In Beginning Weight Training Part 1, I looked at some basic issues relating to beginning weight training including some commentary about different goals of weight training (and why a trainee’s ultimate goal sort of doesn’t matter in the very beginning stages) as well as looking at what defines a beginner trainee.
Today I want to continue by looking at what the specific goals of beginner training are, that is what specific adaptations and things are trying to be accomplished when setting up a beginning routine in the weight room. As I’ll come back to when I finish up next Tuesday in Part 3, those goals desired, along with some science I’m going to bore you with go a long way towards helping to design a good basic beginning weight training program.
Now, as I mentioned in Beginning Weight Training Part 1, people have varying and myriad goals for why they get into the weight room. And while the specifics of training certainly need to reflect that at some point, at the beginner stage, I believe that their training programs will look more alike than not. Whether the ultimate goals are the physique sports (bodybuilding, fitness, figure), powerlifting or some other strength related sport, lifting for sports performance or general health, beginner routines will all look basically the same. The big exception, as I also mentioned before, would be Olympic lifting training but setting that up is between you and your coach.
But hopefully the point is made and that point is this: in a conceptual sense, the goal of all beginner weight room training is to develop a base upon which to perform more specialized training. But now you’re wondering what exactly I mean by ‘developing a base’ upon which to perform more specialized training which is, of course, the topic of today’s article. I’ve summarized the primary adaptations that are important to beginners below:
- Develop a general balanced whole-body base of strength and/or muscle mass to allow for specialization later on
- Improving neural mechanisms of strength production/Learning to lift weights
- Determine optimal exercise selection for targeting individual muscle groups
In a previous site update, I did a review of Dan John’s Never Let Go, effectively a collection of articles he had written talking about his various and sundry experiences in the weight game.
It’s still a book I highly recommend, if not for the training wisdom it contains then for its highly entertaining and readable style. I reread it about once a year and something in it always manages to make me chuckle or think.
As a collection of articles there wasn’t really any single theme that ran through it except for perhaps the fact that Dan is as old as the hills and has truly seen it and done it all when it comes to the weight room.
I mean, I’m fairly sure Dan was the guy who pointed Milo at the bull and told him to get cracking. Hell, Dan might have been the bull. For those who have truly been living under a rock, as the story goes, Milo lifted a bull on a daily basis.
And as the bull grew and got heavier, Milo was forced to get stronger; this was the supposed invention of progressive overload. Which is all just a really really torturous segue to talking about weight gain, bulking in specific, and Dan John. Because, as the cover picture to the left of this really silly text clearly shows, that’s what Dan’s new book is about: bulking and gaining mass.
Question: I am trying to gain mass but don’t have a lot of time on any given day to lift weights. Is there a way to lift 5-6 days/week without a huge risk of overuse type injuries? If so, how would I go about setting up that type of program?
Answer: This is another common situation that comes up, people who work full time jobs and who have families that they don’t want to completely neglect often can’t spend a lot of time in the gym on a day to day basis. Traditional types of workouts which take 1-1.5 hours per workout simply aren’t realistic (especially during the week), between travel, changing clothes, etc. their entire evening after work is completely taken up.
In that situation there are actually a few different solutions. One that I have used is to use multiple shorter workouts during the week (using a more traditional split routine) and then longer workouts on the weekends when time is usually a bit more abundant. I discussed this option in the chart in Training Frequency for Mass Gains.
However, even that can be problematic as folks with families have other obligations that keep them out of the gym or they simply can’t spend extended periods in the weight room even on the weekends. So I’ll continue answering your question from the standpoint of needing to do 5-6 short workouts and how best to sequence it.
Let me note ahead of time that training with this high frequency can cause problems and there are a number of pitfalls that need to be avoided. Of course general overtraining is one of them but, more specifically is the issue of connective tissue and general overuse injuries. Something that is so often forgotten is that connective tissues are the slowest tissue to adapt in the body: if you’re hammering things too often during the week, often trauma accumulates and causes problems. Even if your muscles are recovering, if your joints or tendons/ligaments aren’t, eventually you’re going to get injured.
In this context what I absolutely would not do with a high training frequency would be to train full body at each workout. Certainly, some Olympic lifters do this although their definition of ‘full-body’ is a bit different than what individuals seeking muscle mass gains would be doing.
Of all of the bodyparts that bodybuilder types want to grow, calves have traditionally been one of the most difficult. In fact, in the field, calves are often thought to be one of the most genetic muscle groups, you either have them or don’t have them.
And, for reasons you’ll see below, there is certainly an element of truth to that. Individuals with great calves often don’t train them at all while others toil away (sort of) at training their calves with little to show for it.
What’s going on?
Well, a number of things. In this article, I want to look first at some of the underlying physiology of the calves as well as examining why the calves seem to be so resistant to growth. Then I want to look at common training errors that simply contribute to the problem.
Calf Anatomy and Fiber Typing
The muscle group referred to as the calves actually include several muscles although most only focus on two: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The primary function of these muscles is to act as plantarflexors (pointing the toe) although the gastroc also has very weak knee flexion activity (which is why some people will catch calf cramps on leg curl type movements).
This is also why doing calf work with the knee bent (e.g. seated calf raise) tends to work the soleus preferentially, since the gastroc crosses the knee, if the knee is bent, the gastroc can’t contribute as significantly to force output. Put differently, if you do a straight legged calf movement, both the gastroc and soleus get trained, if you do bent-knee work, only the soleus really works.