Return to the Weightroom
Now that the enduro 1 season is over (well, sort of), it is time to get back to the gym. Riding a motorcycle left me feeling broken multiple times (luckily without any major injuries) and my strength training suffered greatly, resulting in a weak dad bod. It is time to rebuild the broken man. For the next enduro season, of course (and to look good naked; which is the honest reason why we, all non-professional athletes, train in the first place; the side-effect of being more robust is, of course, a welcomed benefit).
Hectic and sporadic strength training during this year motivated me to develop the Badger Protocol which seems to be getting traction and recognition in the strength and conditioning community, for which I am more than happy. The Badger is very simple isoSandwich protocol that involves isoHold (isometric hold) of N-seconds duration before and/or after N-reps set. In other words, taking bench press as an example, you pause, say 6 sec at the chest, then perform 6 quality reps, and finish with another 6-sec hold at the chest. The motivation for developing The Badger Protocol is to provide an alternative method for anatomic adaptation methods, but also to provide a method with intrinsic characteristics that limit the heavy-weight use (and thus helps in prevention of doing something stupid by lifting too heavy too quickly). As explained in the article above, The Badger is great for novice lifters learning the technique but also for the re-start of the weight training after a training hiatus.
My intention with this article is to provide a few more methods together with The Badger Protocol that I believe serves a purpose for someone returning to (or starting) the resistance training. In addition to explaining my rationale for using these methods in return to the weightroom, I will provide a Microsoft Excel template that you can use to build your training program if you face similar constraints and objectives.
Generalist~Specialist and Explore~Exploit
Although I believe the following methods would be beneficial to the strength specialists as well (i.e., weightlifters, powerlifters, strongman, bodybuilders) during their pivot cycles (or transition periods between heavy lifting and/or focused blocks), my main target for this approach are the strength generalists. Strength generalists involve recreational athletes as well as the team sports or combat athletes doing the strength training with the transfer or second order effects as the main objective. By these, I refer not to the goal of lifting the highest weights possible for the sake of competition (i.e., as is the case with the strength specialists), but rather achieving a training transfer to other performance tasks (i.e., improving sprint and jump performance), achieving aesthetic improvements, or developing more robust athletes. It is for them in mind that this Return to the Weightroom program is developed (well, actually for myself selfish needs in the first place).
One concept I have been developing over the years (it is still not crystallized in my mind though) under the Agile Periodization umbrella is the the Explore~Exploit dichotomy (or better yet, complementary pair). Tougher wrestling with this concept is beyond the current article and I will refer you to the Strength Training Manual (Volume 1 | Volume 2) for more information. In short, when you re-start your training, the explore part is much more dominant than the exploit – first of all, you do not know your maximums that should be used for prescription, you do not know how sore you will feel, you do not know what exercises will hurt your old and broken body, and more importantly, you are not ready to push the process and prefer to play and get used to lifting again and to develop consistency. Some might say – “Why not used the velocity-based training (VBT) then?” That is a fair comment, and I think it could be implemented here, but in my opinion, one might still not be there with the mental focus and training momentum for the VBT to be applied effectively.
Thus the objective is to provide a simple, flexible, and variable training template that allows one to explore and play with movements while not being boring, too focused on progressions and numbers, while also allowing one to build consistency, training momentum and robustness for the other push phases which might come down the road. Not knowing (and not using) 1RMs for prescription is assumed. Testing 1RMs in this Return to the Weightroom program and training phase is NOT necessary and ill-advised. Utilization of the following training methods and the non-divisible training organization will also help prevent pushing the weights too much too soon.
As mentioned previously, I want to provide a few extra methods in addition to The Badger Protocol that could be utilized in the Return to the Weightroom phase. All of these methods implement some type of isometric hold or slow tempo (i.e., slow eccentrics) with the aim to increase the time-under-tension (TUT), to work on the posture (and mobility), technique, and control, as well as to target the connective tissues and muscles (well this is highly speculative of me, but will accept that) which will serve as anatomic adaptation needed for later more stressful lifting phases. Table 1 contains a list of all the methods implemented in the Return to the Weightroom template/program.
|The Badger Protocol||Protocol involving the isoSandwich where set of N-reps is preceded and followed by the isoHold of N-sec duration. Variations exist – see the text for more info|
|Paused Reps||Involves using N-second hold before performing repetitions|
|Stops||Involves multiple isoHolds along the exercise range of motion during the lowering/eccentric phase|
|isoHold||Simple isometric hold at the most stretched or most difficult position, or it could be performed at the ‘sticking point’|
|Slow Eccentric||Slowly lowering the weight down and following with (more) explosive concentric action|
|High Reps||Performing 8-15 controlled (quality) reps|
Table 1 – Return to the Weightroom Template methods
The Badger Protocol
As explained previously, The Badger Protocol is one way to utilize the isoSandwich method. Different versions could be used, particularly the single Badger, which involves the isoHold for N-seconds, followed by N-reps (see Table 2). This can be modified to involve longer isoHold (i.e., 10sec hold, followed by 5 reps). Another option is to use isoHold at the end of the set instead. It is up to you to select a method to be utilized. You can also vary things across time. For example, using the “Full Badger,” then switching to “Top Badger,” which will allow for some intensification (read: using more weight).
|Full Badger Protocol||Top Badger||Bottom Badger|
|isoHold N seconds||isoHold N seconds||N quality reps|
|N quality reps||N quality reps||isoHold N seconds|
|isoHold N seconds|
Table 2 – The Badger protocol and its variants
Before “discovering” The Badger, paused reps were my favorite training method. These involve making a pause before every repetition. Using bench press, for example, for every repetition, you lower the barbell slightly above the chest and hold for N-seconds (e.g., 2-3 seconds), then perform the explosive lifting. Lowering can be controlled but without a specifically defined tempo.
When it comes to pulling movements (e.g., bent-over row or pull-ups), pauses happen in the shortened position after the more explosive concentric lift (i.e., explosively pull yourself up, hold for N-sec, lower under control and repeat).
The deadlift is also tricky – the pause can happen at the start of the set, a few centimeters (or inches) above the ground, or you can finish with the pauses (on the way down). Whatever works for you.
One thing to keep in mind with paused reps (as well with every other isoHold method) is that pauses can be done actively or passively. Here is what I mean. If you are flexible/mobile enough in the back or front squat, you can lower yourself ass-to-the-grass, and pauses can happen while you hold yourself “on your calves” or by using passive connective tissues while the muscles do less work. This passive pause approach is great for stretching/mobility, and it can be used, but I would prefer for the pauses to be active. With the active approach, you must lower as much as you can but still do not hold on to the passive tissues, but rather use the activity of the muscles to hold the position. This is, of course, much harder to do. In any case, be free to play and explore these two concepts.
The duration of the pauses can vary across the training phase. You can start with longer holds (e.g., 10sec) and lower over time (e.g., 2 sec). The number of reps can vary as well, but with all isoHold methods, I tend to favor a lower number of reps, i.e., 4-6 repetitions.
Stops are similar to the paused reps, but instead of only doing pauses (i.e., isoHolds) at the beginning/end of the movement, the stops method utilizes multiple (2-3) holds along the repetition range of motion (ROM), most often during the lowering or eccentric phase. Taking bench press as an example, during the lowering/eccentric phase, one might perform isometric hold at the middle of the movement, then at the chest, and finish with a complete repetition on the way up. Since there are multiple stops, they tend to be of shorter duration compared to the paused reps (i.e., <5sec). Variations of the stop method involve doing stops on the way up (i.e., concentric phase), or having a single stop at the middle of the ROM, but performed both on the way up and down (i.e., in both concentric and eccentric movement).
When it comes to progression over time, one can decrease the number and duration of the holds to allow for exercise intensification or increase the duration for the same weight.
IsoHolds involves holding a position for a longer predetermined time (e.g., 10-30sec or even longer). Performing multiple repetitions of isoHolds will make it become paused reps method. So with the simple isoHold method, only one repetition (i.e., single hold) is performed for a longer period of time.
Selected position to perform isHold often involves the most difficult one (e.g., the top position in the pull-up), the most stretched one (e.g., bottom of the squat, at the chest level for the bench press), or the sticking point/region. As explained previously, the position might also be passive (hanging on the passive tissues) or active (making the muscles work hard to hold the position).
The progression for the isoHold might involve extending the duration of the hold at the same weight or using the shorted duration to allow for easier intensification.
Slow eccentrics involve slow lowering of the weight, no or short pause, followed by a (more) explosive concentric portion. The duration of the lowering phase can last from 3 to 10 seconds. One can also combine paused reps with slow eccentrics. Progression over time can involve an increase in the duration of the lowering, adding paused reps, or decreasing the duration of the lowering to allow for the weight intensification.
Recommended rep range for all the above methods during the Return to the Weightroom phase/program is 3-6 (with exception to the isoHold, where there is only one rep performed per set). Performing more reps with pauses can be overkill. An additional method that could be used, borrowing from the anatomic adaptation methods, is the high reps method. High reps method involves performing 8-15 controlled (i.e., quality) reps per set, most often not to failure (at least not for all sets). High reps can be considered ego lift here when one can push it a bit harder to demonstrate the potential training effect from the other methods. Reps should still be performed with quality rather than being sloppy and bouncing/bombing them. You can also try the rep-max test, which can help you later on to have a gauge of what might be your training (or every-day) maximum, which you can use in the following training phases for planning and prescription. The only “unfortunate” thing is that the high reps method is reserved only for the assistance movements, which will be discussed next.
Training Design Using the Non-Divisible Approach
The not-divisible approach involves simple combinatorics where the number of exercise slots (or slot groups) utilized and the number of set and rep schemes is non-divisible (please refer to the Strength Training Manual (Volume 1 | Volume 2). For the Return to the Weightroom, we are going to classify the movement slots into two major categories: (1) main lifts, and (2) assistance lifts. Table 3 contains the aforementioned methods applied to the two major movement categories.
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