Monday, December 13, 2010

The Simplest Thing that Could Possibly Work

There's an idea in software development. It's called writing the simplest code that could possibly work. Don't try to get fancy. You just write a sketch of what you want. Once that is done then you elaborate. It's sort of like planning, but it's done ad hoc. One thing that's funny about writing code is that you don't really understand the problem until you start working on the solution.

I find this applies to a lot of things in life. How do you start on something when you don't even know what you don't know. Not surprisingly, this applies to weightlifting as well.

There's a lot of ways to do weightlifting right and get results, but like a lot of things, there's many many more ways to do it wrong. Probably the most common mistake is that people do programs that are not appropriate for their level. They're elaborating on something, but there's no sketch there to give it structure. More concretely, there's no point in developing the peaks on your biceps if you have 13 inch arms.

Here's a good example of a beginner's program that is the simplest thing that will work. It's what I use for all my trainees. This is the first program they must master. It's only effective for about 3 months, but it lays the foundation for the rest of their lives. And it's the simplest thing that can possibly work.

Back Squat: 3 sets of 5
Standing Press: 3 sets of 5
Deadlift: 1 set of 5
Chinup: 3 sets to failure

Every time you work out you raise the weight, or try to do more chinups.

Here we have two lower body movements and two upper body movements. We have two pushes and two pulls. Two movements work the grip. It's all there. Just about any athletic pursuit you can think of will be addressed by one or more of these exercises. Anybody who trains seriously will do variations on these movements for their entire career.

If you go to the gym and you don't do any of these exercises you have a serious problem.

So maybe you are wondering what the 102 version of the program is. Nothing fancy, we just add bench presses and power cleans, like this:

Back Squat: 3 sets of 5
Standing Press: 3 sets of 5/Bench Press: 3 sets of 5
Deadlift: 1 set of 5/Power Clean: 5 sets of 3
Chinup: 3 sets to failure

So you alternate standing presses with bench presses. If you did standing presses last time then you do bench presses this time. Same with deadlifts and power cleans. You keep raising the weight each workout until that doesn't work anymore.

Exhausting the 102 program takes another three months or so.

So what comes after that? Well, with 6 months of quality training under your belt you're no longer a novice lifter and you've learned a lot about yourself and what works for you. Start experimenting. Congratulations, you no longer need something that is the simplest thing that can possibly work.

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