Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Deliberate Overreach vs. Overtraining

This past week and this current week, I'm engaged in deliberate overreach.

Deliberate Overreach is when you push past your normal limits in an unsustainable fashion in order to reap a training benefit. It's not sustainable because your training exceeds your recovery, but potentially has the benefit of increasing your work capacity, strength, endurance, and/or other aspects of physical fitness.

This differences from overtraining in that it's deliberate, systematic, and it has a programmed deload phase. It's not running down your system through constantly training more than you can recover from, but rather pushing past your limits for a finite time and then allowing a recovery phase to let your body compensate and hopefully supercompensate (in other words, get better).

In my case, this is near-daily long, hard bouts of MMA training along with lots of cycling, movement drills, rehab exercises, and so on. After this, the training will taper off severely for an equal length of time, and then return to normal.

This came about due to traveling to see some old friends, and being near my old MMA gym for two weeks. I'll manage 9 days of hard training in an 11 day span. The original goal was 10, but a scheduling error meant I had to miss one day. While I would not be able to sustain this level of training normally at this time, I expect to reap the benefits of getting in lot of extra drilling and sparring.

You can use this in your own training. If you have a week or two where you can go very hard, especially if it's followed by a week or two where you cannot (vacation, work-related travel, scheduling issues, etc.), consider doing this. Add in extra training sessions. Put in extra sets on each workout. Push the weight on the main lifts up to something doable but not easily sustainable. Set records in your timed workouts.

Then, as the forced downtime arrives, you can relax knowing you're benefiting from the time away from the gym or the track or the dojo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I, and Strength-Basics, are on vacation for the next few weeks. See you when I get back!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Change One Thing (Only)

When attempting to progress a training plan, it's tempting to go overboard.

You start with 3 sets of 5 reps, 135 pounds on the bar, and work up from there. One or more of more weight, more sets, more reps. Or all of them. Or more accessory exercises. Or raising the main lifts and your accessory lifts.

Here is an alternative approach, one I use frequently with clients who just can't adapt continuously to more of everything.

Change one thing.

Pick one parameter, on one exercise, and change that, week to week. Change nothing else in the workout.

For example, a workout might include:

Bulgarian Split-Squats - 3 sets of 8 reps per leg, done at 25, 30, and 35 pound dumbbells
Swiss Ball Leg Curls - 3 sets of 15 reps
Weighted Pushups - 3 sets of 10 reps, 2 chains
Chest Supported Rows - 3 sets of 15 reps, 50 pound dumbbells
Anti-Rotation Ab exercises - 3 sets of 10 per side
Assorted stretches, warmup, cooldown, etc.

I'd pick one of those and progress that for three weeks. Let's say it's the split-squats. For three weeks, I'd keep everything else the same. Same sets, reps, weights, rest times. But the split squats would go up. Either I'd do:

3 sets of 8, then 3 x 10, then 3 x 12, all at 25, 30, and then 35,


3 sets of 8 reps, but at 25/30/35, then 25/30/40, then 25/35/45.


3 sets of 8 reps with 2 minutes rest, then 90 seconds rest, then 60 seconds rest.

This kind of approach makes for very simple programming. Pick the most important thing you do that day - or that week, or that cycle - and pick one way to improve it. Just ratchet that up over the cycle, and don't worry about the others. Does it really matter if you do the same pushup weight week after week if your goal on that day is to strengthen your lower body? Probably not. If might be just a little too much to fully recover from. Bang them out, maintain the weight, and improve the one aspect you're working on.

It's simple and effective.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Training Terminology: Back-off Sets

Here is a quick piece of training terminology you might here thrown around at the gym.

Back-off Sets - Sets done for less weight and/or less reps after a lower-rep set of the same exercise, often with higher reps.

For example:

1 set of 5 @ 70% of your training max (work set #1)
1 set of 5 @ 80% of your training max (work set #2)
1 set of 5 @ 90% of your training max (work set #3)
1 set of 15-20 reps @ 60% of your training max (back off set)

Or the same as above, but after work set #3 you might repeat work set #1 twice - they would also be back-off sets.


Work up to a heavy single.
One set to technical failure of 50% of your single.

What is the difference between back-off sets and accessory work?

It's a fuzzy line. If it's the same exercise, I consider it a back-off set. If you switch to a new lift, or a new grip, or take a break and then do a totally different sets/reps/rest scheme, it's more like accessory work.

So if you do three sets of weighted chin-ups and then a set of unweighted chinups, I'd call it a back-off set. If you do those three sets and then do pulldowns or rows for higher reps and a lighter resistance, I wouldn't refer to it as a back-off set.

Hopefully this keeps you talking the same language as the other folks at the gym.
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