Back to the Basics: the Foundations of Training and Nutrition

by Scott Shetler

“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”
-Ch’ing-yuan; from Alan W. Watts: “The Way of Zen”

I love this quote from Alan Watts’ book for many reasons, one of which is a reflection of what I’ve seen in 15+ years that I’ve claimed the strength training / health and fitness industry as my profession.

Typically when people begin their journey into training they begin with barbells, dumbbells and a handful of compound movements like squats, presses, and pulls. Then, right at that point they realize they know everything (somewhere around year 1 to 2), they are doing a zillion different exercises per bodypart, morning / evening split training sessions, and Bulgarian, top-secret super-hypertrophic, multi-directional, variable-loaded, undulating periodization with special machines that target specific phases of each movement’s strength curve. Finally, somewhere around year 5, they realize it was the dedicated focus of the basic movements that produced the best results. Back to barbells, dumbbells, and a few key compound movements.

I spent four years from 2003-2007 training for powerlifting competition, and entered a handful of competitions between 2005-2007. As a beginner to the sport I was overwhelmed with the different training methods and tools, box squats, board presses, suspended good mornings, accommodating resistance with bands and chains, and more. I felt like I was trying to go from little league baseball straight to the majors without stopping by high school, college, and the minor leagues.

At one point I came across an article from a very accomplished powerlifter from the Westside Barbell Club, Dave Tate. The gist of the article said this: “At some point in your training you may need to simply get back to squatting, benching, and deadlifting.” Could it really be that simple?

Vegan powerlifter James Morgan knows the importance of hard work on the basic lifts!

I stopped talking with other novice lifters and worse, armchair powerlifters participating in discussion forums under fake names, and started looking at how the best in the sport trained.

One of my favorite lifters of all time, “Captain” Kirk Karwoski, trained on a simple 4-day split. Day 1 was squat with a few accessory movements. Day 2 was bench press with a few accessory movements. Day 3 was deadlift with a few accessory movements. Day 4 was a light bench day with a few accessory movements. In addition he cycled his weights in a well planned, periodized manner prior to a competition. That was it. It seems the fewer working parts, the less that could potentially break down.

Another one of my favorite lifters, and arguably the greatest of all-time, Ed Coan followed a very similar approach. He used a split like Capt. Kirk’s except Ed added a fifth day to do some accessory work for the shoulders.

Last, Steve Goggins, another of the greatest of all-time who is still doing amazing things today. Based on his more recent training logs he follows a 3-day split. Day 1 is for the squat, day 2 is for the bench press, and day 3 is for the deadlift and sometimes he works front squats in on this day as well.

The commonalities among these legend’s training programs was to push the basic movements hard, use a few accessory exercises that supported the main movements, to not miss weights, and stay consistent in training. Or to simplify, stick to the basics.

There is a reason that the compound barbell and dumbbell exercises which came out of the turn of the century “physical culture” movement are still used today, they work, period. If you want to make serious gains in strength and mass the bulk of your program should be made up of heavy squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, barbell rows, and good mornings. Sprinkle in some pull-ups, and a few accessory movements, train them hard and watch the gains roll in!

Training is only half of the equation. Getting back to the basics in nutrition is absolutely essential as well. So many times people are looking for the latest and greatest supplement, meal timing strategies, optimal ratios of macronutrients and more, without making sure their basics are in tact.

Before you worry about what supplements to add to your nutrition plan, and how soon before and after training to consume your pre-workout and post-workout meals, make sure you have the basics in order first.

foodFresh, whole, plant-based foods should be the foundation of your nutrition plan!

A balanced plant-based diet should include a wide variety of fresh vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, and plenty of clean, fresh water.

Once you have these staples in order and are consistently eating the appropriate calories for your training goals, you can then decide if supplementing your diet is necessary to further help you achieve your goals.

If you are looking to take your training and nutrition to a new level, there is a wealth of knowledge for you here on the PlantBuilt website. Just remember to get your basics in line first!

I wish you all the success in the world as you attack your training and nutrition goals in 2014!


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2 Responses to Back to the Basics: the Foundations of Training and Nutrition

  1. Elise April 18, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    I’m doing Drum Corps this summer, which will involve 5-12 hours rehearsing outside in the sun each day for 3 months, driving the rest of the time, performing most nights. We march and play, and burn 1,000-2,000 kcal per day. Im 17, female, 120 lbs; I’ve been vegan for 2 years, and while my corps is accommodating to all dietary needs, i will unfortunately not receive the 6 cups of fresh, leafy greens and great abundance of fresh fruit/veg I consume everyday. There will be lots of rice, beans, pbj’s, tortillas, boca burgers, iceberg lettuce mix, canned green beans and corn, and canned fruit, with occasional quinoa and fresh fruit. I do not have a great deal of money/extra room for bringing my own foods, but I will be bringing a few boxes of clif bars, and maybe some luna bars as well. I have some vega packets that i can bring as well. Any suggestions for making the most out of what I have been provided to make my diet as healthy as possible and receive all the nutrients i will need? I calculated a sample day, including rice chex, fruit and pb at breakfast; rice, tortilla, canned veg at lunch; beans, boca burger, canned fruit and veg at dinner, and a pbj at snack. All this, without any vega/clif supplements, amounted to 1900 kcal(I currently maintain at about 1500 with cardio/weights 4 days a week), 265g carbs, 52g fat, and 73g protein.
    I am open to any ad all suggestions!! Thanks!

  2. Scott Shetler May 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    Elise – I am so sorry for missing this comment! I apologize. First of all that’s awesome you are doing Drum Corps! Who are you playing with? I played quads in my marching band about 150 years ago when I was in high school. Our director had spent some time directing a crops so we had a VERY heavy corps influence. I grew up in NE Ohio and attended a Madison Scouts practice in Erie, PA before a show one night. I was a big fan of the Phantom Regiment back then. Anyway, what you are looking at is making the best out of a less than perfect situation.

    First – the fact that the corps will accomodate your diet is awesome!

    Second – it is not ideal for your diet to be lacking in the fresh, raw produce, BUT this is short term. I spent a military enlistment eating way less healthy than this and survived!

    With the physical expenditure you will have during this 3 month period the most important thing is to make sure you have as many calories coming in as possible to fuel and recover from the activity. While they may not all be healthy calories, you really could be doing a lot worse. Hydration will be very important as well. You will be sweating out a lot of water. I’m a big fan of the Vega electrolyte replenishment supplement, this wouldn’t be a bad idea, but definitely make sure you are drinking plenty of water first and foremost. I have a client whose son did a wilderness expedition and they basically lived on rice, beans and water for a summer-so I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine. Just be sure to get the raw, fresh, living foods back in your diet ASAP! And most importantly, best of luck this summer! I hope your Drum Corps experience exceeds your expectations!

    All my best,

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