Dust Mode: The first eight months after my playing career
After the end of my playing career in November 2011, I struggled with what I wanted to do in terms of moving forward with my training. During the previous five years (November 2007 to August 2011), I had trained extensively and intensively for collegiate football. I modeled my training after the programs of the best football physical preparation coaches (at least those who I believe are the best): Buddy “Coach X” Morris, James “The Thinker” Smith, Alan DeGennaro, and Tom Myslinski. These great coaches have synthesized their ideas and programs from the works of Yuri Verkhoshansky, Charlie Francis, Mel Siff, Anatoly Bondurachuk, Vladimir Issurin, and many, many other scientists and coaches.
During my four years of college, I truly believe that I got my hands on almost every single article, book, journal, program, internet forum post, elitefts™ Q&A post, YouTube video, DVD, etc., that I could pertaining to any of the above authors. However, with all of that being said, I was faced with a lot of information but ZERO experience in terms of creating a training program for someone who wasn’t training for any particular sport (this includes powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.) or goal.
I went back and forth about whether or not I should pay somebody to program my training, use a “pre-written” program from a Muscle & Fitness magazine, or get one of my friends/colleagues to write me a program… so basically, I was at quite a crossroads.
For the following nine months, I was in what Dave Tate referred to in the November 2012 twitter chat, as “Dust Mode” training. After following this chat, I completely related my experience to what Dave described: “This is when 90% of people quit, be the 10% that don’t.” I can confidently say that I was straight-up BURNT OUT with training and writing programs.
You see, I was actually the physical preparation (strength and conditioning) coach for my football team throughout the entire 2011 season, and I took full autonomy of programming and implementing the team’s off-season training at the conclusion of my career. In other words, I wrote my team’s in-season programs for all 100+ players. Then, as soon as the season ended, I was tasked with writing programs for all of the returning players. This was quite a daunting task for somebody who was still in college (at the age of 21) and who only had the experience of programming his own training… and had only seen from afar what the best coaches in the business do.
Regardless, during this time period, my own training was put on the back burner. I mean, I turned the stove down to about a one out of 10. At most, I trained twice a week—usually only once, and it was all upper body. My body felt BEAT UP… I had aches in my lower back and on my left SI Joint (I was told that I had a herniated disk, but the x-rays revealed nothing. I went to the chiropractor once and was given equivocal, ambiguous advice). There were days when I didn’t even want to get out of bed—I felt like I needed to pop 400 to 600mg of caffeine pills to even face the day.
For the next five months, I floated along with my training and only went into the weight room when I felt like it, mainly when my buddies were going to lift. I did whatever and didn’t write anything down. I had no plan, no purpose, no goal… I just floated in the dust.
Once I graduated and returned home from school, I started to feel a little better. I had graduated, had written all of the summer training programs for the football team, and felt as though I would be ready to move on to some structured training. (I will throw out a little kudos for myself for designing the training programs—this was the first time I had ever done this project and had no idea how much work was involved… or what I was doing to an extent. I wrote about 35 distinct training programs for the entire 14 weeks of the team’s summer program—programs for all of the different positions and players on my team. I also made it all in Word and converted it to .PDF files, formatted it, added pictures, etc.—and this I did myself, with only a little help from a couple of computer majors on the team. Thanks, Zach Rogers and Mike Edwards!)
However, I was apparently WRONG. Even after graduation, my floating continued.
Thankfully, I did pick up some steam when I began running hill sprints, doing some very light leg work (in the form of reverse leg presses), performing explosive medicine ball throws with my best friend and long-time “training partner,” and doing a lot more fitness/conditioning work in the form of abs and extensive medicine ball throws. Later on, I also returned to school for football camp, as I had decided to stay on as a graduate assistant and the head of physical preparation for the football team. During camp, I continued on with my “dust mode” for about two weeks. However, at the beginning of September, for whatever celestial and unknown reasons, I felt ready to get back up on the horse—to become structured and disciplined and to begin writing my own training program again.
The Training Program
Once I finally sat down and did some actually thinking about what I wanted to get out of my program, I came up with a list of what I desired to receive from my training:
- To be lean and look better
- Become as strong as I possibly could
- Stay injury free and heal up
- Push myself
- Try new exercises
- Experiment in a way that would help athletes I work with in the future
From that point, I began to contemplate what sort of methodology and structure I would use for my training.
Over the summer, I had read Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz of the University of Minnesota and really liked his spin on the weekly three-day undulating model. Since his program was centered around block periodization/methodology, I decided to use a blend between Cal’s methods and the guidelines from an old Q&A post from James Smith about block training.
James Smith Q&A Post:
- Accumulation of training intensity 50-<70%
- Begin with greater volume of non-specific exercises performed at lower intensities
- Gradually increase load intensity on primary exercises
- Large exercise selection in order to relieve support structures associated with competitive exercise
- Perform lowest effective volume of competitive exercise at gradually increased intensity in order to maintain technique
- General developments during accumulation are transmutated into more specific results via the performance of general specific exercise
- Intensification of load via increased frequency of weekly workouts as well as intensification of primary general specific exercise 70-90%
- Greatest degree of motor potential is generated during transmutation
- Exercise selection heightens in specificity (general specific)
- Gradual intensification of competition exercises while giving load volume priority to general specific lifts
- Intentional accumulation of fatigue via no possibility of complete recovery between workouts
- Realization of motor potential via competition exercises performed at near maximal to maximal intensity or pre-comp intensities proven to yield highest results
- Complete recoveries provided between training sessions
- Volume reduction/taper
- Competition exercises
Cal Dietz Undulating Model
Monday: Medium Intensity, Medium Volume
Wednesday: High Intensity, Low Volume
Friday: Low Intensity, High Volume
*Let me throw out the caveat that I did not do what is listed above to a “T”. I kept my goals in mind and replaced a few things with what I WANTED to do. Something that I learned from Jim Wendler in his articles is that “you don’t owe anybody anything.” At the end of the day, it comes down to what YOU want, not what anybody else wants. So, I’ve added and subtracted different parts of the program.
For my Accumulation block, I decided to train three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) using the undulating model by Cal Dietz. I also decided that I would program three exercises on each: a bench press exercise, a deadlift exercise, and an explosive medicine ball throw as a replacement to the squat (because I knew my SI joint would still bother me with a bar on my back).
My exact training program is shown below:
The percentage progression was as follows:
- Week 1: 62.5%
- Week 2: 65%
- Week 3: 67.5%
- Week 4: Deload
- Week 1: 65%
- Week 2: 70%
- Week 3: 75%
- Week 4: Deload
- Week 1: 60%
- Week 2: 62.5%
- Week 3: 65%
- Week 4: Deload
For total volume, I utilized Prilepin’s Chart and simply utilized “ranges” for the medium, low, and high volume days.
You probably noticed the different letters as the load/weight for the assistance work. The chart above is what I utilize for what I’ve heard Mladen Jovankovic call “relative intensity,” along with the corresponding volumes based off of Prilepin’s chart.
My subjective load parameters are as follows:
Light = 20+ reps
Medium-Light = 13-19 reps
Medium = 8-12 reps
Medium-High = 6-7 reps
High = 4-5 reps
High + = 1-3 reps
This is the scale that I utilize so that I have a decent idea of how much weight I should be using on my assistance work.
During this phase of training, I did more assistance work than what was programmed on my sheet depending on how I felt that day and how much time I had to train. If there is anything I’ve learned in my pursuit of knowledge on training, it is that no program should be set in stone—your program is an ever-evolving entity.
After the completion of my accumulation block, I sat down and reflected on my accumulation block. I had increased my work capacity sustainably and my nagging back actually felt BETTER, even after performing a deadlift variation three times a week. So, I wanted to build off of this.
I decided to be a bit zealous and extend my microcycle. The way I set it up was to follow a training session with 48 hours of rest for four sessions. Then, I would take 72 hours of rest and move on to week two. This is shown below:
Day 1: Session #1
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Session #2
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Session #3
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Session #7
Day 8: Off
Day 9: Off
This, as is one of the objectives in a transmutation block, allowed me to accumulate fatigue over the microcycle and “supercompensate” during the 72-hour rest period.
Since my back was feeling better, I decided to add squatting in the 50-60% range. This would allow me to start to get back into the swing of things with squatting and would allow me to build upon the adaptations elicited by the medicine ball throws in the previous block. I decided to utilize single leg squatting because the orientation of the load was much closer to my hip joint and did not bother my SI joint nearly as much.
Another change I made was to move to a linear progression for intensity and volume instead of the undulating model.
The intensity (percentage) progressions were as follows:
- Session 1/70%
- Session 2/72.5%
- Session 3/75%
- Session 4/77.5%
- Session 5/80%
- Session 6/80%
- Session 7/82.5%
- Session 8/82.5%
- Session 9/85%
- Session 10/85%
- Session 11/87.5%
- Session 12/85.5%
- Deload (50-60% for two sessions)
Below shows the exact sheet for the Transmutation Block:
As you can see, I still did a bench press, deadlift, and (now) squat variation every day, along with two paired exercises as accessory work. Again, the volumes were based off of Prilepin’s Chart using roughly the optimal volume of each corresponding percentage. I also relied on several fluid factors (time, fatigue, motivation, etc.) as to how much “extra” or accessory work I did. Oftentimes, I would do box jumps, band pull-aparts, TKEs, various mobility drills, chins, push-ups, abs, etc. in between my sets because I was bored.
Something that I think all successful lifters do is that they will adjust the weight depending on how they feel on the day. There were days when I felt good and days that I didn’t, or even times when I felt good on some exercises and terrible on others, so I would always allow a five- to ten-pound range up or down for each exercise.
For my final phase of training, I felt extremely ready to move some heavy weight and set some personal records. Therefore, I decided to format my chart based on Dan Baker and Mladen Jovankovic’s work, and I began working from a 5RM to a 1RM over a three-week period.
The original entire progression is shown below:
As you can see, each workout contained each of the big three exercises. (I decided to replace the trap bar deadlift with the barbell hip thrust because, for whatever leverage related reason, the trap bar bothers my back more than conventional and sumo pulling does). You can also see an increase in accessory work due to the fact that I would rest 72 hours between each of these sessions and usually did not do anything between the days. If I did, it would only be light recovery work in the form of foam rolling, stretching, mobility, etc.
My initial plan was to test the bench press and deadlift exercises because I had started them all the way back at the accumulation block and to continue to bring my squat back up in the 60-70% range. After my first planned session with the intensified squats, I decided to throw out the two barbell squatting exercises (back and box squat) and replace them with jumps but keep the unilateral exercises, as they have never given my back any trouble. Another adjustment I made was forgoing the final week of the training phase because I felt that I needed to deload due to the length of time I had been training with heavy weights (>90%).
Something that I want to add to make my program complete is what else I did besides what I program on my excel sheets.
My warmup lasts 10-15 minutes and consists of one mean to raise my heart rate (skipping, jogging, abs, extensive med ball work, push-ups, etc.); a circuit of calisthenics and joint circles to prepare my muscles, tendons, and ligaments for more intense activity; dynamic stretches to increase suppleness, mobility, flexibility, and extensibility; some sort of activation activity to prime the CNS; and finally, a rehab section in which I address any weaknesses or imbalances I have (which is a tight dominant side and weak non-dominant side).
Below is an example of the rehab and GPP work that I do:
I always utilize my rest periods between work sets of the highest intensity exercises to perform low intensity activities in order to keep my work capacity and GPP high. This has been a HUGE catalyst in my mind because it has allowed me to commit the same amount of real-time (in terms of days and time spent in the weight room) while increasing the density of my training load to elicit the myriad of adaptations I desired. (Again: to look good, be strong, powerful, etc.). Also, on “off” days, I make sure to do some sort of foam rolling, mobility work, stretching, etc.
What I want to make clear is that I did not follow ANY of these sheets that look nice and clean to the EXACT specifications. Heck, there were times when I couldn’t even stick to the time periods between workouts due to work, school, facility availability, travel, and other obligations. There were times in my accumulation phase where I had to take 72 hours between workouts, times during the transmutation phase that I would take 72 hours within the sessions I had written down for only 48 hours, and several times during the realization phase when I took 96 hours between sessions.
The point I’m trying to make (and what I’ve learned in this process) is that you have to plan and be able to adjust accordingly and objectively to what life throws at you.
Over the past year, I have learned a TON about how to train yourself when you don’t have any REAL or specific goals that you want to achieve… other than smashing PRs and looking good for the ladies. I’ve learned that training IS an ever-evolving process and, like the old cliché, “life’s like a dance, you learn as you go,” you are going to have to adjust your training to fit your surroundings.
I truly believe that I have found a system of training FOR ME that is easy to adjust in order to help me achieve my goals—however specific or vague they are—that will work as I continue to move on through life.