Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Questions and comments, athlete feedback...

Setting the record (straight)
My report on the last 6 weeks.
I've worked hard at changing what I eat. I snack on walnuts and fresh fruit, and forego sandwiches at lunch for salads and fish (on most days). Dinner is whatever the wife makes (which on most days is well balanced). I don't bother counting calories. I am just focusing on eating better, and think the change in diet and increased activity will be enough in the long-run. As for an exercise routine, I have been doing a lot of experimenting. Your posts have been very helpful here. You discuss quite a few exercises I had never heard of, providing plenty to research, which usually expands into a entirely new area of fitness for me (example, muscle-ups).
My favorite from your catalog is the Bulgarian Training Bag. Your dyi version was very cool, but I opted to meet with Greg Maurer at the Hockessin Athletic Club to get a hold of the original design. I dug it, and ordered one for my own (26 lbs.). This thing kills me in less than 20 minutes.
My current routine is:
D1 (Saturday) - Run/walk Alapocos Run. Can't run the whole thing yet so I do what I can and walk the rest. I change this up freely with uphill sprints, which are brutal on this trail. Appreciate your thoughts on running more than 400m and think this is a fair compromise. I enjoyed running distance in the past, and would like to regain that experience eventually.
D2 (Monday) - Gym: squats 3x15 with in between sets of pull-ups; bench press3x15 (both squats and bench turn out to be 2x15 with muscle failure on the last set, once I get to ten reps on the last set I bump-up the weight. I am leaving weight off here because it’s a little embarrassing, give me some time).
D3 (Tuesday or Wednesday) - 30 minutes w/Bag
D4 (Thursday or Friday) - 30 minutes w/Bag
I'd like to change this up to include another day at the gym, but it will have to wait until after July 9. My Bag days are work-out at home days. I plan to incorporate pull-ups, some ab work, and other body-weight exercises on these days, but haven't gotten around to hanging a pull-up bar. All in good time. Overall, I am feeling much better and am 12 lbs lighter than the last time I emailed you. Weight loss is not a huge priority for me, but it is a favorable metric right now so I'll use it.
Still working on defining goals, and still thinking about how to change-up my weight-lifting routine when the time comes. You do a lot of Olympic style lifts that I understand are best for strength building. But I would need to invest the time to learn them and develop good form. On my own that could be challenging. That's a few months down the road though. As always, thoughts, comments and criticism are welcome.
Talk to you soon,
Cuba Gooding Jr

Thanks for the update, Cuba, its great to hear how well you're progressing. The beauty of your situation is that at one time, you were in the military and fit, by general standards. Therefore, your body recognizes that and it is easier to get back to that state of well being than it would be for someone who was never there before. And still, because of your fitness hiatus, you are training as a beginner. When beginners train, every single thing they do works, unfortunately, it will not work forever. Our bodies adapt to everything. I choose to work hard on a few things at a time, then switch every 4-8 weeks before things get stale, yet I have benefitted from the gains I made while on the program. Other programs like CrossFit, for example, are constantly varied and change daily, so many people never really get to benefit from a particular exercise because they may not repeat it again for a very long time. All this depends on the programming at the particular institution, not CF in general. My primary goal is increased strength, not endurance, so I focus my energy that way. I also feel that strength will have more carry over to all facets of fitness more so than any other aspect such as flexibility (yoga lovers), endurance (runners and bikers), agility or what have you. Strength can enhance all these other attributes more so than they can enhance strength. So, one thing I like to do in a training program is perform regular maximum effort exercises. Rotate the exercises regularly. The best exercises to choose from are squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls. Add in some unilateral training and you got a great start.

Using things like the Bulgarian Training Bag are a great way to enhance your mobility, cardio and stamina, but anything you can do for more than a few seconds won't help your strength much beyond beginner levels. For a new trainee not sure where to begin, a great 2 day split to use goes something like this for the primary exercises.

Day 1

Squats 5x5
Pull ups 5x submax
then whatever else you want to do that keeps you happy, this assistance work could vary greatly depending on the athletes needs.

Day 2

Deadlift 5x5
Bench 5x5
Then trails or BTB or anything else that provides joy and excitement, see above.

This is very simple, and can be used whether you train heavy 1, 2, 3, or 4 times a week. If you train once a week, you would do workout 1 this week, then workout 2 next week. If you train heavy twice weekly, you could do W1 on Tuesday, then W2 on Friday or Saturday. Three times goes W1, W2, W1 one week, then W2, W1, W2 on week 2, rinse and repeat. Four times a week goes W1, W2, W1, W2 on something like Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri. I would even change the reps from 4-6 on Mon and Tues to 8-10 on Thurs and Fri. Beginners need not get too crazy and sexy, just add weight and reps and get really good at the basics. Then you will progress to intermediate status quicker and will only then need more detail and variety in training.

The olympic lifts are not for everyone, but with sufficient strength can be a wonderful tool for power development. I recommend seeking professional guidance when starting to incorporate the quick lifts. If you are not relatively strong, the quick lifts may be a waste of time and can be potentially dangerous. So have fun, keep asking questions and seeking out new information, I'll be here for ya.

Train to win,


  1. Matt,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I hear you on the merits of strength training and the benefits from regularly performing particular exercises. And thanks for crafting a simple two day strength building program. My follow-up questions may just be judgment, but thought I'd ask anyway: (i) are the 5x5 sets progressive in weight, or do I set my goal weight (realistic, of course) and just try to bust out the reps? if they are progressive, is the first set really just a warm-up (i.e, half my goal weight)? and (ii) if i am working Bag and trails on other days, can i just walk-out of the gym after squats and pull-ups -- that is, do i need assist work on gym days for an effective routine? back in the day, i'd lift chest and arms one day, shoulders and back another, and legs and abs another. each muscle group would get three exercises. i had no education with regard to the merit of such a routine, that's just how the older (and bigger) guys were doing it (and those reading don't laugh because i know i wasn't the only one that took this approach). but if i am effective with just squats and pull-ups (for Day 1) for purposes of your program, these days i'd prefer to spend the rest of my time with family. thanks again for the insight.

    Keep posting,


  2. Cuba,

    I think its generally best to do progressive sets. I would do a few warm up sets with 3-5 reps/set. Build up to your working weight, which would be around 65%-70% of your max for your first set, then build up as you go. Do not push too hard your first month, but gradually and consistently add a few pounds every day and before you know it, you will be moving real weight, with little change in your routine and no injuries. Lots of peeps try doing too much too early and either get hurt or hit a plateau quickly which is a kick in the face and deteriorating to morale and ego. I would rather make slow consistent progress for years than make a false gain for a few weeks then stall out and give up. Small steps lead to big gains.

    Of course add some more accessory work if you want. If you want to do body part splits, thats fine, but more for bodybuilders. I love super-setting non competing body parts for faster gains. I regularly add push ups, pull ups, abs, low back, and various other accessory exercises to round out a complete program. But as a beginner, taking a minimalist approach works great.

  3. Hey Mate,
    I posted not long ago about how your training routines have helped my strength and thought I would let you know that since going on a modern paleo diet(4 months ago) and with your routines(6 weeks now) I have just won a recent BJJ comp. I placed first in my weight class and placed 2nd in absolute(open division). I would just like to confirm that your routines have helped me alot with getting my strength up for BJJ. Thanks again and I hope you keep up the good work.



    P.S. Let me know if you ever think of coming to Australia as I would love to meet the man behind the skills!

  4. Jules,

    That is just awesome, your hard work ethic is the reason why you are performing at a high level, I may have helped provide some direction, but you did the work. good for you. I would love to come to Australia. My goal in my business is to do traveling seminars, and Australia is a great place to go to share fitness information. Get some friends together and buy me a ticket!!!