Monday, March 2, 2015

Planning a specialisation strength program

One of the great challenges for a person (including the 'professional' coach/consultant) is to design a strength training program around a body part or line of movement specialisation program. This challenge was reflected in this question i received from a KSI client:
Since I no longer train for sporting prowess/performance (basketball and track), but simply for health/fitness (and to keep up with my kids’ play) yet, feeling like a “somewhat” concrete goal might be fun, I’ve been looking at various "symmetry" scales and formulae (McCallum's, as well as Willoughby's in your GBIV), which has quickly made me become aware of a few things: My training/sporting background gave me a solid lower-body foundation (hips/glutes being 3” above “ideal”, thighs 2½” above "ideal", and calves 1"), but to the "detriment" of upper body symmetry.

For example, according to various scales (and, of course, I realize fully this is just for “fun” and to give a general perspective on things), chest size is below by 2”, arms by 1 to 1½ inches, forearms 1 inch, and neck, 1¼ inch!!!!!

In terms of strength, and as one would expect, lower body strength is well above average, and upper body is just around average, except for one glaring exception: shoulder pressing strength is well below (in spite of having reasonable shoulder development?!?). So, this leads me to the following (and was hoping to get your feedback)…

I was considering giving your Great Guns program a go (which I thought would be a great way of emphasizing arm/forearm development), but was wondering how to prioritize (or deprioritize the lower body, as the case may be) other lagging parts (neck, chest, and, then, shoulder pressing strength)?

Should I postpone those other areas to future cycles/phases? Is there any way to work on chest size AND shoulder strength, WHILE still prioritizing arms? Or is this overkill? Your comments, as always, are appreciated.—√Čric
To which I responded with:
Eric- a specialization program is just that – specializing in one area. What I taught in my 1998 ‘How to Write’, in my 1999 book ‘Get Buffed!’ and throughout my articles in various magazines (hard copy and online), every singe program creates a priority – by virtue of the sequence, relative volumes and relative load potential of the exercises provided.

You are leaning towards doing the arm specialization program, which is great, but at the same time are wishing you could specialize in a number of other muscle groups. When you specialize by sequence - which is inherent in all program by default – assuming volume to each muscle group or line of movement is equal, you still have prioritization or specialisation.

However when you add prioritization or specialization by volume also, which occurs in specialization programs such as the ‘Great Guns’ program – you are forced then to reduce volume in other muscle groups or lines of movement. What you are being tempted to do is overload your program, which in turn will overload your body. This is common in strength training, and the most common outcome is the conclusion that growth without drugs is impossible.

This is not correct. The best way to answer your own question – and that is the purpose and intent of my educational material, to help you make your own decisions – is to determine the amount of volume (lets use the simple method of number of sets to measure that) to your number one specialization. In this case, you have nominated your arms.

Lets take my general recommended volume range of 8-15 sets per workout (not including abdominal, control or warm up sets) and use the average number of 12. Now lets use my maximum number of workouts per 7 day cycle that I believe suits most and that is four workouts a week. We are left with 60 work sets in total for the week.

Once you have worked out how many sets you want to allocate from these 60 sets to your number one specialization priority (in this case your arms), then allocate volume (total number of sets) to your remaining body.

You can show a secondary priority and a third priority – in fact this will happen by default – and so to some extent you can sequence your priorities, but no other muscle group other than your arms is going to get real prioritisation.

On the flip side the only way you can do a specialization program and get away with it is to put other muscle groups / lines of movement on hold, or in maintenance. This applies to training outside of strength training also, which has direct application for all athletes.

So I know, I have not answered your question in the way you may have been hoping – in the old world ‘I am the guru and the only way you will get anywhere is through me’ approach – but I believe I have answered your question from the ‘you are your own guru’ perspective, or at least nudged you to realize your own ability to answer your questions.—Ian King
Now I'll be the first to agree that the challenge of designing a strength program around a specialisation program is a challenging task. The approach I use and teach my high level coaches at an individual consulting level is one that applies a series of high level decisions and a considerable time to construct the training program, which is a level of excellence and cost that many avoid in the 'hope' that their quicker, less considered decisions are adequate. I am continually amazed at how humans give their motor vehicle more individualised service than their bodies!

To answer the challenges presented by this task i encourage close study of my Get Buffed! educational series and or a program design consultation with one of my high level coaches.

Ian King

PS. The following response was received:

Ian... Contrary to what you might have implied in your last paragraph, this has been IMMENSELY useful. Right in line with your espoused philosophy and educational approach of "teaching a man how to fish" rather than simply "giving him the fish"

As you know, I already own a very extensive library of much of your material but, in some cases, getting a fresh perspective and slightly different angle (with a more specific context) on some of the ideas can help one along in exactly the right way.

This will help guide me with my planned phases. If need be, I'll send you a copy of my written program, for some more specific guidelines, but I feel you've already done more than enough.

As always, I'm grateful for your time, insights and wisdom.

Be well...
-Eric