Before I write about my trip to Prague, I’d like to give everything in my mind some time to arrange itself. Still, two days are not enough to organize information that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions to which you sometimes can’t find any answers; when you must approach it with critical thinking and take what you need, sort out what you don’t need from what you have been doing so far and rearrange some things. This is a process and only people who are constantly searching for more know what it feels like. It’s as if you feel complete, but then you look at things from a different angle and you want to put something you have been missing at the very foundation. Then the only choice you have is to “tear yourself down” and rebuild yourself. This is an internal transformation that others don’t see, but it always costs the person who is going through it a lot. In this post and in the next two I’m going to share with you some basics that I think you might find useful. And everything else that I can’t put into words yet I promise you will feel and notice in my work with everyone who is a part of IFS.
For those of you who don’tknow, I spent 7 days in Prague, at Wolf Gate Gym. I went there to do an internship. This is the gym where Charles Poliquin does a lot of his workshops and all coaches there have been trained by him. First let me share with you my impressions of the gym.
I won’t comment on the equipment, because everyone who follows my videos on Instagram saw that the gym is equipped with the best possible weight plates, bars, platforms, etc. Being in a place like that feels interesting. It’s as if, the moment you step into the gym, you see a kind of greatness and you want to do even more than your best to be “worthy” of being part of this and to feel like you belong there. The gym was sort of a club and was intended for advanced trainers, mainly.
It does strike you that only a few people visit the gym, but those who train there are awesome. Each one of them can be called an athlete. You even have to pass a test to become a member of the gym – you have to climb a rope without using your legs – you are only allowed to use your arms. As the coaches say, everyone there trains to achieve results, so they all know what they are there for. On the one hand, I like this very much, because it feels incredible working out with people who don’t need to be urged, motivated and persuaded how important it is for them to pay attention to their diet; you don’t have to persuade them that workouts can’t be easy, if you want to make progress. People like that make you do your very best, because it’s hard being the best, when everyone is aiming to become the best version of themselves. A competition that makes you outdo yourself. On the other hand, I love working with people who haven’t gained confidence yet and haven’t discovered this passion for fulfilling the potential of the human body.
The other interesting thing about the gym is that everything is self-service – people make their own protein and amino acid shakes, they get their own protein bars, etc. And everyone appreciates this freedom, of course, and they don’t abuse it, i.e. everyone pays for what they have made themselves. But what is even more interesting is that the gym doesn’t have a manager and Olga – the owner isn’t there all day long. There may be no one at the gym, not even coaches. But every club member has a chip and can go into the gym 24/7. This is what I call trust. They are truly like a family where people appreciate that they have access to this place and take care of it. I definitely like this and wish it would be applicable in a larger scale, too, but I think that things change, if there are more people. They have some 20 – 30 members there and everyone of them is so motivated and dedicated.
While I was in Prague, we trained twice a day, every day. I had the best training partners – Olga and Adam. The first workout was focused on strength and the second one – on hypertrophy. The first workout lasted for an hour at most and the second one – for 20 – 30 minutes, only isolation exercises.
I already knew many of the things I saw there, but I feel totally different now that I have experienced them. Because book knowledge can’t compare with experience and with having people who have coached so many professional athletes share what works when, what they use and why. Below I’m going to share some of the most important aspects on training.
1.The exercise determines the number of sets and repetitions
This is a rule I really like and I’m going to repeat it to myself a lot for sure. Quite often, when training plans are developed, the mistake is to mechanically assign number of sets and repetitions just because this is what everybody does. In reality, there is a reason for number of sets and repetitions and it should be more meaningful. If you don’t choose the right number of sets and repetitions, you can do more work, but get less in return. The most important example and something they emphasized several times for me is that when you do front squats, you shouldn’t do more than 6 repetitions. If you do more than 6, you start working for your upper body and lose the effect of the exercise. Those of you who have done front squats probably know how demanding this exercise is on the shoulders and back (especially in people with insufficient mobility). If you do front squats with an adequate weight and do more repetitions, what makes you quit eventually is not your legs and your lack of strength, but the fatigue you feel in your upper body, i.e. when you start feeling like this, you are doing work that does not translate into the desired result.
2.The type of muscle fibers determines the number of repetitions and sets as well as the weight.
I have always said that writing workout plans is an art and only people who aren’t in the habit of doing it think it’s something easy that doesn’t require knowledge. Years of reading and experimentation can hide behind 4-5 exercises. You know there are different types of muscle fibers and they can generally be divided into fast-twitch, slow-twitch and mixed. For example, fast-twitch fibers contract fast, are the first to grow tired and are activated at higher intensity (by intensity I mean percentage of your one-rep max). Slow-twitch fibers have the opposite characteristics – they contract more slowly, but are more resistant. In physical activities such as marathon running, athletes with more slow-twitch muscle fibers are at an advantage. In sprinters and weight-lifters fast-twitch muscle fibers provide more advantage.
Every muscle group can be distinguished by the type of muscle fibers that dominate. For example the posterior thigh has more fast-twitch muscle fibers and workouts with fewer repetitions and bigger weights are more appropriate for it.
Although most muscle groups have both types of fibers, in some they are balanced, while in others one type dominates. Take the anterior thigh for example. The rectus femoris has more fast-twitch muscle fibers. It is a two-jointed muscle, so it should be trained with compound exercises with fewer repetitions and bigger weights. The other quadriceps muscles are one-jointed and slow-twitch muscle fibers are dominant in them, so they can be trained with more isolation exercises, smaller weights and more repetitions.
As a whole, the lower body has more fast-twitch muscle fibers, so in order to achieve results in terms of strength and definition, more compound execises are needed, with fewer repetitions and bigger weights.
The upper body is dominated by more slow-twitch muscle fibers (not only because once again there are muscle groups that need bigger weights and fewer repetitions), so you can do more repetitions with slightly smaller weights.
I could go into more detail about this, but it will be the object of another post.
3.There is no one proper technique for performing the exercise, there is a right variation
Before you think I’m writing nonsense, I must point out that no one neglects the importance of proper technique. To make this easier, let’s take squats. There are some basics you must follow when doing squats, for example, the spine should not be flexed (bent), the knees should not buckle inward, the heels or toes should not leave the floor, etc. And yet, we can assume there’s one basic technique for performing squats that everyone starts from when learning the exercises. When you learn to move your body and feel when and where something happens, you can experiment with countless variations – they differ slightly from the basic technique, but the main rules remain in force – what changes is the tension. During the workouts we did several variations – hack squats with elevated heels, cyclist squats, once again with elevated heels, back squats, front squats, box squats. All of this within one week only. In each variation the tension on the body is different. For example, after the internship, Olga wants me to focus on the cyclist squats, because they work the vastus medialis more and that muscle is weaker in my case. Actually, a lot of people could benefit from this exercise. When this muscle is strong enough, it helps the knee follow the foot during the squat and not be the weaker link that allows the knee to buckle inward with heavier weights.
Nevertheless, it’s very important to note something. All these variations are for advanced athletes. A person with insufficient mobility in their ankles should not put weight plates under their feet to squat all the way down. In that case the more suitable approach is to work on increasing mobility and improving the basic squatting technique. Only when you lay stable foundations can you continue to build.
4.Periodization in workouts matters
How many of you would say they go to the gym and work out chaotically, i.e. you seldom have any plans about what you will be doing in three weeks’ or in two months’ time. Of course, it’s always nice to have some wiggle room for impulsive decisions and enough flexibility for change. But progress can only be made when there’s an outlined strategy that takes us somewhere. One of the important things with periodization and structuring workouts is not to follow the same plan for too long (once again I mean more advanced athletes and not beginners), so that the body can receive sufficient stimulus, but the plan should not be changed too frequently either, because we want to allow the necessary adaptation to occur. This means that the exercises in the workout should be changed approximately once every 6 workouts (I’ll explain this) or about once every 3 or 4 weeks. The change in the exercises can be as small as change in variation. For example, instead of Romanian deadlift, you can add Romanian deadlift with a resistance band. We did this exercise with Olga and Adam. Instead of back squats, you could do box squats or hold the squat in the down phase. By change once every six workouts I don’t mean that every sixth workout should be a new plan. It means that if you have a plan that consists of three workouts, each one should be repeated six times. Depending on workout frequency, this can be between 3 and 4 weeks.
5.The eccentric phase is as important, if not more important, as the concentric one
This is a rule we repeat on a daily basis at IFS. Many people focus on the concentric part of the exercise (the muscle contraction) only – for example in military press everyone focuses on pushing the bar and then drop it in a flash. In lunges everyone drops down in a flash and only focuses on coming back up. In reality the eccentric phase is very important, too, and I have even written about negative repetitions during pull-ups and push-ups as a way to accelerate our progress. But even when we use the negative repetition method, we must focus on TUT (time under tension) or in other words the time during which the muscle is under tension. The extension must also be controlled and we shouldn’t rely on external forces only such as gravity and momentum. At Wolf Gate Gym everyone records their workouts in a spreadsheet where, apart from number of sets and repetitions, the tempo is also registered. For example: Squat 0301 – this means that you don’t hold the squat in the stance, you descend for three seconds, you do not pause in the down phase and come back up in one second. This way every exercise has a tempo of performance as well. This is very valuable.
6.Change the mechanics and then train it dynamically
This is something I’ve been emphasizing for the past two years, but this time I felt it so powerfully on myself. You must have seen my videos after the kinetic chain enhancement with Tomas and the activation of some muscles on my back that hadn’t been functioning well after my injuries. Even though I wish that the result achieved in the video would be long-lasting, I actually have a lot of work to do at the gym to be able to achieve my goal. For a lot of time we have been focusing on mobility, because many people work out to increase their imbalances. Many lack sufficient range of motion, but still try to perform movements that are not right for them. The correct approach is to start with exercises for activating the muscles that are going to be trained and also with corrective exercises to increase the range of motion in the particular joint (for example squats and hip joints) and then do the workout itself. This way, after the corrective movements and after the mechanics has been improved, the workout dynamically consolidates this range and way of motion. Before a movement becomes natural and we can perform it without thinking too much about it, we need to create a new neural pathway. And this is done by repetition. This is how the body will learn that the dynamic exercise follows after the corrective movement and thus it will gradually become a movement pattern.
After my shoulder injuries I had a lot of problems with my back. For those who don’t know, I’ve had six shoulder dislocations and that was one of the reasons I quit playing basketball. Since then, no matter how much I tried, I had no sensitivity in my back muscles and I’ve never been able to do a pull-up– I’ve only been able to do chin-ups. Today Tomas applied some techniques and the two videos are three minutes apart. I have never been able to activate my back muscles in a pull-up.
7.The goal determines the means
This is something we all know, but it bears repeating. During all my 11 workouts we used quite different methods. For example on Friday we did Wolf Gate-style “cardio” that I described here. On Wednesday we used so-called extension sets (I will describe the different methods in another post) for the second workout. For some movements we used supersets. On the different days and in the different exercises the rests between the sets were different, too. As the saying goes, “I am guilty” of often going to extremes and praising one method, while rejecting another one, when I first started weight-training. Now I know there are no good or bad methods. There are simply methods that are right for the particular person and their goals. What is right for an athlete at one point may be totally wrong for another athlete (but only at this point). This doesn’t mean that in future, when the athlete’s fitness level, diet, rest amount, etc. changes, the same method that was not right for them last year would not become the recommended approach.
We did Wolf Gate-style “cardio” 😀 You pick a weight that you can do four repetitions with and then you do 20 supersets – 2 front squats and two repetitions of sumo deadlifts. The tempo of the squats is 5010 and of the deadlifts – 4111. I started with 47 in the front squat, but cut down a little after the first sets, and in the deadlift I started with 80 and then went down to 70 J The rest is 15 seconds between the sets. Then we did a superset of walking lunges in 4 rounds: 20 meters of weighted walking lunges, with long strides and a leaning torso – focusing on the gluteus muscles, and on the way back 20 meters of walking lunges with short strides and an upright torso – focusing on the quadriceps muscles. Awesome.
Thank you Olga for teaching me so many things and for making sure I had great experience at Wolf Gate Gym.