by Jim Wendler T-Nation
The cool thing about the strength-training world is that there are seemingly endless exercise and programming possibilities. Unfortunately, this can also be its downfall. Having so much information and unlimited options is useless if you can’t translate and apply it appropriately.
If you persevere and succeed, typically you’ll develop your own training philosophy. And once you’ve developed your own philosophy, you’ll become tied to it and will fight to defend your position.
You become hardheaded – I fall into this category, as does anyone whose spent a lot of time training and helping others. It’s hard to watch people fall for the same stuff that many of us have fallen for, and have the advice land on deaf ears.
But that doesn’t mean a stubborn person can’t expand their horizons without sacrificing their personal training philosophy. Presented below are several training “rocks” – ideas and exercises that have become standards in the training world, along with some variations that might just open up your eyes to something different.
Do This: Dumbbell Row, Not That: Barbell Row
First, let’s all agree that the barbell row is an awesome exercise. It’s long been revered in powerlifting and bodybuilding circles as a great back developer. It’s been used by the greatest powerlifter of all time (Ed Coan), and a variation of the barbell row was a favorite of one of the greatest bodybuilders ever (Dorian Yates and his famed Yates row).
Dorian Yates’ back is the centerpiece of his insane, freaky physique, and the Yates row is one of the things he credits. Ed Coan’s accomplishments in the powerlifting world have been well documented and if you’ve ever seen Ed in person, you know he’s one of the thickest people to ever set foot in a weight room. And his 900-pound deadlift, to me, is the single-most impressive deadlift feat.
Now that I’ve satisfied all the barbell row zealots, the exercise does have its drawbacks. This is especially true for a lifter that’s made significant progress in the squat and deadlift.
The barbell row is extremely taxing to the lower back, and when coupled with heavy workouts of squatting and pulling, can be detrimental to one’s overall training goals.
The squat and deadlift already put a tremendous strain on the lower back and the last thing a person needs is to have a fatigued lower back when attempting big weights in these two movements.
Enter the dumbbell row – this movement has received a huge kick in the PR department due to Matt Krocazleski and the Kroc row. The dumbbell row offers all the benefits of the barbell row plus a few additional perks like:
You can use more weight in the dumbbell row.
It’s much easier on the lower back.
It’s great for developing grip strength, an important component in all sports.
It’s great for upper back/lat development that can be transferred to the deadlift and the bench press.
Even if you’re not a believer or user of the Krow row, sets of 6-15 reps of the dumbbell row, done with or without straps (I recommend having personal records for straps/no straps), can do wonders for your back development and strength.
Do This: Trap Bar Deadlift, Not That: Straight Bar Deadlift
Unlike the dumbbell row/barbell row, these two lifts aren’t interchangeable. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the trap bar can be used as an accessory exercise but not necessarily as a main movement.
But if you’re not a competitive powerlifter and need a good change of pace from pulling with a straight bar, the trap bar deadlift is a great option.
I liken this movement to a non-competitive lifter going between the hang clean and full clean (or power clean). While not the same thing, it offers a great change of pace, yet still maintains the integrity of the movement.
The trap bar is also a great way to increase quad strength, and it takes a bit of stress off the lower back as the handles keep the center of gravity closely aligned with the hips. For strength coaches that battle with sport coaches about the safety of the deadlift in their programs, the trap bar is a great compromise.
Let’s face it, chasing the Big Three (squat, bench press, deadlift) can get tiresome, and having an acceptable substitution that can be used for several months might be just what you need to keep the competitive fires burning.
Finally, the trap bar allows you to pick something heavy off the ground and there’s nothing more awesome than that.
Don’t be so stubborn in your vision to leave this lift out of your training because it isn’t a competitive lift – expand your vision a bit without sacrificing your principles.
Do This: Dynamic Effort with 70-80%, Not That: Dynamic Effort with 50%
A couple years ago, I went through my training logs and calculated my box squat percentages based on my box squat max. When bands were used, I calculated (as best I could) the amount of bar weight/band weight at the bottom of the movement (while on the box).
The results surprised me then but not now – the average percentage used was 77%. These were weights done on “dynamic day” and didn’t count the heralded circa-max phase.
After reading, thinking, and talking to other lifters (take a look at the translated Russian texts and the book Supertraining), dynamic training is almost always heavier than 50% (50% being a load that’s much too light to elicit a training response).
If you want to effectively use dynamic training in your programming, here’s a simple 12-week template:
Weeks 1-6: Dynamic Work done with the high end of Prilipin’s table Max Effort done with the low end of Prilipin’s table.
Weeks 7-12: Dynamic Work done with the low end of Prilipin’s table; Max Effort done with the high end of Prilipin’s table.
Now this is a very, very simplified overview, but if programmed correctly (i.e., done with your training level in mind, training goals, recovery protocols and your commitment to such protocols, and the ability to auto-regulate without abandoning the principles of your training), this can be very effective.
Whatever template you choose to apply these to, remember that the weight on dynamic day must be heavy enough to apply proper force and light enough to still move fast.
Do This: Hurdle Jumps, Not That: Box Jumps
Just about anyone can do a box jump. As far as jumping exercises go, the box jump is pretty low stress and relatively easy on the body and knees. Even for lower level lifters and athletes (and regular gym goers), if the box jump is used properly (i.e., not as a conditioning tool) they’re extremely effective and relatively safe.
Hurdle jumps, or rather, hurdle bounding is another story. This isn’t to be used by everyone. Bounding over a set of 5-10 hurdles with minimal ground contact is incredibly stressful to the body and requires a quickness and coordination not everyone can achieve.
But they’re extremely effective in developing explosive power. You don’t gather your body and “rest” between hurdles – you jump like a jackrabbit over them.
Here’s a video I found on YouTube that shows someone jumping over hurdles:
I used hurdle jumps for my entire high school career and they’re a great way to develop speed and power when combined with box jumps, squats, and sprints.
Like any new exercise, start with a low volume and work up slowly. All of the throwers in high school, trained by Darren Llewellyn, lived on squats, cleans, and jumps. All of us could bound over 10 low hurdles with ease, with half of us being able to jump over 10 high hurdles without a problem.
This is highly recommended for those that are in competitive sports who are looking for an edge in speed and power. This is not recommend for the out of shape former athlete looking to recapture lost glory.
Do This: Prowler Walk, Not That: Prowler Sprint
Over the past year, I’ve been asked many questions about training for an older lifter – how to minimize the stress on an aging body while fighting with a younger mind.
In short: “My body is breaking down, but I still want to kick ass!”
There are a number of easy things to do concerning lifting: minimize volume work with the main lifts, increase volume of easier assistant lifts, and increase knowledge/use of recovery methods.
But when it comes to conditioning work, it’s hard to stomach the use of a treadmill or elliptical trainer. There’s something about these machines that sap the Testosterone from a lifter that’s spent so many years shunning these machines.
I still believe that a simple walk outside is one of the best things a person can do. Physically, it’s great for the heart, lungs, and lower back. Mentally, it can help clear your mind, and if you live near a great park or trail, gives you some relaxing time to yourself.
I know people still want some grit in their conditioning and that’s where Prowler walking comes in. Walking with the Prowler achieves three things:
Provides the necessary “hard” conditioning that lifters crave.
Is much less stressful on the knees and ankles than sprinting with the Prowler.
Gives the lower body some extra strength work without too much stress on the back (in other words, the Prowler can be used as a leg exercise).
The same basic tenets and workouts of Prowler sprinting applies to walking, so no need to change things up from what’s already been prescribed several times.
If any of these exercises or training ideas is applicable to your training and jive with your goals, then give them a shot – even if they might butt heads with your well-worn philosophy.
Remember, remaining stagnant and stubborn is easy, but it takes a better man to expand their horizons (and lifts) with methods that may be contrary to their beliefs.
The only person you’re hurting is yourself, as a new personal record easily remedies a bruised ego.