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.
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!