets per muscle group, and spending two to three hours a day in the gym just wasn’t going to work for the average person. I was on a mission to find something that was extremely effective, but that also worked within the constraints of a normal life consisting of school or work and outside-the-gym activities. In retrospect, it isn’t so surprising that I found this effective balance represented in the training programs from the 1950’s and 1960’s, prior to the steroid era. In fact, prior to CrossFit, my entire training history was based exclusively on the training programs from this era.
These people were athletes in the truest sense. They trained with a common sense approach that was both effective and time-efficient. Most importantly, they understood the meaning of intensity. There is an adage that states you can train hard or you can train long, but you can’t do both effectively. If intensity is high, you literally cannot repeat that same effort for duration. If you opt to train long, the intensity must diminish. Think about doing Fran at full intensity one time, versus doing Fran for an entire hour on repeat. How intense would your output level be if you had to do it as AMRAP 60 min? On a smaller scale, the same principle applies to all training, and specifically to the level of intensity and effort you apply to each and every set of your training program. I will always opt for intensity over volume, because this allows you to obtain better results in less time.
So, I immersed myself in 1950’s training theory. I became an expert of these training regimens and implemented them into my own training. I became the sole source of weightlifting knowledge for our sports programs at my high school. It was a small private school and we didn’t have a strength coach of any sort. I became the resident expert and I began supplying the programs for our varsity sports – and it worked! Our athletes got stronger, performance improved, and the other teams in our conference took notice. This experience solidified my belief system. This was functional training at its finest. The absolute number one most important result of this experience was that strength training and aesthetics can, and should, work in coordination. There is no such thing as a strictly aesthetically based program, and to believe that there is would be ignorant. In what world is a weak muscle also an aesthetically pleasing muscle? When have you ever seen a guy with a 135 lb. bench press max have a chest that you would want to emulate? Has anyone ever had great back and arm development that can’t do multiple pull-ups? There are certain non-negotiable concepts in training theory, and this one takes the cake. You must get strong to improve appearance. Furthermore, you must apply the principles of progressive overload (adding weight to the bar each session) to continue to improve appearance. This is the absolute number one component that defines any successful program, and understanding that this element must be present in every program is what ensures you are not trapped in the repetition of abysmal training structure. In fact, I’d venture to say that without progressive overload, you aren’t even participating in any sort of structured program. You are just going through the motions and convincing yourself that you’re doing something worthwhile, but in reality, this is only slightly better than progressively getting faster at using your TV remote.
Ok, I’m done telling you how to live – but you still can’t tell me how to live, so this is how the bodybuilding strength training program is going to run for the next 8 to 12 weeks:
1. The program will be on a four-day cycle
Day 1 – Chest and Back
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 4 – Conditioning and Abs
Day 5 – Repeat
2. The program will run on a five-day weekly cycle
Using the first two weeks as an example, this is how it will run, and as an intelligent human, I presume that you can determine what’s going to happen on Monday of week three …
Monday – Chest and Back
Tuesday – Legs
Wednesday – Shoulders and Arms
Thursday – REST
Friday – Conditioning and Abs
Saturday – Chest and Back
Sunday – REST
Monday – Legs
Tuesday – Shoulders and Arms
Wednesday – Conditioning and Abs
Thursday – REST
Friday – Chest and Back
Saturday – Legs
Sunday – REST
“But coach, it’s just not enough conditioning – it sounds like way too much lifting and I’m worried I’m gonna get fat without spending endless amounts of time doing mind-numbing cardio.”
Well, don’t worry about that you uninformed, hamster wheel-addicted athlete. Let me drop some knowledge and tell you how to live for a moment. There are two hormonal states that result from exercise – anabolism (building muscle) and catabolism (wasting muscle). Anabolism is accompanied by an increase in testosterone and other positive gender-specific hormones that induce a positive balance and lead to increased energy throughout the day. Catabolism increases the production of cortisol (the stress hormone). This leads to lethargy, depression, sleeping problems, as well as leaching stored muscle for energy. Look no further than the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner for a real-world example of these effects. Sprinters live in a state of anabolism. They lift weights and run short distances at all-out efforts. They are well-muscled and look healthy. Now look at a marathon runner who looks emaciated and unhealthy with little-to-no muscle development. They live in a state of elevated cortisol levels. Who do you want to emulate? Furthermore, for each pound of muscle that you gain, it elevates your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) substantially, increasing the amount of calories you burn at rest, doing nothing. For every marathon cardio session, your metabolism will slow down and decrease your BMR.
Short bursts of high intensity exercise will spike your metabolism for hours after you stop exercise. This is called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) and ensures that you will be burning calories at an elevated rate for the remainder of that day, without even doing anything beyond living your normal life. You can literally be a metabolic furnace while sitting at your desk staring at Excel worksheets. Or, you can do a long cardio session at low intensity and completely eliminate the EPOC effect, burn no additional calories, depress your metabolism, and live in a muscle-wasting existence staring at Excel worksheets. In the same manner by which you must get stronger to increase aesthetic appearance, you must also make a decision as to whether you want to build muscle or waste muscle, because these tasks are mutually exclusive.
In no way does this mean that CrossFit is bad, or that you should drop everything and immediately begin a bodybuilding strength program. In fact, CrossFit is a perfect program based on time-tested training theory – at least this is the case for the CFPB version of CrossFit. We have strength work, skill work, and short intense conditioning work. The program is beautifully effective. But what the program lacks is a short-term strength-specific focus. Anders made reference to this in his blog post yesterday. He wrote about how important it is to build a base of strength. Due to the focus which CrossFit places on being good at everything, it inevitably mitigates the ability to focus exclusively on one aspect of your fitness. I am not here to tell you to stop doing CrossFit at all. I am merely telling you that it will probably provide substantial benefits for you to spend a couple months developing a base of strength, and that it will manifest itself with increased benefits when you return to our standard CrossFit programming.
I encourage everyone to do the bodybuilding program for this first 8 to 12 week cycle. Your body is desperately hoping that you stop breaking it down. It’s time to get strong and thank your body for supporting you all these years. There are four bodybuilding classes offered daily at Cass, and I promise that you will not regret changing it up and learning how to get really strong. This will change your entire perspective on how to gain strength and improve your appearance. And that’s me telling you how to live.