Difference Makers

Posted by Jason Ferruggia on March 21, 2007

Originally written in 2005 for EliteFTS

Despite the busiest summer I ever had both professionally and socially, my training has been better than ever lately. I’m hitting PR’s on everything and the weights on all of my assistance exercises are flying up. For the past several years not much has changed about the way I train, nothing drastic at least. This summer, however, I made several major changes which I believe all played a large part in helping attain the outstanding results I have been getting recently. Following is a list of the changes I made and why I think they made such a difference.

1) Not getting too fired up all the time. This has always been a problem for me. Although I caution against it and know that it does nothing but fry your CNS, I have never been able to control the rage within me. Until recently. It took dozens of injuries, the final one being a torn rotator cuff, to finally realize that it was time to change my ways. In the past I would get fired up for literally every set I did. Not frothing at the mouth fired up, but I would get a little more intense than I needed to get. Every rep of every set would be a challenge issued to my training partners. I have since ended that nonsense, thanks in large part to Jim’s influence, and my training has been much better for it. I still train hard but never get excited, scream, spit or shake before or during any set. The only time I get remotely crazy anymore is if I am going for a new PR on a bench, squat or dead. But never for a board press, box squat, or rack pull.

2) Eliminating my DE bench day. This was done because I had no other choice. I could not bench due to by shoulder injury so I had to do other things on this day. The truth is that I was toying with the idea of eliminating this day before the injury occured. I just didn’t see myself getting much out of my speed bench days anymore. It also took time away from my workout that could have been used on hypertrophy and prehab work that I thought was more beneficial to me. Being a naturally super skinny guy, I lose size incredibly quickly. By turning this day into a bodybuilding/hypertrophy day I feel like this made it easier to maintain size which in turn made it easier to get stronger. The other benefit of dropping the DE bench was that I had now eliminated one CNS intensive day out of my four weekly training days. Speed bench presses with bands are highly demanding on the nervous system; incline dumbbell presses and chin ups are not. This is a HUGE benefit of eliminating this day and the impact on the other three training days can not be overlooked. By saving your nervous system on even just one out of four days, I think you can make greater gains across the board. This day was easy both mentally and physically and while ME days are usually accompanied by the sounds of death metal or hardcore hip hop, I could easily get by with The Stones or Zeppelin on a day like this. Even the eardrums need a break sometimes too.

3) Eliminating my DE lower body day. Now I know some people will think I’m out of my mind for saying this but I know that this made a huge difference in my ability to recover. This summer my second leg day consisted of going outside and doing strongman training. Again I eliminated yet another CNS intensive day from my weekly training schedule. This brought my CNS intensive days from four per week to two. That makes an enormous difference right there. Secondly I took the bar off my back one day a week. Whereas I used to always do DE box squats once per week and squat or pull heavy on another day, I was now only doing one heavy squat/deadlift day per week and not letting a bar touch my spine again until seven days later. I felt much better doing this and my numbers climbed rapidly each week, whereas in the past, gains were slower to come by. On my strongman days I would drag sleds, flip tires, do farmers walks, push cars, pull ropes, etc.

4) Doing more work above 90%. In the past my max effort days used to consist of three lifts at or above 90%. Over the last few months I have slowly increased that number to six lifts on upper body days and five on lower body days. This has been accompanied by a reduction in volume on my assistance work. The results have been tremendous and I would highly recommend that people give this a try. I may even try to up the number even more over the next few months just to see what I can tolerate and what yields the greatest results.

5) Spreading my four workouts out over eight to ten days instead of seven. I have only started to do this over the last months but even in that short time period I have realized that this is the way to go for me and will be what I stick with long into the future. It allows me to recover better and keeps my joints and my body in general feeling better.

6) Listening to my body more. In the past I had set days of the week to do certain things. Now I have an outline of what I WANT to do, but that doesn’t always end up being what I DO do. I said that I now spread my workouts over eight to ten days and the reason for that is that some weeks it could be eight days and other weeks it could be ten, it all depends on how I feel. If I am supposed to train on a certain day and just don’t feel up to it I will push it back until tomorrow. I used to train for three weeks straight at a steady volume and then have an unloading week on the fourth week. During the three week loading period, I would always do singles on max effort days and then do rep work on week four. Over time I reduced that to two weeks at high volume with max singles followed by a one week deload and the results were even better. Nowadays I do not plan my low volume weeks. I only have low volume or sometimes no volume days, when I feel like I need one. I haven’t kept track of this but it probably will amount to the same amount of low volume days at the end of the year.

Also, I have been trying to take a day off between training sessions but tonight I trained for the second day in a row and set on new PR on the deadlift. I was feeling okay and decided that I had too much work to do tomorrow so I would just do it tonight. Now I’m assuming I will still be fried from tonights workout when my next ME upper body day rolls around in two days so I may just do some rep work on that day. This is obviously not something you can tell a beginner to do and is no excuse for being lazy, it’s just that after nearly fifteen years of training I now know how to listen to my body and get the most out of myself. All of this is collectively known as cybernetic periodization and is, in my opinion, the only way for an advanced lifter/athlete to train.

7) Not training with a partner anymore. I have always stressed the importance of good training partners and have said that training with a partner will lead to greater gains in less time. I still believe that to be the case in most situations but I discovered that this is not necessarily true for me. First of all, not having a training partner allowed me to implement changes numbers one, five and six. If I had a training partner I could not effectively turn down my intensity. That’s just the nature of the beast. When I train with some one, I have to beat them at all costs. Even though I am not a cheerleader when I train, most of my training partners tend to be or even if they are not I know they are watching me closely and the male ego/testosterone kicks in and I usually end up pushing myself too far. Secondly, I would not be able to spread my workouts out over seven to eight days if I had a training partner waiting to train with me on certain days. Lastly, I could not listen to my body and scrap the plans for a max effort lift in favor of some high rep assistance work if I had a training partner. He would be there ready to go to war and I would have to answer the call no matter how terrible I felt. This is when I get hurt and stop making progress.

I still stress the importance of the right atmosphere and surrounding yourself with the right people, it’s just that for me, regularly scheduled head to head competition and being there for some one when I don’t feel up to it isn’t the best plan anymore. While many people need to be pushed to train harder, I have to be cajoled into training “easier.”

While I will never me mistaken for WWE world heavyweight champion, Batista, or out squat Jim Wendler even while wearing three squat suits while doing a reverse band squat, I still love to move heavy iron and make progress in my workouts. I always practice what I preach and try to better myself and learn something new in the gym on a daily basis. By implementing all of the changes listed above I have jump started my training and have been making better progress than I have in years. Hopefully, by sharing what worked for me, I can help some of you get your training back on the right track and get your numbers climbing again like they used to. Good luck and train smart.

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