of a generic title I know but, really a pretty important aspect of your
training. Taken literally it is important too but, I am shooting on a little
broader theme with this. First thing to know "Collectivites," is that your
body is designed to work as a unit...everything helps everything else.
The whole mess is one big connected muscle that requires a degree of balance
amongst all the pieces to make it work optimally. This is, in my opinion,
one of the big reasons that Louie's system is so effective. The WSB crew
is very adept at deciphering what they are weak in and then addressing
it with the necessary work to make it "not weak" anymore. This is by no
means a plug for WSB (which, by the way, I am gravitating away from somewhat...if
anyone cares <g>) rather, a point that many others have found in the
years and that Louie is stressing recently.
So what is the key to being balanced? Well, I can't give you an answer to that...Powerlifting is a pretty good start, Strongman is also an extremely effective method. I would argue that Olympic lifting is pretty good too with the exception of a lack of shoulder girdle work (questionable how necessary depending on your application though). Anyway, IMO bodybuilding is a bad way to approach a "balanced" musculature. Despite the call for "symmetry" in the BB ranks they are extremely unbalanced as a whole. I am still having difficulties from my BB days in that I have built some areas up well beyond the level of others and am pretty much stuck at the level of the weakest link. A real good example of this is my brother Wes and I (also my training partner) in relation to our bench press. I have lifted for 15+ years and Wes has been for ~4 years. Biggest difference is that we both started Powerlifting about the same time and I focused on Football/Thrower/BB type training for the 10+ years prior to my PL training. In strict tricep motion I tend to lift more, as I do with pectoral movements BUT, when we hit shoulders he is slightly ahead. We BP almost the exact same...why? He is more balanced. He has brought everything up together and I neglected shoulders because I was weak there and they were sore from Football...hence my crappy bench (which is coming BTW<g>).
I can almost guarantee that by working everything you will be stronger overall in any of the motions than if you just focused on a single movement (may take a little longer but, what's your rush?! <g>). Even most of the BP specialists in Powerlifting still work legs pretty hard. Dave Waterman ( a phenom. in the 198's...600+ BP in a single poly shirt) attests to heavy leg work, albeit it isn't squatting but, he keeps his lower body worked pretty hard. Jeff Magruder, a big time bencher from the 80's was also an upper 700's squatter and deadlifter, Anthony Clark (need I say ~anything~ about AC's lower body prowess?), Kenny Patterson of WSB is 700's across the board, Misi Inoke, Horace Lane, and the list goes on and on.....I am sure there are some who don't balance their training and still succeed...however, I believe they have limited their upper potential by this but, that is just my opinion. A strong misconception about benching is that it is an "upper body" lift...not true, it is an "entire body" lift as is ANY other lift you perform. Anytime you contract a muscle a whole slew of others contract with it...the bigger the motion the more muscles you use. Stabilizers and assistors are key to success in big lifts, whatever variation they may be performed as.
Let's take a look at a big motion...this is where it really comes into focus as a necessity. Squats...you need your entire body for squats. Everything needs to be strong, think about it...you use everything from your toes to your fingers to support, stabilize, and move the bar. This point is what has garnered WSB such attention the past few years (IMHO). You focus on the pieces that are not up to snuff and bring them up to snuff. It really is that simple but, if you can't identify what those pieces are then you are spinning your wheels. This is what makes WSB so hard to apply for many is that they can't identify what they need to isolate to make the whole machine work optimally. Louie is obviously very good at it and so are many others that utilize this system. This doesn't mean that you need to use WSB to get strong...it only means that you need to take this very important aspect of it, and apply it your training system that has worked for you. It isn't the odd motions that Louie uses as much as ~why~ he is using them. I am not trying to plug WSB or really lobby for its inception as a training system...you need to decide if that approach is best for you but, I do think it is important to evaluate the rationale behind his approach (and all the others too...) and take what is going to be useful to customizing your own system (which is really what the "best" training schedule is). I digress however, back to squatting...there are some guidelines I have seen about what is weak if such and such happens in the motion but, a much simpler way to find out where you are weak in big compound motions is this...do them! Do some sets with light weight that you can handle when you get out of groove but, insist to yourself that you are going to do your reps perfect. Once you feel your groove, you just "know" that you hit it. Your body will tell you if you listen to it and you will feel the synergy of the musculature as it contracts...the lift will be smooth and powerful, not easy but, smooth (subtle distinction). Here is the dirty part of it...what is tired now? Where did you feel the most work being done in the lift? Some would argue that this is too subjective but, I disagree and think that you need to be highly aware of what your body is doing and what you are feeling to succeed. 1RM you don't want to be aware of anything aside from maximal effort but, training is just that..."training." Ultimately you shouldn't feel overly stressed in any area.... this would indicate a pretty balanced musculature but, beware of some deceptions too. Most will say they feel it in their lower back...this doesn't necessarily mean that it is weak lumbar!!!! Here is the second part of this little test...understand the dynamics of the motions!!!!!! This is ~extremely~ important IMO! If you don't know what muscles are working or how they are working in conjunction with the others then how can you realistically expect to maximize your potiential? Yes, you will progress but, to a point then you will stop. I don't propose you get a degree in Kinesiology or anything quite that drastic but, look at the musculature of your body and know what the prime and assistant movers are and how they function. Once you know what the dynamics of the motion are, in relation to how you body will perform it, then you can start to understand what exactly needs to be addressed to maximize your lifts.
Before I get too far off my point (I started on the sore back then got caught up in another point that I will finish up on in a few minutes) I will come back to the deceptions of some of the "perceived" weak links. In my succint defense I will say that understanding the motion and how your body performs it, is imperative to identifying your weak links though. Anyway, just because your back is tender that isn't necessarily the weak link. I know from experience here, this is where a training log is beneficial. How much upper back work do you do? How much abdominal work? How much lower back work? How much work on your hamstrings? Hips? Glutes!? Take what you have in your log to eliminate what may be getting overworked and what may be getting underworked and you have your answer to your weak link. All the aforementioned groups could contribute if they are lagging...your lumbar is adept at "picking up the slack" if you know what I mean. How do you decipher if it is over/under worked? Well, a simple rule of thumb is base the total volume of work you do on any muscle area proportional (roughly) to the size of it. Ever see the beach muscle guys decimate their biceps for years and make really slow gains? One of the smaller muscles and they don't need much work...in fact they probably get sufficient stimulation from rows and pull ups/downs (don't lump hammer curls in there cuz' they are focusing more on your forearm right at the elbow...not sure of the name, brachialis maybe???). Anyway, you need to look at a few factors to decipher what is lagging and what you need to work a little more to bring up. Here again, I will compliment Louie Simmons as he is a master at this. Look at the stories he tells of a lot of his lifters, they come in with 1700-1800 totals (the higher weight classes anyway) which are respectable totals. Then in a few years they are up in the 2000-2100+ range! WSB is all about identifying where you are weak and addressing it (with a few other good points too <g>, I know, I know...broad brush but, bear with me). This is what Louie does so well, he understands exactly how the motion is performed and what needs to be addressed to do it. He has an impressive arsenal of motions to exercise the lagging areas and is ~willing~ to change frequently to circumvent total adaptation and keep the necessary muscles stimulated. A lot of other lifters have the same knack but, Louie is one of the first to really emphasize what assistance motions you should adopt and utilize to further the primary motion. I am sure that Eddy Coan, Doug Furnas, KAZ (who, BTW, used a TON of assistance work), and others are quite good at utilizing assistance...it just never really gets talked about. All the sample routines you see posted on the web, etc. don't really tell you the strategy for assistance work. In everyone's defense, they really can't! You need to decide what motions are necessary and what will address the lagging areas. This is where you need to understand the dynamics of the motion and also, most importantly of all, you need to understand your own body!! It is ~definitely~ not easy to do this...if it were, then everyone would do it. I think if you are serious about maximizing your potential, or if you have aspirations of moving to higher levels of competition, then you will at some point be forced to know this. Personally, I think I am there now...I went about as far as I could on hard work but, that isn't going to be enough anymore. It needs to be hard-smart work! The more I learn about myself and the dynamics of the lift, how my body is strong in the lifts (and what is weak in that relationship as well), the better I am getting. I have a long way to go because I didn't listen when my body warned me I wasn't doing it right (hence it broke! <g>). I am convinced that as I recover from my injuries (2 years in the doing and still going) that I will be far stronger than I ever have been. I think you can go to a certain point...and it is pretty high IMO, on just "grunt." At some point though, based off your genetic potential (leverage, insertion points, natural musculature, etc), you are going to stall and then you move it to a higher level....the mental one.
"The mind will lead the body."
I think that about sums it up. It also brings up another aspect of your training that needs to be balanced...the mental side. You need to keep your head about you...I am ~terrible~ at this! Another factor in my couple year stagnation too...keep your mind active, probe, question, and evaluate BUT, don't obsess!! At some point the planning needs to give way to the doing and vice versa, if one overshadows the other then you are not gaining.
I'll finish with a little disclaimer and probably some wild tangential thought! I have used WSB in the past and I ~really~ like what Louie does. I like the fact he has brought the assistance to the forefront of peoples attention and given some rough guidelines about their inclusion. I like that he has gotten people to understand the importance of "speed" work in their training (something Fred Hatfield has said too and that the OL'ers have known forever!). Finally, I like that he is encouraging people to change and try new things...as a group we tend to get mired in ways of training ("...well, it is how <insert strong person here> trains so it must work!"). I don't think that WSB's schedule of days training, and particular variations of exercises are the only way to train though. I think that the only "right" way to train is the way that works for you individually...which essentially, is what Louie does with all his trainees. Mike Bridges (one of the greats IF you didn't know) used pretty much SQ/BP/DL routine each day. I think Mike was at a point where he was so balanced that he got the necessary work in the necessary areas by the main motions...that is the premise behind the 3x3 system and I feel it is valid IF...and it is a big "if", you are balanced to begin with (which most elite level lifters are pretty balanced...they have to be!). Not to be taken as gospel (God save the person who thinks ~I~ know even a fraction of that much <g>)and definitely not to be taken as all inclusive...we are all exceptions to the rule but, generally I think it is pretty sound.
So there you have it...sort of <g>. Hopefully, this will stimulate some thinking and someone will come up with the, so far, non-existant "silver bullet" and pass it along to me...I need it! <LOL!> All in all, training is a pretty intricate sequence and it has a lot of "hidden" little subtleties that can make or break you. Some people are lucky in that they just seem to pick them up along the way but, for the rest of us it is a long and tough road. I wouldn't trade it for anything though...once I reach my goals I will have a satisfaction I have never known. I don't think anyone will ever be able to take that away so it will be well worth the effort and sacrifices. Hope everyone had a great new year and I look forward to hearing about everyones great success in 2000! Last thought...use the "powerlifting collective" (other lifters, mailing lists, websites, etc) to further your training. Almost everyone I have talked to has been more than willing to share what they have learned and gleaned form their experiences. We all have lessons to teach...whether great or small they all matter. I wish I had the resources of information that are readily available now 10+ years ago. This is a good time to learn and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon!
The Collective is always open.....