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Coach Caleb’s Corner
Using Training Variables to Maximize Results
How’s everyone doing with adhering to the 1st principle of training we discussed in our last Coach’s Corner? Remember “continuity of the training process?” I’m sure all of you do, my dear readers, and that you have been getting your requisite volume of exercise in; staying focused on the “big bang for your buck” exercises. You rock!
Perhaps you’re still working on the whole continuity thing and that’s okay too. You remember hearing something about being consistent with your training and why it’s so important and now having been reminded of it, you’ll get right to it. Good! I say all this because, honestly, without the continuity part, the rest of the more fascinating training principles we use to “make the magic happen” just won’t make any magic. Assuming continuity of the training process is something we can count on, then we’ve got the first variable in play which can be used to help make us better versions of ourselves: volume.
The volume of exercise is one of the most obvious throttles we can use to rev up our training over time. At it’s simplest level, we use “creeping incrementalism” to slowly creep up the volume of exercise (like the number of reps or sets we do of something) over time and thereby improve our physiques. There is a limit on how far this variable can be pushed, obviously, and if one seeks one’s limits, one will surely find them. As such, it’s best to come close to a maximal effort, and sensibly back off with one’s dignity and self respect in tact and lower the volume to get another good running start at a higher peak. Training, after all, is to improve us, not test us.
About twice a year it can be fun to really push it and test our limits. Just ask our amazing competitors from the recent Tactical Strength Challenge. They had a blast testing their limits, because they don’t do it every training session! There’s a lot more we can say about volume, but I’m sure we all understand the basic idea; build up the volume over time, back off before nature forces you to. So what’s the next variable we can play with? It’s one of my favorites… it usually means we get to play with the heavy stuff… Intensity!
Intensity can refer to different aspects of the training process, but in our case it often refers to the heaviness of the loads we get to play with. I happen to love lifting on the heavier side, but I’m not as big a fan of doing a lot of reps. That doesn’t mean I don’t like volume, it just means that I enjoy taking my volume in smaller, heavier doses. Several sets of 1-3 reps sounds a lot more fun to me than a set of 15, but that’s just my personal preference. I take my medicine like the rest of you though, and still perform long sets in those higher rep ranges because I know it’s good for me. Thank goodness for Tactical Periodization (subject of a future Coach’s Corner for sure!), which uncouples intensity and volume; meaning that sometimes we even get to go heavy and go hard all in the same training session! Joy of joys! In any case, we can vary the intensity of the training along with the volume. Even if they don’t always have to go in opposite directions, they do have to be waved. The idea of using volume and intensity waves to lift more weight in a given time using a clever rep scheme is starting to hint at the 3rd training variable I wanted to address, and it’s the one I find most fascinating: Density.
Density is sometimes referred to as “Work capacity;” a term that is subject to different interpretations. If I set out to accomplish a higher volume of work but in the same amount of time I once used to do less work with the same intensity, then I’m playing with density. It’s because of that description that it is sometimes referred to as “work capacity.” To give an example, let’s say I’m using heavy kettlebell swings to improve my conditioning. I chose to swing “The Beast” kettlebell (48KGs or 106 lbs.) for 10 reps a minute for 10 minutes. Each training session, I add a rep to each set so that eventually I’m doing 15 swings each minute. I’ve now increased the density of my 10 minute practice from 100 reps to 150 reps with the same weight! (Probably time to wave back a bit before I keep going.) Does this simply mean I’m taking less rest? Yes… but it’s more than that. It also means I’m doing more work! This key workload variable can help us achieve amazing results in record time. Our training methodology favors short rest periods like those described in the above example to stimulate the greatest body recomposition and conditioning environment. If you’re interested in performance, then it’s pretty obvious I’d rather have a body that can perform 150 reps in 10 minutes than one that can only do 100 reps. If you’re interested in looks, then it’s pretty obvious that I’d rather have a body that looks like it can perform 150 reps in 10 minutes than one that only looks like it can do a mere 100! The form follows the function.
To sum up, if you’re able to train consistently that’s great! Off to a good start. Now look to your training variables. Are you able to throttle up and down your volume in a sensible fashion? Are you varying the intensity of your training? And finally, are you using density to maximize your results? In a good program, you’ll see evidence of at least one of these variables at play over a shorter term and all three completing the bigger picture. As such you will be able to spot a more sophisticated training regimen over something that’s just another workout of the day.