PART EIGHT: More on Customization and Training Longevity
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.
Most young, healthy, athletic trainees without unusual physical configurations can apply a set of sound training recommendations with no customization, and get good results provided their recuperation is decent. But with the right customization, even those trainees may be able to improve the effectiveness of their training. Other young trainees, and almost all older trainees, are best off customizing right from the start.
I’ve long emphasized that a training routine should be personalized to suit the individual’s structural configuration, age, goals, equipment availability, circumstances of life, recovery ability, and any limitations due to physical damage or health issues. But not just any customization. The customization should honor the six fundamentals of training I’ve already explained.
Customization can be minor, such as a stance or grip spacing that’s different to the norm because of an unusual structural configuration. But because of prior damage from an accident or a training-related injury, major customization could be the discarding of some exercises that normally work well for most trainees when performed with good form.
As I explained in Part Four, I’m a big fan of free-weights, but I’m also a big fan of good machines. Not all machines are good, though. Some of them are terrible.
More important that the tools themselves, is how they are used and by whom.
I’m not saying that those two groups of exercises—free-weights, and machines—are equally effective for trainees who can perform both of them well. But many trainees, especially older ones, can’t perform some of the free-weights exercises safely and intensively with meaningful poundages. So they need alternative exercises they can perform safely and intensively with meaningful poundages.
Here’s the key message: Regardless of your structural configuration, age, any residual physical damage (from an accident, illness or injury), or any other restriction, there’s a group of major compound exercises you can perform with good form while training intensively. They should be YOUR mainstays. Finding your mainstay of four to six major compound exercises that cover most of the musculature of your body, is essential. You may need some trial-and-error experimentation before you settle on your mainstays.
For example, it could be the four classic lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.
Or it could be these alternative free-weights exercises: parallel-grip deadlift, parallel-bar dip, Romanian deadlift, and seated back-supported overhead press.
Or it could be a much more conservative selection, such as this quintet: leg press, machine parallel-bar dip, hip-and-back machine, chin-up, and seated back-supported machine press.
Or it could be a hybrid of exercises from those three sets, or another group altogether.
Once you’ve settled on your mainstay compound exercises, you can vary the rep-set formats you use, and perhaps employ prudent use of intensifiers or set extenders on some of the movements, but don’t change the exercises for a long time. Stick with your mainstays and become really strong on them.
For the best results, some trainees need to use more abbreviated training routines than others do—according to factors that include age, recovery ability, responsiveness to exercise, goals, and the practicalities of life. For example, a healthy 20-year-old bodybuilder with no dependents, and a leisurely lifestyle, will have a way better recovery ability than a 35-year-old trainee with two young children, two jobs, and a devastated sleeping pattern.
And customize your nutrition. One trainee’s implementation of a given caloric and protein intake will be different to another’s, depending on many factors including food choices, frequency of meals, taste preferences, digestive powers, restrictions because of the conditions of work, preparation considerations, and cost. The more you customize your nutrition so it’s excellent for both your recovery and your health, the better.
Don’t give up easily on the exercises that offer the greatest potential for big benefits.
Often, expert soft-tissue therapy can heal even serious physical damage, without surgery, and get you back into hard training on major compound exercises you couldn’t perform previously. And even with no physical damage being involved, improved exercise form can often make formerly-unsafe exercises into safe and effective ones. This is especially important for powerlifters who want to compete in their senior years—training longevity. Obviously, lifters must squat, bench press and deadlift.
Bodybuilders and general strength trainees don’t have to do those three major exercises, although if they can perform them safely and intensively with meaningful poundages, those great movements are worthy of being mainstays.
But if your customization involves discarding any of the six fundamentals of abbreviated training, you’ll hamper or, more likely, wreck the effectiveness of your workouts.
And even if you have customized your training properly, if you’ve not satisfied the four fundamentals of your recuperation, you’ll hamper your recovery and undermine, if not wreck, the effectiveness of your workouts.
Most of the training tools I listed in Part Four have the potential to be helpful for most trainees—but not all of them in the same routine—provided they are used properly in the context of full satisfaction of all ten fundamentals of training and recuperation.
Training longevity, conservatism, and customization
The older you become, the more conservative your choices should be from the training tools, and the more you probably need to customize your training. Excellent exercise technique and a controlled rep speed become ever more important as you age. And sticking to medium and higher reps is usually best for older trainees. And when even excellent exercise technique, a controlled rep speed, and medium or higher reps still produce problems with a particular exercise, find an alternative movement that works the same function without problems. That’s the strategy of customization that has worked for me and many others—for training longevity.
To keep training throughout all the decades of your life, you need to keep implementing “abbreviated training properly applied.” And that means customizing your training to accommodate changes in your body, goals and the circumstances of your life. Only you can really know your situation, so only you can customize your training to suit you. To do that, though, you must be savvy about how to train.
But if you do that consistently, there’s a huge reward: you can be in amazing condition even in old age. And that will accompany tremendous internal benefits for your health.
Next time: Part Nine—Take Action!