PART SIX: Abbreviated Training Properly Applied
By Stuart McRobert
Reading time: ~ ten minutes.
To get the full benefit from this article, please read all nine parts in sequential order. The first is HERE.
For the best results from your training, combine the six fundamental training tools with the four fundamental “tools” of recuperation. Then you have the ten fundamentals of bodybuilding, and strength training in general:
(1) excellent exercise technique
(2) a controlled rep speed
(3) sufficient but not excessive training volume
(4) sufficient but not excessive training frequency
(5) sufficient training intensity
(6) relentless striving to build strength
(7) excellent nutrition
(8) eight or more hours of sleep per night
(9) a physically restful life in general other than at the gym
(10) avoidance of excessive stress
They are your absolute priorities if you want to build a better physique.
And they make up the method I teach: abbreviated training properly applied.
CAVEAT: It’s still possible to make progress even if all the fundamentals of training and recuperation aren’t in excellent order. I give the illustration below not to encourage you to take the liberties I did, but to highlight key lessons for all trainees.
From November 1991 to July 1992, when I was 33 years old, I gave my all to a training cycle that culminated in my deadlifting 400 pounds for 20 reps, at 195 pounds bodyweight. The cycle was successful in terms of that achievement, but there was cost.
In terms of the six fundamental training tools, I got four right. I applied bare-bones intensive training—so I got the volume and frequency right for me during that period, I trained very hard, and I always strove to make progress in the gym. The two fundamental training tools I didn’t get right—exercise technique and rep speed—cost me, through injuries.
That period occurred during the most stressful decade of my life. I was bonkers busy in all aspects of my pressure-cooker life. And I cut corners with my sleep, which added to the stress I was under. I was sleep-deprived most of the time.
In terms of the four fundamental “tools” of recuperation, I got only one of them right—nutrition. I ate a lot of food and drank a lot of milk.
So, I didn’t apply abbreviated training properly.
I still made progress, but I could have gone farther had I properly applied all ten fundamentals, and without getting injured.
For the full story of my 400×20 deadlifting cycle, the lessons I learned, and the lessons for other trainees, see Chapter 17 of my book BEYOND BRAWN.
“Will abbreviated training work for me?” you may ask
Depends how you apply it.
Some people told me they tried abbreviated training but it didn’t work for them. When I investigated, I discovered that what those trainees thought was abbreviated training, was nothing of the sort.
Usually, most of the fundamental training tools were missing.
And in almost every case they hadn’t fully applied all four fundamentals of recuperation.
So, in all those cases, they hadn’t applied abbreviated training properly.
A variety of good possibilities
Within “abbreviated training properly applied,” many routines can be effective.
Few trainees can plug away over the long-term with the same abbreviated program and maintain a high level of desire and effort. Good variety—not just any variety—is helpful psychologically and may also have physiological benefits that help with building muscle and strength. That’s when sensible trial-and-error experimentation is valuable. But excessive chopping and changing hinders progress.
The “genetically disadvantaged” may need to experiment with the most radical strategies.
Not just muscle, strength and physique
For a complete program, “abbreviated training properly applied” includes an abbreviated stretching routine and very abbreviated cardio work (high-intensity interval training, or HIIT). The three components of a complete training program are: (a) muscle, strength and physique, (b) flexibility, and (c) cardiorespiratory fitness. The resistance training is the most time-consuming component.
More stretching would lead to greater flexibility, and more cardio would lead to greater cardiorespiratory fitness. But that combination would increase the overall commitment to training and, for most trainees, reduce the sustainability of the overall program. The more training you have in your program, the less practical or doable it’s likely to be. And an increased quantity of cardio work would undermine the resistance-training and/or undermine recuperation from it.
And that’s why I strongly recommend an abbreviated format of all three components of the program. But the abbreviated stretching routine, and the very abbreviated HIIT, produce substantial benefits disproportionate to the small time investment.
I do my cardio at the end of my twice-weekly workouts. It’s the most practical way for me to do it, and thus I sustain it. (If I was to do it on another two days each week, that would mean four workouts per week, albeit two of them would be very short. To avoid two further trips to the gym each week, I would need cardio equipment at home.)
Does the cardio immediately after my weights work hamper my recovery? No. The cardio I recommend is enough to produce substantial benefits for my cardiorespiratory system, but not enough to hamper recovery from my weights work. If, however, I did extensive cardio work, even on my non-weights days, it would hamper my recovery.
Here’s how I do the HIIT: On a stationary exercise bike, I warm up for two minutes of easy to moderate effort, then rest for one minute. Then I do a flat-out 20 seconds with the maximum resistance I can endure, followed by 90 seconds rest. I do two more of those sprint-rest cycles and then cool down with two minutes of leisurely cycling. (For the sprints, I apply the full resistance of the brand of bike I use.) The entire thing takes about 12 minutes, including the rest periods. The flat-out work is just three doses of 20 seconds.
It’s very demanding. It takes my heart rate to about 180 beats per minute at the end of each sprint and for some of the following recovery period. If you try it, start at a moderate level and gradually increase the severity of the sprints over a few weeks. But first, get your doctor’s approval for such training.
Do a brief but careful stretching routine twice a week of two or three 10-second “reps” per stretch—forward bend, backward bend, side bend (to both sides), twists (to both sides), and forward, rearward and lateral neck stretches. I spread my stretches out during a workout—during the rest between sets of some exercises, or between exercises. The stretching could be done at home instead (or as well as), but fix two slots per week. Don’t “fit it in sometime” or otherwise it won’t happen with consistency.
But even with each of the three components of an overall program in their abbreviated formats, the overall weekly investment of time and effort is still substantial. To maintain the investment, you need sustained dedication and persistence. There’s no easy way to develop a strong, well-built, supple and fit body, and then maintain it.
What I teach is more time-efficient than the mainstream way, and safer, so you’re more likely to sustain it. And it also has a greater potential for effectiveness for drug-free, genetically typical trainees.
Next time: Part Seven—Training Customization and Longevity.