Training: Why do we lift heavy and sprint? Part 2: How to start down the warrior path.

Coach Josh here at Training for Warriors Portland. In my last post, I talked about the six phases of health or the six components to a healthy lifestyle and how they create the level of fitness and vitality that you want. To recap, those are:

  1. training
  2. nutrition
  3. sleep
  4. breathing
  5. hydration
  6. thoughts and words

Today, I'd like to cover the topic of training. Training encompasses the movement element of your fitness. Let's start by defining our terms.

You MAY have noticed we are called Training For Warriors.

Why do we say "training" and not "exercise?" If training is about movement, why not just call it exercise?

The definition of training that we use here is: training develops the skills that ultimately change your mind and body. The dictionary definition of training has to do with learning a skill, but we add a little bit to that definition here at Training For Warriors. We say that our intention is to create a change in mind and body; the training is meant to produce an outcome.

Throwing a frisbee or kicking a soccer ball can be exercise... and it definitely can change you a little bit! BUT, our goal here is to learn something and do something that changes our mind and body. Something you'll notice at Training For Warriors is that we consistently use the concept of Lift Heavy and Sprint, which encompasses two primary components of training.


Lift Heavy and Sprint at Training for Warriors Portland

Lift Heavy and Sprint are the yin and the yang of fitness, the two sides of the nervous system/metabolic system coin.

When you lift heavy, you're recruiting a greater number of your motor neurons at the same time. You build muscle fibers, type 2B muscle fibers and you're tempering the body to endure a great amount of force, a heavy load or go through explosive movement. 

When you sprint, you are also developing the nervous system, but you're doing it with a focus on power; that power production has to do with force over time.

Movements that require power might be an explosive sprint, medicine ball throw, an Olympic lift, like a power clean from the floor, or a powerful kettlebell swing. It happens explosively and quickly. That's power training or power drills. When you do both of those, you're really creating a massive shift in the body. Through good technique and actions you are altering the body's form. You're turning into a being that can produce that force and produce it quickly.

There's a gradual process to gaining power as you ramp up the body's capacity, but overall, power and strength are two sides of the same coin. They encompass what we strive for in our training in the physical realm. Those movements we do at Training For Warriors PDX are meant to produce changes: they're skills that you learn in order to produce a specific outcome.

As previously mentioned, one thing that happens when you lift heavy is you recruit more motor neurons. When that happens, you're activating more muscles at the same time. You're building those type 2B muscle fibers, your tendons are getting stronger and can withhold more force, your bone density increases to manage that load so you become more resistant to injury. All kinds of good things happen when you train! Speed and power from sprinting and doing plyometrics or explosive movements.

You train the metabolic system and you build those type 2A muscle fibers, type 1 muscle fibers so things that have great endurance. You get more capillary density and your circulation (the body moving blood around your tissue throughout your extremities) improves. That increased capillary density can improve the delivery of oxygen. With this, your mitochondria changes to produce more energy through the same amount of food that you eat. So the body becomes more efficient (this is a complicated in-depth process of understanding what's happening when you're building strength!)

That is what it means to Lift Heavy and Sprint, and THAT is how we train at Training For Warriors. Now, we have a philosophy that encompasses how we apply all these things because when it comes to lifting heavy weights, being explosive, sprinting, etc... that puts a great amount of force through your body into the pavement.  These are movements that act as really intense, powerful medicine. We need to have a strong philosophy to match that strong physical training.

 At Training For Warriors, our philosophy is to focus on building the technique on the skills and allowing the technique that we're building to change us. 

We focus on the skills and those skills change us. When you learn how to bench press, we get you to focus on activating your body and getting in a position that gives you greater strength, like having nice, tight grip recruitment.

Your breath and breathing for strength also help you get a perfect rep. Not struggling, forcing it, or muscling it up. Instead, we want to use technique that allows us to lift more weight. In turn, lifting extra weight allows us to be strong. That strength changes our body. We focus our energy on the technique and let everything else trickle down.

That means that we don't train to failure. It means that we don't train ourselves into oblivion. Don't train until you're getting a CNS (central nervous system) overload. You might have seen videos of people online doing sprints down the street and then puking into trash cans. That's too much stimulation. It's destructive and it doesn't help that person get better.

Our philosophy allows us to create these strong internal skills, this great set of tools to allow us to be strong. We allow that movement to then change us once we get good at it. That means we have to find the minimum effective dose of training.

We like to plan for the long-term here at Training For Warriors. Taking the long view of everything means, I don't mind if my workout could have been harder. I DO mind if my workout was so hard that I get injured. Every step of the way, I make sure that I'm always using the least amount of training to produce the greatest results. I'm not training until I'm shaking or untilI'm super fatigued. Don't get me wrong, I get tired!  If ever you've trained here at TFW, you've gotten tired, you've been sweaty, you've felt good, right? But you weren't hurting from the training. You were getting training that feeds you, not depletes you. That is what we aim for. You should be supported by the work that you do here, not be destroyed by it.

Finding the minimum effective dose and making small adjustments allows you to have more successful sequential training sessions. It allows you to leave the gym feeling successful every single time. That success builds upon success and you will gain momentum quickly. Remove your focus from the numbers on the barbell or the numbers up on the scale and put in that focus into your technique and the way that your body feels.

Some biofeedback or helpful questions you can ask yourself might be: 

  • How's my sleep?
  • How hungry am I?
  • How's my sex drive?
  • How's my energy and focus during the day?
  • How is my attention span?
  • How's my overall happiness?
  • How's my morale?

If you discover those things are increasing/getting better, then your training is probably right on point. But if you're not feeling good on the inside, then there might be changes that need to be made to your nutrition and/or recovery. (Stay tuned for recovery in the next blogpost).  Our standpoint in training, we always wanna feel successful whenever we leave the gym.

What does success look like?

Figuring out when to adjust the minimum effective dose means that we need to have a very good definition of success. Feeling successful in the gym might look like any of the following:

  • Your technique improved.
  • If you were able to apply something new to your back squat, overhead press, sprint, etc...
  • If you were able to be more relaxed or increase the tension, or do something with a little bit more sense of control, ownership, and/or mastery of the process.
  • Getting a personal best is a success. If you squat more than you ever squatted before, that's a very successful day!
  • If your (insert lift here) feels better than before.
  • Or if your body ached less when you did it.
  • If you increase the range of motion. Even if you didn't add any weight at all, but you just were able to train more of your body while you were doing it.
  • If you didn't increase motion, but you increased the time under tension? So you were able to control the tempo and you were able to do more in that lift.

There are so many definitions of success and they have a lot do with how you feel or what your performance is for any particular movement. There are many ways to be successful every single day in the gym. And the more successful you are, the easier it is to make decisions on what to do with your program.

Your training focus... and when to change your program up

Once you have a good definition of progress, you can go then to choosing your focus. When do you change your program? You want to cycle through in your days, weeks, and months, different areas of focus. In the fitness industry, we call them cycles. We have micro-cycles, meso-cycles, macro-cycles; periods of time where you're focused on one thing.

At TFW Portland, we shift cycles all the time but we give you enough time in that cycle to improve and post up semi-records. We periodize the training. All that means is we plan the training to get you to accumulate in strength and intensity all the way up throughout that cycle. When the cycle ends, you get a chance to improve either your numbers or your time under tension... and then you move on to the next thing.

As long as your training is planned appropriately, you always have something new to focus on, to get better on, and you'll always be improving something in your program, something in your physiology. Strength, endurance, speed, recovery, all of those things. So your cycle should be long enough to get good at something, but not too long so that you get tired and start to develop a fatigue of doing that same movement pattern or training style over and over again.

Here at Training For Warriors, a short cycle is four weeks, a long cycle is eight weeks. We probably won't have you lifting heavy squats for longer than eight weeks, but you will get enough time to get good at movements. Some athletes may use 20 weeks blocks, there are other athletes that use longer and shorter blocks than that. There are all kinds of different ways to cycle and I'll put some links in here for some of my favorite references for those things. If your numbers are not improving or your training feels really bad, it's time to shift your focus and shift the cycle.

How do you decide what to work on?

Do you want strength? Do you want endurance? Do you want to work on building muscle or burning fat? Or do you wanna work on all of the above?

I don't like to choose just one things, so I'm always working on everything... BUT I'm focused on one aspect of strength, one aspect of speed, and one aspect of endurance every month. For example, my program might focus on the following:

  1. Improving my overhead press for one month (STRENGTH)
  2. Doing lots and lots of push-ups! (ENDURANCE)
  3. The 150-meter sprint and improving my time (SPEED)

You should probably choose the thing you're not the best at because that's the area that you have the most room to improve. It doesn't mean that you're going to get amazing at everything all the time, but it does mean that you're going to get some benefit out of learning some new techniques or paying special attention to an area.

There is some trial and error involved.

Part of learning what success is in the minimum effective dose is letting yourself take a risk. Try adding a little bit of weight and see how it feels, trying something new and let your body tell you what's working.

I'd like to say that we've never made a mistake here at Training For Warriors in terms of programming, or that we've never made a misstep in terms of training, or that warriors have never gotten injured and I've never injured myself. However, that is not true. Part of life is just seeing what works. 

We're always testing something and seeing how it works in a group of people because we get to work with a large number of athletes and students throughout the year. In your own life, I suggest taking on something new and seeing how it goes. If you don't know what it feels like to try and lift 105% of your max, try it! See how it feels and then you'll know next time when you're scraping the ceiling and you're at the height of your capacity.

Our programs focus on mastery more than anything else.

There are lots of programs out there that are great... and there are really good organizations that focus on variety or intensity, and that's wonderful. At TFW Portland, one of our internal principles of training is safety. It's one of the points of our central compass,

For us, mastery equals safety. If you know what it feels like when your body's not working right, if you know what it feels like when your body is working right and if you understand what a successful lift feels like, then you're becoming the master of your body and you're becoming excellent. In that sense, you're going from that white belt to that black belt... and you will be able to have a longer career in training. You're able to have a sustainable training program. You're going to be more successful, get better results, and ultimately, you're gonna be happier overall.

Here at Training For Warriors, mastery is always the focus of the program because that allows us to be safe. Whatever program you're doing, I urge you to focus on mastery as a principle because it's going to allow you to progress indefinitely. And it's going to keep you safe.

-Coach Josh here at Training For Warriors Portland (giving you my 50,000 foot view on training) helping YOU bring out the warrior within.