An Overview of Charles Staley's Annual Training Summit by Chris Shugart
In the Grand Canyon State of Arizona, just a short drive from Phoenix, sits the town of Chandler. In Chandler sits the Windmill Suites hotel. In this hotel's big conference room sits 106 athletes, trainers, healers, and muscle maniacs.
In the front row sits one wayward journalist. His job is to attend this seminar and record the juicy tidbits of info that catch his attention. (That journalist, by the way, would be me.)
Behind this journalist sits a crowd of anti-meatheads: professionals, and regular folks from across the US and Canada who've come to expand their knowledge base and turn that info into real world results. Most are wearing some type of T-Nation T-shirt.
Standing in front of this eclectic crowd is the Philosopher of Performance, the Maharishi of Mindful Movement, the Socrates of Strength, Charles Staley. The crowd gets quiet, a video camera in the back begins to role, and it begins.
Charles Staley — The Law of Sustainable Progress
I'm not kidding when I say that Staley is the philosopher king of strength coaches. This man thinks, and he gets his audience to think as well.
Charles focused his presentation on the idea of progress. To most people, progress in the gym means adding more weight to the bar. Staley says that this is but one method of measuring progress, and sometimes it's not even the most important one.
Here are a few highlights from his presentation:
• Don't restrict yourself to a single means of progression. Load is just one of many ways to measure progress.
• The experts seldom agree on everything. Staley joked that he doesn't even agree with himself from one week to the next. Yet all experts do agree on at least one thing: workouts must gradually become more difficult over time.
• Biological tissue requires challenge. It adapts quickly. But adding more plates isn't the only way to challenge it.
• There's a "sweet spot" in the bell curve of training. This sweet spot falls between getting enough challenge to sufficiently provoke adaptation (getting bigger, stronger, faster, etc.) and getting injured. Find that sweet spot.
• If you're not keeping a training journal, there's no purpose in having this discussion. You can't progress because you don't know what you're progressing upon. If you're not keeping a training journal, start doing it on your next workout. Making that one change will cause you to start getting better results.
• The Spandex Rule: Just because you can wear Spandex doesn't mean you should! The same rule can apply to training. Just because you can add load doesn't mean you should. You may need to master the movement first, then add weight later. This is especially true with the Olympic lifts. Nothing wrong with practicing the O-lifts with a broomstick.
• When it comes to lifting weights, think quality before quantity!
• Some lifters make too big of a jump in load. Their egos get in the way. Think about it, even very tiny weight jumps using 2.5 pound plates will add up to 260 pounds a year to a given lift. Adding 260 pounds to any lift in one year is definitely good progress, yet some people can't stand to use such small plates in their load progressions. They need to get over it and look at the big picture.
• You must also think about the exercises you choose. Progress in the wrong lift isn't really progress. Example: An Olympic lifter can make progress on Cybex machines, but that "progress" makes him worse at his sport.
• Back when Charles wrote for Muscle Media (after TC had left), Bill Phillips always insisted that he change the word "movement" to "exercise" in his articles. Bill said the word movement made him think of bowel movements. (Funny, because Bill Phillips makes me think of bowel movements.)
• Choose the right movements, then master them.
• Imperfection training — slightly "misloading" the bar with more weight on one side, having a training partner lightly tap you to one side during a lift, blindfolded lifts, etc. — can help you to increase mastery. When you go back to the normal version of the lift, it's like dessert.
• RPE means "rate of perceived exertion." The term came up often in this seminar. Basically, after you perform a set, you give it a rating of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning you shat out your spleen and 1 meaning the lift was easier than a Thai bar girl.
"Purposeful Non-Progression" is a method where you keep the lifting parameters the same — same weight, same reps, etc. — but you take note of the RPE each time. When it goes from an 8 to a 6, then it's time to add weight. The idea is that you should feel compelled to add weight. RPE sounds like a great category to add to your training log.
• The Complexity Method: Use the same exercise but make it more complex. This is yet another way to make progress. Examples: Change your grip slightly, train in street clothes, do the same movement with a different implement (like a kettlebell or sandbag instead of a dumbbell or bar).
• The Expansion Method: Load is the same, duration of workout is the same, but volume or "density" of the workout increases over time. Basically, you do more work in the same amount of time. EDT is a perfect example of this.
• Training for speed can improve strength. Speed is a "cousin" of strength, and improvements in speed leak over into other motor qualities. This is why powerlifters can see improvements from EDT.
• The Compression Method: How fast can you do the same amount of volume? The duration of your workout in this style of progression gradually decreases.
• The Speed Method: This is where you focus on the speed quality of the movement and not on the weight. If your bar speed drops below 90% of your best effort, stop! This eliminates the "junk reps" and puts the emphasis on quality reps. This is often done with 10 sets of 2 reps. If you can get a perfect 10 sets, then it's time to add load.
To measure speed perfectly, you need a special electronic gadget (a Tendo unit). But if you think about it, the explosive Olympic lifts are naturally suited for the Speed Method. Why? Because if speed decreases, you simply miss the lift! Pretty damn easy to monitor.
• The Range of Motion Method: I like this one. How many times have you seen a guy set a "new PR" on the bench press when in reality he only shortened his range of motion and did a half-assed half-rep? With the ROM Method, you measure progress by improving range of motion.
Example: A 300 pound deep squat is better than a 300 pound parallel squat. The load is the same, but if you can move from parallel to ass-to-grass with the same load, then you've made progress! Full range of motion equals more work, plain and simple.
• Manage fatigue, don't seek it.
• Gender specific considerations: Generally speaking, most women need to use more weight. Many are hesitant to do this however. Guys, on the other hand, usually overdo it and add more weight than they need. Men sometimes need to be protected from their egos.
• The more experience you have, the more you need to focus on progression methods besides adding more weight. The simple act of applying more variety to your progression methods will restart progress (awaken nervous system, etc.).
Staley's presentation left my head spinning with training ideas. This is the mark of an excellent presentation. Rock on, Charles!
Dr. Eric Cobb: 3 Minutes to Your Next PR — Z-Health Joint Mobility for Strength and Power.
This was one of those presentations that made you think, "Hmm, this is either total crap or the next big thing." Given the results Z-Health is getting and the ringing endorsements from many respected coaches, I'm leaning toward "next big thing."
This stuff basically involves the neuroscience of performance. The main buzzwords are "arthrokinetic reflex" and "proprioceptive enhancement." Luckily, those big words translate into some pretty simple applications that garner some amazing improvements in health and performance.
Let me try to sift through the heavy science and get this out in practical terms: Dynamic Joint Mobility (DJM) training involves some deceptively simple drills designed to increase mobility and almost instantly improve performance. To demonstrate, Dr. Cobb and his assistant had Dan John perform a sandbag press. Dan rated his Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and the audience rated his form.
Then, one simple looking DJM drill was performed before Dan performed another set.
After each drill, Dan's RPE went down, meaning the lift was easier for him. Likewise, his form improved each time (though that could've been from repeated efforts since Dan doesn't do any sandbag lifting normally).
Here are some other tidbits from Dr. Cobb's presentation:
• Survival is number one in your body, not performance. When the "startle-reflex response" is triggered, the body protects itself by causing you to automatically cover your head, the command center of the body. We fight against reflexive survival instincts as we train.
• Lifters focus on muscular activity in the weight room, but the nervous system rules.
• If you're doing a pull and you suddenly just have to let go, this is the body protecting itself. This reflexive activity can be overridden; however, that will lead to injury.
• A lot of lifters don't have muscle imbalances but rather neural imbalances.
• Your nervous system can either be the accelerator of your "car," or it can be the brakes. If you're training with the brakes on because of lack of joint mobility, then this will lead to injury. Dan John was taught to "take the brakes off" by doing those drills.
• Think of health prior to performance. Get your ego out of the way; you won't make progress if hurt or almost hurt.
• The arthrokinetic reflex is the unconscious reflexive activity that inhibits muscular activation. Correctly performed DJM drills provide a proprioceptive training effect that makes the body neurologically "smarter" about movement. This is what allowed Dan to perform better with each set.
The areas of the body with the largest amount of joints — the hands, feet, and spine — are also the least trained in the human body. Therefore, they have the largest potential for increasing performance.
• The ability to control the body is number one for an athlete, even if he's a strength athlete. The best athletes in the world usually aren't the strongest or fastest on the team. Instead, they're the most efficient and they have the most body control.
• The better the athlete the more he fidgets. Golfers unconsciously practice their weight shifts, boxers are always punching in the air in slow motion, etc. They do it intuitively, but you can learn to do it using Z-Health.
• Perfect form is crucial. If a trainer only has an ACE certification, then he can't even pick out perfect form in pictures! (Ooh, burn!)
• If you're a trainer, be a coach, not a critic.
Okay, I'm officially intrigued by this stuff. Very cool. For more info, check out ZHealth.net.
Josh Henkin and Keats Snideman: Beyond Functional Training — Developing Fun and Effective Training Programs
Josh and Keats win the Really-Cool-Looking-Shit-I'm-Going-To-Try award for this year. These guys aren't as well known to the T-Nation audience as some of the others, but they're talented performance gurus, have no doubt!
Here are some juicy bits:
• Athletes specialize too early, then retire at age 14. Early success often leads to early burnout. Kids need more General Physical Preparedness (GPP) and less Sports Specific Preparedness (SSP).
• Don't underestimate the importance of variety and "fun" in your training. This is especially true for newbies and young athletes.
Note: As the audience learned later, "fun" often involves heart-bursting training routines that will make even the best athlete go cross-eyed as they beg for a merciful death.
• The worst thing to happen to youth athletics is the club team. The emphasis is totally on winning and the sport isn't fun any more for the kids.
• Your body doesn't know the difference between a barbell and a bag of sand.
• Too much structure in a training program can ruin progress.
• When it comes to sports training: "Stimulate, don't simulate."
• The Elite 8 Movements: These (and their variations) should be the core of your FUNdamental routine.
1. Clean & Jerk
5. Bench Press
6. Military Press
7. Rowing and Pulling
8. Carrying, Dragging and Throwing Stuff!
• Train movements over muscles. Here are the benefits:
1) Increased Functional Muscle Mass
2) Greater Development of Neurological Efficiency (the firing rate of motor units and coordination of muscle groups)
3) Improved Dynamic Flexibility
4) Functional Balance Development
• Being really strong improves your balance.
• Odd lifts improve your grip, your stabilizer strength, and your core strength. This is the new wave of real functional training (as opposed to curling on a Swiss ball with pink dumbbells.)
• One way to implement odd lifts is through power circuits. This involves moving from one lift to the next with very little rest. To demonstrate, the presenters put dozens of attendees through a simple looking but brutal circuit.
• Many average people, especially women, refuse to lift heavy in the gym, yet they often lift heavier objects (like their kids) in real life.
• Kegs, sandbags, medicine balls, and tires aren't meant to replace traditional lifts, but rather to complement them.
• After the rousing presentation, Staley said that the future of strength training is in odd lifts and strongman-style training. This type of lifting is right up there with the other three major categories: bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting.
Great presentation! I'm buying some sandbags!
Dan John: Training for the Busiest
Dan John has been teaching and coaching since 1979. (He's been an athlete since 1832, by the way.) It shows. Dan is the best speaker I've ever seen, and I've seen hundreds of speakers.
Dan often says that the most important thing you can do as an athlete is "write the check and buy the stamp." In other words, enter a competition and show up. Well, if Danny John is ever speaking on the same side of the planet as where you live, write the check and buy the stamp. Go see him. Be awed. Walk out a better human being. 'Nuf said.
Here are some highlights from his talk:
• The more messed up and chaotic a kid's life is, the more organized you need to be as a teacher and coach. On the other hand, when training someone who has a rigid, structured work schedule, think about using a more varied and chaotic type of training and they'll usually excel.
• The four quadrants of life are work, play, rest, and prayer (time alone.) The more work you do, the more play you need to stay in balance. "I play so hard because I work so hard," said Dan. "Amen!" said the audience.
• When trouble arises, simplify. Cut back, toss something out, eliminate the extras.
• Just because it's simple doesn't mean it isn't hard.
• Stress is good for you. It strengthens you, it stretches you, it shapes you. A tree doesn't grow straight without wind to strengthen it.
Dan giving an Olympic lifting mini-presentation. Or he could be teaching some other form of "exercise." I'm not sure, but I think there's a crossover effect.
• If you have to eat a plate of frogs, eat the biggest one first! In training that means to find the biggest "toad" such as a killer compound exercise like the front squat, and "eat it" first in your workout.
• "Do it now. Perfect it later." If at first you don't succeed, Dan says, then you're about average. Don't sweat it.
• It's said that it takes 10,000 reps to perfect an Olympic lift.
• "I live in Utah and train in my garage. In the winter the drippings from under the car freeze and stay frozen for months. Wanna talk about functional training? I train on ice!"
• Many female athletes or clients just don't want to look stupid in the gym. They think everyone is looking at them. Keep that in mind when training them.
• Don't jog.
• You don't have to be 40% body fat to be an athlete!
• You can train in a small, small area.
I should also note that Dan took everyone to the bar after the seminar and worked his butt off to help them meet women. I think every female who attended left smitten and every male left with a "man crush" on Dan. I know I did.
Dr. Lonnie M. Lowery: Athletes, Abusive Training, and New Ways to Look at Protein
This was one of those presentations that reminds those in attendance that they don't know near as much as they think they know. Lowery is a war machine with his rapid-fire style of teaching and "battle plans" (dozens of charts and graphs.) By the time you take one note, he's already dropped five more knowledge bombs on your head.
Sorry, but you just have to attend or buy the DVD (maybe both) to absorb all of it, but here are a few things that stuck in my mind:
• What you do in the gym has a more serious toll on your body than you think. Training stress causes immense "injury."
• Your body's stress response to a hard workout is more pronounced than the stress response you have when you break a bone.
• Proteins can have pharmaceutical effects.
• One-third of Americans are totally sedentary — they practically never move except to walk to the car or the bathroom!
• You're only in the gym a small amount of time per week. What are you doing the rest of the time? You better be focusing on nutrition.
• Lowry is a fan of having at least two days off per week where you do almost nothing.
• Some people say that there's no such thing as overtraining, just under-eating. Lowry's responds, "Kinda." Athletes often under-eat and over-exert, but just eating more isn't always the answer.
• Muscle micro-trauma drains calories.
• Sore, micro-traumatized muscle is more resistant to carbohydrate. Your muscle says "I can't use it" but your love handles say "I'll take it!" So, eating more carbs isn't really the answer. Eating more protein and healthy fats is usually a better choice.
• "A sore muscle is a weaker muscle."
• About 1/3 to 1/2 of all athletes overtrain or go stale at some point.
• When it comes to protein and the ideal amount to ingest, it's better to have too much than too little.
• Can't get into the habit of eating every few hours? Set your Timex's alarm to go off every three hours. When it beeps, eat something healthy.
• Many people worry about drinking a high carb post-workout drink if they train at night. Won't this "turn into fat" when consumed so late in the day? Lowery says no. Exercise is the great corrector. Don't neglect the post-workout period, no matter when you train.
• "Not hungry? I don't care. Drink your meal if need be!"
• Getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day from varied protein sources is a pretty reasonable goal.
• Regarding exercise and nutrient timing:
1) Consume 20 to 40 grams of protein 45 minutes prior to exercise. Add carbs if lifting.
2) Consume 10 grams of protein dissolved in a dilute sports drink during lifting.
3) Consume another 20 to 40 grams after lifting.
• No, excess protein isn't harmful to healthy kidneys and it even remains controversial among renal patients.
Lowery did a good job, plus he's an entertaining and energetic speaker. He can also squat a house.
Chad Waterbury: The Science of Muscle Fiber Alternations in Response to Strength Training
Chad Waterbury likes to come off in his articles as a plain spoken, gun totin', whisky drinkin', hell raisin', long-haired hillbilly. And that's part of his personality for sure. But make no mistake: he's also a friggin' genius and a scientist.
I'll admit it right now: I didn't catch half of what Chad's presentation was about. Much of it went right over my head. This was very advanced stuff, and again, you kinda had to be there. (A few advanced neurology classes under your belt wouldn't hurt either.)
Here are a few things I did catch:
• People always think "muscle" but forget that the nervous system drives the contraction and controls skeletal muscle function.
• Ever hear those stories of a mother picking a car up off her child after an accident? That's not muscle; that's the raw power of the nervous system.
• The nervous system can be fired up to such high levels that it'll tear a muscle in half. This often happens in those "lifting a car off the child" situations.
• If you break your arm but continue to train your good arm, you can maintain or even build strength in the broken limb. Your neural system is affecting the function of the muscle even when it can't contract.
• The nice lady sitting behind me, a mother of two, leaned over and asked me to take a picture of Waterbury's butt and email it to her. I refused out of sheer jealousy.
• In one study, participants were asked to "train" their pinky muscles five times a week for four weeks. Another group was asked to sit still and merely think about training their finger muscle (two imagined sets of twelve imagined reps). The group who really exercised their fingers improved pinky strength by 30%. Those who only imagined it? They still improved by 22%! Behold the power of the body's higher centers!
• Lift fast. The effort to move a load quickly recruits all the motor units. Even if the load is heavy and the bar moves slowly, try to move it as fast as possible.
• Fast contractions lead to the most motor unit recruitment, but you also need enough load.
• Chad isn't a fan of tempo prescriptions. While he doesn't disregard them, he thinks they can be emphasized too much. Thinking about counting tempo decreases the descending neural drive. That means a decrease in strength.
• "There are no absolutes. I can't stand triceps kickbacks, but there's a place and a need for them at certain times in certain situations."
Nice work by Waterbury, but if I hear one more female talk about how handsome he is, I'm going to hit him in the face with a cast-iron skillet. Rise up, ugly dudes! We shall prevail!
• When asked about CNS recovery, Waterbury recommended fish oil supplements every day and Power Drive on training days.
• Dr. Lowery noted that sleep deprivation interferes with carbohydrate metabolism. He suggested 100 minute naps on the weekend and "cooling your jets" after training: basically sitting in your car and getting relaxed after a tough workout. Lowery uses this time to fill in his training journal.
• Waterbury added that sleep deprivation of just a few hours has the same effect as imbibing a couple of alcoholic drinks. Also, he said that extra sleep is better on the "front end." That means it's more beneficial to go to bed early than to sleep late.
This was yet another hyper-caffeinated, mind-stimulating seminar! Charles Staley's "boot camps" are fast becoming the must-attend events of the year, right up there with the Society of Nymphomaniacs annual convention in Maui.
Not only is the boot camp itself enlightening, the people you meet are just as cool. It's nice to be in a roomful of motivated individuals with the same interests as you. If you find yourself looking around your gym and losing faith in humanity, then these seminars are like a trip to Iron Mecca.
For information on getting a DVD of this seminar or for more info about upcoming events, contact the Staley team at email@example.com or visit StaleyTrainingSystems.com.
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