A Method to Our Mad-Dawg-ness

Yes, we do have a method to our madness. I have been promising to write about Hormonal Training for a few months now because it seems like there is a lack of continuity between what is in my head and what happens in the gym. Hormonal Training is a system we are developing to make it clear to both athletes and coaches that everything (e.g. the programing, the nutrition program, the way we coach, the coaches we hire, etc.) we do at the gym is geared towards making hormonal changes for our athletes because it is those hormonal changes that actually drive the majority of physical and mental improvements we seek when we exercise. It took me a long time to figure this out but instead of trying to debunk some of the myths in strength and conditioning like “a calorie is a calorie,” “no pain, no gain,” “lifting heavier makes you stronger,” “I need more cardio to lose weight” it is much easier to develop a system of training that offers a better solution.

What we are trying to name by using the phrase Hormonal Training, which I blatantly stole, fair and square, from Rob Faigen, author of Natural Hormonal Enhancement and Hormonally Intelligent Exercise, is to identify the way we practice and coach strength and conditioning at MDSoF so that it is consistent with our experience, scientific research, the clinical practice of our medical advisory board and best practices in the strength and conditioning industry. While hormones may be the furthest thing from your mind when you enter the gym, we hope that training with hormones in mind, that is, by understanding that stimuli and the hormonal adaptations that your body makes to those stimuli, when you exercise will actually help you stay focussed on what is important to do in the gym that day to keep progressing. The sets, reps, exercises, weights (i.e. the programming) are one component of being successful with any strength and conditioning program but those details are part of a larger context that we want everyone associated with MDSoF to understand and, most importantly, practice on a daily basis.

The principles that drive the Hormonal System of Training are:
1) It is the aggregate of your choices over time not each individual choice.
2) It’s all about the set-up.
3) Address the symptom but fix the cause.
4) Asking the right question is much harder than getting the right answer.

We’ve been up at 30,000 ft for a while so let’s bring it down to the runway and talk about some scenarios that make the principles of our training system useful.

  • How much should I lift today? We often get many different flavors of this question, especially on Max Effort days. Lifting more doesn’t necessarily mean you are stronger. Lifting heavy is a great test of strength but testing strength is not the same as training strength. It is often hard to know how much to lift until you ask “If hormones tell my muscles to grow, what is the hormonal impact of lifting more weight.” In my opinion, there is less hormonal effect and more impact on the central nervous system. The outcome from a max effort day is to see where we are and to gain some experience lifting something heavy. If you want to do something to get stronger, do an extra set of 5 or 3 in the weeks previous to the max effort day, don’t go up that extra 5 KG and a ME day, round your back and lift in a crappy position. In the coming weeks, I will post some interesting research supporting this opinion. In the mean time, back off on the weight, make sure you do the movement correctly, then record it.
  • What should do when I am not at the gym? Set-up, i.e. prepare, yourself for the next workout. Since strength gains come from recovery, or the adaptation to exercise, rather than the exercise itself so to get stronger you have to get good at recovery. That means keeping your insulin levels balanced by eating as much whole, unprocessed food as possible. Keeping your stress levels and cortisol levels down by sleeping at least 8 hours a night. Running and bodyweight workouts are great to make you feel good, but your main priority should be to recover from your last workout and to be mentally and physically ready for the next one. The answer to this question is do everything you can do to be ready for your next workout.
  • My back is tight or hurts after that Grace workout. OK, let’s look at your set-up position. It looks like you can’t really get a neutral spine when you set-up so let’s get a couple platforms out and see if you can get neutral from your hips to your neck. But if I raise the bar and use platforms, won’t I be cheating? No, and here’s why,
    1. The purpose of Grace is that it tests power and power is about speed and speed is about precision. When you are hurt, because you moved quickly with load with an unstable, rounded back, you move slowly and inaccurately, that’s the opposite of fast.
    2. The reason we use the clean and jerk to test power is that we get to train the clean and jerk to get faster. When we train the C & J, the core movement pattern we are practicing is a violent hip extension followed immediately by a violent hip flexion. You can train that movement pretty high (I mean high up into your hip crease, not the other kind) and still have it transfer some really great skills to other activities.
    3. When you are hurt you either train with poor and imprecise movements or with a lower weight than what is appropriate for the workout or, worse yet, you can’t train at all, none of these options have the hormonal impact as training healthy with correct movement.
  • “Where’s the cardio?” Or “Don’t I need more cardio to lose weight?” Your body didn’t get the memo that exercise is good for you, in fact it doesn’t even know what exercise is, it is just an other stressor/stimulus like worrying if your jeans make your butt look too big/too small, flashing lights, loud noises, a pat on the back, lack of food, a saber tooth tiger trying to eat you, etc. A little is good, too much stress often has the opposite effect you are looking for. Your goal is to lose FAT and gain muscle (yes, especially women for a number of reasons we will go into later) there are much smarter ways of losing fat than through burning calories. So the question really turns into, “What kind of exercise triggers my hormones to burn fat?” OK, now we’re talking. We’re going to get to the details of this one, but just know that you need to slow down the need for immediate calories but increase, over time, the overall need for calories because fat “burns” slower than carbs. To walk this tight rope, we need to exercise slowly but intensely and make sure that our exercise supports our diet, not the other way around.

My English teacher would subtract a few points for this but… to summarize: You’ve trusted me for a while that there is some kind of plan behind the workouts. This post is a broad overview of that plan, but as you can see, it requires a bit of background information. This information delivery will continue over the next few weeks and months. In mid-November, we will be having a workshop on programming that will explain what the plan is and give you more details. Or you can keep reading this blog.